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.

[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

Creating Kinder, More Productive Workplaces: Ongoing and Everyday Conflict Engagement

 Ongoing and Everyday Conflict EngagementConflict is tough for most of us. According to many physiologists, we tend to tap into several simple strategies when faced with conflict: fight, flight, or freeze. As a result, we likely aren’t reducing unnecessary conflicts, and effectively dealing with necessary conflicts in productive ways. So many opportunities are lost because we aren’t engaging well. Being effective at conflict, both in a proactive and reactive way, demands that we work at it as an ongoing and everyday activity. In essence, it is a lifestyle choice in how we talk, problem solve, inquire with others, and arrange our processes and teams.

There are a number of choices, activities, and strategies that can be used to enhance your organization’s ability to handle conflict in a better way. The following are just a few:

  1. Hold People Accountable for Negative Behaviors and Celebrate Positive Behaviors
    In working with organizations and leaders in many fields, I have found a few common missteps in conflict. One is the mishandling or lack of dealing with toxic people in our workplaces. They often get passes because they are good at their jobs or they are retiring soon, among various other reasons. The trouble is that they are doing grave damage to our teams and they also are setting a norm that bad behavior is allowed. Ultimately, we create workplace monsters by allowing the negative behaviors. Therefore, skills are needed to hold people responsible and foster realistic change.Additionally though, we also must praise those team members who collaborate, share work, ask questions, are kind and gracious to their peers, and participate in a culture of radical candor (the topic of an outstanding book by Kim Scott). It can be as simple as saying “thank you” for asking a question or providing well-informed constructive feedback. It may include features of a performance review and therefore financial incentives for sharing work and helping others with work. The key is to celebrate those times when people are exhibiting positive conflict behaviors.
  2. Ask More Questions. Ask Better Questions
    Experiences in our youth do little to promote the use of questions as a leadership tool. Therefore, it can be difficult to ask thoughtful and strategic questions “on the spot” when we are struggling with problems. Questions are such an important tool in conflict and any problem-solving activities. They lead to better problem identification and therefore more robust problem solving and even relationship building. People feel honoured, trusted, and included when they are involved via good questions and responses.Brainfishing: A Practice Guide to Asking Questions by Gary Furlong and Jim Harrison, is a particularly helpful book that provides tools for improving the strategic and relationship-building use of questions. It provides ideas and steps for improving how you ask questions. First though we must disregard any natural tendencies to think that asking questions is a sign of weakness or dimness. We need to admit we don’t understand or that we need to understand more deeply. This leads to curiosity, which can lead to better outcomes for the people on our teams and on our projects. Just think about the last time you asked someone a genuine question. I imagine that thoughtfulness on your part led to a great discussion and an enriched relationship.
  3. Involve People Strategically
    The pendulum can swing really far when it comes to collaborative decision making and processes. Some organizations have embraced the principles of collaboration and yet they aren’t using it strategically enough. Signs of this include: people speaking disparagingly about meetings, people not implementing plans and decisions, and process fatigue (“Are we ever going to get anything done?”). Great leaders are thoughtful about the when, how, and who of inclusion. I liken it driving a stick shift; it takes practice and you have to push, release, and shift at the right moment for the transition to be smooth. The parts need to be moving together in a coordinated fashion at the right moments.It is important to ask people how and when they want to be involved, and then respond when you can’t meet those needs and include them in the ways they want when possible. Additionally, team members need to advocate for themselves and their peers when they need to be included in an important plan or project decision. People don’t need deep involvement in each and every step typically, yet we need to consider how we involve them in order to provide the opportunity for their voices to be heard and our processes and final products to be that much better.
  4. Provide for Various and Dynamic Conflict Modes
    Conflict competent teams are part of conflict competent organizations, meaning that every person in the system has some degree of conflict-engagement skills and there are clear avenues for handling conflict. The modes have to work for the people in the system. Some systems include online features, clear policies and processes, more ongoing and consistent performance review channels, training workshops, committees/boards, purposeful interpersonal interactions, policy/procedure reviews, one-on-one conversations, coaching, formal processes (e.g. mediation), and disciplinary processes. By no means is this list exhaustive but it gives a sense of the many moving parts of a conflict competent organization.Identifying the appropriate modes for any organization involves steps; talking with people to identify the right ways of handling conflict, designing how these processes will operate in your organization, building awareness around the modes, experimenting with the modes, correcting any inadequacies, and evaluating in an ongoing way are just some of the steps. These steps can take time and may need outside help, but they are invaluable in having a conflict competent organization.

