Trivial Pursuits

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Dilbert

Now that the draft version of the so-called “community-based strategic plan” has been presented to council, I felt it appropriate to comment on this latest version. I have already posted several pieces on the earlier draft. If you haven’t read them, you should start with there:

Strategic Planning, Part One: The Woo-Hoo Factor
Strat Plan Part 2: The Shuffle Game
Strat Plan Part 3: The Waterfront
Strat Plan Part 4: Economic Vitality
Strat Plan Part 5: Healthy Lifestyle
Strat Plan Part 6: Culture and the Arts
Strat Plan Wrap Up: Addintional Comments

All the comments and criticisms made in these earlier posts still have relevance in this latest draft.

I say the document is so-called because it’s not really community-based: it’s committee-based, and it’s just a wishlist, not a plan. It doesn’t even adumbrate a plan.

A proper plan should have measurable actions, a detailed timeline, specific costs and budget laid out. This has none of that. It has some vague time frames listed a S-M-L (short, medium and long terms) but these are 1-3, 3-5 and 5-10 years, respectively. Nothing to aim at as an immediate goal.  And no priorities are identified among the wishlist items.

Given that no council can bind a subsequent one, and there is but three years left in this council’s term, and equally that after five years, almost every plan or policy is out of date and needs revision, planning beyond the short term for most of these wishes is pointless. Not to mention that there is no indication who will pay for these wishes, or how.

First let me say that the new draft is very pretty. It looks attractive in the way that every other generic, bland strategic plan of this ilk does. However, style cannot top substance, and no matter how much of the former is present, the document lacks the latter. So let’s look at the presentation while we measure the content.


Dilbert
Let’s start with the so-called vision. This reads:

Collingwood is a responsible and sustainable community that leverages its core strengths: vibrant downtown; a setting within the natural environment; and, an extensive waterfront. This offers a healthy, affordable and four-season lifestyle to its residents, businesses and visitors.

Well, that isn’t a vision. It’s a description, and an inaccurate one at that – Collingwood is one of the most-highly taxed communities in the region (a problem exacerbated by the current council which raised taxes this year in order to pay for their own pay hike and fund “Senator” Jeffrey’s cavorting around the country on taxpayer expense.).

(Taxes, by the way, aren’t even mentioned once in the document, yet during the election campaign it was the number one issue raised at the doorstep by a large margin. Nothing about culture, accessibility, or walkability in the “vision”, either, you’ll note.)

A vision statement should look ahead; give us something to aspire to; suggest goals and challenges. This description looks backwards, not forwards. It’s what we were, not what we can or should be. It is flaccid: it doesn’t reach, it droops.

Psychology Today notes a vision statement…

  • Defines the optimal desired future state – the mental picture – of what an organization wants to achieve over time;
  • Provides guidance and inspiration as to what an organization is focused on achieving in five, ten, or more years;
  • Functions as the “north star” – it is what all employees understand their work every day ultimately contributes towards accomplishing over the long term; and,
  • Is written succinctly in an inspirational manner that makes it easy for all employees to repeat it at any given time.

And here’s what Business News Daily says about vision statements:

Vision statements should stretch the imagination while providing direction and clarity. A good vision statement will help inform direction and set priorities while challenging employees to grow. It’s important that the vision statement be compelling not just to the high-level execs of your company, but to all employees.

None of which this description does or has. Where are the aspirational goals? Or ANY goals for that matter? Where is the clarity? The priorities? Do you feel compelled or drowsy from reading it?

What does it mean by “leverages its core strengths”? One cannot help but imagine there’s an app somewhere that generates meaningless buzzwords and phrases like this just for use in such self-described “strategic plans.”

Leverage them to do what? Apparently for no other reason than to lever them (lest we forget, too, that leverage is really a noun, not a verb…).

According to JP Morgan’s website, that corporation, “…strive(s) to develop innovative programs that leverage the core strengths…  to maximize our impact.” The Gap, too, “… has leveraged our company strengths to address critical community needs.” MSC Software, “…Leverages Its Core Strengths to Support the Linux Operating System.” The NYIT School of Management, in bureaucratic bafflegab, “...leverages its core strengths in the context of market opportunities, and ascertains distinctive competencies that drive the elements of its action timetable.” NASA, we are told by the Space Foundation, …”needs to embrace a singular, unambiguous purpose that leverages its core strengths and provides a clear direction for prioritizing tasks and assigning resources.” CDC Global Health, “.. leverages its core strengths to advance four overarching global health goals.” Torqus Industries, “…leverages its core strengths in managing web technologies, building mobile phone applications and processes to build collaborative applications for F&B industry.”

Hmmm. Everyone in the whole world seems to be leveraging their core strengths – whatever that really means – for a higher goal or for some well-defined purpose, except Collingwood.

Where is a “setting within the natural environment…”? Is that outside our borders? Can we visit it? Can we get out of it? Where, too is the unnatural environment and are we within it or without?

