City manager sets out the job he has to do - will he be there to finish it?

News 100 yellowBy Staff

July 5th, 2021



The City Manager sets the tone for what happens on the administrative side of city hall.

Once there is a clear direction from City Council the city manager knows what his marching orders are and he gets moving.

Every city manager has his own style – they have all been male in Burlington – and that could change in the not too distant future.

In a report to Council today Tim Commisso set how he interprets what he has been ordered to do.

Commisso’s report is lengthy. He ties a large part of his work plan to what has been set out in the city Vision to Focus (V2F) which takes those parts of the 25 year Strategic Plan and determines which parts of that plan are going to be implemented this term of office.

In his comments Commisso refers to a number of tables that the Communications people were not prepared to make available at this point in time.

Commisso puts it this way:

The objectives outlined in this document encompass specific priorities that the City Manager intends to actively pursue and accomplish over the next two years. The objectives encompass both proposed new and existing V2F items (Table 1) with an enhanced focus for 2021/22 being largely on “Our People”, given the importance of this area on the future prosperity and success of the city.

Commiso July 5 a

City Manager Tim Commisso

A summary of the key Council outcomes achieved to date and planned for 2021/22 YE is summarized in Table 2 (Organized chronologically by Standing Committee of Council).

For the City Manager, the process of strategic management starts with the development and integration of personal objectives. While the objectives need to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant and Timebound), they must also be easily understood and regularly communicated to Council and staff as to their performance status.

Clearly articulated objectives anchored by Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) represent the foundation for achieving organizational strategic performance. Stated simply, an objective is meaningless without a related measure of progress towards achieving the objective.

As indicated, for 2021/22 my new objectives are focused primarily on “our people” and “our workplace”. The most important or the Wildly Important Goal (WIG) is as follows along with the rationale. Note: the reference to WIG is based on terminology used in the strategy execution methodology outlined in the 4 Disciplines of Execution (Covey, McChesney and Huling –Published 2012).

Objective #1: Improving Workplace Culture including the level of Staff Engagement and Overall Positive Attitudes.

The above goal and KPI(s) are intended to contribute directly to realizing the key outcome of building a distinct and enabling workplace culture, a corporate culture which relies on and leverages very strong existing departmental workplace cultures. To excel strategically, our internal city-wide culture must foster, and support engaged employees to continuously add value by embracing change, driving innovation, and improving city business processes. Today’s leading organizations understand that they need to be more than just satisfied employees, they need to be fully engaged employees. Therefore, led directly by the City Manager and Executive Director of Human Resources, an employee engagement strategy is recommended that:

• regularly and efficiently surveys employees to accurately measure overall engagement levels and attitudes.
• provides informal and formal engagement and learning experiences.
• creates opportunities for employees to feel valued and recognized for their work.
• communicates results, regardless of the outcome, regularly and transparently.

Commisso H&S June 7th

Commisso spent years at city hall before moving to Thunder Bay, retiring and returning to Burlington to be drafted by the newly elected Mayor who then convinced Council to take the interim out of the title.

By utilizing “touch base” engagement surveys, asking the right questions, measuring the right factors with benchmarked results, the city will execute on a strategy to measurably improve employee engagement and in turn, our overall strategic management performance.

The following are three key considerations for implementation of the CM 2021/22 Objectives

1. Review & refine the Objectives and related Strategic Actions
The CM objectives and related strategic actions will be reviewed over the next few months and will be fully integrated with the “refresh” of V2F planned for Q3 2021. Refining the objectives and executing on the strategic actions will be an iterative process recognizing that budget resource needs and organizational capacity may likely be constrained over the next two years. The key for the City Manager will be to work closely with Council and the leadership team and remain focused on achieving measurable progress with each of the objectives.

2. Communicate the Objectives
Effective communication of the objectives is fundamental to both accountability and transparency which is in turn critical to achieving the intended strategic outcomes.
A focus will be given to the following best practices related to communication:

• Focus on the need for change and urgency in the communication. Answer the key question – Why does the organization need to change now?

• Follow-through on communicating the status of the objectives as well the completion of strategic actions with all staff – Be accountable for results.

• Avoid communication that is flat and two-dimensional. Make use of all communications channels, including staff meetings, corporate KPI dash boards, direct email messages and social media.

Tim hand onn chin May 5

As city manager Tim Commisso sits in on the meetings to listen and when they need help he comments. The previous city manager had a much more intrusive style. Commisso is a listener.

3. Integrate Key Objectives into an updated Corporate Performance Evaluation Process
The City Manager must set the example by directly aligning and integrating personal performance objectives with the completion of the City’s key strategic actions in V2F.

As noted in Table 1, a specific objective has been included in the City Manager’s 2021/22 Objectives related to development of a new performance management framework, using a format which is easy to administer and linked directly to individual strategic workplan objectives. Working closely with the leadership team, a realistic target would be to have this framework in place over the next 18-24 months and aligned with the updated non-union job evaluation system. BLT org chart June 2021

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2 comments to City manager sets out the job he has to do – will he be there to finish it?

  • Kurt Koster

    With all the acronyms in the article it would be helpful to add one more, much used in society, i.e. BBB. The last two stand for “baffles brains”. You can figure out what the first “B” stands for.

  • Smitty

    Sorry, but your comment in the article is wrong regarding the gender of all previous City Managers. You state “all of them have been women”….not accurate. Perhaps an edit of your story is in order?

    Editor’s note. Smitty is quite right – an error on our part. Burlington has never had a female city manager. Story has been corrected.