2011-12 EMPLOYEES’ CHOICE AWARDS (excerpt)

Published in the Ottawa Business Journal newspaper and website.
Jan. 23, 2012 (& Jan. 24 on OBJ.ca)

(The following three profiles are part of a collection of 10 articles written by Krystle Chow, Elizabeth Howell, Peter Kovessy and Greg Markey, highlighting the best workplaces in Ottawa as chosen by their employees.)

Ernst & Young LLP: Accounting for employee goals

Ernst & Young employees.
From left: Angel Estrada, Deanna Monaghan, Natalie Proctor, Carlos Lewis and Amy Yang.
Photo by MARK HOLLERON for the Ottawa Business Journal.

Founded: 1906
Employees: 163
ECAs: 3

For three-time Employees’ Choice Awards winner Ernst & Young LLP, the key to having happy employees is constant communication and ensuring that workers’ needs and long-term aspirations are met.

But perhaps one of the most distinctive initiatives Ernst & Young has is its counselling program, in which each employee is assigned a coach to help with career planning and achieving their mid- and long-term professional goals.

“It’s important for us to understand people’s objectives and goals from a professional perspective and make sure that is what we can offer to them,” says Ms. Monaghan, adding this has helped the company attract and retain skilled staff in a tight labour market.

Ernst & Young’s global reach means employees also have the opportunity to take advantage of overseas training and work terms, giving them new challenges and variety in their work. For instance, the firm has taken on staff for a two-year transfer from the Middle East, Italy and Switzerland, while Ottawa employees have done exchanges to Chicago and New York City, among other locations.

“It’s a great opportunity to learn different cultures and see other parts of the world, while continuing in the same professional capacity,” says Ms. Monaghan.

Understanding employees’ needs also includes offering employees the flexibility to adjust their hours or work from home, she adds.

It all helps to foster an environment where people feel their ideas and views are welcomed and valued, Ms. Monaghan says.

“One thing staff tell us all the time is how there’s a positive, strong culture where people enjoy working with each other. It’s very co-operative and people team well, with a strong culture of respect, and there’s a variety with the work performed so it’s not repetitive and people are challenged by the work they do.”

The Medical Council of Canada: Checking up on workplace communications

The Medical Council of Canada's Leanne Paquette.

The Medical Council of Canada’s
Leanne Paquette.
Photo by MARK HOLLERON for the Ottawa Business Journal.

Founded: 1912
Employees: 120
ECAs: 3

When asked about the Medical Council of Canada’s best practices for human resources, Leanne Paquette says it’s important not to take a one-size-fits-all approach.

“I don’t think you can live by the HR manual,” says the council’s director of human resources.

“Every situation and person is different and their needs are different, and people get a sense of loyalty when they’re accommodated. People know that here, if they’re having a problem and they need support, they can come to HR and we’ll help them out.”

The council – which is responsible for the certification and evaluation of physicians across Canada – does offer benefits that employees enjoy, including free bagel breakfasts once a month, on-site dry cleaning and massage therapy, as well as a generous policy regarding leave and short- and long-term disability.

However, Ms. Paquette says it’s often not the perks that help the council attract and retain talent. “I hate to say it’s a family because that seems cheesy, but there really is a sense of belonging, that we’re supportive of each other,” she says, adding that the organization’s culture is particularly remarkable given that it’s doubled in size over the past five years.

“People love the environment we have in our office, we team well together, and communications are open at all levels … the culture is really key.”

Ms. Paquette notes that the council’s leadership is another important part of why employees enjoying being part of the organization, as it’s clear that the top ranks care about the staff and are committed to making the Medical Council of Canada a terrific place to work.

The emphasis is on supporting staff and helping them develop both personally and professionally, which includes encouraging workers to use the council’s sizable continuing education budget.

“We think everybody here can be a leader, and we really preach that,” says Ms. Paquette.

RealDecoy: Developing a culture on core values

RealDecoy employees Geoff Waddington and Sue Kavanagh.

RealDecoy’s Geoff Waddington (right) and Sue Kavanagh.
Photo by MARK HOLLERON for the Ottawa Business Journal.

Founded: 2001
Employees: 107
ECAs: 1
Clients: Foot Locker, Home Hardware, Toronto Public Library, Canada Council for the Arts

It’s much easier to find and keep the right employees if you first focus on attracting people with the right values, says RealDecoy president Geoff Waddington.

The custom e-business solutions development firm – which is receiving its first Employees’ Choice Award this year – is defined by its three pillars of being caring, driven and focused on learning, so much so that they are often among the first topics of conversation with a prospective hire.

“People are used to coming in and talking about their pure technical skills, but when you start digging down into what they value, they often self-select,” says Mr. Waddington. “The conversation around values tends to attract the right people, and the word spreads about it.”

A natural consequence of this careful hiring process is that RealDecoy has a very consistent set of people who are eager to drive the kind of workplace initiatives that are usually the responsibility of management, whether that means charitable campaigns, lunch-and-learns, social gatherings, or newsgroups to discuss how to improve client experiences.

As such, the company usually has to deal with fewer human resource problems, which means that it doesn’t have to rely as much on stringent policies and safeguards, Mr. Waddington says.

It’s not surprising, then, that RealDecoy most often hears positive feedback about its learning programs, given the focus on hiring people who are driven and excited to develop themselves.

For example, the firm includes team development managers among its ranks whose role is entirely about unlocking workers’ potential by developing their skill sets and ensuring that they’re positioned correctly for both work projects and growth opportunities.

As well, RealDecoy has an intensive “onboarding” process that requires new hires to learn actively and quickly present it to their seniors, rather than simply going off with a manual, allowing rookie staffers to get up to speed in a third of the time it takes the competition, Mr. Waddington says.

It all adds up to an interactive, involved environment where employees are constantly challenged by their work, with a strong and energetic team spirit.

“We see people’s involvement as part of their overall life journey, and focus on things like their goals and how work fits into that,” adds Mr. Waddington.

Consequently, even in a tough labour market, retention isn’t a problem for RealDecoy, “as long as we’re talking to those things, walking the walk, and treating people as people, not just as resources.”

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