What makes a good principal?

What makes a good principal?  The Globe and Mail recently published an article highlighting 5 award-winning principals, and they are now looking for your input. You can read more here:


Nancy Love, PhD, educator extraordinaire has written a book on this very topic. Check it out and let me know what you think about your principal and your favourite influencing teacher.

Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace starts with the conversation. #workplaceMH

Learn about workplace mediation and how it is used to address workplace mental health issues. Space is limited. Register now!

When: Tuesday, Feb 4, 2014
Time: 7:30 am to 10:30 am (breakfast included)
Where: Kahanoff Centre (2nd floor, 105 – 12th Avenue SE), Room 201

Join Michelle Phaneuf (Reaching Enduring Agreements), Marjorie Munroe (Pulse Institute) and Morgan Craig-Broadwith (Workplace Mental Health, Canadian Mental Health Association – Calgary Region) at a simulated mediation breakfast for Calgary employers and employees.

Mediation is a very private endeavour, only including those directly involved with the issue. Therefor, it is no surprise many employers and employees do not understand the mediation process.

Follow the conversation #workplaceMH

Due to the success and demand of last year’s event, the 2014 Mediation Breakfast we have increased the time of the event to allow for a more in depth question and answer period following the simulated mediation.

Participants will leave with an improved understanding of workplace mediation and how it can be utilized to address a workplace mental health issue.

Space is limited. Register now!

Above and Beyond Undercover Boss

Recently Calgary Transit Director Doug Morgan appeared on an episode of Undercover Boss Canada with a goal of giving Calgarians a behind-the-scenes look at the work of employees who make his organization tick and, according to Ruth Myles of the Calgary Herald, a chance to hear an uncensored take on the workplace from employees.

Working Statues

All too often in the workplace there is disconnect between the corner office and frontline workers, reinforced by everyday barriers including assistants’ desks, dress codes, and separate floors and buildings. Doug Morgan had to take a pretty extreme measure to vault the barriers at Calgary Transit, donning an uncomfortable dark wig and in his own words “crazy shoes”, but he relished the opportunity to connect on a new level with his staff and is now looking for ways to continue and reinforce that “connection back into the organization.”

You don’t need to get on Undercover Boss Canada and don a crazy uncomfortable disguise to connect with your employees says Michelle Phaneuf, Alberta Co-Director of the Workplace Fairness Institute. Michelle says “owners may be aware that there are issues in the workplace, but employees are often missing that safe environment to provide direct feedback.”

Michelle and her fellow Workplace Fairness co-director, Marjorie Munroe, have developed a process to engage employees for that all important feedback. The Discovery Interview process is the first step in supporting organizations to instill fairness in the workplace. Using skills gained in their extensive mediation experience, Marjorie and Michelle establish a safe environment and gather anonymous and frank data around issues that impact employees. This data is compiled and presented in a report that highlights concerns, often revolving around trust, respect, leadership and transparency. Marjorie Munroe acknowledges that management often has a good idea of what is going on within the organization but adds “nonetheless Discovery Interviews serve two very important purposes: they provide a forum for employees to feel heard an acknowledged, and they send a firm and transparent message that management is concerned about learning the truth.”

Discovery Interviews are only the first step. The second step is often a group conversation facilitated by Michelle and Marjorie to ask: How can the employees work with management to find solutions to enhance their organizational culture? Together, staff and management work on a specific plan to address concerns. Through careful professional facilitation, staff are empowered to contribute to a solution which will meet needs in the workplace they have defined. Because both staff and management define the terms for success, success becomes achievable.

The Workplace Fairness Institute is a Canadian company focused on enhancing organizational culture through collaboration, communication and proactivity in managing conflict.

The Workplace Fairness Ombudsman Office is a new initiative of the Workplace Fairness Institute which offers ombuds services to small and mid-sized organizations. Trained as ombudsman through the Forum of Canadian Ombudsman and the Osgoode Hall Law School and with backgrounds as Chartered Mediators , Marjorie and Michelle bring abundant experience and ample expertise to the Ombudsman office. The Workplace Fairness Ombudsman Office will support individuals by working with them to understand and consider options regarding their concerns, answering questions, facilitating communication, and providing information and referral.

