Staff instructors offer training at CBC

RBC sees success with peer-to-peer social recognition tool
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/23/2013

Tool time: In March, the Strategic Capability Network (SCNetwork) held a panel discussion about different tools used by employers. CBC discussed its initiatives around staff instructors; RBC introduced its social recognition program; Beanfield Metroconnect revealed how it benefited from personality testing; and Points International explained how it got leaders to take a look in the mirror.

The right tools for the job (Organizational Effectiveness)

HR tools in a viral world (Strategic Capability)

The next level (Leadership In Action)

In August 2012, CBC launched a project to equip all its television stations across Canada with high-definition cameras and equipment. From coast to coast, the in-class training around the new technology was conducted by staff instructors, according to Elizabeth Lancaster, director of English services training in Toronto.

“The staff have tremendous expertise in delivering the training,” she said. “CBC is filled with people who are incredibly smart, very passionate about what they do, highly skilled… and are natural teachers who love to see other people succeed.”

Staff members make up 70 per cent of the 30 or so instructors at the 4,300-employee public broadcaster.

“It’s a very different kind of model,” said Lancaster, speaking at a Strategic Capability Network (SCNetwork) event in Toronto in March. “Our role is to support (the instructors) from an instructional design and skills transfer standpoint. It’s a beautiful, beautiful partnership.”

CBC also supports the trainers’ development. In the past few months, staff instructors received four days of training — two focused on elearning and two focused on higher-level “train the trainer,” said Lancaster. Senior staff trainers were partnered with newer members of the training group and they worked collaboratively on developing material.

“We strongly encourage input from staff,” she said. “Staff themselves come up with ideas about how we can teach somebody.”

Staff instructors primarily provide technical and infrastructure training, such as new equipment training, as well as journalism and programming training, including journalism skills, writing and producing. A handful of staff instructors also provide soft skills and business skills training, including facilitation, internal negotiation, dealing with complex work environments and feedback.

Senior staff members also play a key role in training at CBC. Earlier this year, CBC News launched a “conversation series” where younger staff got to talk to veteran journalists, producers and editors.

“The chance to be able to tap into what someone who is tremendously successful does is really valuable,” said Lancaster.

The employee intranet features a variety of videos of more senior employees offering their expertise, she said.

“CBC is a storytelling organization, so (we want) to really get a sense of their stories behind the scenes so that younger staff can learn from them.”

English services training at CBC is embedded in the media operations and technology group — not within HR. The media group would be a very large client of the training group so it just made sense to actually embed training within it, said Lancaster.

“It quickly gave the department much more credibility because it was the line serving itself in many ways, so a lot of the hurdles that HR may have faced in the past were dispersed,” she said.

Lancaster and many of her staff have a background in journalism, so they are able to “speak the language of the organization” which really adds credibility, she said. They also have great relationships with the business as well as tremendous access and involvement.

RBC embraces social media

Steve Richardson, manager of recognition programs at RBC in Toronto, came into social media “kicking and screaming,” he said.

“Everything we do in the employee recognition world at RBC we manage, we write, we own — we do it 100 per cent and it’s on our website and it’s great. Well, it’s a little bit different (with social media) and it took a number of years for me to agree to go into this field where, all of a sudden, you lose that control.”

But in 2011, Richardson and his team launched RBC’s social recognition platform. The internal site allows the company’s 75,000 employees to enter a thank-you message to another employee that appears in a scrolling bar at the top of the page. The rest of the page includes information about the employee’s team or group and is customizable.

“(For example), if I work in the sales group in Toronto, those are my people, but I can add others. If I used to work in Halifax and I want to see what’s going on there, I can add them. There’s a whole bunch of functionability,” said Richardson, also speaking at the SCNetwork event.

Managers receive special training and coaching around the importance of employee recognition and how to offer it effectively.

“It sounds basic, of course, to thank someone but there’s lots behind it: Are you thanking people for the right thing? Are you being specific about what they did?” he said.

A key component is peer-to-peer recognition. It is very simple and low-cost but high-impact, said Richardson.

“In the past, we had a manager-to-employee recognition system that worked very well, but, as we got into it more and more, a lot of employees were asking, ‘Can we do peer to peer? Can I thank publicly my fellow co-worker in our branch or office?’ and that was an ‘Ah-ha’ moment for me,” he said.

