Canada’s Pandemic Response: Key Learnings for Building our Future

 Key Learnings for Building our Future

What if the entire population becomes vulnerable due a pandemic? COVID-19 took the world by surprise, then by storm, compelling us to adapt to new realities which considerably impact our individual, social and professional lives. The Canadian Federal Government, responsible for leading the pandemic crisis response, had to take effective and swift action in a rapidly shifting environment, driven by a new and mysterious threat. Implementing a multitude of effective responses across the country during COVID-19 posed a significant challenge for the Federal Government with regards to speed, agility and performance, and they proved up to the task, using an action learning, collaborative and iterative approach.

In this paper, Francoise Morissette explores Canada's pandemic response, and how this fits into the Compassion Revolution Series. First, she looks at the pandemic response through the lens of the 4D action learning process – Define, Discover, Design and Do. Next, she explores how we are facing the storm in the present, how we have learned from experience and built capacity through past pandemics, and how a blueprint for the future is beginning to emerge. (Sections of this paper on the Past, Present and Future are also available on our website.)

The first article of the Compassion Revolution series explores a new trend: Why so many public and not for profit organizations are transforming their service delivery models to better meet the needs of vulnerable and at risk populations. These transformations require not only organizational and process redesign, but significant paradigm and culture shifts. While the organization featured in the first Compassion Revolution Series article (Peel Region), made a proactive and strategic decision to implement a new service delivery model (and could exercise more control over timing and actualization), this was not the case for the COVID-19 response. During a national emergency simultaneously impacting various sectors and population segments in different ways, multiple strategies are required, which must be implemented quickly and effectively.

Leveraging Pandemic Learnings (Part 3)

 Blueprint for Sustainable SuccessBuilding Capacity

A blueprint for the future is beginning to emerge: one that will involve greater use of interactive technology, system-wide collaboration, widespread innovation, improved systems thinking capacity, and stronger recognition and appreciation of the female leadership brand.

Interactive Technology

‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, declared Greek philosopher Plato, in Dialogue Republic, and COVID-19 proves him right. Inventive technology applications are emerging in droves. Here are examples from various sectors.

Leveraging Pandemic Learnings (Part 2)

 Learning from Experience and Building CapacityThis is not the first time Canada has faced pandemics. What have we learned from past experiences? How can we leverage these learnings, now and for the future?  How can we continue to evolve and improve? Here’s a summary of our experience so far.


Pandemics: Definition

A pandemic is an outbreak of an infectious disease that affects a large proportion of the population in multiple countries, or worldwide. Human populations have been affected by pandemics since ancient times. These include widespread outbreaks of plague, cholera, influenza, and, more recently, HIV/AIDS, SARS and COVID-19.[1]

Pandemics Response: Public Health

Initially, it was about defining Public Health, shaping a national vision for it, and putting in place infrastructures to deliver and manage services:

In order to slow or stop the spread of disease, governments implemented public health measures that include testing, isolation and quarantine. In Canada, public health agencies at the federal, provincial and municipal levels play an important role in monitoring disease, advising governments and communicating to the public.[2]


[1] Bailey, P. (2008, May 7.) Updated Marshall, T. (2020, March). Pandemics in Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved May 23, 2020, from

[2]  Ibid.

Leveraging Pandemic Learnings (Part 1)

 Facing the StormEmergencies and crises often create the perfect storm for transformation, as change is primarily driven by the powerful winds of Pain and/or Gain.

Not surprisingly, up to 80% of change is propelled by Pain, a wake up call that pushes us out of complacency, providing opportunities to raise the bar, innovate, shift paradigms, modernize, and make systems work better for more people. Pain compels us to face outdated realities and systems that we are otherwise reluctant to contemplate, infusing us with the courage to do so.

The Rising Importance of a National Brand for Organizations – Part 2

Brand CanadaIn 2004, my colleague Amal Henein and I, undertook a pan-Canadian research project seeking answers to the following questions:

  • How is Canadian Leadership different from that of other countries?
  • How effective is the Canadian Leadership brand and how can we expand our capacity to lead?
  • How can we ensure Canada has an abundant supply of capable leaders?
  • How can we strengthen our leadership presence and impact, particularly in the international arena?

To discover a wide variety of perspectives and paint a complete picture, we set out to interview two key groups likely to have expertise on these topics:

  • Successful leaders in all sectors of the economy and regions of the country (295 interviewees)
  • Leadership development professionals in variety of settings and sectors (66 interviewees).

