4 Principles to Build Trust Between Union and Management

Trust … a feeling that is often hard to describe in words. We all know what it feels like when we trust someone, and conversely when we feel we are trusted. It becomes more complex when we consider trust in our personal lives vs trust in our work lives. What I have learned over my career is that there should not be a difference between the two – that to be most effective in the workplace (and be trusted) we need to follow the same simple principles that we do at home. In this article, I will focus on how leaders in organizations can effectively build trust with their union leadership and representatives; from my experience in the corporate world, many management leaders struggle with how to do this effectively.

To break it down into parts, I will focus on the principles I have learned to follow when working with unions to build trust in different organizations.

  1. Be authentic in ALL interactions with your union representatives.
  2. Treat the union like employees (as a matter of fact – they are!), not like cost-incurring burdens.
  3. Learn with your union leaders.
  4. Communicate always – don’t wait until it is time to bargain to start working through problems.

1. Be Authentic

This sounds obvious, right? It isn’t. I have coached so many leaders in different organizations on how to communicate and act when dealing with their unions. Leaders often lose their authenticity because they are afraid of saying ‘too much,’ or revealing secrets the union ‘shouldn’t know.’ Being authentic doesn’t mean you have to divulge everything. It means coming across as real, and open. It means ditching the ‘Tiger Suit’ to quote my earliest career mentor Peter Edwards. From my experience, many company leaders still feel it is a big act where they have to put on the tiger suits and let out the big intimidating roars. Put away the suit and try taking the authenticity approach. Don’t just act like you care, CARE.

2. Treat the Union like Employees

Union members are (as a matter of fact) employees. So often the way union employees are talked about in companies can be very divisive and biased. The difference between union and management employees is of course the collective agreement that lays out the terms and conditions of employment, represented by the union team. When leaders make an honest effort at the very top to speak about unionized employees like they are first and foremost employees of the company, it is amazing how this can cascade down through the organization. When a union is continuously spoken about as a cost burden, it can absolutely be heard and felt by those employees in the union. It is tough to quantify the cost that is avoided when leaders can genuinely treat union members as employees first.

3. Learn WITH your Union Leaders

To help build trust and the relationship with union leadership, it can be effective to invite them to share learning experiences. I have experienced this in two different organizations, where sharing the learning you are offering to your management leaders with your union leaders in the same room, can go along way (ie: Queens University Managing Unionized Environments program). Don’t feel you have to limit this to learning events. Invite union leadership and representatives to the table more often where you otherwise wouldn’t. It does wonders for developing relationships and trust.

4. Communicate Always

Communication is the foundation to all of the above. But it is still worth a call-out on its own. I have seen many leaders avoid great opportunities to proactively communicate with union leadership for a variety of reasons. It is far more effective when it is time to bargain if management has had open communication and frequent communication with union leaders. Set up mechanisms to deal with issues as they come in hopes of resolving them early. In my experience when this has been religiously followed, trust naturally is built which makes everything easier from a business perspective. It is no different than communicating with out-of-scope employees or your family at home. Remember – when you think you have communicated clearly and enough – you haven’t.

Trust is about relationships. The biggest downfall I have seen in organizations is leaders not taking the time to want to genuinely build the relationship, which then in turn, builds trust.


About the Author

Kathy McCrum is an accomplished HR professional that has worked in a unionized environment throughout her 22-year career. She started her career working for Canadian Pacific Railway where she first was introduced to the labour relations environment.  She held various management/leadership positions. Kathy moved into executive leadership when she made the industry change to heavy equipment. She became VP, HR and Safety for a Caterpillar equipment dealership in Saskatchewan. Following this opportunity, Kathy was brought to the Coop Refinery Complex (FCL) where she led the HR/LR department. She was able to get involved in bargaining for the company, as well as participate in many labour relations learning events that helped shape her approach. In 2017, Kathy moved on to become a member of the SaskPower executive team and was appointed Executive VP HR and Safety. Again, she worked closely with the different union organizations and built relationships and trust.  Most recently Kathy worked very closely with the WestJet pilots union (ALPA) as well as led the airports union to their first ever labour agreement. She is passionate in her beliefs that relationships and trust drive all of it. Whether you work with a union or not, you need to know how to, and honestly be genuine in your interactions with people if you want to be successful.  Currently she is the Executive VP at Trican (an oil and gas well services company).

Better Leadership: Focus on a Coach Approach

Coaching is a leadership style that is growing in organizational cultures. It is shifting from an optional leadership skill to an expectation of the culture – especially for the retention of employees and leaders. How do you as a leader develop this skill? How do you keep growing and enhancing your coaching ability?

During the pandemic, many leaders found themselves interacting in new ways with their teams – because they had no choice. This was especially true if remote work was new to the organization. Employees were alone in their separate spaces, away from their leader and their peers. Leaders weren’t in close proximity so there were actually less direct statements and less telling. As a result, leaders found themselves asking more questions to check in, rather than walking by giving direction and regularly being present and accessible.

Let’s consider a real situation. I coach leaders, and many of our coaching conversations involve them trying out new ways to better engage with their people. One leader comes to mind. His goal was to learn and use a new skill to better engage his team of ten people. After six months of using more questions and staying curious longer during one-on-one conversations, he reported feeling less overwhelmed and more connected to what was really going on for his team. What did he do differently? He took a coach approach.

