Taking It To The Top


Q: What does it take to become ‘an employer of choice’ in Canada?

A: Employee engagement

Every year, industry analysts who specialize in surveying Canadian workplaces publicize the list of top employers across the country.  In 2019, the list of honorees included the 50 Canadian workplaces who excel at employee engagement.

Click here to read the top 50 list and selection criteria.

Air Canada is one of the repeat winners to make it to this list. This does not happen by accident or default. The commitment Air Canada has made to employee engagement comes from the strategic alignment of its business strategy to its human resources strategy.  As noted in the article, Air Canada promotes its ‘people first culture’ as a business priority. The setting of this priority gives us a great example of a strategic initiative which establishes both a company and industry benchmark dedicated to excellence, which then drives organizational success.

As a result, Air Canada has been recognized for multiple award-winning industry and human resources initiatives, including Canadian top employer and diversity categories.

Click here to read about Air Canada’s award winning profile.   

Employee engagement is more than measuring whether or not people feel good about their jobs when they complete a survey. It comes from a consistent application and belief in ‘people first’ strategies through all aspects of the company hierarchy. We see this through the title of the person holding the senior human resources position at Air Canada. The leadership role for this particular senior vice president includes accountability and responsibility for a strategic commitment to human resource management with a portfolio dedicated to ‘People, Culture and Communications’.

Industry awards provide us with great examples of how standards of excellence can be applied and achieved. In the case of Air Canada, we see how leadership commitment from the top to its people and culture results in being at the top of the list for industry awards.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you rate the commitment to employee engagement at your current workforce?
  2. Select one or two companies from the top 50 list noted in the article. Provide an internet search on each company’s profile, including their strategic plans. How is employee engagement reflected in each plan?
  3. As an HR professional, would you be motivated to work for one of the top 50 companies? Explain your rationale.

The Joy of Talent Management

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For an overview of the importance and impact that recruitment has on any organization, a recent interview with Patty McCord provides both inspiration and motivation.

Click here to read the interview.

Ms. McCord speaks to the very real perception that the recruitment aspect of the Human Resources function can be (and often is) relegated to a ‘workmanlike’ status.  It is, after all, a process-based series of steps that puts a candidate through multiple sets of assessments and events in order to determine whether or not the employer should hire them. If the Human Resources practitioner approaches recruitment from that perspective, it can be perceived as a tedious set of tasks for both the practitioner and the candidate.  The result may be the same, the candidate gets hired or not, but the value and the joy of the process is missed by everyone involved.

Recruitment is only the beginning of the talent management journey. It is, as Ms. McCord notes, the first step to ensuring employee retention is perceived as a mission linked to organizational success. If an organization is committed to being great, then they must hire and retain great people. That gives purpose and passion for every step and every process that the Human Resources practitioner is involved in.

It also makes the decision easier to not have people who are not so great. When a candidate joins an organization, they do so under a specific set of circumstances and understandings which start to change almost immediately. First, their role changes from candidate to employee. For both the employee and the employer, expectations become more clear, duties and responsibilities expand or contract, working relationships develop in both positive and potentially negative ways.

When there is a clear approach to employee development as part of a positive talent management strategy, the employee is able to accept and adapt to these changes in a constructive way. If there is no strategy in place, the employee’s experience is disjointed and, in many cases, unhappiness sets in.  The employer must decide whether or not the retention of unhappy employees is good for the organization. If it is not good, then the right decision is to relieve everyone of their unhappiness and end the employment relationship.

The ending of the employment relationship comes back to the beginning — recruiting with purpose and passion as the mission for organizational success.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Based on your reading of the article, identify three key effects that successful recruitment has on organizational success.
  2. How do organizational values shape or influence the hiring decision?
  3. If you were able to implement some of the suggested staffing strategies, which one would you pick? Explain your rationale.


Written vs. the Unwritten

What truly motivates employee behaviour?

Business people joining hands
ESB Professional/Shutterstock

Steve Simpson, an executive coach from Down Under, wants you to know what truly drives employee’s behaviour. It’s not the mission statement, and it is definitely not the HR policy or procedure manual. It is what Steve Simpson calls “UGRs,” or Unwritten Ground Rules.

Click here to read an article on UGRs.