Throughout the research, we ensured regional, linguistic and diverse representation: gender, age, ethnic background, people with disabilities etc. The research resulted in Made in Canada Leadership,[1] published in 2007 in both official languages.[2]

Haven’t read Part 1 yet? Part 1: Branding Context & Impact


[1] Henein, A. & Morissette, F. (2007). Made in Canada Leadership, Wiley Canada.

[2] The French version is entitled: Leadership, Sagesse, Pratique, Développement, Éditions de l’Université de Sherbrooke.

The Rising Importance of a National Brand for Organizations – Part 1

The Rising Importance of a National Brand for Organizations - Part 1We are all familiar with corporate brands, focused on either products, services or the overall organization. Solid brands impact recognition, enhance reputation, promote loyalty, influence behaviour and foster engagement.

For instance, since the start of its Olympic partnership in 2013, Canadian Tire has met with great success with its ‘We all play for Canada’ platform[1] “with heavy emphasis on the idea of inclusivity, play, and the importance of communities rallying together: values-based messaging about something that matters to us as a country.”[2] Check out this moving video [3] about combining play and inclusion.

Brands are shaped by a complex set of interdependent factors such as values, vision, mission, strategy, culture, traditions, performance and aspirations. They evolve over time and fluctuate according to external factors like competitive pressures, and internal factors like crisis management: for instance, recalls in the pharmaceutical or auto industry can harm or restore a brand’s image, depending on how they are handled. In the spring of 2018, Facebook data harvesting and sharing scandal[4], resulted in a brand confidence breakdown, which prompted a worldwide conversation on strengthening privacy protection to safeguard democracy.[5]

Countries also have brands. In the book Diplomacy in a Globalizing World: Theories and Practices, authors define nation branding as “the application of corporate marketing concepts and techniques to countries, in the interest of enhancing their reputation in international relations.”[6]

National brands are crafted by design, or happen by accident:

  • When deliberate, they seek to build and promote a country’s identity, manage its reputation, and increase its influence. When brand and actions align, national identity becomes sharper, and trust increases in both the country and its brand. However, when a country’s behaviour clashes with its brand, dissonance sets in, eroding trust and credibility.
  • Meanwhile, accidental brands, not consciously driven by their country of origin, float around, lacking clarity and consistency, and are prone to tampering and takeovers.

[1] Canadian Tire Corporation, Limited. (2018, Feb 01). Canadian Tire Reminds Canadians that We All Play for Canada. Retrieved July 24, 2018, from

[2] Dallaire, J. (2018, January 23). Canadian Tire forges ahead with ‘We all play for Canada’. Strategy Magazine. Retrieved July 24, 2018, from

[3] Canadian Tire “Wheels”:60. Retrieved April 25, 2018, from

[4] Understanding Facebook’s data crisis: 5 essential reads. (2018, April 5). Retrieved July 24, 2018, from

[5] Facebook is killing democracy with its personality profiling data. (2018, March 21). Retrieved July 24, 2018, from

[6] Pamment, James (2013). New Public Diplomacy in the 21st Century A comparative study of policy and practice. New York: Routledge. p. 35-36.

Performance Management – Many Possibilities…and Implications

Performance Management – Many Possibilities...and ImplicationsPerformance Management (PM) has become a core organizational strategy and management priority for many organizations. From Boards of Directors to front-line managers, PM can effectively be used to drive accountability, quality, productivity, competence, and rewards and recognition. Going beyond simply a tool to drive “appraisals” and incentive rewards, PM can be complex and not without risk but it can also drive a sophisticated quality and performance-based culture.

Performance management has also become both a strategic imperative and a challenge for many organizations in this data analytics day and age. As a core enabler of performance optimization and accountability, many executive and HR leaders view PM as a core management practice and a key ingredient to becoming a higher performance organization. As a result of various regulatory, methodological and technological developments over the past five years, however, PM has become a misunderstood topic that is confusing for many organizations, especially for those that do not recognize the interdependencies that cut across other management and human resources practices at the enterprise-wide, team and individual levels of performance.