The Workplace Fairness Ombudsman Office will provide a service which emphasizes independence, impartiality, fairness and accountability. Additionally the service will help organizations recognize and address systemic issues early.

FYI Here is your code of conduct

This was the title of an email sent out recently to a surprised worker whose job involves Diversity and Inclusion. It was a story told during a discussion of the 3 tenets of Workplace Fairness: Proactivity, Communication and Collaboration.


An effective code of conduct results from a collaborative process and will reflect the personality and culture of your workforce.

An effective code of conduct results from a collaborative process and will reflect the personality and culture of your workforce.

When we are busy, it is easy to take shortcuts in consultation with potentially dire results. We invented the word proactivity to describe the ongoing, preventative, and proactive process which engages employees within all levels and departments of an organization to consult. The Code of Conduct is a great example; let’s take two scenarios.

Manager A, cognizant of the pressures on her staff’s time and resources, takes on the grunt work of developing the code of conduct. Her thinking is that since most of it is common sense, people will be relieved because everyone is pushed for time. She does recognize that participation is the key to engagement. So, once she has done most of the legwork, she asks volunteers to review, discuss and fine-tune the final document. She is happy to note that there are very few changes proposed to the original document, and she emails it out “FYI” to the full group and staples it to the bulletin board of the lunchroom.

Manager B is not particularly fond of policy and conduct discussions, but recognizes their importance. So, partly out of a desire to offload the task, and partly out of a desire to engage people in the process, he allocates the first 10 minutes of every staff meeting to a Code of Conduct discussion. It takes a few months, but eventually they finalize a document and ceremoniously hang it in the lunchroom during their monthly potluck.

People take ownership of language. Manager A’s language may be clear and sensical, but it is not her staff’s language. When there are bumps in the road, she will be held to a high standard for owning, acting and leading with her code of conduct. Conflict seeks somewhere to lay blame. Manager A and her code of conduct become easy targets.

Manager B involves everyone from the beginning, and as a group, they stand a better chance of holding each other to account for their Code of Conduct. Though he risks Code-of-Conduct-saturation and boredom by drawing it out, there are high rewards for keeping the discussion front and centre, and ensuring there is group buy-in.

Consultation and collaboration require being open to new information and a commitment through all stages of a discussion, not just the final review.

Trico Homes Models Workplace Fairness and Fosters Engagement

Employees of Trico Homes are engaged, recognized, committed, and passionate about the work they do.  

Organizations can learn a lot from the way Trico manages fairness and employee relationships.  Michelle Phaneuf and I sat down recently with Maaike Ezinga to learn more specifically about what Trico does to foster working relationships and employee retention.  We were curious to know how the principles of Workplace Fairness were cultivated at an award-winning organization.

Employees are engaged at Trico Homes

Trico has won “Canada’s Best Workplaces” for five consecutive years.

Workplace Fairness is focused on seven desired organization culture outcomes, including such things as productive working relationships, diversity and inclusion, employee engagement and organizational reputation.  Trico is a leader in fostering Workplace Fairness, with tangible strategies which promote these outcomes. Here are some examples from our recent conversation with Ezinga.

Employee Engagement at Trico Homes.  It is easy to talk about engagement, but as we all know, talk and action are often separated by a chasm, and we don’t always know specifically what steps to take, even when we recognize a problem.  Ask the leadership of Trico Homes – they know how to engage and retain employees, and they have a well-earned shelf of rewards in the lobby recognizing their successes.  Knowing the boss on a personal level and understanding what he cares about goes a long way to serving workers’ sense of purpose and engagement.  When people understand that the boss cares, they care.

Ezinga, the current HR Director at Trico Homes has been there less than a year, but already she speaks passionately about what drives her commitment to this privately owned Calgary business. “Wayne and Eleanor Chiu have a personal investment.  For them, their relationship with employees is personal, and it is demonstrated with everything they do.”  Work gets done because the staff know the Chius care about them, and this is demonstrated in myriad ways through flexibility and openness.