In order to do all of the above, there is a fundamental characteristic of the organization and it is to:

  1. Gain Executive-level Support for a Collaborative Culture
    It is entirely possible for a team in an organization to do #1-4 in an organization that doesn’t, but they are limited by their surroundings, policies, norms, and executive leadership that foster those surroundings, policies, and norms. In order for conflict competency and collaboration to occur in every team and in every meeting, disciplinary process, and strategic planning session, the executive team must support the principles and build and use the skills themselves. This doesn’t mean simply setting policies and changing the hierarchical structure. It means diving deep into the organizational culture in order to create new systems, structures, and therefore relationships. Too often, this isn’t the starting point but it should be.

The “why” of this is important. People are demanding this type of interaction in their workplaces, communities, and other team-oriented activities more. This is particularly true of our emerging generations. Each of these helps people to feel more connected to their employers and fellow team members. Rather than mistreating one another over unnecessary conflict, coworkers can work alongside each other while also engaging in problem solving (i.e. conflict resolution) in a more robust way. People can start solving the problem that their organization is having. Numbers 1-4, in particular, provide a clearer path to helping our workplaces become kinder, more collegial spaces. Work can be tough at times, often because of how we interact with our colleagues. It is so much better to work in an environment in which there is the expectation that we are supportive, collaborative, and kind to one another through even the most difficult of times. This frees our time at work to be more productive and doing so in a collaborative and supportive way.

 

About the Author

Joan Sabott

Joan is a facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Strategies for Workplace Conflicts program. Joan Sabott is a practitioner, consultant, trainer, teacher, and coach in conflict engagement and resolution. Currently, she is an adjunct faculty at Creighton University in Omaha, NE, USA, on leadership and conflict.  Joan is an Affiliated Practitioner and former Senior Program Manager with The Langdon Group. She has consulted on various projects in the organizational sector for businesses and public agencies, and on environmental projects in the substantive areas of water, transportation, and land use and planning.  From one day (or hour) to the next, she is mediating, facilitating, coaching, advocating and providing impromptu training sessions on conflict-related topics. Joan holds a B.S.B.A. in History, a Certificate in Secondary Education, and a Masters in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution, all from Creighton University.

 

If you are interested in custom training on this topic, please contact Cathy Sheldrick at cathy.sheldrick@queensu.ca.

 

References

Furlong, G. T., & Harrison, J. (2018). Brainfishing: a practice guide to questioning skills. Place of publication not identified: FriesenPress.

Scott, K. (2019). Radical candor: be a kick-ass boss without losing your humanity. New York: St. Martins Press.

HR and Manager Partnerships: Building Accountability in the Workplace

 Building Accountability in the WorkplaceRayna had just received an interesting request. J.B., a recent addition to the front-line management team, had come to her following the division wide quarterly town hall update. The division president, Anne, had given a talk on accountability. She’d been firm in her resolve to increase division wide understanding of what it meant to be accountable at work. J.B. wasn’t questioning the directive. He was struggling with the meaning. What did accountability mean for him as a manager?

“Rayna,” he said. “In my last job we talked a lot about a culture of responsiveness. We gave a lot of lip service to building good teams, but in the end, it was really all about getting things done – fast. There was a lot of blaming; nobody wanted to be the one to holding the bag. It was about covering your backside – always.”

“Ugh,” said Rayna. “That must have been tough. We are trying hard to be different here. Anne is all about building a healthy workplace. She wants people to feel good about coming to work.”