The program, which was launched with just one email to every region, averages about 10,000 thank-you messages per month. While 93 per cent of the messages sent are public, the tool also allows users to send private messages.

“It’s just taking a step back and remembering not all employees want to be up here being thanked. It gets back to the importance of knowing who your employee is and what type of recognition do they want,” said Richardson.

A pilot project that launched along with the social recognition platform proved the success of the tool. It found recognition optimization leads to increased engagement, which leads to increased performance.

“The more instant thanks and nominations people sent and received, they were more engaged and more loyal. The ones that didn’t were more susceptible to leaving the organization,” said Richardson.

The platform is also being embraced by senior leaders.

“That speaks volumes to this,” he said. “Many of our executive team have come into this and one of them said to me, ‘I used to spend two hours a week on the phone, but now I can recognize 10 times as many people in such a short time.’”

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SCNetwork’s panel of thought leaders brings decades of experience from the senior ranks of Canada’s business community. Their commentary puts HR management issues into context and looks at the practical implications of proposals and policies.

The right tools for the job (Organizational Effectiveness)

By Dave Crisp

The annual “Tool Time” session at the Strategic Capability Network revealed some programs and practices that were genuinely astonishing.

This year, four practitioners — representing CBC, RBC, Beanfield Metroconnect and Points International — explained programs that work well for them.

Most startling were two approaches for getting CEOs to recognize their own impact on the culture and people at their organizations, how their behaviour — as well as that of other people — needs to change, and what they need to learn for overall performance to improve.

Fortunately, the presentations are now captured on video (go to to view clips) because slides often do not do justice without personal commentary, and only listening for a second or third time really revealed some of the most surprising successes.

It’s tough for CEOs to ask for help, to be honest about their worries and their own actions in particular. Especially revealing was the hilarious, down-to-earth story from CEO Dan Armstrong of 40-employee Beanfield — which he started at age 15. It has really taken off in the last five years, requiring its first HR manager and a series of eye-opening learning challenges for the top managers, including Armstrong himself.

Suffice it to say Armstrong found a useful profiling tool by Heather Hilliard to help employees not only understand their differences but what they could do about them.

In one case, a key executive was rescued from almost certainly being fired to becoming one the company’s biggest contributors. It illustrates the truth that change for the better can only begin with seeing and accepting responsibility for the problem.

Similarly, Sherrill Burns helped Points International’s chief people officer Inez Murdoch focus on key cultural styles among different leaders. This led to change programs that likewise improved results, answering questions for executives, including the CEO, such as: “How is my behaviour affecting culture here?”

Interestingly both consultants said they are usually called in by CEOs who want everyone but themselves to change, so the consultants find subtle ways of encouraging CEOs to see their own roles and difficulties.

It was also great, but less earth-shaking, to hear how 70 per cent of the trainers at CBC are staff members, though concerning to see they have “People & Culture” (CBC’s name for HR) pay for, but not direct, development. Development is housed in the line to “ensure it adds to productive results in every case” — perhaps a scary signal that HR is missing that important key?

In another demonstration that even big companies can and should keep learning, RBC’s manager of recognition programs introduced an online tool for thanking people. The benefits? Employees who received thank-you messages as part of the pilot program participated in significantly more productive activities than those in the control group.

Knowledge of how to improve performance keeps growing and, most importantly, so does zeroing in on the factors that really make a difference.

Dave Crisp is a Toronto-based writer and thought leader for Strategic Capability Network with a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson’s Bay Co. where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit

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HR tools in a viral world (Strategic Capability)

By Karen Gorsline

For years, HR tools have been affiliated with the dreaded “corporate rollout,” where employees brace themselves for the newest corporate initiative. Even when legitimate needs are being met, the fanfare, design and rigidity — and lack of early engagement — dull enthusiasm.

The introduction of such tools faces even more of a challenge when employees have instant access to information and expect high participation. News, photos and individual views can go viral.

Social recognition

RBC had had recognition programs for years but hadn’t adapted its approach to take social media and social networking into consideration. Its peer-to-peer social recognition platform started as a pilot to better understand how it would function and alleviate concerns about the openness and lack of control it represented.

