Goals of Organization Review

One of the early actions of Cobourg’s new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Tracey Vaughan, was to hire a consultant to provide an Organization Review.  She has said she hopes that this will help with efforts to improve efficiency.  At Monday’s Committee of the Whole Meeting, Oscar Poloni from KPMG presented Council with a description of what exactly he hoped to achieve.  It would address the earlier KPMG report on a Service Delivery review and would align with Council’s direction to staff (via the Strategic Plan including its update – see links below).  One question Oscar asked (but got no immediate answer) was whether the Town wanted to organize around priorities instead of the more usual and current organization based on function.  Oscar said that he had already talked to some staff and starting Tuesday he would be having one-on-one interviews with each Councillor.

Oscar’s presentation material as provided online did not provide much useful information although his verbal presentation was much more detailed (see links for how to see this).  Here are some highlights:

  • The report will be relatively quick.  It should be presented to Council late August – this year
  • A comparison will be made with the organizations of other similar Towns – and will compare their organization structure and staffing levels
  • As well as staff numbers, the report will recommend who reports to whom
  • The recommended organization will “align with Council’s direction”
  • The report will include implementation – “how to get there”
  • It will focus on Service to both external customers (citizens) and internal (other staff)
  • One review item is a “jurisdictional review” although Oscar seemed to skim past this when talking to the slides
  • Staff currently have a good attitude – they believe they are providing an important and useful service – and this must be maintained.

Let’s hope that whatever is decided is more than cosmetic and in fact improves efficiency.  And it will be interesting to see what priorities are – will they be clear and will they be different?


Previous Cobourg News Blog Reports

KPMG Reports

To see Oscar’s presentation to Council, go to escribe and click Upcoming.  Scroll down to Past Meetings  and choose Committee of the Whole.  Then choose the 21 June meeting > Revised Agenda (HTML).  Choose Presentation item 6.2 and the video box will open starting at his presentation.  You can then watch his presentation. A bit convoluted but much better than Civic Web which did not provide this access.

Other resources

Print Article: 


Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
25 June 2021 8:50 am

One of the aimed for efficiencies appears to be elimination of physical records. Have we learned nothing about the frailty of all things digital? How much of our tax base is to be set aside for hack repair and dealing with ransomware attacks? How long would a citizen and taxpayer be expected to be denied access to information like public documents and Council set regulations or risk to personal data? Only someone with lots of money to spend would think they are protected in any case scenario. Progress, adapting to change, is one thing but not having a viable in-house back up plan is neither efficient nor desirable risk management. How would existing mechanisms involving a librarian/archivist fit in? And, I have been uncomfortable with destruction of records policy where public records are concerned. Sometimes we learn valuable lessons from history. And relying on institutional memory of staff can be very efficient, until that person retires.

Also, on matter of risk reduction, will the Town focus on procuring product that is mostly reparable or buy new? Or, maybe keeping our streets clean and asphalt cracks filled actually means that our underground service pipes last longer.

Waiting for the final report because I have a number of questions at this time.

25 June 2021 7:47 am

Cobourg is to be compared to similarly towns. What if those towns are not run efficiently? Maybe those towns have too many people on staff. It really seems that this consultation could be used to justify not making major changes or actually hiring more staff. How about finding the town that provides basic services, and does it well, for the least cost per tax payer and compare Cobourg to that town? One place to start saving would be to let the people operating the snowplows and street-sweepers decide if it is necessary work. Too often I have seen the ‘plowing’ of bare streets or sweeping of clean streets. Even if the drivers are still paid there is a savings in fuel and maintenance to the trucks. Implementing some kind of incentive for town employees to present ideas on how to offer better service and/or reduce costs might have greater benefits than a study.

Merle Gingrich
24 June 2021 2:18 pm

I totally agree with Ben, hire a CAO that doesn’t need to hire a consultant, but do the work themselves.We seem to spend a lot of taxpayers money on outside consultants

ben burd
24 June 2021 9:48 am

It just blows my mind just how many Councils over the years have embarked on this trip – organisational reviews, efficiency reports operational audits, and all of them have expected big results to magically appear!

The amount of money spent on “Consultants” and don’t get offended if I insult you with this opinion MCGA, is mostly wasted as the parties studied very rarely had the time or energy to follow through. How many of these reports are sitting on shelves? Also very few consultants leave their reports with customers without the recommendation for actions that would lead to more work for them.