J.B. replied, “I hear what she’s saying. It just doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about accountability at work. I know, it sounds crazy.”

“Anne’s talk got me thinking,” said Rayna. “I’ve been doing some reading and listening to podcasts on what accountability means. How about we set up some lunch dates to talk about what I’m finding?”

“Perfect!” said J.B. “Thanks, Rayna, I really appreciate you taking this on with me.”

Strategy or Culture? What’s Your Leadership Challenge?

Strategy or Culture? What’s Your Leadership Challenge?Change was in the wind. As is true for many industries, the insurance industry was facing significant change. Making the shift from a regulated to a deregulated industry seemed a daunting challenge for the 100 year old RockSolid Insurance Company.

The question for the executive team was how to craft a strategy and initiate change in ways that would enable the company to compete successfully into the future. Despite facing potentially massive disruption, one department, the Tax Department, decided to use this as an opportunity to reflect on their values, strategic goals, and departmental culture.  In this article we present a case study and share some thoughts on one of the toughest challenges leaders face, the interplay between successful strategy implementation, and shifting organizational culture.

Leaders are typically quite adept at crafting strategy because of the direct relationship between strategy and results.  Strategy provides direction, clarity, and focus for collective action and decision making. Strategy connects people and what they do in their day to day work with the organization’s purpose and broader impact in the world. Without a strategy that is clear, relevant, and valid, it can be difficult to motivate and mobilize people to work toward and achieve, concrete goals.

Are You in a Communication Rut? Shift the Pattern, Get Different Results

Are You in a Communication Rut? Shift the Pattern, Get Different ResultsImagine that you are in a conversation when you suddenly realize that you have had this exact same disagreement with a co-worker, or a family member, many times before. In the moment, you can predict what you will say and do and what the other person will too. You feel compelled to act in a certain way, even when you know that what you will say or do next is unwise or unproductive. You cannot seem to help yourself. Or the other person! After the conversation has gone from bad to worse, you may find yourself attributing it to the other person’s incompetence, character flaws, or bad motive. You end up feeling frustrated and angry about how you and the other person did it again. Furthermore, you may be oblivious to how your behavior contributed to the undesirable behavior of the other person. You’ve just had an URP moment.

It can feel embarrassing to admit that despite our best intentions, our communications with others do not go the way we intended and that we could make better choices in the moment. Leaders and managers can learn to address some of these unwanted, repetitive, and intractable dynamics and shift the pattern to what they want instead.

Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again: Restoring Teams After Workplace Investigations

Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again – Restoring Teams After Workplace InvestigationsA workplace investigation will not repair dysfunctional workplace relationships. A workplace investigation neither builds bridges, nor resolves interpersonal conflict. In fact, an investigation may make a difficult work environment even more difficult. So how do we put Humpty Dumpty back together again, if all the King’s horses and all the King’s people could not?

Google’s Project Aristotle

In 2012, Google undertook a multi-year initiative to answer one question: what makes some workplace teams soar while others fail miserably. The research team, which included organizational psychologists, statisticians, engineers and sociologists, studied the literature and over 150 Google teams. They found five (5) behavioural norms that all successful teams shared:[1]

  1. Psychological safety: Team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.
  2. Dependability: Team members get things done on time and meet Google’s high bar for excellence.
  3. Structure & Clarity: Team members have clear roles, plans and goals.
  4. Meaning: Work is personally important to team members.
  5. Impact: Team members think that their work matters and creates change.

Of all the factors, ‘psychological safety’ was the most important. Charles Duhigg, in his book Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity[2], has a chapter devoted to teams and the concept of psychological safety. He cites Dr. Edmondson as follows (at p. 64):

For psychological safety to emerge among a group, teammates don’t have to be friends. They do, however, need to be socially sensitive and ensure everyone feels heard. “The best tactic for establishing psychological safety is demonstration by a team leader,” as Amy Edmondson, who is now a professor at Harvard Business School told me. “It seems like fairly minor stuff, but when the leader goes out of his way to make someone feel listened to, or starts a meeting by saying ‘I might miss something, so I need all of you to watch for my mistakes’ or says ‘Jim, you haven’t spoken in a while, what do you think?,’ that makes a huge difference.”