When the platform was made broadly available, there was no large rollout or mandatory usage requirement. It was a low-profile launch consisting of a single email.

The utilization by individuals to say “thank you” to peers and colleagues has grown steadily. Individual trial, word- of-mouth and employees receiving recognition all contributed to this acceptance. There was no fuss — just a design for engagement and viral growth.

Make it relevant, just-in-time

CBC developed an elearning tool with a high degree of flexibility, adaptability and ability to respond to business needs. It also used creativity in engaging both those who share information and users.

In developing the tool, called the Exchange, CBC leveraged technology it already uses on a daily basis to enhance elearning. The Exchange provides access to manuals, how-to videos, mentoring advice, a toolbox, best practices, scenarios on standards of practice and examples of new technology. It is geared to just-in-time access with short modules — average individual use is six minutes. Classroom learning still occurs but technology is being highly leveraged to help the business and people succeed.

Word-of-mouth still compelling

Beanfield Metroconnect, an entrepreneurial telecom, experienced growing pains. With two co-founders, there was not a single voice at the top. Key senior staff had expectations based on the company’s days as a startup, when things were different.

Hiring practices that favoured young rebels, rather than filling business needs, resulted in poor hiring decisions. Successful growth was impeded by tension, confusion, differing expectations and staff turnover.

But a personality assessment taken by one co-founder surprised him with its insight on how his behaviour might impact the company. Rather than compelling the team to take an assessment, he talked about his personal insights and, as a result, some individuals were interested and decided to complete the assessment. They found their results helpful. Positive comments led to others trying the assessment tool. Nothing was forced and existing tensions were not exacerbated.

With insight into why individuals behave the way they do, and what needs to be in place to support people and the business, formal processes were introduced to promote clear direction. Role expectations relevant to the current and growing company were articulated and a systematic hiring process was developed.

Word-of-mouth, the most basic form of going viral, taps into human curiosity and need for engagement. Technology provides low-cost, anytime, broadly accessible platforms for conversations — for recognition or learning — with an opportunity to increase engagement across the organization.

Karen Gorsline is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on strategic capability and leads HR Initiatives, a consulting practice focused on facilitation and tailored HR initiatives. Toronto-based, she has taught HR planning, held senior roles in strategy and policy, managed a large decentralized HR function and directed a small business. She can be reached at

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The next level (Leadership In Action)

By Trish Maguire

Frances Hesselbein, president and CEO of the New York-based leadership institute that bears her name, once said: “The first item in your budget should be learning, education and the development of your people.”

All four presenters at a recent Strategic Capability Network event provided real-world variations on how they are making her conviction a reality.

Dan Armstrong, co-founder and CEO of Beanfield Metroconnect, exhibited the importance of leaders finding an effective balance between passion, vision, focus and consistency, without abandoning innovation. Introducing personality assessments to senior leadership has helped break old habits and patterns.

On introducing a customized culture strategy leader survey, leadership at Points International was provided with first-hand evidence that a new set of competencies would successfully shape the organization’s culture along with a redesign of leadership roles.

On the elearning front, Elizabeth Lancaster, director of English services training at CBC, talked about maximizing human capital effectiveness, with the English services training team leveraging in-house experts for training content, development and delivery. Activating collaboration and inline business partnerships, the team is routinely leveraging the comprehensive expertise of technical and editorial staff.

A final example where technology is re-energizing a low-cost, high-impact HR tool is RBC’s peer-to-peer recognition platform, crafted as an integral, yet separate, program within a broader HR strategy around employee engagement. By tracking metrics, Steve Richardson reinforced that there is a direct correlation between greater recognition, improved employee engagement and increased performance.

A lesson to be found in RBC’s example is the importance of collecting data that enables leaders to quantify things that are often not quantified.

HR leaders may also want to consider: Are internal HR metrics capturing all the information? Are we tying them back to sources and cross-referencing the data? Is the data relevant to company performance or is it satisfying an internal HR metric?

Trish Maguire is a commentator for SCNetwork on leadership in action and founding principal of Synergyx Solutions in Nobleton, Ont., focused on high-potential leadership development coaching. She has held senior leadership roles in HR and organizational development in education, manufacturing and entrepreneurial organizations and can be reached at

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