Coaching is an approach to facilitate individuals to draw on their own experiences and capabilities, to set and reach their own objectives. Make sense. Yet, many leaders find themselves holding back from adding a coach approach to their leadership style. According to Michael Bungay-Stanier, The Coaching Habit (2016), coaching helps leaders break away from three vicious cycles. Which one describes how you may be feeling?

  1. Creating overdependence: In this vicious cycle, you have trained people to be over reliant on you. You are a bottleneck. This may have developed unintentionally, yet here you are. If you take a coach approach, your team will be more self-sufficient, and have an increased level of engagement and autonomy, which could lead to their own mastery of skills.
  2. Getting overwhelmed: In this vicious cycle, you are so overwhelmed with the never-ending quantity of work, that your quality is hard to focus on. You continue to lose focus. If you take a coach approach, you can direct your own work efforts. Your team can focus on what has real impact, and grow to solve their own challenges.
  3. Becoming disconnected: In this vicious cycle, you have become disconnected from the work that matters. If you take a coach approach, you will reconnect with your team and the truly impactful and meaningful work. Coaching can fuel your courage to step out of your comfort zone and increase the potential of your team.

I poll the participants in our Coaching Skills program, and the number one reason is creating overdependence, followed by getting overwhelmed. I will add three more reasons that holds leaders back from adding a coach approach to their leadership:

  • The lack of training, or a poor experience with training whereby they didn’t walk away with implementable tools.
  • Not having been the recipient of a coaching style themselves. If you have never been coached properly, you may not know what a coaching conversation looks and feels like.
  • And finally, an organizational culture that fosters a solely a directive leadership style.

Let’s conclude with celebrating a real situation where a participant embraced her desire to become more connected to the reality of her employees. This leader came into the Coaching Skills program wanting to get ideas how to move forward with a decision to release or keep a struggling employee. At the end of the Coaching Skills program, she realized that there was one approach she hadn’t tried yet – a coach approach. Why? She didn’t know what process to follow or what her role was, however after the program, she had both, including confidence that her employee deserved the better version of herself as a leader.

Think about what holds you back from using a coach approach and taking a coach approach more often. Leadership is like a muscle that we need to exercise, stretch and challenge to do more. See you in the Coaching Skills program!

About the Author

Linda Allen-Hardisty






Linda Allen-Hardisty is an organizational development professional (Queens IRC OD Certificate), an executive coach (ICF MCC professional designation), a team coach (EMCC Global Accreditation), and a Forbes Coaches Council contributing member. She’s built a reputation as a vibrant, contemporary voice in the business world by blending her grounding in OD with a practical approach to addressing organizational challenges and opportunities. With a Masters of Education from the University of Regina, Linda’s uniqueness is that, prior to private practice, she fulfilled corporate leadership roles including the Director of Organizational Development in a company listed on the Hewitt Top 50 Employers in Canada and became the first Manager of Strategy and Performance for a municipal government undertaking cultural transformation. Over her 20-year OD career, she has helped many leaders – from corporate executives to entrepreneurs – improve their personal and professional success. She is a sought-after facilitator, coach and advisor for executive development, strategy and change, team effectiveness, and emotional intelligence.

 Linda is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Coaching Skills program, as well as Building Trust and Performance Management.


Talent Management Truths: 5 Lessons from the Field to Help Solve Today’s Workplace Challenges

Talent management has been in the spotlight recently as many organizations face historic talent shortages, a workforce struggling with fatigue and burnout, and the ongoing pressure to reduce costs and increase productivity. Not only do organizations need to find talent with the right skills for today, but they also require an agile workforce who can adapt to the constant changes in job demands. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, half of all employees will have to reskill by 2025.[1] The pressure is on talent leaders, and organizations alike to ensure their people are prepared for the future of work and this pressure is not likely to dissipate any time soon.

At the same time, the balance of power has shifted, and employees want to choose where, when, and how they work. Employees have altered their expectations of work following the pandemic, and are prioritizing meaning, purpose, and balance in their work lives. These changing expectations have placed organizational culture and leadership behaviors at the forefront, with many organizations lacking the critical leadership capabilities to address the changing organizational and workforce needs.

While the work of talent management remains the same – attract, select, hire, develop, perform, and retain the required talent to meet current and future needs – the environment in which organizations operate has changed dramatically. With the rapid pace of change, the rise of modern technologies, and ever-changing customer, organizational and employee demands necessitate a more fluid and agile approach to talent management. What is a priority today, may not be one tomorrow, and this means that talent leaders need to create a compelling vision for the future, yet be flexible and nimble to course correct as required.

But where do you start? How do build a talent management strategy that works for employees and organizations alike? What are some of the ‘do’s and don’ts’ that will make your organization  successful?

I’ve seen lots of changes in the 20+ years of talent management work. Here are 5 core talent management strategies that will serve organizations through this next wave of change:

1. Build Your Talent Strategy to Meet Business Needs

It can be easy to sit at your desk and craft a talent strategy on your own, but do so at your own risk! An organizational talent strategy should consider the diverse needs of each unit, business or function. Implementing an overarching talent strategy is typically the default method, but be careful not to build a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach that does not address the urgent needs of each function.

It is critical to partner with business leaders to get their input on the top priorities that will have the greatest impact. It is easy to focus your plan to address the talent needs in the current fiscal year, but what are you doing to build the skills of your employees to meet the needs of tomorrow? What are the next most important strategic shifts that will require you to build, buy and/or borrow new skills and capabilities to meet tomorrow’s needs? How will you start working on tomorrow’s needs today?