What exactly is a vibrant downtown and how does ours differ from the tens of thousands of other vibrant downtowns that show up in a Google search? How many closed shops make it a listless downtown? (You can’t even have vibrant colours on your sign in our downtown lest someone in the heritage committee go apoplectic over it…)

Why can’t people have a life, not just a lifestyle? Do businesses really have lifestyles as this faux-vision suggests?

No, it’s not a vision and it doesn’t show passion or spirit. It’s a cold, cliché-ridden dead fish.

What may be visionary, I suppose, is spelling publicly as “publically” in the word cloud on page 6. Perhaps conventional spelling is too boring, too stuffy  for consultants.

Dilbert

I won’t go over each point in the sections. I recommend your read my earlier comments, linked above. But I will say that the wish list presented here as a “plan” is replete with items that the last council did (for which this council will likely take credit), and a few things that don’t make sense or are irrelevant.

There are 11 “action” items that start with the words continue or complete, two that use improve, four with update and one each for maintain and ongoing. That’s 18 items that relate to activities or policies that were already underway before this council took office. Most of them were initiated last term. (You’re welcome…)

Then there are the non-action items that use words like ensure (2), review (5), explore (4), support (5), encourage (2), recognize (2), ongoing (1): 21 items that don’t lead to anything more than just chitchat. Most of these refer, again, to programs and policies in place or initiated before this council took office; last term.

There are two items that use undertake, one that uses develop and two that use promote. That’s five items that might be considered action items. I’m not sure about promotion: in the case of culture and the arts, it merely involves “annual reporting” and “engagement” (the latter is undefined as to how it is done).  I can’t see staff reports galvanizing the public to action. Unless sleep is an action…

It’s not much of a plan or a vision for this council when the great majority of items say, in essence, “keep on doing what the last council did.” It is, however, community recognition of the efforts of last council: people obviously think our previous work is worth continuing. Which leaves precious little for this council to do, this term. Given council’s abysmal track record to date, that might be a blessing…

A few items are worth noting. On page 10, it calls for “frequent, proactive communication with the public.” Several at the table vociferously criticized the former council for doing just that, and had their minions scream our efforts were “propaganda.” I wonder how they will react to being told the committee wants them to emulate the previous council in its efforts to communicate.

Page 16: “Encourage discussions between Georgian College and youth groups…” WHAT youth groups? The chess club at the library? CCI’s marching band? The local Battlefield player clan  (yes, there is one)? Encouraging discussions among third parties is not action.

Page 18: Council “recognition of the need for highly accessible health care services to meet the needs of the town’s citizens” is mere grandstanding. Recognition – the form of which is undefined – doesn’t accomplish anything substantial. Besides, it suggests council could as easily plump for services that don’t meet our needs. Health care is not under municipal jurisdiction: it is managed by higher tiers, such as the county and the province.

Page 19: “Explore the feasibility of undertaking a gap analysis of health care services of the Town.” Exploring feasibility isn’t taking action: it’s looking into the possibility of planning for another consultant’s report. The Town does not have any health services of its own: they are provided privately  or via a government service and outside municipal jurisdiction. Besides, did anyone ask the hospital board if one has been done or needs to be done? I didn’t think so…

Page 13: “Explore opportunities to connect the waterfront and the downtown” is another meaningless item, since the connection already exists and has done for years (how could this committee not KNOW that?). Not to mention that this council turned down another (probably the only) chance to enhance that connection by refusing to sell or trade the unused Block 9 (the weed-infested property now known as “Saunderson’s Pond”) to a local developer who would have made it accessible to the waterfront, added a parkette and a parking lot. But the Deputy Mayor huffed and puffed and refused to consider it.

This council clearly stated it did NOT want to do anything with the waterfront until the mysterious and as-yet unplanned or budgeted “master plan” is produced by another consultant at an undetermined time within the Age of Mammals. But we can take heart that we’re planning to plan for the plan… one suspects council will procrastinate for the remainder of their term in order to avoid having to make decisions. And probably hire a consultant or two to tell them what to think.

Dilbert

Does this document “signal a monumental, public shift in accountability for Collingwood council” as one of its committee members so enthusiastically gushed about his own work? Not in the slightest. He and his fellow committee members who helped craft the terms were clearly in the dark about municipal governance, jurisdiction, authority and process. They must have neglected the revised code of conduct which this council passed the week before, which actually reduces transparency and accountability!

So, as I predicted, the so-called “strategic plan” lives up to its expectations: mediocre woo-hoo fluff in a pretty wrapper. But dollars to doughnuts it is greeted enthusiastically by the majority at the table who will treat it like it has actual and meaningful content and bray loudly about it.

Was it worth the $50,000 budgeted? Well, I suppose had the money not gone into it, council might have given the money to “Senator” Jeffrey along with the $40,000 it already donated to her expense account so she could fly first class as she flits around Canada for her FCM parties. So the funds were probably as well spent here as on her.

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