Home Culture Canada Low-engagement companies should look to Canada’s culture for inspiration

Low-engagement companies should look to Canada’s culture for inspiration

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Managing director, SAP Labs Canada

When remarking on the country’s culture in late 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.” Charles Foran, CEO of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, reacted by declaring Canada to be an experiment in postnationalism.

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“He was articulating a uniquely Canadian philosophy that some find bewildering, even reckless – but could represent a radical new model of nationhood,” Mr. Foran said.

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That experiment has resulted in the forming of a country of extraordinary tolerance, pride, freedom and industriousness. The stability of our social and financial systems is the envy of much of the world, and most people who live in Canada are happy (79 per cent of Canadians, according to a 2016 Angus Reid Institute report).

If only more Canadian organizations realized this, they might be able to make Corporate Canada as pleasant a place to be as our homes and wilderness. As it is, many companies are still fighting against the micromanagement, bureaucracy and sterility that demotivates Canadian workers and causes 73 per cent to disengage from their work, according to Conference Board of Canada research.

For many Canadians, satisfying work is the missing piece of the puzzle in what are otherwise very fortunate and contented lives. Too often, this is because companies don’t give employees enough of a chance to make their work satisfying. “Instead of the free and democratic individuals [Adam] Smith envisioned, many employees end up […] spending their days trying to please their bosses so they can keep their jobs,” wrote Canadian philosophy professor David G. Dick.

Over the past few years at SAP Canada, we’ve made a conscious effort to try to reverse that trend. We considered what makes Canadians so happy and tried to create a microcosm of that culture in our workplace. This meant embracing diversity of opinion and ability, giving employees autonomy, ownership and opportunities to grow, and not bullying employees into being productive. It also meant remembering that Canadians have families, and that they value the security of our social systems. We mimicked that by creating one of the most generous benefits packages in the country.

Make no mistake, we saw the risk in this strategy. It might work for a country, but business is different. The safe option has always been to tell employees what to do and structure their days around doing it. There was a chance employees could have interpreted our laidback attitude – the games rooms and chill-out rooms – as a licence to take their foot off the gas. But they didn’t. The hands-off approach not only made our employees want to be productive, but it made them happier and more ambitious as well.

Empowering employees has paid off beyond our wildest dreams. SAP Canada is now Glassdoor’s Best Place to Work in Canada, with an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 from employees. Employees bring their passions to work, are comfortable being themselves, whoever they are, and want to succeed and make a difference in the world. The experience of working at SAP Canada is now much more reminiscent of Canada’s strong culture as a whole than the stingy, stuffy, management-heavy workplaces of old.

Give employees the chance to create a culture they want to be a part of, and they will. They’ll make work what they want it to be, they’ll find purpose, and they’ll strive to improve. They’ll respond to being trusted with the company’s destiny. All that will be to the benefit of your business. A genuinely positive company culture is one, to paraphrase Gandhi, that lives in the hearts of its people. It is shaped by individuals, not policies or CEOs. It will, as you’ve doubtless heard, eat any boardroom strategy for breakfast.

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Canadian companies struggling to empower their employees and create innovative, happy cultures can find the blueprint for success right under their noses. Canada is an amazing place to live, a place of incredible positivity, acceptance and independence. Let’s make our companies the same.

Executives, employees, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Labseries.