Best HR Teams in Canada |
Innovative HR Teams 2023

Best HR teams driving innovation in the workplace

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:

  • University of Alberta HRHSE Department : “Reward individuals for their safety performance and you’ll be far more successful in shifting the culture of the organization.”
  • HomeEquity Bank: “Be brave; don’t be afraid to push the envelope.”
  • TransAlta Corporation: “Break a big innovative undertaking into smaller pieces so employees can get involved and see progress.”
  • Ottawa Community Housing: “Resist the temptation to go back to the way things were pre-pandemic.”


Marcia Perry
“Psychological safety is fundamental to challenging our thinking, ideas, and exploring everything to unleash innovation”
Marcia Perry TransAlta


Best HR team driving business success: TransAlta

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.


  • Put into action a peer-to-peer rewards-and-recognition platform called Boost, rewarding employees with “Boost Bucks” monetary gifts when they exhibit behaviours that align with the emerging culture.
  • When Boost Bucks are awarded, employees receive a virtual card of one of the five pillars in its cultural transformation, including psychological safety, owning your patch, results, learning, and purpose.


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.”


Forward-thinking HR team embracing the future:
Ottawa Community Housing

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.


  • Over 300 employees across the organization participated in a work experience survey and focus groups to design their hybrid work model from the grassroots.
  • Physical office space being redesigned around the guiding principles of collaboration, cross-functional brainstorming, and teamwork.

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.


Cindy Newell
“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”
Cindy NewellOttawa Community Housing


Best HR team attracting and retaining talent: HomeEquity Bank

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.


  • Extension of recruitment capacity through innovative partnerships with external firms
  • Introduction of a boosted employee referral bonus of $2,500, on top of the regular $1,000 bonus, for urgent or hard-to-fill roles
  • Participation in and recognition from Employer of Choice programs, such as CHRR’s Innovative HR Teams 2023
  • Creation of a “stay interview” to anticipate and mitigate reasons for employee departure
  • A cutting-edge development pathway for people leaders at all levels



  • 118 new permanent hires in 2022, including 19% of jobs filled through the employee referral bonus program
  • Voluntary turnover decreased by 6.3%
  • Engagement survey participation of 94%, with an increase in all question scores that were above the independent survey vendor’s global benchmarks


“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.”


Sherry Dondo
“We’re enabling our leaders to become what we’ve been calling retention-focused leaders”
Sherry DondoHomeEquity Bank


Employee wellbeing paramount for HR innovation:
University of Alberta

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.


  • Identified 42 specific initiatives to be prioritized over the three-year action plan
  • Year-one initiatives focusing on leadership, including senior leaders signing a culture of care leadership commitment
  • Launched safety shoutouts to recognize and encourage best practices in health and safety
  • Supervisors to sign safety declaration


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.


Philip Stack
“Through the culture of care, we made sure to address all aspects of an employee’s safety and wellbeing, including physical, psychological, and cultural”
Philip StackUniversity of Alberta HRHSE Department


Best HR Teams in Canada | Innovative HR Teams 2023

500+ employees

  • Agriculture Financial Services Corporation
  • Air Canada
  • BDO Canada
  • CAA Club Group (CCG) of Companies
  • Chrysalis
  • D2L
  • Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC)
  • IAMGOLD Corporation
  • Ingram Micro
  • Metrolinx
  • Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC)
  • SAP Canada
  • VHA Home HealthCare


300–499 employees

  • Acden
  • BlueCat Networks
  • HomeEquity Bank
  • Ottawa Community Housing Corporation
  • Pusateri’s Fine Foods
  • The Corporation of the City of Welland
  • Top Hat
  • Trackforce Valiant/TrackTik


1–299 employees

  • CWB Group
  • D&A Group Services
  • Healthcare Excellence Canada
  • MCAN Financial Group
  • Mobials


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.