Business challenges and needs often change, make sure you meet with your leadership team at least quarterly to review your plan.

2.  Keep Your Strategy Simple, Usable, and Meaningful for Your Customers (not just a boring PowerPoint deck)

The customers of your talent strategy are the employees and leaders of your organization. The first principle of a solid strategy is to ensure that it resonates with your audience. It should be simple, meaningful, and relay a compelling story about the impact it will have on employees and the business. I believe that developing a plan-on-a-page is a great approach because no one has the time, energy, nor desire to read a 25-page deck anymore.

Talent management is about crafting impactful and engaging talent experiences for internal customers. In today’s world, our default position seems to be that it is better to add more features to existing talent programs (e.g., performance management) because we believe our customers want them. If you are adding more processes/ features without considering if they add incremental business or customer value, you better think twice. Make sure you solicit employee/manager feedback on your talent programs before making changes. Remember that no one will complain if your programs are too simple to use. People love simplicity – it’s why the KISS principle is sage advice.

I learned the hard way that a simple, well-executed strategy beats a complicated, poorly executed one every day. It is not about the net number of initiatives you include in your strategy; it is about ensuring that you are launching sustainable, executable programs that add real value to your customers.

3. Make Sure Your Strategy is Interconnected (vs a set of separate activities)

The overall talent system (i.e., hiring, selection, onboarding, learning, performance, development, succession) is like a manufacturing process, in that there is an input and output of each sub process. It can be easy to optimize one area only to jeopardize the overall performance of another. To have an effective and efficient talent system, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts and every sub-process needs to be maximized to ensure successful outcomes overall.

One example of this is when a manager focuses on near-term priorities when hiring, while ignoring a longer-term need to develop a deeper leadership pipeline for their function. In other words, you can hire a technically strong manager today, who may not be the best candidate from a future leadership perspective. This decision requires that additional time, money and resources be spent on development down the line with no guarantee of success. You can solve a problem today, only by creating a bigger, more expensive one tomorrow.

4. Measure Talent Management Against Business Priorities (vs. leaving progress to chance)

I’ve learned that the best way to be credible to business leaders is to speak in the language of the business. Business leaders don’t care as much about HR terms as you do. It is important to be specific about what you are going to do, when you are going to do it, and the resulting business impact of each initiative.

I used to include many standard talent metrics in the strategies I developed until I learned an important lesson from a CFO. He informed me that if your initiative doesn’t end up with tangible results on the income statement or balance sheet (i.e., cost, sales, revenue, etc.), it really doesn’t matter. I initially thought that HR metrics were enough, and that cost avoidance was good metric to share with finance teams, but now I know otherwise. HR metrics are good, business metrics are great.

If you want to be a legitimate business partner, you must articulate how each talent initiative will impact that achievement of the overarching strategy and lead to favorable business metrics.

5. Help Everyone be Accountable for Talent (vs thinking it’s just HR’s job)

I mistakenly thought I had full ownership over organizational talent outcomes. Thankfully, I learned that this was an impossible and unrealistic expectation. The role of a talent leader is to establish the processes, systems, and programs required for success, and influence leaders to implement these programs to achieve expected outcomes. Every talent program starts and ends with a conversation between a manager and employee, meaning that managers are fully accountable for bringing these programs to life.

The impact of talent management is not measured by the implementation of a new system, process, or technology. You can have the most advanced systems or technologies, but people forget that the success of each talent program is measured in the quality of conversations had. Managers need to be supported, coached, and guided to make this happen with the support of their leaders and the talent team, and they also need to be held accountable for talent outcomes.

Talent management is a challenging, but a fun area to work in. The goal is to drive performance, development, and career outcomes for employees, and enable better business results for the organization. The external environment will continue to change, and the pressure will be on talent leaders to ensure the organization has employees with the required skills to be successful today and tomorrow. This means that talent leaders need to define a vision for the future, and continually review and adapt their strategy and plans required to address needs. A simple, well-defined strategy that results in measurable business outcomes is the goal, and to accomplish this, talent leaders need to design programs that create positive experiences for employees and leaders alike.

About the Author

Mark Coulter

Mark Coulter, MIR, CHRP, CHRL, is a talent management and organizational development expert and leadership coach. He has over 20 years of experience in human resources with a focus on leading talent management functions in automotive, retail, consumer packaged goods, and beverage organizations, including Fortune 500 and Fortune 50 companies such as Campbell Soup and Lowe’s. Mark has expertise in implementing end-to-end talent solutions in the areas of talent acquisition, employee & leadership development, performance management, succession planning, and career development. He currently works as the Director, Talent Management Solutions at HRSG, where he partners with clients to design and implement competency-based talent management solutions to achieve business and workplace outcomes.


[1] Whiting, K. (2020, October 21). These are the top 10 job skills of tomorrow – and how long it takes to learn them. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/10/top-10-work-skills-of-tomorrow-how-long-it-takes-to-learn-them/

6 Ways to Assess Your Organization’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

How can leaders rethink the implementation of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) training and initiatives to maximize returns on their people and culture?

Successful EDI training involves the embedding of equitable practices, procedures, and policies in every facet of an organization, and it is not offered as a stand-alone training or performative.  Organizations that rush to implement EDI training programs without reviewing their motivation, internal practices, policies and programs have difficulty sustaining the changes they wish to see, and return to the previous paradigm for their organizations. For an organization to develop, value, and profit from EDI training, it requires authentic buy-in to the benefits that can be had for all stakeholders; from employees, managers, customers and owners: to move from traditional “Human Resources” organization to a “People and Culture” organization[1].

When recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce, leaders should consider reflecting on the institutional, systemic, and personal biases they hold, as it is these biases that form the cultural inertia which undermines real lasting change.

Bias, in all its forms, is an integral part of who we are and is developed, nurtured, and sustained by our upbringing, culture, and society at large. There is no escaping it, and understanding how it impacts marginalized workers is essential in creating a work culture that is inclusive and financially successful. Bias is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the action of supporting or opposing a particular person or thing in an unfair way because of allowing personal opinions to influence your judgment.”

Biases can be unconscious or conscious beliefs, opinions or actions. For example, implicit biases are unconscious attitudes or stereotypes that affect our decisions and treatment of others. Explicit biases are conscious attitudes and beliefs we have about individuals or groups. In the work environment, biases begin at the recruitment phase and can affect who we interview and hire. It impacts the retention phase of employment by affecting worker evaluations, promotions, and salary advancement. Simply put, bias (whether explicit or implicit) impacts our interactions with others and at times creates situations where others are excluded or unjustly treated, creating a toxic work environment. This can impact professional and personal outcomes, build resentment, and discourage full commitment to the organization. Meaningful improvement in these channels requires leaders to have the courage to actively interrogate and challenge their own personal and institutional biases; to build better, more resilient, more diverse cultures to get the best out of their people.

Cultural competency-based questions are used in schools by educators to determine how to best to support diverse student communities. Organizations can use a similar framework as a pre-emptive guide before hiring or implementing diversity initiatives.

  1. Whose voices are present?

Take the time to consider who is heard, who isn’t, and why they aren’t being heard? What settings silence the participation of employees? What settings enable fulsome participation of employees?

  1. How are they represented?

Does the diversity in your workforce go beyond visible characteristics of race and gender? Are there any invisible diversities/characteristics such as social status/class, gender identity, expression or orientation, and disability (physical, mental, or neurological) and do they intersect? How does this intersection of identities impact the employee and their employment?

  1. Whose voices are absent?

Are there voices that are absent due to a lack of representation or a lack of presence in decision-making settings? Is dissension appreciated or undervalued and silenced? Are neurodivergent thinkers given time to voice their opinions and thoughts?

  1. What and whose knowledge is recognized and valued?

Is knowledge that is not Eurocentric, colonial based or ableist valued? Are the same employees recognized and why? Is the recognition culturally competent?

  1. Do resources acknowledge as many people and perspectives as possible?

Are employee handbooks, procedures, and policies aware of visible and invisible biases in their presentation, the language used, and expectations? Are the documents and resources easily accessible?

  1. What assessments and evaluation tools are mostly used and are they equitable?

What are the metrics involved in employee evaluations? Is the assessor cognizant of any biases they may hold when evaluating an employee? What are the mechanisms to mitigate bias in evaluation, or to provide re-evaluation when complaints arise?

Review and reflect on the responses to the cultural competency based questions by considering the following:

  1. Did the responses challenge your understanding of the organization and how it functions? Why?
  2. What is the organization doing well? What are they not doing well?
  3. What areas require change?
  4. What type of learning will you and your organization engage in to implement these changes and initiatives?

Organizations who have unpacked their workplace culture by reflecting on past and current inequities and who lean into the discomfort can begin to develop initiatives that focus on recruitment and retention strategies, policies, procedures, and expectations to create a progressive work culture. It is the responsibility of leaders to communicate their commitment in making EDI a part of every facet of their organization by sharing the results of their discussions, their vision, next steps and learning opportunities for employees. EDI initiatives are not quick and easy solutions to reduce the impact of discrimination and employee flight, they take time, and require ongoing conversations that provide the tools for employees to navigate the workplace.

Taking the time to reflect on the people they employ, the organizational culture that includes the policies and procedures implemented, and investing in strategic needs-based training is essential. Embedding time and flexibility to have ongoing, meaningful conversations with follow-up so that changes can be made to move forward must be a priority. Continuing to review, reflect and strategize allows for integration of strong EDI-based initiatives that are flexible and supportive of current and future employees is the new way of doing business.

When implemented with care and empathy, EDI initiatives and training can support previously marginalized and historically excluded employees to feel a greater sense of belonging and inclusion,[2] while also allowing others to step up and help create a positive work environment.


About the Author

Kalpana Makan

Kalpana Makan. Over a 30-year career in the education sector, Kalpana has worked to facilitate the success of students and teachers from all backgrounds. Embedding the principles of an anti-oppressive framework in her career as a Teacher and Elementary Vice Principal with specialization in inclusive education, language development, and mental health and well-being, has provided her with the skills to navigate various situation with compassion and empathy. Kalpana’s roles as an Executive Staff Officer at the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) in Equity and Women’s Services, and most recently in Professional Learning and Curriculum Services, has helped her develop an expertise in the benefits of EDI and its integration in diverse organizational cultures. For more than 15 years, Kalpana has led ETFO membership programs both locally and provincially; provided organizational environmental scans on programs, policies and demographics; and facilitated presentations at universities, school boards and not for profit organizations on supporting and promoting diverse leadership roles and inclusive and equitable practices. She has trekked to more then 16 countries and has volunteered as an educator and mentor in many of them. She currently lives in the Toronto with her family.


