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Five of Alberta’s Best Workplaces share tips on doing human resources right

Follow the Leaders: experience may be the best teacher, but good advice is a close second

Jan 24, 2013

When it comes to reinvigorating your HR initiatives, it can be tough to know what works. We checked in with the winners and finalists from Alberta Venture’s Best Workplaces in 2012 to learn about some of their most successful HR initiatives and what you can do to imitate them.

There’s a return on investment for going green, but the initial investment doesn’t have to be huge in order to pay off
Time to Give Back

Borden Ladner Gervais
Finalist, Best Workplace for Volunteerism and Community Engagement

In 2003, Borden Ladner Gervais introduced the BLG Reads to Kids program, a volunteer program that gets employees together to visit a local elementary school and read to disadvantaged students. While it’s great for the kids, the law firm’s director of human resources, Shirley Cumming, says it’s also good for business. Because it only takes an hour to get participants there and back over lunch, busy staff don’t have to take much time out of their day, and it pays off as participants spend time with each other and build relationships outside the office.

Getting your company involved in the community doesn’t have to be hard. Even an hour a month can make a difference. And if you have a smaller office, you can get everyone involved.

Join the Club

Winner, Best Workplace for Diversity

These days, “diversity” is a popular buzzword when it comes to human resources. But it plays a central role in how KPMG is run. All new hires participate in a diversity training program, and the company offers a national on-boarding program to help new Canadians adjust to their new country and the company. Smaller companies may find inspiration in KPMG’s “educate and celebrate” initiative, which encourages employees to learn about and participate in a wide range of cultural holidays, from Hanukkah to Pride, encouraging both unity and diversity.

Themed social activities can be corny if done wrong. If you want your staff to participate without rolling their eyes, make it genuine and encourage them to do some of the planning themselves rather than dictating.

Green Movement

Manasc Isaac Architects
Winner, Best Workplace for the Environmentally Conscious

Manasc Isaac has developed a green transportation policy to get its employees on board with its environmentally conscious vision. Manasc provides free bus passes, bike storage, showering facilities and access to a company Smart car during the day. Kent McKay, the company’s communications director, says the program has been incredibly popular with the staff. “Most of our employees take advantage of at least one of those amenities,” he says. If you’re looking to share your green spirit with your employees, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Manasc Isaac subsidizes the cost of bus passes with the parking fee from the company lot.

Everybody In

Capital Power
Finalist, Best Workplace for Training and Development

Most businesses probably don’t have the opportunity to set up their own school, like Capital Power did with the Capital Power School of Business. But Susan Manning, Capital Power’s senior manager of learning and development, says the most important part of any educational program is getting everyone involved, from senior management on down. That’s why Capital Power president and CEO Brian Vaasjo and his senior vice-presidents will all be attending class. “We want to have a common language around leadership, common expectations and begin to use common models around the organization, so it can really take root and we can gain momentum,” Manning says.

Want your employees to buy into your training program? Start at the top. If even the boss is hitting the books, your staff will be more motivated. Who knows, you might even learn something.

Test Drive

Read Jones Christoffersen
Finalist, Best Workplace for Millennials

Interns at engineering firm Read Jones Christoffersen don’t spend much time photocopying or fetching coffee. Instead, students with internships or co-op placements at the engineering firm have the chance to contribute as full team members, and are matched with a mentor to make sure they get the most out of their year with the company. While that’s great for the students, who get a hands-on learning opportunity, HR manager Kerry Walker says it’s just as good for RJC. In 2012, 20 per cent of the company’s new hires started out as interns or co-op students. “Provide your students with opportunities to contribute on a technical level and challenge them. Don’t assign them only photocopying or filing for the duration of their placement,” Walker says. “If they are provided with mentorship and supportive leadership, they will most often rise to the challenges they are given and exceed your expectations.”

When you hire interns, give them the chance to contribute as full-fledged employees. Everyone will get more out of the placement, and you’ll have their loyalty should you hire them on permanently.


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