CUL­TURE’S BOT­TOM LINE

National Post (Latest Edition) - - MOST ADMIRED CORPORATE CULTURES - PAUL BRENT

Com­pa­nies that em­pha­size a strong cor­po­rate cul­ture can of­fer tan­gi­ble proof of its ben­e­fits: a happy, en­gaged work­force and sus­tain­able profit.

An un­wa­ver­ing be­lief in their em­ploy­ees’ pas­sion, skills and abil­ity to in­no­vate has set Al­berta Blue Cross apart as one of the prov­ince’s top em­ploy­ers time and time again.

“We are very trans­par­ent about who we are as a com­pany. We make it very clear from the be­gin­ning when a new em­ployee joins us that we are the kind of com­pany that sets a stan­dard in good times that we are go­ing to con­sis­tently main­tain. There is a real trust that, as an em­ployer, when we give our word we stick to that — be­cause of that, there is a lot of trust with our em­ploy­ees, says Mark Raz­zolini, vice- pres­i­dent of hu­man re­sources.

The HR chief notes “this is a key dif­fer­en­tia­tor, and we be­lieve this is why peo­ple stay with us for the long term. We have our good days and we have our chal­lenges, but in the end our em­ploy­ees know that we of­fer the great things we do be­cause we be­lieve in them.”

Al­berta Blue Cross was rec­og­nized as one of Canada’s 10 Most Ad­mired Cor­po­rate Cul­tures in the Broader Pub­lic Ser­vice cat­e­gory for 2015 by Water­stone Hu­man Cap­i­tal. The Al­berta- based or­ga­ni­za­tion re­ceived high marks for its vi­sion and lead­er­ship, per­for­mance and re­ten­tion, among other at­tributes.

The most im­por­tant mea­sure of em­ployee sat­is­fac­tion, namely en­gage­ment, is mea­sured an­nu­ally and the or­ga­ni­za­tion typ­i­cally scores above 80 per cent in those sur­veys, which is “the plat­inum stan- dard” for en­gage­ment re­sults, Raz­zolini says.

Main­tain­ing high em­ployee en­gage­ment is a pri­or­ity for the com­pany, es­pe­cially as it steadily grows from year to year, wel­com­ing new faces to the team of more than 1,000 in­di­vid­u­als cur­rently em­ployed across the prov­ince. This size is put to good ad­van­tage: it en­sures that ev­ery em­ployee has the op­por­tu­nity to grow with the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“We know that peo­ple want to be chal­lenged and move around in their ca­reers; they ex­pect that, ac­tu­ally,” ex­plains Raz­zolini. “We’ve made sure that we cre­ate those op­por­tu­ni­ties and en­sure that (for) peo­ple who demon­strate that they have the skill sets and the drive, that their ca­reers will grow right along with them.”

Al­berta Blue Cross uti­lizes an an­nual best-prac­tices suc­ces­sion plan­ning and lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment process that in­cludes all mem­bers of its ex­ec­u­tive team.

“Em­ploy­ees are tooled with a cus­tom­ized suc­ces­sion plan that helps them get where they want to go,” says Raz­zolini. It is a process that serves as a model for many em­ploy­ers. “We have other com­pa­nies look to us and ask us about our process, be­cause it is firstrate. This is a huge ben­e­fit to the or­ga­ni­za­tion as we have a pool of tal­ented em­ploy­ees ready to step into a lead­er­ship role at any time.”

The com­mit­ment to grow­ing their em­ploy­ees’ ca­reers has re­sulted in very low turnover with the or­ga­ni­za­tion; a re­sult that is note­wor­thy in a prov­ince where it was ex­tremely hard to hang on to great staff dur­ing the pre­vi­ous eco­nomic boom.

“At Al­berta Blue Cross it is not un­usual to see em­ploy­ees stay­ing with us for 20 years or more; it is not an anom­aly,” Raz­zolini adds.

One such l ong- ser­vice em­ployee is Ron Hep­burn, man­ager of tech­ni­cal ar­chi­tec­ture and in­fra­struc­ture plan­ning, who has worked for Al­berta Blue Cross for 22 years. He be­gan work­ing with the or­ga­ni­za­tion as a sum­mer stu­dent in the IT depart­ment and has worked his way up into a man­age­ment po­si­tion.

“I al­ways found that from a cul­ture per­spec­tive, Al­berta Blue Cross has al­ways been very sup­port­ive in let­ting us try new things and go in the di­rec­tion that we want to go,” he says.

Over his ca­reer, Hep­burn has held 11 dif­fer­ent po­si­tions within the or­ga­ni­za­tion and his ca­reer path has been pro­pelled in part by a cor­ner­stone be­lief in fi­nan­cially sup­port­ing con­tin­u­ous learn­ing.

As Raz­zolini ex­plains, “the fo­cus is on con­tin­u­ous growth of peo­ple. Al­berta Blue Cross pays for up to $4,000 worth of pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment each year.”

Now a man­ager, Hep­burn is in the po­si­tion of re­cruiter, of­ten high­light­ing for prospec­tive em­ploy­ees the ben­e­fits of work­ing for Al­berta Blue Cross.

“I al­ways tell peo­ple it is like a fam­ily here. It is a very sup­port­ive at­mos­phere; you make a lot of friend­ships for life. We have many peo­ple who have been here for 30-plus years,” Hep­burn says. “I think that is be­cause they re­ally en­joy the cul­ture and the at­mos­phere.”

A com­pet­i­tive salary and ben­e­fits pack­age, in­clud­ing a gen­er­ous de­fined ben­e­fits pen­sion plan, pro­vides Al­berta Blue Cross with a de­cided ad­van­tage when it comes to re­cruit­ing and re­tain­ing em­ploy­ees.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion also pro­vides its em­ploy­ees with health-and-well­ness spend­ing ac­counts that can be used for health-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties such as gym mem­ber­ships, va­ca­tion ex­penses and na­tional park passes.