Recommended Readings

Asare, J. G. (2022, October 7). Have We Been Wrongfully Vilifying DEI Training? Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/janicegassam/2022/10/07/have-we-been-wrongfully-vilifying-dei-training/

Broomhall, T. (2020, September 8). Are your colleagues really, ok? How to ask and offer support. Checkpoint. https://checkpoint.cvcheck.com/are-your-colleagues-really-ok-how-to-ask-and-offer-support/

Carter-Rogers, K., Smith, S., & Tabvuma, V. (2022, November 27). Diversity in the workplace isn’t enough: Businesses need to work toward inclusion. The Conversation. http://theconversation.com/diversity-in-the-workplace-isnt-enough-businesses-need-to-work-toward-inclusion-194136

Dobbin, F., & Kalev, A. (2016, July 1). Why Diversity Programs Fail. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/07/why-diversity-programs-fail

Government of Canada, S. C. (2022, October 26). The Daily—Immigrants make up the largest share of the population in over 150 years and continue to shape who we are as Canadians. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/221026/dq221026a-eng.htm

Karimi, A. (2022, December 22). How equity, diversity and inclusion policies are becoming a tool for capitalism. The Conversation. http://theconversation.com/how-equity-diversity-and-inclusion-policies-are-becoming-a-tool-for-capitalism-196534

Langton, J. (2022, October 26). Immigration boosts workforce, combats aging. Investment Executive. https://www.investmentexecutive.com/news/research-and-markets/immigration-boosts-workforce-combats-aging/

Lobell, J. (2021, December 7). Liberating Human Resources: Finding a Path to a New HR Paradigm. Non Profit News | Nonprofit Quarterly. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/liberating-human-resources-finding-a-path-to-a-new-hr-paradigm/

Peiker, S. (2023, February 8). Council Post: Why And How To Evolve From Human Resources To People And Culture. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeshumanresourcescouncil/2023/02/08/why-and-how-to-evolve-from-human-resources-to-people-and-culture/?sh=fa4e9c54c454

Secretariat, T. B. of C. (2020, September 14). Many Voices One Mind: A Pathway to Reconciliation [Education and awareness]. https://www.canada.ca/en/government/publicservice/wellness-inclusion-diversity-public-service/diversity-inclusion-public-service/knowledge-circle/many-voices.html

Stewart, J. (2022, March 15). 4 Steps to Achieve Sustainable DEI Transformation | Queen’s University IRC. https://irc.queensu.ca/4-steps-to-achieve-sustainable-dei-transformation/



[1] Peiker, Sarah (2023, 02, 08); Why And How To Evolve From Human Resources To People And Culture, https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeshumanresourcescouncil/2023/02/08/why-and-how-to-evolve-from-human-resources-to-people-and-culture/?sh=5d58a3dd4c45

[2] Gassam Asare, Janice (2022, October 07), Have we been wrongly vilifying EDI training? https://www.forbes.com/sites/janicegassam/2022/10/07/have-we-been-wrongfully-vilifying-EDI-training/?sh=139c0f973b35

Organizational Transformation: Why it’s So Hard, Why it Matters, and Why You Should Start Now!

If there is one thing we’ve re-learned over the past few years, it’s that change is constant, whether we like it or not. The COVID-19 pandemic has often been credited for being the catalyst of changing the way we work, but it was only a reminder of how quickly people can adapt when they need to—and how resilient they can be.

Today, adaptability and resilience are required on a regular basis. Market volatility has made strategic transformations essential for some industries to survive. Critical and topical initiatives like equity and inclusion, digital transformation and building a future-proof workforce represent massive shifts, particularly for organizations where culture has remained unchanged in decades.

Here is where organizational transformation comes in. As organizations coast to coast in Canada and around the world face external pressure to innovate and remain relevant, as well as internal pressure to improve workplace culture and nurture talent, leaders now find themselves at a crossroads. There certainly isn’t a dull moment in the new, redefined roaring twenties we’re currently living in, where organizations are increasingly defined by their ability to identify changing market demands, redefine their vision and execute that transition.

Why it’s So Hard

Any type of change is hard—that’s a fact. Among organizations, approximately 70% of all change initiatives fail.[1] If you are having trouble, remember that you are not alone. Here are some examples of change scenarios illustrating why strategies may not progress past the implementation phase:

  • The transformation is mentioned once or twice at an all staff meeting and never mentioned by anyone ever again.
  • This the third leader the team/organization has had in three years. Teams are too focused on trying to keep their jobs to get excited about this new vision.
  • There’s a high degree of comfort in established processes and relationships and absolutely no compelling reason for staff to make any changes to that.
  • The organization has identified a strategic shift in one direction but every single structural component (unit business plans, operational goals, employee performance metrics, incentive structures) are focused in another direction.
  • Staff are exhausted and have no bandwidth to lead, implement or even entertain a change of any kind.

Why it Matters 

Every organization faces the need for change at some point.  However, transformation doesn’t happen overnight. Whether your organization is looking at a complete strategic shift or the implementation of a new procedure, change is a long game. It’s about the collective commitment, communication, and collaboration to see it through until it’s done.

Reasons for Organizational Transformation

A great cultural reset can be mission-critical if you’re facing a number of challenges. If you aren’t sure if change is on the horizon for your organization, ask yourself:

  • Are employee turnover rates at an all-time high?
  • Are your revenue outcomes consistently underperforming while competitors continue to eat into your market share?
  • Are you still using legacy technology that is no longer being updated, with workarounds costing twice as much as implementing a new system?
  • Are the values of employees and other stakeholders evolving but aren’t reflected anywhere in your current organizational structure?

