A tale of 4 cities – and 1 tech giant (Editor's Notes)

Tales of woe from BlackBerry, Toronto and Montreal – but hope rises in the West
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/19/2013

Sometimes, there’s just nothing you can do to make things better. It’s an unfortunate reality of life.

One of the cover stories in this issue takes a look at the layoffs at BlackBerry. We’re not picking on the Waterloo, Ont.-based smartphone maker — it just happens to be in the news a lot for the wrong reasons, and we wanted to explore the issue: How should mass layoffs be handled?

There is no great answer, of course, but announcing staff reductions before all the I’s have been dotted and T’s crossed seems like a pretty bad way to go. It may make the Bay Street crowd happy but it takes a toll on workers. It puts all staff on edge and is a recipe for poor morale, productivity and loyalty.

Anyone who was thinking about heading for the exits will see the announcement as a reason to move that decision up. Voluntary turnover of low-performing employees may be desirable, but it’s your high performers who will actually land interviews and find new gigs.

So, feel some sympathy for your colleagues in the HR department at BlackBerry. It can’t be a fun time.

The BlackBerry saga got us talking internally at Canadian HR Reporter about the different environments human resources professionals are working in — sometimes great HR professionals find themselves in excruciatingly difficult circumstances through no fault of their own. The opposite also happens: Mediocre professionals can find themselves in enviable situations, without having to lift a finger.

The public sector seems to be an especially strong magnet for these cultural mood swings. After all, one bad leader can make a city’s reputation toxic. Just look at Toronto.

Mayor Rob Ford has been a polarizing figure from day one, but his actions in recent months have created a circus-like environment at city hall. Ford has been under police surveillance and was videotaped by cops urinating in public. Then there’s the infamous video of him allegedly smoking crack cocaine that made Canada’s largest city the butt of late night jokes on programs such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Tonight Show.

That video is now in police hands, who recovered it from a deleted hard drive following a raid at a suspected Toronto drug house.

You can’t tell me that’s not having an impact among city workers. The face of their employer is, in the eyes of many, a joke. And there’s no doubt it’s scaring away some professionals from applying for work with the city — who wants to walk into such a firestorm?

Up the road in Montreal, things aren’t much better. City hall might as well be a four-letter word in Quebec, with allegations of corruption racking the mayor’s office for years. In 2012, former mayor Gerard Tremblay resigned amid allegations of corruption. His replacement, Michael Applebaum, had barely taken the oath of office when 14 corruption charges were laid against him.

Last month, Denis Coderre, a federal MP who quit his seat to run for mayor, was voted in with 32 per cent of the vote. Coderre has pledged to clean up the city, but media reports during the election campaign linked him politically to a number of individuals who are linked to corruption probes in the province.

But it’s not all bad on the municipal scene. Contrast the woes in Toronto and Montreal to the excitement and vigour sweeping through city halls in Edmonton and Calgary. Alberta’s capital just elected a fresh young face to power — 34-year-old Don Iveson.

His victory speech was dotted with words like “imagination,” “ambition,” “hope,” and “swagger.” He pulled in 61.88 per cent of the vote. That’s quite a mandate, especially when compared to Coderre in Montreal, at 32 per cent, or Ford in Toronto, who received 47 per cent of the vote.

Down the road in Calgary, popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi cruised back into the mayor’s office with more of a coronation than an election, winning 74 per cent of the vote.

“The secret of our success in this community is very simple,” said Nenshi in his victory speech. “We’ve learned a basic truth that evades so many in this broken world. We’re all in it together. Our neighbour’s pain is our pain, our neighbour’s success is our success.”

That’s life for HR professionals, and not just in the public sector. Get the right leader at the helm and you’re flying high. But it just takes one buffoon to mess things up.

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