Best practice performance management is clearly not a “one size fits all” endeavor. Rather, it needs to fundamentally reflect the unique contextual needs of one’s strategic direction, business model, workforce profile and leadership preferences. Best practice PM also needs to be thoughtfully configured, and in many cases, phased in and allowed to mature, otherwise, the policies and programs that it supports will collapse and be rendered ineffective – a management risk that could be quite damaging, ultimately constraining front-line performance and of key importance, customer satisfaction.

Why is performance management such an important and trendy topic these days? The answers are numerous and fundamentally include:

  • A variety of inter-related governance and accountability developments over the past five to ten years that believe that PM is key to better oversight processes and outcomes;
  • The ever-increasing availability and power of technology to produce relevant operational performance data and analytics;
  • Recognition that effective PM can actually connect and translate strategic direction to front-line teams and employees;
  • The need to better support and drive executive and employee pay for performance with focused and measurable value added metrics;
  • Competitive pressures and the belief that PM can really impact and contribute to quality management, cost reduction efforts and improve the customer experience;
  • Given the dynamic state of various labour market segments and the importance of top talent attraction and retention, a view that good PM can be used to inform employee and workforce performance, their engagement, career development and deployment; and
  • An historical perspective that PM is one of the key means for validating the performance/compensation employment relationship.

The current trend and focus on PM these days is also being driven by a provocative point of view that is challenging the PM value proposition and a debate that suggests that individual performance ratings have had their day in the sun. This debate is certainly timely and is serving to raise the bar on how PM could be used and optimized, and what management and HR applications should PM actually be used to drive and enable. At a minimum, the debate is stimulating real and thorough discussions around the boardroom table and in the executive suite, with the net result that PM strategies and practices will continue to evolve and mature, albeit possibly in a different form.

This new “rating-less” form, however, is contextually unique to certain types of businesses – those with knowledge-intensive workforces, project and team-based work delivery, mature operational performance measurement systems that are woven into the fabric of work and job designs, increasingly sophisticated competency and behaviourally-based assessment practices, and an organizational commitment to ongoing performance dialogue and discussions between managers and employees, where managers have limited spans of control that are conducive to the necessary preparation and time for regular performance coaching sessions. Again, one size doesn’t fit all! Adopting and applying these characteristics [and trends] to all types of business models, organization designs and cultures would be folly and highly risky – as such, business and HR leaders truly need to understand context, choices and implications before they make strategic PM decisions that could possibly compromise enterprise value and people’s careers.

Finally, current PM trends are also being driven by the fact that we have passed the technological and information management point of no return – web-based technology systems and information management practices, social media and transparency of disclosure, and workplace automation and data analytics are fundamentally changing the way organizations plan, measure and operate. This profound change is and will increasingly drive foundational PM in the vast majority of industry sectors and businesses. Technologically-based workplace performance measurement is now becoming embedded in and inherently core to how work is done and how customer value is created. As a result, management across all sectors and enterprise sizes now have low cost and ease of access to measurement analytics, and more PM choice than ever before – the dilemma for many then will be why, what and how do they want to use more easily accessible, timely and accurate measurement data for PM? And as we all well know in this day and age, and to the consternation of many private and public sector leaders, if organizations don’t embrace and control the instant messaging and social media wave, interested or vested stakeholders will, in some shape or form, get access to performance data and use it to suit their needs and agenda in a very transparent and immediate way! So the bottom-line now is that more sophisticated and complex PM strategies and practices aren’t just the purview of high performance organizations and their controllable management systems!

So in the context of these trends, opportunities and implications, where is the interested business or HR leader to begin on the PM journey? Start by answering key questions:

  • Why do you need performance management, how should it work, and what do you want to use it for?
  • Do you have foundational planning and measurement practices and systems to support various PM applications?
  • Given the nature of your mandate, business model and workforce, will more sophisticated PM practices contribute to better operational processes and productivity, marketplace results, employee engagement and motivation, and strengthened pay for performance linkages?
  • What are the risks and implications of pursuing a contextually misaligned PM strategy or not executing the PM program well?

Like most core annual management practices, the risks and challenges associated with poor strategy and methodological decisions can be quite challenging, constraining and difficult to address in the short term:

  • Strategy dilution and misalignment of focus, efforts, and ultimately, less than optimal quality outcomes and results;
  • Line management and employee distraction and confusion;
  • Low value added administrative time and opportunity cost; and
  • Poor pay for performance, training, and career management decisions and investments.

