Getting in the game

An inside look at recruitment, training and retention for the 2015 Pan Am Games
By Liz Bernier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 08/08/2014

Editor's note: Once a month, the Strategic Capability Network (SCNetwork) hosts a special seminar on a topic of interest to HR professionals and business leaders. Canadian HR Reporter covers these events for a special feature titled "Executive Series." The feature includes news coverage from one of our editors, plus commentary from SCNetwork's panel of thought leaders on strategic capability, leadership in action and organization effectiveness.

This web post contains all of these elements:

Canadian HR Reporter's news coverage

For strategy, run your own race, by Karen Gorsline
Corporations' next major project, by Morgan Smyth
Ready to raise the tent? by Trish Maguire

Getting in the game
An inside look at recruitment, training and retention for the 2015 Pan Am Games
By Liz Bernier

It’s a massive, awe-inspiring undertaking: Within just a few years, a huge organization will be built from the ground up — and then completely disappear. That’s exactly what the organizing committee of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games has set out to do.

The committee is approaching the home stretch of the pre-games work, and two senior members of its HR department gave the Strategic Capability Network an inside look at some of their recruitment, training and retention strategies — as well as how they’ve overcome unique challenges.

The vision for the 2015 games is “The Peoples’ Games,” said Karen Hacker, senior vice-president of human resources and volunteers, general counsel and corporate secretary.

“They are going to be inclusive and accessible to the families that live and work here,” she said. “In our smaller, more intimate venues, the fans are going to be able to meet and mix with our athletes. We will have an affordable ticket strategy, which means that an average family of four will be able to attend actual competitions.”

A major part of that inclusive strategy is a critical focus on diversity, said Hacker.

“They will be dynamic and inclusive and a celebration of the global village that southern Ontario is,” she said. “We are also promoting diversity in our workforce, volunteers and businesses that supply us. We live in the most diverse region in the world and (the Games) are going to reflect this cultural strength.”

As the largest international sporting event Canada has ever hosted — bigger than any of the Olympic competitions held in Montreal, Vancouver or Calgary — the Games will see about 10,000 athletes, coaches and officials, 41 different countries and 250,000 visitors travel to the region. The committee’s intent is to create three lasting legacies for the region, said Hacker.

“We’re working to create social, economic and sport legacies from these Games that will last for decades to come,” she said, adding that those will include 26,000 jobs, 10 new sporting facilities and 15 renovations, and fast-tracked transportation infrastructure.

Massive volunteer base

But a critical element of the Games is the massive volunteer base. With a target of 20,000 volunteers, the volunteer force will be the heart and soul of the Games, said Hacker.

Beyond those volunteers, the Games will employ about 435 full-time staff, more than 200 temporary staff and thousands of contractors, said Naki Osutei, director of human resources and diversity and inclusion.

Those employees come from the public, private and non-for-profit sectors. Some have experience with sport or large-scale events, and others do not. There is a board of directors they are accountable to, as well as seven different divisions and 51 functional areas, she said.

“One of the things that is really fascinating about an organization like this are the blended cultures that make up this committee,” said Osutei. “Bringing together the best of all of these sectors has been quite beneficial to the organizing committee.”

And they’ve made good use of all that combined expertise, facing down several unique challenges.

“We have very interesting external realities that we have to contend with. Among them are the staff and budget constraints, and one of the things that we often talk about in these presentations is the scale of these Games compared to the resourcing that’s attached to it,” said Osutei.

To put that in perspective, consider this: The Pan Am Games are going to be significantly larger than the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

“Where Vancouver had about nine venues, we’ll have 30-plus. Where Vancouver had 21 sports, we’ll have upwards of 51 sports. Vancouver had an ultimate staff size of about 4,000 — we’ll have a workforce of about 450,000,” she said.

And that workforce faces the realities of “working in a fishbowl,” said Osutei, with the very public face of the organizing committee.

“You can imagine how that impacts the workforce. From a positive perspective, it means that people are very excited about the organizing committee that we’re part of… but on the flipside, there’s this constant scrutiny that the organizing committee is under,” she said.

Another challenge they’ve had to address in their recruitment strategy is stiff international competition for talent, and recruiting for positions that have a fast-approaching end date.

“It’s fascinating to be part of an organization that’s essentially a startup, that is going to have a defined shut-down. So part of our recruitment strategy has really been to ensure that we’re attracting that range of talent, but we’re also in a global competition for talent in a very real way. There are a number of (international) Games that are happening right now… and so we really are competing for talent in a very busy marketplace,” said Osutei.

With employment opportunities that have a limited time frame, they’ve had to focus on building a strong employer brand that can attract the best talent regardless of the time frame.

The quality of their talent is critical, she said.