The Trico Group was established in 1989 from humble beginnings by Wayne Chiu, a mechanical engineer educated in Winnipeg and Hong Kong.  Eleanor Chiu has been the Chief Financial Officer since 1998. In 2008 the Trico Charitable Foundation emerged to support the Chiu’s vision to create an impactful legacy within the non-profit sector. This is a natural outgrowth of the Trico Group’s long history of corporate social responsibility, which involves extensive financial and organizational commitment to numerous charitable and community causes.

Fostering organizational reputation.  In addition to chairing the Trico Foundation, Wayne Chiu is a director for the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, a national non-profit which supports young entrepreneurs with mentoring and business resources.  Eleanor Chiu has served on the board of Bow Valley College, and Trico has generously supported this organization financially.  Their influence in the community runs deep and wide, with a presence which attracts long-term employees and talented newcomers with a shared sense of values.

The Charitable Foundation builds and supports another pillar of positive culture outcomes in Workplace Fairness: Positive Organizational Reputation.

The value of diversity and inclusion.  The Trico community is a vibrant one in its diversity.  Ezinga herself is Dutch, and understands the challenges of working and living in a second language.  As she described her work environment, and how comfortable it feels to be able to say – “I’m sorry, I don’t understand you” I realized she was talking about safety.  There is willingness and an acceptance here to participate in the difficult conversations without judgment.  This may start with the advantage of having a boss from Hong Kong who understands what it means to work in an adopted culture, but it doesn’t stop there because of the openness that has developed.  The Trico environment is a clear example of the positive cultural outcome of Diversity and Inclusion.  Positive diversity fosters a safe environment, benefits all workers and is a tenet of Workplace Fairness.

Productive working relationships.  At Trico resources are directed and allocated to celebrate events which are meaningful to all workers and to the business.  The very active social committee, composed of both frontline and management employees, is supported financially by the company and organizes regular, inclusive events.  Appreciation events are held in new show homes and employees are presented with the opportunity to share pride in the work they do and be recognized on the team for their contribution.  Communication and collaboration are strengthened on an ongoing basis as teams are brought together in celebration.  We know from Dan Pink and others that people are more engaged when they understand how their work contributes to the whole and are acknowledged for making a contribution.

Productive working relationships are also built through the mentoring and job-shadowing program which is inter-departmental.  The strong culture of working together benefits the succession plan as well as contributes to Workplace Fairness.

Our conversation with Ezinga also touched on the silos that inevitably develop between differing working groups.  Collaboration does not just happen between different groups.  As she said it, “people need to be forced together.”  Social events are one way of doing that, but it is not enough.  The social events will help build personal relationships and deliberate business processes can help as well.  It takes commitment on all sides, and it is critical to ensuring long-term productive working relationships throughout an organization.

So from recruiting to succession planning, from good conversation through bad, the folks at Trico Homes have fostered a culture of flexibility, trust, responsiveness, safety and recognition which attracts and retains quality employees.  And the mere fact that we are sitting in the office of the HR Director of a firm with 120 full-time employees tells me something as well – all too often, the budget for the HR director is way down the list of priorities.  It speaks to a commitment to the people.

About Trico. Trico Homes is a Calgary based builder of both single and multi-family homes and was established in 1993 by Wayne Chiu, a mechanical engineer educated in Winnipeg and Hong Kong.  Currently ranked as one of Calgary’s top residential builders, Trico has built an enviable reputation for integrity, innovative design, quality workmanship and customer service.  Trico has won Canada’s Best Workplacesfor five consecutive years.  

About Workplace Fairness. The Workplace Fairness Institute www.workplacefairness.ca is a Canadian organization founded in Toronto by Blaine Donais, a labour lawyer and expert in both the practice and theory of assisted labour/management negotiation, mediation, arbitration and facilitation. Marjorie and Michelle have brought the concept of Workplace Fairness to Alberta to support leaders and champions to develop workplaces which treat employees with equality of concern and respect through collaboration, communication and a proactive approach.   Workplace Fairness focuses on seven main culture outcomes to enable businesses to create an organizational culture that ensures success; Employee Engagement, Diversity & Inclusion, Health & Wellness, Productive Working Relationships, Managing Change, Efficiency & Innovation & Organizational Reputation.

Contact us if you would like to learn more about increasing Employee Engagement in your organization.

Is the decision maker in the rooom?