Fundamentally then, and as the wise adage suggests – you need to be careful for what you ask for and aspire to achieve with PM! Do your homework and be careful about your aspirations, strategic approach, the implications and risks, and the intended consequences…but if you can contextually and successfully make PM happen, the benefits are enormous, ultimately contributing to a high performance culture and more importantly, sustainable competitive advantage and customer loyalty, and simply, a great place to work!

Want to learn more about Performance Management? Check out the Queen’s IRC Performance Management training program.


About the Author

Ian CullwickIan Cullwick, CCP, CHRL, CMC, is a Partner in Mercer’s Ottawa office. He joined Mercer in 2015 after having served as the Vice-President of HR and Organization Research at the Conference Board of Canada, and as a Partner at a major international consulting firm. Ian specializes in governance effectiveness, performance management, human resources strategy, and organization design.  He consults to a broad cross-section of organizations in both the private and public sectors, including high technology companies, financial institutions, crown corporations, health care and not-for-profit organizations.  He is also a noted thought leader and has authored a number of articles on organization design, performance and compensation. Ian has an MBA from the Ivey Business School (Western University), an MIR from the University of Toronto and an undergraduate degree from Queen’s University.

Queen’s IRC Blueprint for Organizational Effectiveness

Incorporating what we learned from academic theories and our own practice, we created the Queen’s IRC Blueprint for Organizational Effectiveness, which is designed to help practitioners collect data, begin diagnosing what is going on in the organization, and identify where they may intervene.

Blueprint for Organizational Effectiveness

Queen's IRC Blueprint for Organizational Effectiveness

Recruiting Talent Using Applicant Tracking Systems

Recruiting Talent Using Applicant Tracking SystemsAs demographics, technology and social media change, so must approaches to recruiting talent.Companies who establish innovative recruiting practices will have a competitive advantage for attracting quality candidates. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are a key component of this. Their ability to provide an improved candidate experience leads to a greater talent pool from which to draw and, by automating routine recruiting activities, also provides Human Resource (HR) professionals and hiring managers time to focus on other aspects of recruiting. This article explores the benefits of Applicant Tracking Systems and considerations for choosing the right product for your organization.

What are Applicant Tracking Systems?

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) help companies with the first stage of talent management—recruiting the right candidates. ATSs support recruiting by simplifying the candidate application process and storing the information collected in a database. Robust reporting, electronic candidate screening, automated ‘approval to hire’, candidate tracking, and onboarding processes are all typical features.

Benefits of Applicant Tracking Systems

Why invest the time and money to implement an ATS when organizations have recruited for many years without one?

  • Simple application process: When competing for scarce talent, it’s beneficial to have a simple candidate application process. Most systems allow candidates to upload resumes or LinkedIn profiles reducing the time required to apply. Profiles can be re-used making it easier for candidates to apply for other jobs. ATS social media tools allow job hunters to forward postings to their network broadening the reach of the search.
  • Searchable database: Applications reside in a searchable database eliminating the need for electronic or paper folders to store candidate information. Although ATSs cannot fully screen resumes, the level of automation narrows the candidate pool with standard screening questions, reducing the time needed to short list applications.
  • Automated processes: Most systems provide the capability to automate the approval to hire and onboarding processes saving the HR and hiring manager time required to complete these activities.Candidate tracking assists with record keeping and supports effective communication between HR and hiring managers.
  • Meeting expectations: As the use of ATSs increases, candidates expect a seamless application process. Relying on out-dated email or paper based applications will put the organization at a disadvantage and potentially reduce the applicant pool.

Determining your Needs—What can an ATS do for you?

Before implementing an ATS, you first need to determine what objectives you need it to fulfill, what processes and resources it will affect, and assess stakeholder needs. Here are some steps you can take.

