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Strategic Retreat

I was asked about our recent Strategic Planning Retreat to Jasper. Rather than make a long Facebook comment with no formatting, I thought a blog post would be easier to read. Below is what the retreat was about. As always, any opinions and errors belong to me and me alone.

 

Why Go Offsite?

Offsite planning sessions are used by organisations of all types. I've made use of them throughout my career and volunteer work. I'm a firm believer in the benefits that a new environment lends to strategic and creative discussions. Being away from home, family life, and other work obligations allows for longer and more focused productive hours. And taking a car trip and being stuck together after official sessions is a great aide to important but informal conversations and to team building.

 

The Schedule and Travel

I left my house just after 8:00am on Monday morning. I was picked up by Mayor Given- Council carpooled together. I was dropped off a little after 5:00pm on Friday evening.

Every morning our schedule started at 7:30am. Our official work ended at 5:30pm two evenings, 9:45pm one evening, and 10:30pm another evening. Every evening most of us spent hours extra talking unofficially.

 

What Did We Do?

We had a full agenda that had a wide range of objectives. Here is some of what we accomplished:

  • We identified the top level strategic priorities we want the City to pursue
  • We generated a rough list of the strategic objectives that will be used to implement Priority Based Budgeting
  • We met with the Jasper Council to talk about their experience and discuss shared priorities. I especially appreciated our conversation about their work with the National Park Service, who they share service delivery with- this relationship has lots of similarities to the relationships the province is requiring municipalities to establish with their neighbours. I also appreciated hearing about Jasper's experiences working with companies to develop land- we're discussing a similar approach to address homelessness.
  • We identified what Council feels are the biggest opportunities and biggest challenges before Grande Prairie
  • We received training on governance and decision making in complex environments
  • We talked with management about what we feel is working within the City and what needs improvement
  • Using the results of a DISC based personality test, we discussed how we prefer to work as individuals and some of the strengths and potential weaknesses of our team
  • We discussed with our senior managers how we want to work with and relate with them
  • We discussed staff reports and Council requests for information, determining how Council can get what it needs to make decisions while consuming less staff time

In addition, we spent time on many specific topics including:

  • Human resource management
  • Physical asset management
  • Relationships with our indigenous community
  • Economic development
  • Regional relationships and Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework negotiations
  • Public engagement
  • Provincial advocacy

 

Why Go to Jasper?

This is the big question some people have.

Council did not plan the retreat, nor were we asked for input into the location. I did not learn we were going to Jasper until it was already booked. When I did learn that, I immediately asked "why Jasper?"

I was told that these retreats are rotated between towns in our region. I was told that these towns generally appreciate us using their community and that our Council benefits from meeting other Councils (that was certainly my experience from talking to the Jasper Council). So I saw the benefit to rotating. But I wanted to know at what cost we received this benefit.

My next question was "how much are we paying extra to go to Jasper?" I was told that Jasper was comparable to other potential locations and I believed this. It aligns with my experience. I've planned many retreats, some in tourist towns (including Jasper) and some in working towns. For midweek bookings during shoulder seasons, I've usually found tourist towns to be the same price as working towns, and I've often found the tourist towns to be cheaper. I also know that it is often expensive to change bookings close to a retreat and did not wish to see us incur expenses for the sake of optics.

Thanks for reading!

Also, a lot of you gave great ideas in response to my "help me with my homework!" posts- thank you. Your input helped me be informed and bring some good ideas into our planning time.

-Dylan