When done right, organizational transformation has the power to redefine a sustainable future, encourage a culture that supports it and usher you to a new era of growth and industry leadership.

Benefits of Organizational Transformation

If your organization is at a critical juncture, it’s helpful to consider the critical outcomes that can be achieved and continuously leveraged directly through organizational transformation initiatives:

  1. Your organization will have the necessary infrastructure to enable seamless collaboration among stakeholders who have all bought into a renewed, shared vision. Employees are not simply working for you, but with you, and are continuously encouraged to adopt a collaborative mindset.
  2. Multi-faceted priority growth areas are met as a result of adopting new processes, tools, and strategic frameworks. A “transformed” organization is increasingly agile and responsive to evolving market or sector demands, with flexibility and adaptability being core collective competencies that enable teams to achieve various goals and bridge gaps in current delivery of value to stakeholders.
  3. The “future of work” is achieved through a productive people and culture reset. Through a commitment to well-being and ongoing professional development, organizational transformation empowers teams to become champions of change. A highly skilled and resilient workforce can lead the charge in operationalizing strategy through high-performance execution that yields crucial results.

Before undertaking this process, it’s important to establish a solid foundation for change. Initiating organizational transformation begins with bringing all stakeholders to the table—beginning with leaders who typically start the conversation to frontline staff who will be carrying out this new mission. This process requires a 360-degree view of the organization’s current vision, work structures and results generated in order to deliver on shared goals.

Why You Should Start Now

The lessons learned from the last few years have illustrated how organizations and entire industries are now at a critical period. To evolve means to survive in an increasingly competitive market, with the support of the people that work to make it possible. Transforming the way our organization works is the key to achieving this, setting up for a successful future.

As you’ve seen, organizational transformation goes beyond initiating a change management strategy when innovating one process that affects how certain teams work. Rather, it’s a complete reset of everything we know about doing business and leading in the age of disruptive innovation. Leaders who recognize this need today and take steps towards transformation will be rewarded with: (1) low employee turnover and increased commitment to a shared vision, (2) higher revenue and an expanded footprint, (3) innovative offerings, (4) agile processes and technologies (5) and an overall stronger future.

If your organization is facing pressures to innovate or challenges in boosting employee retention and nurturing talent, you need an organizational transformation strategy to navigate this changing landscape. The Queen’s IRC Organizational Transformation program at the can help you prepare and equip you with the necessary tools, frameworks and approaches for transforming the way you work.

About the Author

Carol Kotacka

Carol Kotacka is a results-oriented strategist, specializing in transformational change and strategy execution in local, national and international markets. Holding senior leadership positions in industry, healthcare and NGOs, her background reflects a deep understanding of the nuanced approach diverse cultures and stakeholder groups require, with proven results driving change time and again through work in North America, Europe, the Middle East and, most recently, South America.  During her career, Carol has had the privilege of co-creating strategic vision and system wide transformation with organizations, residents, employees, government entities as well as first responders. Carol’s undergraduate studies include Social Sciences and Public Affairs. Post graduate work includes Strategic Business Leadership from the Rotman School of Management and an EMBA from the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University.

Carol is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Organizational Transformation program.


[1]Nohria , N., & Beer, M. (2000). Cracking the code of change. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved March 22, 2023, from




Fairness in Workplace Investigations: How Much Should Respondents Know?

Workplace investigations are increasingly complex. New workplace investigators often struggle with how much information to share with the Respondent during the investigative process.

Questions often arise such as:

  • How much information is a workplace investigator required to share?
  • How much information should be shared before the Respondent’s interview?
  • What impact will disclosure or non-disclosure have on the outcome of the investigation?

What is the Standard of Fairness?

As a workplace investigator, you are a neutral third party and it is expected that you carry out your investigative process in a fair and objective way. In other words, in your role, you cannot “favour”, or even be perceived as “favouring”, one party over another. Ensuring that you are equitable towards both the complainant and the Respondent in a workplace investigation helps facilitate procedural fairness and is an essential component of your role.

Further, workplace investigators must remember that when the investigation is complete, their report and the entire investigation process may be subject to scrutiny. This scrutiny includes how “fair” the process was for the parties involved. A key element of this “fairness” includes how much and when information is shared with the Respondent.

Disclosure to the Respondent

Prior to an investigative interview with a Respondent, the Respondent should be made aware of the following:

  • What are the allegations made against them;
  • Who is making the allegations against them;
  • Where the alleged incident(s) took place;
  • When the alleged incident(s) took place.

Further, a respondent should also be advised:

  • that they will have the opportunity to respond to the allegations made against them;
  • that they will have an opportunity to provide their version of events; and
  • that they will be permitted to provide the investigator with the names of relevant witnesses that they would like the investigator to interview.

In addition, when the respondent is provided with the above-noted information, they should be given a reasonable amount of time to prepare for the investigative interview. The amount of time required will depend on the number of allegations made.


The role of a neutral workplace investigator is to find and document the facts. When guilt or innocence is pre-judged, the workplace investigator does a disservice to the investigation and all those involved. Workplace Investigators must remain open to all possibilities, ask appropriate questions, and document the evidence. Providing the respondent with the information noted above is a crucial step in creating a procedurally fair process.

In preparing this article, the author interviewed Jamie Eddy, K.C., a senior labour and employment lawyer with Cox & Palmer in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Mr. Eddy noted that  providing respondents with the allegations made against them prior to their investigative interview is “critical” to the entire investigation process. This step provides a respondent “a key element of procedural fairness”. Mr. Eddy warned that should workplace investigators or employers not provide respondents with the allegations made against them before their investigative interview, they leave themselves open to allegations of procedural unfairness.

