A cultural shift at ATB Financial creates new language

The shift to Workplace 2.0 at ATB Financial began with a conversation around culture and a vision board exercise with executives.  Magazines and artwork were used to create pictures to represent their vision of the office in 2020.  From this the ATB Workplace 2.0 team picked out themes and began facilitating conversations with others in the organization. They developed working teams made up of employees in different areas to meet and discuss a new office environment. The outcome of these conversations was a list of concerns, hopes and beliefs that employees brought forward.  How could they ever meet these differing and often opposing needs?

Positive workplace culture and flexibility lie hand in hand.

A visioning exercise with senior executives at ATB Financial has lead to a cultural shift and Workplace 2.0.

ATB partnered with Better Workplaces and Workshift – Calgary Economic Development to see how they could build a flexible workplace.  ATB employees now work from home, work remotely in branch’s boardroom space or ‘Now” spaces, fit their 40 hour work week into slices they require and rely on ‘benching’ spaces to collaborate with colleagues.   All employees were issued a laptop, had the option of keeping their office at work or having an office at home or using ATB buildings in different throughout the city for meeting clients or collaborating.

This significant shift in culture and work environment has created a new language within ATB.  When the team noticed that there was negative water-cooler talk around who was not in the office or who was working on weekends they brought awareness to the issue with the term ‘sludging’.  An awareness campaign developed at reducing ‘sludging’ was undertaken.  ‘Benching’ was another new word developed to signify the most popular new office arrangement of a long empty bench top table with chairs all around.  Employees loved this new work area and gathered around with their laptops and other colleagues to collaborate and hold meetings.

After a year or so, the U of C came into the picture to undertake a study to assess the outcome of the new office initiative.  They worked with managers who assessed the performance of their teams before and after.  They found an increase in productivity along with an increase in employee engagement, job satisfaction, and work-life balance.  Other outcomes from Workplace 2.

  •  Retention has increased
  •  Real Estate (office) costs have decreased by 51%
  •  Recruiting has become easier
  •  Commuting time was reduced substantially
  •  On-going Changes in compensation to reflect new working reality

The Workplace 2.0 initiative was successful due to the support of the ATB president and other top executives.  Their goal is to continue to be fluid and flexible to meet their employee needs into the future.

Thanks to Michelle Phaneuf for this guest post.

Mediation can help open the window and shed light on difficult issues

Crucial Conversations. Difficult Conversations. Dreaded Conversations. Whatever we call them, there comes a time in the workplace when emotions run high and the going gets tough, and despite all the training and all the practice, conversations break down before they get to where they need to go. In the workplace, when it comes to issues around diversity, around mental health, illness and bereavement for example, emotions, fear of doing more harm, or fear of invading privacy and fear of lack of skills in dealing with the outcome may prevent the conversation from even beginning. Unfortunately, often in these situations, a crisis will ensue before a productive action step is taken.

My colleague Michelle Phaneuf and I collaborated with Morgan Craig-Broadwith of the Canadian Mental Health Association (Calgary Chapter) to demonstrate in front of a live audience a workplace mediation around a mental health issue.  In our simulated workplace environment, a Vice President has offered the opportunity to two vital workplace players to settle their differences with the help of a mediator. Performance has suffered, communication has broken down, rumours are circulating — in short the entire workplace is impacted by the behaviour of two key people.

Mount Royal University Continuing Studies videotaped the session, and we will post that when it is edited and polished.


A mediator can help open the window and shed light on difficult issues, empowering people to reach a resolution before a crisis.

The audience asked some good questions.

When is it appropriate to call a mediator? In the workplace, it can be particularly helpful to call a mediator when poor or no communication between two people in an interdependent working relationship has an impact on others around them and work productivity.

How often is a mediation successful?  The earlier the intervention, the  more likely the success.  Mediation is most successful when the process is voluntary; when the participants have the skills and wherewithal to speak and advocate for themselves; and are well informed about their rights. Mediation can be  mandated by an employer, and still a mediator can invite people to participate.  In fact, when mandated into a room, people have an opportunity to save face with colleagues.

What role does the mediator have to hold people to account who choose not to participate? The mediator’s role is only to facilitate the process, and to ask the difficult questions, not to provide or suggest solutions. A combination of conflict coaching and mediation ensures that participants have the opportunity to explore all their options both inside and outside the mediation process.

What information from the mediation does the mediator share with their client? At a minimum, the mediator will share information about the process and the timing.  The mediator will discuss information to be shared with the participants, and together they will agree on wording and who, if anyone, will receive the information.

What is the benefit of having two mediators? Two mediators have a greater opportunity to work together to hear all concerns. It is particularly helpful to hire two facilitators when dealing with a group larger than two.

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.

November is Workplace Fairness Ombuds-month

In November we will celebrate the organizational ombudsman.

You are probably familiar with the ombuds function of municipalities, governments and large organizations, but do you wonder about the benefit and value for a small organization?