Someone came to me today with a conflict and I think as we talked about it, I learned as much or possibly more than she did.  I learned about the importance of the decision–maker.

It seemed straightforward at first. This is the kind of conflict which you hear about often in the workplace.  “I am concerned about the tone and the language in the emails I am receiving from this person and I am honestly wondering if she is deliberately trying to undermine me.”  That sense of paranoia about the motivations of another, the suspicion about language and tone, these are very familiar concerns in conflict world.

Here's lookin' at YOU, sweet-stuff!

In this classic scenario, I normally advocate a direct conversation with the individual involved to start with. After all, that individual is the one who has the ultimate authority to change their own behaviour.  It is usually best to approach the most direct source you have access to for all kind of reasons – it will prevent the situation from escalating; it will eliminate the sense of possible blind-siding or circumventing which will harm the relationship further; and very importantly, it provides a critical opportunity to learn more about the other side of the story and gain a deeper understanding that will help build a stronger relationship.

But a more important point came up as we began to debrief and explore the situation.  I began with some questions:

  • What is the ultimate and ideal change you would like to see?
  • What evidence will you have when it has occurred?

Well, these questions broadened the scope significantly.  In fact, the concern was not about the emails at all, but about the changing nature of the relationship between the two organizations each of these people work for.

More questions followed:

  • Who has the authority to influence these changes that you have identified?
  • How do you believe your previous relationship with this person has influenced your perspective of this situation?

This is always a tightrope walk. It is almost never a bad idea in a gentle, honest, open and specific way to address your concerns directly with an individual.  But it is a very good idea to examine what the nature is of you relationship with that person, and the bigger picture.

In this case, because of the previous history of the two involved, because of their roles, and the nature of the relationship of the two organizations they work for, it became clear through questioning and exploring that the best move would be to turn concerns over to another who has the authority to address the bigger picture. The dialogue would not be about the behaviour of one individual, but rather about the changing roles of the two organizations in their working relationship.

Take the time to prepare before entering into a difficult conversation. Examine your own assumptions, and critically look at your role and your authority. Ensure that the decision-maker who has the authority to induce change is in the room from the beginning.

Leaders can learn from Scot Beckenbaugh

Toronto Maple Leafs player scoring goal agains...

Toronto Maple Leafs player scoring goal against Detroit Red Wings, Stanley Cup Playoffs, 1942 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to resolving disputes, leaders can learn from Scot Beckenbaugh.

There may be mixed feelings to the news of returning hockey this week, but one thing is for certain: we can all learn something from Scot Beckenbaugh, the mediator who managed the NHL talks in a frenetic and final 48 hours this weekend.

Define your role.

Beckenbaugh’s experience is in the business of negotiating labour disputes in a wide range of industries for the US Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. He does have extensive experience with sports negotiations, but his business is not hockey.  He has declined interviews and comments about the talks this week.

  • You can support good dispute resolution by making a deliberate decision yourself about when and how to get involved.  Support those with the authority who are most closely involved and have the expertise to own the content, the final decision, and the stories. Be transparent about your role.

Listen openly and critically.

Winnipeg Jets Defenseman and union negotiator Scott Hainsey told reporters that “Scot was great for a number of reasons…When it got to points where you didn’t know what to do next – or you had an idea but you didn’t know if it might upset the other side – you could go to him and talk to him about it and there was a way to work your ideas through a third party who was able to really help the process.”

  • Asking powerful and provocative questions and listening actively to the answers will help others clarify their thinking. You will learn a lot too, and when the decision is finally made, you will understand if and when it is the right one, and when it is necessary to step in.

Remain loyal to the process.

Over a 48 hour period and in marathon days Beckenbaugh held both sides to the process.  There was not enough trust for parties to meet face to face, so Beckenbaugh managed the process by shuttling between them, building trust in his engagement, and in the process of conciliation.

  • Decide on an appropriate process for reaching a resolution and hold everybody to it.  Even when you don’t have a ready answer you can demonstrate leadership by managing an effective process to get to one.

Providing ready answers and solutions is the easy part of being a leader. The mature and effective leader knows when to step back and how to empower others to reach their own conclusions. Active listening will aid understanding for all, and strategic choices about your role and the process will foster good long-term decisions.