Psychological Flexibility – Digging a little Deeper

In addition to psychological safety, teams also need ‘psychological flexibility’, a concept based on choices and values.

In ACT,[3] psychological flexibility is defined as follows:[4]

ACT… is about doing what works to get you where you want to go. It’s about choosing your direction and becoming increasingly able to move toward it through your actions, even in the presence of obstacles. Choosing a direction involves identifying who or what is important to you [i.e. values]. In ACT having the ability to choose to do what works in order to move toward who or what is important to you, even in the presence of obstacles, is known as psychological flexibility.

The question ‘who or what is important to you’ is another way to identify values. In a team setting, the values question is ‘what are our shared purposes?’ The conflict represents the obstacle. ‘Moving toward’ is the idea of choice – that is, choosing to take actions consistent with a team’s shared purposes to achieve important team goals, despite the presence of obstacles.

This notion of ‘psychological flexibility’ is exemplified in the work of Victor Frankl[5], an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. While a prisoner in the concentration camps, he wondered why some prisoners were resilient and better able to survive the despair and tragedy of their circumstances while others fell victim to their despair. The answer, he observed, came down to two things: values and choice. Even in these terrible circumstances people had the power to choose, for example, to relieve the suffering of others or to enjoy the warmth of a spring day instead of fixating on the hopelessness of their situation. No one could take this power of choice away. Frankl’s conclusions can be summarized as follows: ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our freedom and growth.’[6]

How ‘Psychological Safety’ and ‘Psychological Flexibility’ Informs My Work with Stuck Teams

Whenever I work with stuck teams, the following five (5) criteria informs my practice:

  1. Establish the conditions for psychological safety – Guide team members to choose ground rules necessary for creating a safe space for their work. Confidentiality is one such necessary rule.
  1.  Never talk about the problem directly – This is the first commandment of ‘psychologically safety’ and ‘psychological flexibility’. The team is in a stuck place because of the problem. Talking about the problem keeps the team focused on why they are stuck. Stuck thinking is a symptom of a fixed mindset rather than growth mindset.[7]
  1. Psychological Flexibility: Focus on workability – Assessing right/wrong, that is focusing on blame, is a stuck perspective and makes resolution more difficult. Workability is a flexible perspective which generates options by looking at what the team may do to achieve important goals and objectives. Success is measured by whether an action is workable in that it moves the team toward shared purposes and goals. Instead of trying to fix what is broken (as in trying to piece humpty dumpty together again) the team’s attention is shifted to what it needs to do to act consistently with shared purposes (values) and to achieve important goals.
  1. Confirm each team member’s right to choose – Team members can choose whether or not to do what is workable. With the power of choice, however, comes responsibility for the consequence of one’s choices. For example, choosing to do nothing is actually a choice to remain stuck which will ultimately have its own consequences, personally and at work. As Uncle Ben told Peter Parker: ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’[8]
  1. Ensure that everyone speaks at least once, and that each person is heard – Generally speaking, people do not want to stay stuck in conflict. They prefer to move forward because conflict has negative impacts at work, at home and even on their personal health. Creating a safe space and a way to generate options for moving forward, that is not dependent on affixing blame, is an effective approach to solving the ‘Humpty Dumpty’ problem. At the end of the process, if people on the team start talking and if every team member’s voice is heard, at least once, the team will be well on its way to putting ‘Humpty Dumpty’ together again.

About the Author

Ronald Pizzo
Ronald Pizzo works at Pink Larkin in the labour and employment group. He has 30 years’ experience as a labour lawyer. He is also a certified mediator and coach. He is also certified in the Pro-Social Matrix Communication Process. He works with teams and workplace groups stuck in conflict and dysfunction.

