A reflection on 2020: imagination, innovation and inspiration

December 10, 2020

From the President & CAO

Anyone Open road in fallwho knows me knows I’m an optimist by nature. While this year has been filled with changes and uncertainty, we’ve spent a great deal of time re-examining, re-affirming and re-inventing our purpose at the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), setting us up for 2021 and beyond. 

Recently, our nearly 2,000 employees had the honour of listening to Chief Commissioner Manny Jules of the First Nations Tax Commission during a virtual meeting, where he talked to us about the work we do with Ontario First Nations. What stood out for me during one of our conversations was the concept of: imagination, inspiration and innovation.

We have not let this time during the pandemic go to waste. We have become more imaginative, innovative and inspired than what we could have planned for in any playbook or strategic plan. 

Imagination

The two external factors – the pandemic and the postponement of the province-wide reassessment that we were preparing for this year – forced us to take a look at ourselves and reassess our value in our new world that is rapidly changing and probably never going to be the same. 

This didn’t stop our work to prepare for a future valuation date, whenever that may be. It also didn’t change the fact that MPAC keeps municipal records updated and accurate all the time by processing new assessment and appeals. And, it didn’t change the fact that we need to monitor current market conditions so that we are ready to deliver updated property assessments when the time comes. Our ongoing work provides stability for taxpayers and municipalities across the province. 

So what did we do? We imagined how we were going to do our work in this new virtual world. The pandemic led us to push for some great innovative ideas.

Innovation

Obstacles presented to us during the pandemic resulted in innovations that allowed us to continue delivering services to our municipal partners with minimal service disruptions. We asked employees for their ideas, which turned into innovative solutions. We had to ‘decide to decide’ by making quick decisions with the information we had available to us. In turn, we were being looked upon to help lead the way which gave us focus to continue to chart our path forward. 

We experimented by sending everyone to work from home ahead of public health officials’ recommendations. Our technology infrastructure has been in place for years, but not many of us were used to working from home every day and still, settling into this new normal. MPAC’s IT team was one of the first Canadian public sector organizations to move to the cloud in 2013, and last year they became one of the few organizations in North America to receive an ISO 27001 Certification. This year, we achieved the ISO/IEC 27017 Certification, demonstrating our best-in-class cloud service security. 

While we’ve been offering alternate work arrangements for years, it was the right decision to keep our offices as many employees want the flexibility to work in the office again – when it is safe to do so. 

In doing our part to limit contact throughout the pandemic, we paused on in-field property inspections when necessary. We modified and evolved our ways of collecting information to support our inspection work, including better digital imagery to help us assess certain types of renovations and validate information in remote areas faster and more efficiently. Our IT team also developed a new process that allowed municipal staff to share digital building plans with us safely and securely. Not all municipalities have digital plans so we launched a curbside pickup program as an alternate way to collect plans.

As restrictions lifted, we implemented new safety guidelines and practices. We’re fortunate to live in the ever-changing and growing province of Ontario, which enabled us to collect $37.3 billion in new assessment (comparable to 2019) without conducting interior inspections. 

We experimented with a grassroots-volunteer diversity and inclusion project team by doing a call out to employees. We didn’t tap anyone to join the group, ensuring we didn’t just check off boxes. We now have nearly 40 members. We’re constantly looking at where improvements can be made, including hiring a consultant to help us build a diversity, equity and inclusion strategy. 

While finding new ways of working, we recently successfully delivered our year-end assessment roll and over 875,000 property assessment notices. 

Our workforce is more empowered and our partnerships with municipalities and stakeholders is stronger than ever. We found new ways to serve municipalities better, while managing costs and cash flow, and without any layoffs at MPAC. 

Inspiration

Inspiration is one of my favourite words! I’m inspired by our MPAC family, who has continued to be flexible in a time of change while juggling multiple priorities at home and work. I’m even more encouraged to create an environment where people can be people and feel confident in bringing their authentic selves to work. What does that really mean? It means, it starts and ends with your employees. Put them first! 

Early in the pandemic we decided on three principles that would guide our decision-making: 

  • the health, safety and wellness of employees is our top priority;
  • focus on our customers and keep the business operating; 
  • do our part to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.

By working to keep our employees healthy and well, we were able to continue to provide the services that municipalities and our partners expected from us to support their priorities. 

Employees are even more engaged than we’ve seen. An indication of that is our all-employee survey results showed an 89% satisfaction rate – during a pandemic! We’ve become more transparent than ever. We’ve held over 60 all-employee live virtual meetings since the start of the pandemic to stay connected. Many employees have shared how much they value the timely business updates, frequent discussions on topics of mental health and diversity and inclusion, and regular opportunities to ask the Executive Management Group anything. We’ve answered 99% of the questions employees have asked, and have been transparent in saying “we don’t know the answer at this time” when we genuinely didn’t have an answer to a question. The important thing is to follow up with employees when we do have the answer.

Closing

Undoubtedly, we’ve had many firsts and learned a lot over the past year – personally and as professionals. We were reacting to what we were going through and people were also looking to us for expertise which gave us focus. Our key success factors have been reaffirming our business model around the customer and putting our people first – while not losing sight of our guiding principles. When you imagine, you can innovate, and in turn inspire others. 

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