A key feature about UGRs, according to Steve Simpson, is the way they drive the employee’s behaviour but despite being never written down, nor are they ever talked about.

UGRs develop out of people being together in groups in the workplace; they really are just the norms the groups observe and follow. Many organizations attempt to create a culture with words which is known as a mission statement, but it is actions that create workplace norms and culture. Organizations continually fail to understand their own culture, therefore, fail to manageme their workplace culture, according to Steve Simpson.

Click here to see Steve Simpson’s interview on UGR’s.

So how can organizations begin to pull back the veil on UGRs, and shine a 200 watt bulb on the behaviours? Well, one effective way is to ask questions. Many UGRs can be uncovered when you hear the words “around here” which is usually followed by something the organization does or doesn’t do.

Most organizations may spend too much time trying to audit their organizations with sophisticated and overly complex culture surveys. However, if you follow Steve Simpson UGRs concept, the best way to figure out your true corporate culture is to ask employees leading questions and ask them to finish the sentence that explains their day-to-day behaviour.


  1. From your past experience, identify three UGRs from a workplace, a class you took or a team you were on.
  2. How did the UGRs affect your performance? How did the UGRs affect the culture?
  3. How would you use your knowledge of HR to address the above UGRs?
  4. After watching the short video clip, think about questions you could ask in the workplace that would uncover the true norms of the organizations.

Social and Cultural Obligations

Many of us know about Amazon from a consumer’s perspective, some Human Resources (HR) Professionals are aware of it’s corporate culture of: high pressure, high turnover, and seeing how far it can push it’s executives.  Mr. Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, might be starting to see the cracks in his corporate culture and philosophy.

HRM Canada writes about Amazon’s corporate culture, and it is not pretty.  HRM Canada states that some warehouse workers feel that working there is like “a stint in prison“; How is that for employee engagement?

Click Here to Read the Article

Renowned culture expert, Stan Slap agrees. Slap told HRM that, “cultivating a positive employee culture is one of the most important keys to a company success.  Underestimating the importance of culture, he claims, is one of the biggest mistakes HR and organizations can make.”

From all external reports it looks like Amazon has underestimated the importance of culture. According to Slap, “the first – and perhaps most important step – is to recognize that this is a business issue, not a behavioural issue.”

All HR professionals should memorize Slap’s quote.  There are times where corporate culture is a behavioural issue, but in most cases, corporate culture is created by leadership and its direction of the business.

Discussion Question:

  1. As a HR Professional you have been asked to audit an organizations corporate culture. Considering Stan Slap’s quote, “the first- and perhaps most important step – is to recognize that this is a business issue, not a behavioural issue” , how would you address this issue in your initial audit assessment?

Learning to Listen

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Effective transfer of training for all employees is easier when there is a culture of learning.  Creating a culture of learning must come with clear support from the top of the organization through the office of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO).  As we have learned through our studies, two additional key strategies recommended for the effective transfer of training for employees into productive performance behaviours include, management support and on-going performance coaching.  So how does the CEO become more effective in their own performance as a cultural role model for the learning organization?

They too need management support and on-going performance coaching.

Click here to read the article.  

According to this article, there is a 65.4% increase in management productivity due to one-on-one coaching when compared to the transfer of learning that comes from attending a three-day management training session.  Further, most of us forget a significant portion of what we have heard within 8 hours!   So, it is particularly interesting to note, that for the CEO, the focus of performance coaching in this example relies on the continued development of their own listening skills in order to become better communicators.

If the CEO learns to listen more, then employees are more likely to be heard.  If employees feel like they are being heard, then they are more likely become more productive.  If there is more productivity, then there is likely to be an increase in organizational value as a result of employees feeling valued and listened to.

Does it matter?  If the transfer of training by the CEO makes for better listening practices and effective communication, then a positive chain reaction throughout the organization could occur.  This result makes it obvious that it does matter…a lot!

Discussion Questions:

  1. What advice would you give the CEO where you work (or have worked) in order to increase their communication effectiveness?
  2. What types of performance coaching would you benefit from in your current work situation?
  3. How much do you remember from past training sessions that you were able to implement into your daily work routines?
  4. Who would benefit from on-going performance coaching in your current workplace and why?