In the case of Cobourg we have been hiring well- qualified CAOs and then outsourcing their analytical abilities to consultants for years.

All I would say is that if Council refused to hire consultants for the mundane and routine of studies, i.e. efficiency reviews, and let the CAO do the job then the amount of money saved would an efficiency in itself!

Last edited 1 year ago by ben burd
Bill Thompson
Reply to  ben burd
24 June 2021 11:41 am

The old saying “Consultants tell us the time with our own watches” has been been proven time and time again at great expense to taxpayers yet nothing changes.
Receiving recommendations from “professional experts ” is now the default, with public input and involvement becoming secondary to agree or disagree with expert recommendations.
Surely with our population of residents from various backgrounds and expertise, their inputs would be most valuable and should be primary consideration instead of hiring generic outside sources automatically.

24 June 2021 8:53 am

With all these consultants working for Cobourg, pretty soon the town will have to hire an “Investigator” to see if any of their recommendations are on target. Seems to me our town management and staff and councilors feel they need someone to blame if an outcome is not satisfactory.

Reply to  cornbread
24 June 2021 9:17 am

The term is an “honest broker” and yes, it can insulate Boards and managers from direct responsibility. Many consulting firms deliver an analysis or road map to address a specific issue. That gives both sides a form of cover: either the strategy was wrong (on the consultant) or the implementation was flawed (on the management). Of the 10 major players back in my day, we were the only one that only took jobs where we put in place what we recommended. It was then 100% on us. That does a lot to focus your attention. Also tells management what their Board of Directors thinks of their problem solving skills.

Reply to  MCGA
24 June 2021 12:13 pm

There are consultants for a reason. One they are experts in what they do, some better than others and two town staffs are usually too busy to take on the task of a full, in this case, organizational review and to do the daily work required to run a town. The consultant is working just on this and it takes 3 months, could you imagine town staff doing the work of a consultant it would probably take triple the time and the same care would not be able to be taken. So in terms of expediency and efficiency it is wiser to bring in a consultant.

ben burd
Reply to  Concerned
24 June 2021 1:36 pm

In the case of a highly qualified and competent CAO I am sure that in the normal running of the Town which would be the job she/he would have been hired to do, surely everyday the question they would ask themselves would be, “How do we do this better? Oh I have a few ideas! Of course I do that’s why they hired me!”

“But let’s forget them and hire a consultant so that they can tell me what to do”

Last edited 1 year ago by ben burd
Reply to  Concerned
24 June 2021 2:52 pm


ben burd
Reply to  MCGA
24 June 2021 3:24 pm

Of course you would say that you have to justify your existence.

Reply to  ben burd
24 June 2021 4:35 pm

My original comment was directed to Concerned. I absolutely agree with you Ben. Further, no organization is so overwhelmed by work that its staff can’t take the required time to answer the questions, which are significant and numerous, from people like their external auditors…and that audit process happens every year. The very best managers do not want an interpreter or to play telephone. The best senior managers fully utilize the knowledge, skills and other qualities of their staff to diagnose problems, build alternative remedy strategies and actively debate the best way forward. Consultants, as good as they can be, do not have the internal organizational experience that matches a seasoned, quality manager or staff. What they do have (the good ones) is a breadth of knowledge, solid interviewing skills and perceived objectivity…plus a few other things that justify their fees. (If I share those I have to charge you.)

Reply to  MCGA
24 June 2021 4:53 pm

So what is nonsense about the statement please enlighten. You seem to have all the answers on all topics

Reply to  Concerned
25 June 2021 3:19 pm

Unless you have worked with Town staff you can not possibly measure their ability to self-diagnose issues in their own shop, let alone estimate it would take three times what any given consultant would take to reach an end conclusion and produce a final product. In a healthy, well managed organization management and staff take the time to reconsider strategy and tactics. Many times it is performed when the external auditors arrive and perform their systemic reviews in anticipation of the year end audit. Back in the day, they also produced a Letter of Recommendations, a version of consulting report. All that is built first on a cooperative interview process between management, staff and auditor. It does take time away from day-to-day work but it is accomplished annually.

