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Canadian HR Reporter’s Innovative HR Teams of 2023 are transforming their organizations with novel initiatives to attract, retain, and develop their workforces.
All of the 28 winners were judged to be agile, bold, and forward-thinking.
Leaders from some of the Innovative HR Teams shared the underlying principles behind their success:
Awardee TransAlta, a clean electricity power generator based in Calgary, Alberta, started a cultural transformation journey through its 22-member HR team to promote innovation. The company prioritized creating a culture of intellectual bravery and psychological safety to encourage staff to speak up without fear of retribution.
“We are moving to a culture of learning, purpose, and results, which requires people to feel comfortable disagreeing,” notes Marcia Perry, vice president of people and talent. “Psychological safety is fundamental to challenging our thinking, ideas, and exploring everything to unleash innovation.”
To launch a cultural transformation underpinned by a culture of rewarded vulnerability, offering education sessions, and devising tools to reward new behaviours propelling the organization forward. The HR team delved deeply into the organization’s foundation and rebuilt itself to support the new culture.
Boost showed an increase in productivity, collaboration, sense of community, and increased participation in other programs.
“Behaviours and actions that are recognized more frequently show employees what’s valued by senior executives, managers, leaders, and the organization,” Perry adds. “It’s not a top-down driven change, it’s for employees to recognize and reward their fellow employees for their behaviours.”
Two-time awardee Ottawa Community Housing is the capital’s largest social housing provider. As one of Canada’s best HR teams, its staff of 13 developed a workplace of the future.
“The pandemic taught us we could work in different ways we never imagined possible,” explains Cindy Newell, vice president of people, culture, and strategy. “What an exciting time to be in an HR role where you can watch in real time the world of work transform right in front of your eyes.”
Introducing a hybrid work model fostering a high-engagement, high-trust, high-productivity work culture that supports people to perform at their best wherever work takes them. The model features in-office, remote, and on-site work, enabling employees to work from a variety of locations. The team overcame about half of its workforce unable to access traditional work-from-home arrangements.
Employee feedback has been positive and 87% of staff wanted flexibility in work programs post-pandemic. Employees say they feel supported in the new hybrid model. “We’ve continued to see really good results in terms of productivity and performance,” Newell notes.
All of CHRR’s Innovative HR Teams have grappled with recruitment and retention.
For the 15-strong HR team at Canada’s leading reverse mortgage provider and awardee HomeEquity Bank, their record-breaking success has driven them to build an industry-leading attraction and retention strategy, engaging employees across all business lines.
“We’re enabling our leaders to become what we refer to as retention-focused leaders,” states senior vice president and chief HR officer Sherry Dondo. “Once we attract the right people here, we put measures in place to help them stay engaged and motivated.”
Despite competing with much larger institutions, HomeEquity Bank created a strategy that includes new recruitment and onboarding measures, leadership development, and a forward-looking performance management “continuous conversations” program.
Leaders are having more nuanced “whole-person conversations” with employees and discovering what they need to feel fulfilled, recognized, and engaged.
“It’s hard enough to get people in the door in a hot market; once they are on board, the focus is on retention,” adds Dondo. “One of the ways we’ve ensured there’s shared accountability is not only do our leaders provide ongoing performance feedback to their employees, but employees also evaluate and provide feedback to their leaders on how well they’re doing in that continuous conversation model.”
The University of Alberta is a large, research-intensive institution with five campuses in two cities; 40,000 students; 14,000 employees; and an innovative HR team of 104 people spread across six teams with responsibilities for HR, health, safety and environment (HRHSE).
The health, safety and environment team, led by director Philip Stack, embarked on a three-year safety action plan in 2022 to reduce its reportable and serious near-miss incidents.
“We began with a safety stand down across the university, and to our knowledge, it’s the first time a research-intensive university has ever held a safety stand down,” explains Stack.
Establishing a safety strategy advisory committee and working group who drafted the culture of care to embed safety as a core value within the university, achieving a culture where everyone owns their safety performance and that of others.
Staff at over 2,000 research labs and other higher-risk areas assessed their safety performance with respect to supervision, hazard assessment and control, training, and competency and emergency preparedness. Action plans were developed for identified health and safety gaps, including a time frame for corrective actions.
The transformation has successfully brought its reportable and near-miss incidents down to normal rates. “I think it’s really important that through the culture of care, we made sure to address all aspects of an employee’s safety and wellbeing, including physical, psychological, and cultural,” Stack notes.
Canadian HR Reporter’s Innovative HR Teams 2023 report recognizes firms that are breaking boundaries to move the HR profession forward — whether it’s by taking a progressive approach to recruitment, introducing new technology, or rolling out a ground-breaking reward and recognition strategy.
Readers were invited to submit entries showcasing HR teams that have agile, bold, and forward-thinking people strategies. Nominations focused on areas including talent management, diversity and inclusion, health and wellness, and HR technology. Initiatives introduced and results achieved in 2022 were highlighted.
The CHRR team objectively assessed each entry for detailed information, true innovation, and proven success — along with benchmarking against the other entries — to determine the 28 winners.