For additional support, I have provided a ‘Sample Respondent Letter’ (download a PDF below) for your use. Should you be required to need a letter like this in the future, you can adjust this letter to fit your specific requirements.

About the Author

Devan Corrigan

Devan Corrigan is an expert in workplace investigations and labour relations, having spent 20 years in human resources management and labour relations before founding an HR consulting company in 2017. He specializes in conducting workplace investigations including investigating complaints of harassment, sexual harassment, violence in the workplace, and other forms of employee misconduct. He holds a Master of Industrial Relations from Queen’s University as well as an Honours Degree in Psychology and a certificate in Human Resources Management from Saint Mary’s University. Devan’s expertise in human resources and labour relations, combined with his background in psychology, make him a go-to third-party workplace investigator. He is a member of the Association of Workplace Investigators and is on the roster for investigators for the Workplace Investigator Network (WIN).

Devan is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Fact-Finding and Investigation program.

HR Metrics and Analytics: So Many Numbers, So Little Time…

To show the importance of what this article covers to an HR professional’s effectiveness – and sanity! –  we want to start with a brief “cautionary” tale. We were asked to help the executive leadership team of the IT department of a Canadian bank determine the data they needed to improve hiring decisions for specific senior IT positions. They had asked an HR analyst with the bank to provide them with data to make better and often urgent decisions. Competition for these mission-critical positions is very acute between financial institutions. A bank needs to move quickly when a need or opportunity arises. And that was the extent of the instruction they gave to the analyst: “Bring us the data!” The analyst worked for two weeks gathering data and then made a presentation that included over thirty slides of dense charts and complex graphics; the analyst had basically downloaded every piece of information on senior IT positions across the bank. Unfortunately, it was of little or no help to the executives who were formulating strategy, managing risks, and making hiring decisions. As the executive who brought us in to help said: “After the 3rd slide my eyes started to glaze over. I had no idea what I was being told or what insights I was supposed to take away from it all. There was no structure and no viable conclusion.”

The evolution of data capture technologies now means that organizations have oceans of data to work with. The problem with this – and it is a “problem”, not merely a “challenge” – is that we need to boil this ocean of data into a drink of water that will help us and our leaders make key HR decisions across a range of issues: hiring, resourcing, training, compensation, performance management, health and safety, inclusion, diversity, employee engagement, and more. HR data analysis is a critical management tool, but only if used in a way that supports, not hinders, informed decision making.

In this article we will share two structured ways to look at organizing your thinking and your data analysis that will make more effective use of your time and lead to more timely and informed decisions. First, we will overview the HR Metrics Cycle which leads in clear steps from defining the opportunity or problem, to decisions and a relevant action plan. Secondly, we will dig more deeply into the Define step of the cycle. Starting any project with clearly defined goals and agreed terminologies and metrics is critical to a project’s relevance and success.

For those of you want to learn more about these models and their applications, we encourage you to join us for Queen’s IRC’s HR Metrics and Analytics program where we cover them in more depth, and where you can actively apply them to both case study material and one of your own “real world” live projects.

Download PDF: HR Metrics and Analytics: So Many Numbers, So Little Time…

Leading Human Resources in Transformative Times

The field of human resources has experienced incredible change and transformation over the last five years. These include the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and changing expectations about work, to significant labour market challenges and new views of organizations’ responsibilities related to issues of equity. There has been much to navigate within this context.

Accompanying these external influences and pressures are equally dizzying shifts occurring in our identity as human resource leaders. With a view to every corner of an organization, human resource leaders are critical players who contribute invaluable perspective and insight on how to leverage human, team and leadership potential.

This makes it an opportune time to pause and reflect on where we are and how to prepare for what’s ahead. How do we define ourselves within this context of increased complexity? What are our priorities and critical “must have” skills to support us within this environment? Who are we as human resource leaders and what roadmap should we be using to gain insight into our leadership journey?

Refining our focus to the “what” of HR leadership

A helpful tool and starting place to explore these important questions is the HR Competency Model designed by the RBL Group. Co-founded by renowned author and HR expert, Dave Ulrich, the RBL group has partnered with the University of Michigan for over 30 years to collect a significant amount of data from organizations around the globe to examine three questions:

  1. What competencies do HR professionals need to deliver personal, stakeholder and business results?
  2. What qualities exemplify an effective HR department?
  3. In what way can HR create circumstances to maximize business and organizational success?

In 2021, the group completed its eighth round of the comprehensive Human Resource Competency Survey, which identified shifts in how HR professionals’ success factors are characterized. Of note is that these most recent findings identified the importance of moving from a list of “traits” that HR professionals “need to develop” and instead focused on “actions” to support business and organizational success. This interesting shift may reflect the imperative that HR professionals be increasingly agile and responsive to their environmental context. The last five years have certainly shown the success with which many HR professionals have been able to do this.