 

 

 


[1]Rozovsky, J. (n.d.). Re:Work – The five keys to a successful Google team. Retrieved December 10, 2018, from https://rework.withgoogle.com/blog/five-keys-to-a-successful-google-team/

[2] Duhig, C. (2017). Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity. Anchor Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada.

[3] ACT is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a third wave cognitive behavioural therapy. For more information about using ACT in workplace interventions and various studies assessing the efficacy of ACT workplace interventions see https://workingwithact.com/

[4] Polk, K.L. et.al. (2016). The Essential Guide to the ACT Matrix. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

[5] Frankl, V.E. (1992, 4th ed.). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press at p. 1.

[6] Attribution for this quote is discussed here: https://medium.com/@yesthatguy/between-stimulus-and-response-9811620c2bd9 and here: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2018/02/18/response/.

[7] Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York, NY: Penguin Random House LLC.

[8] Ziskin, L. (Producer), & Rami S. (Director). (2002). Spider-Man: The Motion Picture. United States: Columbia Pictures Corporation, Marvel Enterprises, Laura Ziskin Productions.

 

4 Steps to Fix a Toxic Workplace

4 Steps to Fix a Toxic Workplace How do you fix a hostile workplace after a strike, merger or other polarizing event? How do you create a healthy workplace after a harassment or grievance investigation? It can be difficult to rebuild the trust that has been lost between members of a team or in leadership, or both. But, according to Anne Grant, a Queen’s IRC facilitator and workplace restoration specialist, you have to bring people back to a joint vision of what the workplace should be.

Is Your Workplace Toxic?

According to Anne, a toxic or poisoned workplace is a work environment where the work product is being affected by the dysfunction of the members of the team. Some signs and symptoms of a workplace that needs help could be an increase in grievances or sick time; it could be more people quitting or retiring; it could be difficulty in recruiting and retaining talent. But there are also more subtle signs, like apathy among workers or an increase in gossip or bullying.

“We have all kinds of processes for addressing a complaint,” says Anne. “But we don’t have as many processes for getting back to an ideal workplace after a complaint or polarizing event like a merger, strike or perhaps a big investigation.”

And that’s where a workplace restoration comes in. Whether it is addressing difficulties with management, a group of rogue employees spreading negativity through the office, or an issue that no one ever got around to investigating, a workplace restoration can help re-establish communication and trust in an organization.

Anne shares four steps to fix a toxic workplace:

1. Assessment

The first step is to figure out what’s really going on by doing an assessment of the situation. Why do we have a lack of trust? Why do we have apathy? Why do we have dysfunction?

Sometimes assumptions are made that are not quite correct, so the first step is always to find out what the actual issues are by talking directly to the staff. It could be dysfunctional team relations or team behaviour, which could include malicious gossip, bullying behaviours, or perhaps some members of the team just not getting along.  Another issue that often comes up is challenges with management practices. There may be a perception of favouritism, that management isn’t managing the workplace or that there’s a lack of planning. Perhaps there’s the perception of unfairness, that management isn’t managing the negative performers or correcting unacceptable behaviour.

A key part of the assessment piece is to communicate the process and be clear that it’s not an investigation. Perhaps a memo that says: “We have recognized that there are some challenges on this team. We are going to be doing a workplace assessment starting on this day. You will be able to complete a confidential survey and/or attend a confidential interview. Then the survey results and our plan will be released at a meeting next month.”

When completing the assessment, you might find that there are operational or technical issues, but most likely, you will find that there’s a lack of trust and communication.

Anne worked with a group of public works employees who drive snow plows. The initial information was that: “Oh, there’s a couple of guys, and they don’t get along with the new guys. It’s a millennial thing.” However, as she dug into the issue and spoke to the employees, she found that one of their biggest issues was that they didn’t feel like there was a plan for their department. They felt like everything they did was at the whim of the manager. George said: “You know, Frank and I are the only two guys that can drive the grader, and we’re pretty close to retirement, and we don’t see the plan for who’s going to get to drive the grader next.”