“One of the interesting things we’ve had to juggle is making sure that we maintain our commitment to local capacity-building and ensuring that local individuals benefit economically from the Games through employment opportunities, but also ensuring that we’ve got enough previous Games expertise to lead the various functions within the organizing committee,” said Osutei.

Ensuring their total compensation package is competitive — which can be a challenge when competing for talent with other international Games — and dealing with relocation and immigration issues for some of their temporary talent has also created challenges.

Retention is also an issue, as is work-life balance in a fast-paced organization that is very focused on the July 2015 deadline, said Osutei.

“Work-life balance has definitely been a challenge… the hours are long and we’ve had to tell people that in the interview process that if you’re looking for a nine-to-five job, this isn’t it. So people are coming with that understanding.”

Focus on retention

But to counter any potential difficulties around retention, the organizing committee has put a strong focus on employee engagement initiatives.

“One of the exciting things on the retention side is that people have their pre-Games roles and then they’ll move into different roles at Games time… that kind of conversion is going to happen across the organization and across different functions,” she said.

A very strong diversity and inclusion strategy — about 30 per cent of their workforce meet at least one employment equity category — combined with a rigorous performance management system, salary increases and thorough training and development keep engagement high.

The organizational culture is a positive one — very collaborative, with a focus on on-the-job professional development, said Osutei.

“It does give staff an opportunity to explore opportunities outside of their typical box,” she said. “We want to make sure that leadership opportunities within the Games… are spread to the broadest number of people possible.”

To get involved in the games, visit

For strategy, run your own race
By Karen Gorsline (Strategic Capability)

Organizing and operating the Toronto 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games presents a unique challenge. The sheer scale, the variety of the sports events and the countries represented, the visibility and the fixed timelines are enough to impress any planner. But emulating the strategy — and applying it to your own organization — should be approached with caution.

As impressive as the effort around the Games is, it’s important to consider that some things just don’t transfer well.

Sustainability: The Pan Am Games and Parapan Am Games operation has a limited timeframe — from start to finish, it’s about three years.

While the Games organizing commitee is concerned with building capability in the local and sports community, they do not have to take into consideration longer lifespan issues such as ongoing employee engagement during day-to-day operations and ongoing financial well-being.

In organizational terms, the Games are basically a project: They have a beginning, a middle and an end.

Contingent workforce: Most organizations today have some form of contingent workforce. The prediction is this will increase as organizations evolve into becoming more virtual.

However, no organization anticipates the contingent talent will work for free.

The profile of the Pan Am Games and the culture of volunteerism in sport makes this possible.

There are a few organizations such as hospitals or charities that can and do tap into this type of arrangement but — as seen with recent developments and reactions with regard to unpaid interns — there is less tolerance these days for unpaid work.

Talent and career: Organizations can’t and don’t want to rely on a talent plan that looks only at outside resources.

They want to have at least some portion of the talent they will need to be readily available internally, with an understanding of the organizational culture, without a learning curve.

In addition, part of employee engagement in a longer term organization is the potential for ongoing professional development and career growth, without having to leave the organization.

That said, there are important lessons to be learned from the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games planning and strategy.

Shifting infrastructure: Some organizations that have many projects on an ongoing basis have begun to adopt more flexible structures and new types of roles, some of which are based on a matrix organization.

The Pan Am Games’ organizational structure and roles were designed to evolve and change over the lifespan of the operation.

Using the same players in different roles provides continuity, opportunities for professional growth and development, and the chance to work with different people in different ways.

Tailored strategy: The Pan Am Games require the strong support of the community at large, the sports community, government and corporate sponsors. There are political, social and economic dimensions.

The strategy could not rely only on basic operational delivery and fiscal accountability — there also had to be an element of legacy, of social responsibility, and the Pan Am Games had to be more than just a sporting event.

Thus, the strategy includes reaching out to the community to build capability and leadership. It highlights opportunities to be found in being a more inclusive, diverse organization.

The strategy taps into the need for public support for resources (such as funding, volunteers and infrastructure improvements) by tapping into energy generated by the excitement of the Games and placing them in a broader social context.

Using best practices: Although the Pan Am Games organization has a limited lifespan and must contend with a rapid ramp-up and a fixed and definite wind-down, the organization brings human resources best practices into use and adapts them to meet its unique challenges.

Organizations or projects of a short and fixed duration often do not invest the time to put in place best practice approaches — and they rarely demonstrate the creativity to tailor their human resources strategy to meet anything other than operational and technical requirements.

The Pan Am Games strategy has social elements that influence the human resources strategy and drive the tailoring of best practices to meet specific needs.

As organizations evolve — perhaps becoming more virtual with larger contingent workforces — there are many lessons they can learn from the Pan Am Games approach. They need to realistically assess their situation, including the social and political aspects involved, to determine what is required to be successful and embed these into their strategy.

The strategy cannot be a cut and paste from one organization to another and it can’t rigidly rely on a balanced scorecard or any other framework.