If you are you a business owner/manager or Human Resource Professional of a small to mid-sized firm curious to explore ways to attract and engage employees and mitigate risk, we would like to invite you to a reception on November 6 to explore how it can help you.

Wednesday, November 6th

4:30-7:00 pm

Ranchmen’s Club

710 13 Ave SW
Refreshments provided

Join like-minded professionals as Marjorie Munroe and Michelle Phaneuf with Workplace Fairness Alberta facilitate a discussion about the foundational principles of the ombuds office: fairness, impartiality, independence, accountability.

You will have an opportunity to:

  • gain insight into how an ombuds function could benefit your organization
  • network with like-minded professionals
  • explore fairness, impartiality, independence and accountability and how your organization currently fosters these values

To RSVP (required) and learn more:


See you there!

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.

Executives make decisions by intuition

I learned recently that executives make decisions by intuition.  They rely on their own experience rather than consulting with the many resources they have at their disposal.

Huge office tower

Denise Chenger researched the decision-making processes employed by an executive to approve a major capital project decision in upstream oil and gas for her PhD research. She was surprised to learn how little influence senior managers had on executive decision-making. Often, by the time senior managers learn of the decisions, the time for influencing it has passed. Denise found that:

  • No resources were used to make the decision
  • No association found with economic indicators (“a good project is a good project”)
  • These were not unprincipled decisions (individuals displayed patience and strategy with timing)
  • Decision making was rather obvious and straightforward to the executive
  • Both executives and managers have a role in project initiation

Her presentation at a Workplace Fairness luncheon sparked some interesting debate about the role of collaboration in the workplace. What are the risks of increasing collaboration when confidentiality is at stake?   Denise pointed out that risk is highly individualized. I guess that is why some of us go sky diving and some of us don’t.

Information may be shared with the board, but by the time it filters down to front-line workers, 80% of it is lost in translation. Another point raised by one of our luncheon guests was that often in these discussions language is being translated as well. For example, project management language is not necessarily executive language. How much is lost as people share their expertise and experiences with others who are not in their knowledge circle?

Denise Chenger’s findings are relevant to industry because she has identified a crucial need for businesses to establish organizational processes and a learning culture which will enhance communication between executive and personnel, and measure all aspects of a project (not just financial).

These questions may not have ready and glib answers, but one thing I know for sure after listening to Denise, there is room for more collaboration in the C-suite.

An Emotionally Intelligent Workplace is…

An emotionally intelligent workplace is one which does not rely solely on technical expertise for making hiring and promotion decisions. An emotionally intelligent workplace supports staff from behind the scenes, allowing those who do the work to take the credit and creating an environment that helps talent shine.

These are just a few of the things I learned from David Cory on September 28 when he spoke to us at our most recent Workplace Fairness luncheon. In short, our emotional intelligence governs many decisions we make, usually quite unwittingly. Consider the impact on decisions of our first impressions – the handshake, dress, even tone of voice. We go to school to learn technical skills, but often fail to consider the role our emotions play in our day-to-day decisions.

Nov08 {274/366} Expansor de brisa de felicidade!

When I invite individuals to introduce themselves in my conflict resolution classes, I often ask them for their single word for conflict. Out of 20 words, typically 4 or 5 are emotion words: fear, anger, anxiety. The definition of Emotional Intelligence (from Mayer and Salovey, 1990) is “The ability of the brain to process emotions and emotional information.” Emotional intelligence is requisite for conflict resolution, and as David pointed out, for hiring decisions.

We leave the acquisition of these skills to chance. Children left alone learn all about bullying and cliquing. Adults revert to this behaviour in less emotionally intelligent workplaces.

What drives discretionary effort? One’s relationship with the boss. It is a myth that good leaders need technical competence; it is more important to build an atmosphere in the workplace which is motivational and inspirational, supporting technically-expert staff to do their best work from behind the scenes.

So how do you measure EI? And if you can measure it, how do you go about improving it? David pointed us to one available tool.

Developed by Dr. Reuven Bar-On, the EQI 2 (http://www.eitrainingcompany.com/about-eitc/eq-assessment/) identifies skills in five areas:

  • Stress management
  • Self perception
  • Self expression
  • Decision making
  • Interpersonal skills

Following an assessment, individual coaching sessions can be geared towards addressing weaker areas. One-on-one work with a performance coach helps individuals gain specific strategies and confidence to improve their emotional fitness quotient.

The keys to improving your emotional intelligence quotient are captured with the acronym SOSSA:

S – Self.  Understand yourself. Do not hesitate to be honest with yourself about your areas of weakness.

O – Others. Understand others and help others. Social responsibility will elevate your emotional fitness.

S – Situations. Pay attention to situations and how they affect reactions and behaviours.

S – Stress. Pay attention to stress and its impacts.

A – Attitude. Learn optimism.

Thank you David Cory (http://www.eitrainingcompany.com/) for a very interesting session. I will be carefully considering and evaluating my own emotional intelligence. My personal goal is to pay more attention to situations and how they affect reactions and behaviours, optimistically of course.