2. Plan

The second step is to make a plan to move forward. How are we going to fix this? Are we going to send the manager for sensitivity training? Are we going to give everybody a refresher on bullying? Are we going to work to model some effective workplace structures, like effective staff meetings and that sort of thing? What is the plan going to be?

In Anne’s example above with the snow plow drivers, the discovery of the real issues led to the development of a skills inventory being posted, so the workers knew who was certified to drive different pieces of equipment. It incorporated the seniority list, so it had senior employees at the top and junior employees at the bottom. Everyone could see who had what certifications, and then it could be used to plan who would be next to get training. Going straight down the seniority list wasn’t working, because George and Frank, who were at the top of the list and were the most senior guys, were going to be gone in the next year. The next person on the list, Sam, was already was certified in two other areas, and it didn’t make sense to certify him in the grader because he could only drive one piece of equipment at a time. Identifying some tangible issues meant that they were able to make an effective plan to work towards a more ideal workplace.

3. Implement the Plan

This is where the rubber hits the road in the process. Many times, organizations do the assessment and planning pieces, but the recommendations never get implemented.

One of the ways that a workplace restoration differs from a grievance investigation is that it’s not about disciplining the rogue employee(s) or manager; it’s about identifying what the ideal workplace looks like for that team, and figuring out how to make it happen.

A big part of the implementation is communicating to the staff what can and can’t be done, and why. “We’re going to do this this month. We’re going to do that next month. That recommendation that you made, it’s a great idea, but because of the regulations for our industry, we can’t implement it.” The workers need to know that they have been heard. Treating them like partners will help motivate desired behaviour.

Anne says while it’s important to acknowledge the injury in order to heal and move forward, the focus has to be on the ideal workplace and what steps can get you there. A key part of that process is education – it’s a good opportunity to remind people of expected and substandard behaviour, without blaming or singling out individuals. “One of the issues that was reported in the survey is some substandard behaviour. There’s noncompliance with our organizational code of conduct or with the Occupational Health and Safety Act.”

Anne recalls a workplace restoration experience at a coal yard. There were many complicated issues, but one of the workers said: “We need a Tim Horton’s down by the lagoon.” It turned out that a bunch of these guys worked outside down by the lagoon all day, with a Johnny on the spot and no access to a cafeteria. Everybody up in the main building had access to hot coffee, a cafeteria and real bathrooms. One of the things that they were able to implement as part of the workplace restoration was getting a coffee truck to come down to the lagoon at 9:00 in the morning and at 1:15 in the afternoon to sell them hot coffee. While there were big issues that were not easily fixed, this small step made the workers feel like they had been heard and contributed to creating a more ideal workplace. The coffee truck was bringing more than caffeine. It was bringing good will.

4. Evaluation

The final part of the process is a check-in. Anne recommends an evaluation in three months, six months, or a year, depending on the situation. This reminds the troops that their leaders haven’t forgotten about them, and it continues to engender trust and engagement from the staff. It also holds everyone accountable for maintaining the new processes and expected behaviours. People fall off the wagon after a while, and by completing an evaluation, it holds all parties accountable.

 

Queen’s IRC has introduced a new Workplace Restoration program, which will teach you how to address a toxic workplace to rebuild relationships and productivity.

To learn more and see upcoming dates, please visit the program page: Workplace Restoration

Hunter Harrison and the Transformation of Canadian National Railway

Hunter HarrisonWhen Hunter Harrison joined the recently-privatized Canadian National Railway (CNR) in 1998 as Chief Operating Officer, the company was generally acknowledged as one of the worst railroads in North America, highly indebted, perpetually in the red, and losing market share to the more efficient, flexible and newly deregulated U.S. railway and trucking industries. Recruited by Chief Executive Officer, Paul Tellier, for his skills and experience at Illinois Central, Harrison along with Tellier moved swiftly to transform CNR into a “scheduled precision railway” and to introduce needed efficiencies. Soon thereafter the company shed over 11,000 employees and thousands of miles of track.