The latest study recommended that HR professionals focus on the following five actions to be effective leaders within this context:

  1. Foster collaboration: The ability to build trusting relationships with others to achieve organizational goals.
  2. Mobilize information: The ability to anticipate impacts on the organization – from technological innovations to social challenges – and then acquire, analyze and apply information to navigate change and support better decision-making.
  3. Simplify complexity: The ability to sift through vast amounts of information to understand a situation, apply critical thinking, and respond calmly on issues of greatest importance.
  4. Advance human capability: The ability to understand what skills are needed for an organization to effectively meet the demands of its competitive environment. This entails ensuring that the organization supports the development of its internal talent as well as knowing which practices, systems and structures are required for the organization to succeed. This action also encompasses HR’s important contributions in creating a workplace that embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  5. Accelerate business: The ability of HR professionals to contribute to bottom-line results through understanding the organization’s external environment, how it competes in the marketplace and how it creates value for stakeholders, clients and customers.

Each of these five actions is worthy of exploration and contextualization within your organization. As an approach of discovery, HR leaders may want to layer each of these five actions onto their unique organizational and business context to identify which should be prioritized and enhanced. This will inform strategy and enable you to measure impact across the organization.


The HR Competency Model shared here is only one of many frameworks available to HR leaders. You may find that a different framework is better suited to your needs. Whichever you choose, a framework has value in providing context and support for your work as an HR professional – creating guideposts to keep you on track in what is an increasingly complex landscape.

As HR professionals, we have seen how the global shifts in values over the last five years have led to new organizational pathways and approaches to HR practice and leadership. There are no indications that this rate of transformation is slowing. What won’t change is the importance of the HR leader. It is exciting and thrilling to be part of the journey.

About the Author

Janet Stewart





Janet Stewart is an accomplished human resource leader with a deep understanding of both theory and practice. As a consultant and leadership coach, she supports leaders across Canada to maximize workplace capacity, potential and harmony. She is a skilled facilitator on topics related to leadership, organizational wellness, workplace diversity, and building inclusive cultures. Janet is a Professional Certified Coach (International Coaching Federation), a Qualified Mediator (ADR Institute of Canada), holds a CPHR (BC & Yukon) and is PROSCI® change-management certified. She is a regular contributor to publications on topics related to HR leadership.

Janet is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Leading Human Resources program.



Ulrich, D., Ulrich, M., Wilson Burns, E., & Wright, P. (2021, April 21). New HRCS 8 competency model focuses on simplifying complexity. The RBL Group. Retrieved January 18, 2023, from https://www.rbl.net/insights/articles/new-hrcs-8-competency-model-focuses-on-simplifying-complexity.

Director’s Message – January 2023

As Queen’s IRC’s Director of Professional Programs, I am very pleased to share that a new year brings exciting new things for us!

We are delighted to once again be traveling from coast to coast with our professional development programs. It has been wonderful to meet our clients in their home cities, as well as to experience these wonderful locations with participants from across the country. We are also happy to share that, based on our client input, our virtual training is here to stay for those that prefer this format.

Last fall, we launched our digital program badges and certificates, issuing almost 500 digital credentials in the program season! These digital badges enable our participants to share their achievements with their networks online and provide verification of achievement to current and future employers. We look forward to continuing to celebrate your dedication to your professional development.

This spring welcomes the launch of a new program, Leading Human Resources, which will replace our Advanced HR program. The program will launch on May 2-4, 2023, in Toronto, with an introductory savings of $500. This program has been developed to explore the many changes and transformations in human resources, as we move from human “resources” to a focus on “people and culture”.  It will support HR leaders at all levels to develop a strategic and impactful human resource practice.

As we all know, the world of work has changed monumentally over the past three years and many organizations are now just beginning to experience their new normal. This makes 2023 a great year for organizations to set new goals and realign team dynamics. Our custom programs give you space and time to explore specific opportunities and challenges with your teams, with simulation-based learning and tools to test models and ideas in a collaborative environment.  Choose remote facilitation or take advantage of on-site learning to bring multiple teams together.

As we continue to celebrate 85 years of lifelong learning, we’re immensely proud of our history as a pioneer in premium professional development programs that impart the skills needed in a rapidly-changing world. This would not be possible without the input and support of our clients, and I thank you for your continued trust in us and our programs.

We look forward to working with you to make 2023 a year of discovering and development, and cannot wait to see what this year has to offer.

How Do You Determine the Best Work Model for Your Organization or Team?

Many organizations that implemented post-COVID-19 work models (remote, hybrid or in office) should be evaluating their choice regularly, to ensure that they retain their competitive advantage and continue to attract the right human resources. It is my recommendation that a review be conducted after the first six months to ensure that the model continues to support the strategic direction of the organization.

61% of Canadian organizations have moved to a hybrid work environment because this was the preferred model by many employees.[1] We know that a hybrid work environment assisted with employee engagement and made some jobs more appealing to individuals who preferred to work from home some of the time.

Fully remote work (or working from home) provides organizations with a greater geographical human resources pool to harness. Remote workers can live far away from the office, and as long as their IT systems are intact and they have high speed internet, they are productive. There is a very limited requirement to return to the office for work.[2]

When re-evaluating your model, organizations need to review several steps to determine the best model prior to making any changes. These steps must consider the organizational philosophy/ culture, rules of work including collective agreements and employee relations, and ongoing productivity.

Download PDF: How Do You Determine the Best Work Model for Your Organization or Team?



[1] Benefits Canada Staff. (2022, August 3). 61% of Canadian employers using Hybrid Work Model: Survey. Benefits Canada.com. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from https://www.benefitscanada.com/news/bencan/61-of-canadian-employers-using-hybrid-work-model-survey/

[2] Wigert, B. (2022, March 15). The future of hybrid work: 5 key questions answered with data. Gallup.com. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/390632/future-hybrid-work-key-questions-answered-data.aspx

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