24 June 2021 8:20 am

Get the East pier open ASAP for everyone
The engineers already approved it for 5000 lb limit

24 June 2021 8:18 am

During my professional career I had the opportunity to work with, work for, and consult to a fair number of excellent managers and leaders. Some wore stars on their shoulders, others worked their way up to decision making positions in publicly traded companies or large governmental agencies. The guys (to be viewed as a unisex term) who seemed to rise above the rest had a penchant for knowing the nuts and bolts of their operations. Gene Sullivan, who ran Bordens, provided special insight to this organizational learning process. When I first met him, to discuss the parameters of a proposed consultation, he was signing off on every check that one of Borden’s divisions was issuing that week. He saw that I looked perplexed as to why someone in his position would not delegate that to his subordinates. His answer: “I want everyone in the company to know I take expenses seriously, and my boy (I was a whole lot younger then), there is no better way to show that then by regularly looking at the details.” With that story in mind I would have much preferred that our new CAO took a non-consulting tack with this process.

Reply to  MCGA
24 June 2021 10:48 am

Unfortunately with this council there are some micro-managers who won’t stay out of operations and they determined an org review was required and it was already part of the strategic plan. Many of us on here seem to have all kinds of time and all the answers on how to fix the town without knowing the internal workings of the town and council, we just like to complain and pretend we could do it better without knowing the issues. How about we just give the new CAO an opportunity to see what she can do. Even then she is limited by how much council handcuffs her. She may have some great recommendations and council may say sorry. So how about we get off our pedestals and wait to see what happens.

Reply to  Concerned
24 June 2021 11:24 am

A point of reference or experience rather than a pedestal. Both Council and staff have roles. So too, do the taxpayers who pay the freight. I suggest you reread the Gene Sullivan story for insight how one guy managed his little shop. He would not have used us to improve operational efficiency or remaster organizational structure; he clearly saw that as management’s responsibility. We were there to build and present a case for the Board to agree to sell off a subsidiary that his predecessor had bought…a manufacturer of ladies casual apparel. Yeah, I didn’t see the fit either!

Reply to  MCGA
24 June 2021 11:43 am

How a little shop or a Fortune 500 company is run is much different than running a municipality and if you dispute that you have blinders on. You only mentioned three groups and there are so many more.There are special interest groups, friends of politicians, developers etc. I don’t think they have to worry about utilities a marina, property taxes, housing developments up keep of roads, buildings, disputes over parking on a street I could go on and on. If you’ve never worked in Municipal Government you just don’t know, you can’t even compare it to Federal. Another beast altogether.

Reply to  Concerned
24 June 2021 2:50 pm

I have not worked in municipal government and the smallest governmental entity I consulted to was the largest public school district in the US with a budget, at that time, of US$23 billion. It had gone into near bankruptcy, due to years of mismanagement, and we were there to fix it. Everyone was a stakeholder. Part of that fix was to identify the good managers that existed within and then help to give them a chance to be part of the turn-around. Those good managers exhibited the same characteristics and skills as good managers in any of the Fortune 500 companies I consulted to or worked in as a manager. As did the good managers and leaders I encountered while serving in the military. I strongly suspect you have never run any of it and are guessing and what the differences might be. I suggest you pick up any of the 50 plus books written by Peter Drucker, considered the master of modern management practice. He also devoted a significant portion of his later years working with non-profit and small governmental entities to promote best management practices. Those practice include knowing your organization intimately and not farming the acquisition of that knowledge to outside sources.

Reply to  MCGA
24 June 2021 5:09 pm

So you say consultants aren’t needed and they should do it themselves and every example you give is where you have gone and helped an organization. How is this any different. Council has asked for this as part of the strategic plan, as they feel there is a problem. The CAO is 6 months on the job, kind of tough to have an “intimate knowledge” when you take on a job in the middle of a pandemic. Show me a municipality that has used the CAO to conduct their own Organizational Review. If you can you may find one or two but I bet 99.9% outsource so that the outcome is unbiased.

Reply to  Concerned
25 June 2021 3:26 pm

A new CAO is unbiased or has no basis for bias, as well as being an organizational neophyte, at least in that new organization. The choice comes down to learning directly from your staff or learning indirectly from your staff through the consultant; who, by the way, carries their own set of biases. The very best mangers I have ever met employed the former.

Old Sailor
23 June 2021 6:00 pm

We should give our new CAO latitude to explore improving efficiencies at 55 King Street West. No doubt, post pandemic efficiencies can be identified.

Reply to  Old Sailor
24 June 2021 8:08 pm

I agree. I think things were slopy before the pandemic. Give it some time. I just hope the CAO isnt micromanaged by council.