  • Examine current recruiting practices. A complete understanding of the current process is needed to assess and select vendors.Document the process, list who is involved, time required and typical number of searches conducted per year. This highlights inefficiencies that may be addressed by an ATS, which is key to building a business case for investing in a system.
  • Define the outcome. What will be different about the recruiting process after implementation? This may include an improved candidate experience or reduced costs. Key stakeholders should help define and prioritize the benefits that are most important to the organization.
  • See a demonstration. Product demonstrations provide an overview of ATS capabilities to help compare the features most important to improving the recruiting process.
  • Identify Stakeholders. Make a list of stakeholders who will be impacted by implementing an ATS. The success of implementation depends on stakeholders’ ability to support the changes an ATS will bring to recruiting. Analyzing the impact to the stakeholders, and finding ways to involve them in the selection and implementation will facilitate this process.
  • Develop decision criteria. Before assessing vendors, list criteria for selecting the best product. This will include cost, implementation requirements, and the features most important to improving the recruiting process.
  • Assess HR support. ATSs have several features to support the recruiting process. Assess the time and expertise HR staff will need to take advantage of the system’s features and support hiring managers. ATSs have powerful reporting capabilities. Consider who will analyse reports and decide what to do with the data. Determine who will have accountability to maintain the system beyond day to day recruiting support.
  • Assess the return on investment. Cost structures for ATSs vary—some are based on the number of hires per year or number of recruiters. Determine if this is a worthwhile investment based on the number of searches conducted annually. There may be other recruiting investments such as changing the staff compliment or new approaches to sourcing candidates that would have a greater impact on recruiting outcomes.

5 Questions to ask Vendors

With the variety of options available, there are several considerations for selecting the right product for the organization.

  1. What resources are required to implement an ATS? Some vendors fully support product implementation. Other systems require assistance from in house Information Technology staff or external consultants with previous experience implementing the product. Depending on the size of the organization and budget for the project, this may narrow the list of ATSs for consideration.
  2. Who is the first point of contact for job candidates or internal users with questions about the system? There are a variety of approaches to post implementation, from full vendor support to internal super-users who manage enquiries. Another aspect of ongoing support includes changes to security access and support for software upgrades. It’s important to understand the support model, internal resources required and associated costs.
  3. Does the ATS need to link to the Human Resource Information System (HRIS) or Talent Management software? If linkages are required, explore vendors’ past experience with implementing links between systems in other organizations.
  4. Where is candidate information stored? Options include vendor provided web based storage or company provided servers. If the database is maintained by the vendor, ask about back-up systems, server location and applicable access to information and privacy laws. If the organization must store the database, assess the system and staffing impact of doing so.
  5. What other organizations use this product? Check references by networking with other organizations using the systems you are considering. They will have insight into how the ATS functions on a daily basis, along with suggestions for implementation and pitfalls to avoid.


There are many Applicant Tracking Systems on the market. Selecting the best product requires knowledge of internal processes, stakeholders and a thorough analysis of features and vendor support. As with any technology it will never completely replace the people in place that support the system but, when implemented correctly, an ATS can provide a better experience for applicants and wider pool of talent for the organization to consider.


About the Author

Lori StewartLori Stewart is the Manager of Organizational Development and Learning at Queen’s Human Resources, where she supports university departments with organization design, organizational assessments, process reviews, and facilitation services. Lori teaches in the Queen’s School of Policy Studies, Master of Industrial Relations Program and consults as a Team Performance Coach with MBA programs at the Queen’s School of Business. Lori holds a Master of Industrial Relations from Queen’s University and a Bachelor of Business Administration from Acadia University.

The Way Forward in Employment Relations

The way forwar in employment relationsThe idea of co-operation seems to be one that exists only in children’s books with no real place in the business world. However, to survive in the times that we live in, the more successful organizations, and indeed nations, are embracing the values of co-operation. In my thesis, “Social Dialogue: The Way Forward in Employment Relations”, I studied a financial co-operative, whose founding principles are based on co-operation. The study sought to determine the relevance of utilizing the tools of co-operation such as social dialogue in a dynamic setting. The other variables under consideration were the existence of a very militant trade union as the employees’ representative, and environmental factors which were clamoring for a solid response from the organization to determine whether or not it would continue to exist. All of this in a developing country in the sunny Caribbean, with an economy that is dependent on the fickle fortunes of oil and gas.

Case Study Background

The organization at the centre of the study is over sixty years old and has a long history of success through turbulent times and has outlived many more powerful predecessors. Over the years, while other financial co-operatives have developed a more corporate business model, this Credit Union has held strong to the Co-operative Principles. The Credit Union is now challenged by the need to comply with proposed legislation for the governance and supervision of Credit Unions which would require some significant changes to the way that the Credit Union operates. Additionally, fierce competition from other organizations in the financial services sector forces the Credit Union to re-examine its market positioning and determine strategies to ensure its survival. Ultimately, the Credit Union must achieve organizational effectiveness through stakeholder buy-in and participation in order to remain successful.

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