After Tellier left the company in 2003, Harrison was appointed as his successor. The challenge was enormous. A cultural overhang still existed from the railway’s public sector days when it was more of an employment generation device than a business, complete with regionalism, isolation from commercial pressures, formal chains of command, hostile unions and a culture of entitlement. Would Harrison be able to complete the transformation or would the company sink back into mediocrity? Fast forward to 2008 and CNR was then widely recognized as the most efficient railway in North America. How he accomplished this cultural transformation is nothing short of miraculous.

An effective change leader needs five skills which I call the five Ps: Passion, Plan, Persuasion, Partnering and Perseverance, and Harrison had all of them in abundance.

>> This paper is one chapter from Dr. Carol A. Beatty’s e-book, The Easy, Hard & Tough Work of Managing Change. The complete e-book is now available on our website at no charge: Download

Queen’s University IRC 2015 Workplace in Motion Summit Proceedings

Queen's University IRC 2015 Workplace in Motion Summit ProceedingsThe world of work is changing, and the most successful organizations and practitioners are those that understand how these changes impact the way they do business. To help them do so, and to foster further dialogue, Queen’s IRC hosted the Workplace in Motion Summit in Toronto on April 16th, 2015. Over 100 human resource, labour relations, and organizational development professionals from across Canada attended the Summit. Chaired by IRC facilitator Brenda Barker Scott, the Summit provided a forum to stimulate new ideas and new perspectives on the dynamic new world of work.

The Summit focused on a variety of questions of interest to today’s human resource, labour relations, and organizational development professionals. More specifically, it helped participants:

  • Identify issues and best practices related to current trends and practices in human resource manage­ment, labour relations, and organizational development.
  • Explore how rapidly emerging technologies are shaping and re-shaping modern workplaces and the way we work.
  • Investigate the impact of changing demographics on contemporary organizations.

This was all done with the intent of identifying how they can better lead change and promote excellence within and beyond their organizations and professional networks.

Over the course of the Summit, several themes emerged that were particularly critical to today’s human resource, labour relations, and organizational development professionals. These included the need to:

  • Manage change and transformation in order to advance organizational and professional interests with as little disruption as possible.
  • Create the physical space, infrastructure, technologies, and systems necessary to support a collaborative, open, and innovative workplace and work culture.
  • Engage, retain, and motivate the new generation of employees and to bridge inter-generational gaps in the workplace.
  • Think outside the box in order to appropriately encourage risk-taking and innovation.

This report elaborates on the most important questions, issues, and themes identified by Summit participants going forward.

Successfully Changing Workplace Culture with the Boundary Theory

A Team’s Journey to Manage Culture More Effectively in a Unionized EnvironmentOrganizational culture isn’t like a sports car. It cannot instantly change directions and make a hairpin turn. Instead, it’s more like a tanker ship that takes time and planning to put on the right course. If you think about how your organization or team arrived at the culture it currently has, it’s unlikely you can point to a single event, or even a few moments, that explain your current culture. Instead, it is the slow changes that happen, unnoticed at the time, which better explain how most organizational cultures develop. Not actively managing your culture doesn’t cause it to quickly turn off course, but instead allows it to drift slowly astray until one day you wonder how you got to Baffin Island when you thought you were headed for Halifax.

This reality came into clear focus about two years ago within the Social Assistance and Employment Opportunities (SAEO) division at the Niagara Region. At that time, I was the Human Resources Consultant (HRC) supporting the Community Service Department (which includes the SAEO Division) of the Niagara Region. As an HRC, I acted as the lead contact and strategic resource for the management team of my client group. Since that time, we have been on an exciting and interesting path characterized by thinking differently about what boundaries mean and how to use them to keep culture on course.

SAEO, one of three operating divisions within the Community Services Department of the Regional Municipality of Niagara, administers the Ontario Works program to approximately 10,500 households within the Niagara region who are experiencing significant financial hardship (Niagara Region, 2014). The SAEO team includes over 220 employees comprised mainly of unionized (CUPE) staff.

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