Each organization must run its own race.

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

Corporations' next major project
By Morgan Smyth (Leadership in Action)

What can organizations learn from the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games being held in Toronto in July/August 2015?

It’s not so much the events themselves that hold the lessons (although the athletes are inspirational) — it’s the fact that the organizing committee started from nothing in 2010 to now employing 431 full-time employees and will soon be employing about 20,000 volunteers.

And the sole objective is to successfully host 10,000 athletes and 250,000 visitors for just over three weeks, with the eyes of the world watching to witness their final “product.”

Oh yes, as a sidebar, Toronto 2015 will also boost the Canadian economy by an impressive $3.7 billion in the process. What other organization can boast those kinds of statistics?

Project format evolves through various stages

So how is Toronto 2015 going to accomplish this? Simple. Instead of organizing itself in the typical hierarchical, command-and-control structure, it has set the company up as one big project.

Sure, there’s a CEO, a CFO and a smattering of vice-presidents, but the bulk of the team is aligned in a project format.

And as the project evolves through its various stages, these team members will be redeployed as needed — it’s a very dynamic, fluid environment.

This approach makes sense. So why don’t other organizations function this way? Why do they continue to cocoon themselves in the very rigid command-and-control hierarchical structure? Why do they permit silos and fiefdoms to develop?

These only encourage petty politics and turf wars among the various departments and divisions and, more importantly, they stifle change.

Get rid of archaic ‘shackles’ around employee roles

If we look closely at an organization, it’s really just a bunch of projects anyway. The yearly objectives tell us this. What are we going to accomplish this year? Projects!

So why not align the overall structure this way? Move Mackenzie from accounting to IT where she will be part of the new ERP (enterprise resource planning) design team. Move Michael from production to marketing where he can add insight and sober second thought to the new product launch. Move as many as possible.

Changing perspectives

When these people are transferred in this way, possibly for up to two years, their perspectives change — they start to look at things more from the entire company’s viewpoint as opposed to just their departments’.

They also gain more experience than they might normally have thought possible and become more valuable employees.

The days of the fossilized corporate structure are over. So too is the “We’ve always done it this way” mentality.

Organizations must become much more flexible and adaptable in order just to survive, let alone flourish. The way to do this is to transform to a more project-oriented architecture.

Morgan Smyth is an SCNetwork thought leader and a change management consultant who launched his own IT services company which soared to Profit Magazine’s 50 Fastest Growing Companies. He is based in Toronto and can be reached at

Ready to raise the tent?
By Trish Maguire (Leadership in Action)

Hearing an insider’s view from two executives on the Pan Am Games leadership team heightened my awareness of the critical role leadership has in delivering the ultimate 2015 goal: A successful and memorable world class event. Starting in 2010, the opportunity was to build a unique, sophisticated organization that would leverage best-in-class systems, methodologies and procedures for a fast-growing startup enterprise — becoming a multi-national corporation in five years.

Nevertheless, the organization committee continues to experience disorder. The total estimated cost of the event, including security, transportation and the athletes’ village, is now up to $2.5 billion, from an original budget of $1.4 billion. In December 2013, just one-and-a-half years before the event, the Globe and Mail reported that CEO Ian Troop was replaced by Saad Rafi, who removed two additional executives shortly thereafter.

At a recent Toronto Board of Trade meeting, the Globe and Mail reported that while CEO Saad Rafi spoke about the “world class facilities” being built, reports showed that venues continued to run over budget or were at risk of not opening on schedule. Furthermore, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne just replaced Michael Chan, who had been Pan Am Games Minister since November 2012, with Michael Coteau.

All these scenarios suggest there has been a breakdown somewhere in leadership execution. The question is: Where, how and what is this symptomatic of? If the leadership team is not making as big a difference as they could, then they will continue to get only a fraction of the results they are capable of.

The organization’s vision is compelling; the values of purpose, collaboration, accountability, results and joy serve as a meaningful benchmark. The classic HR strategy includes a fundamental framework comprised of principles, policy, practice and performance. Conventional programs are in place such as onboarding, recognition, employee engagement surveys, rigorous performance management, town hall sessions, assistive technologies, leadership and core skill training.

Overall objectives focus on leveraging both economic and leadership opportunities as well as heightening diversity awareness. All of which reinforces the organization’s commitment to hiring the right people at the right time for the right duration.

With just 12 months to go, perhaps it’s not too late for the Games leadership team to consider learning and applying the three core management responsibilities that John Adair’s Action-Centred Leadership model provides: achieving the task, managing the team or group and managing individuals.

All three elements work collectively. Once mastered, this model enable leaders to: maintain a realistic balance between priorities; realize results faster; raise and maintain morale; improve quality; foster teamwork; achieve higher performance; and promote adept management and leadership.

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 OD in education, manufacturing and entrepreneurial firms. She can be reached at

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