“Our em­ploy­ees see the value of a plan like this be­cause not ev­ery em­ployer of­fers it,” notes Raz­zolini.

Al­berta Blue Cross has been very suc­cess­ful in at­tract­ing and re­tain­ing the new­est gen­er­a­tion to the work­place, the so-called mil­len­ni­als, who are of­ten de­scribed as a group that flits from job to job and is hard to en­gage and mo­ti­vate by tra­di­tional mea­sures.

Stay­ing true to an ev­er­p­re­sent be­lief in their em­ploy­ees’ skills, ideas and ca­pac­ity to grow, the com­pany has launched ini­tia­tives aimed at younger em­ploy­ers such as its Fu­ture Lead­ers pro­gram, which seeks out and iden­ti­fies in­di­vid­u­als within the or­ga­ni­za­tion who have the skills and at­tributes to be great lead­ers. Un­der the pro­gram, which be­gan last year, those bud­ding man­age­ment stars were paired with a men­tor leader and as­signed a pro­ject de­signed to cre­ate in­no­va­tion within the cul­ture.

“Of­ten, our younger lead­ers are push­ing in­no­va­tion, so why not tap into this dy­namic gen­er­a­tion?” says Raz­zolini.

One of those young lead­ers at the or­ga­ni­za­tion is Sarah Rout­ledge, man­ager of group en­roll­ment and billing in Ed­mon­ton. Now, 32, she started with the or­ga­ni­za­tion at 18 and worked her way through a num­ber of pro­gres­sive po­si­tions.

“I have been able to work with some amaz­ing peo­ple who have con­tin­ued to chal­lenge me, give me a lot of op­por­tu­nity to grow, and take cour­ses to ex­pand pro­fes­sion­ally as well.”

She notes that Al­berta Blue Cross is very selec­tive about who they hire on, look­ing not just for skills and abil­ity but also seek­ing out in­di­vid­u­als who are a good “fit” with the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s unique DNA. “We look at fit and we look at peo­ple who are go­ing to live and breathe our cul­ture.”

An ex­am­ple of how close and in­clu­sive the or­ga­ni­za­tion is was brightly il­lus­trated for Rout­ledge re­cently when she at­tended her first c o mpany man­age­ment meet­ing.

The gath­er­ing in­cluded about 80 man­agers, from the CEO to vice- pres­i­dents and man­agers such as her­self. “I looked around the room and there were just two peo­ple I did not know, and one just started that week.”

Sup­port for pro­fes­sional and per­sonal de­vel­op­ment goes be­yond gen­er­ous fund­ing for cour­ses. Rout­ledge re­cently chaired the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s an­nual United Way cam­paign, which high­lighted her lead­er­ship skills.

“Even just the abil­ity to — on com­pany time with other like-minded peo­ple in the or­ga­ni­za­tion — work to­ward a char­i­ta­ble ini­tia­tive, rais­ing money, or reach­ing out to the com­mu­nity helps you grow,” she says.

An­other ex­am­ple of how the or­ga­ni­za­tion gets em­ploy­ees in­volved in their com­mu­nity is through the lon­grun­ning em­ployee- op­er­ated and funded Hearts of Blue char­ity. Cre­ated in 1998 as a one- time 50th an­niver­sary event, it was so well-re­ceived that it be­came an on­go­ing part of the group’s com­mu­nity in­volve­ment. In 2014, Hearts of Blue con­trib­uted more than $ 35,000 to char­i­ties across Al­berta.

It or­ga­nizes the char­ity fa­cil­i­tates vol­un­teer ini­tia­tives for Al­berta Blue Cross em­ploy­ees and col­lects do­nated items such as food, cloth­ing and fur­ni­ture to or­ga­ni­za­tions in need.

In re­cent years, Hearts of Blue has as­sisted nu­mer­ous reg­is­tered char­i­ties, in­clud­ing the Youth Em­pow­er­ment Sup­port Ser­vices, in­ner- city se­niors’ or­ga­ni­za­tions, women’s shel­ters and chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams.

“We’re so proud of our em­ploy­ees’ lead­er­ship on th­ese types of ini­tia­tives. They put into prac­tice one of our key be­liefs: we live in the com­mu­ni­ties we serve and we serve in the com­mu­ni­ties we live,” Raz­zolini says.

Al­berta Blue Cross re­cently adopted a 10-year vi­sion plan that Raz­zolini de­scribes as am­bi­tious.

“We are trans­form­ing as an or­ga­ni­za­tion, much big­ger and bolder. Not just provin­cially but na­tion­ally as well. Our em­ploy­ees have al­ways been crit­i­cal to our suc­cess, but more now than ever be­fore.”

I AL­WAYS TELL PEO­PLE IT I S LIKE A FAM­ILY HERE. IT IS A VERY SUP­PORT­IVE AT­MOS­PHERE; YOU MAKE A LOT OF FRIEND­SHIPS FOR LIFE WE GO IN WITH THE PHI­LOS­O­PHY THAT WHAT­EVER WE ARE GO­ING TO OF­FER OUR EM­PLOY­EES, WHETHER IT IS AN IN­VEST­MENT IN THEIR BEN­E­FITS AND THEIR WELL­NESS, THEIR EN­GAGE­MENT, IT IS THE SAME WHETHER TIMES ARE GOOD OR NOT AS GOOD. IT CREATES A LOT OF TRUST WITH OUR EM­PLOY­EES THAT WE DON’T SWING FROM A CADIL­LAC VER­SION TO SOME­THING LESS WHEN THINGS AREN’T AS GOOD — MARK RAZ­ZOLINI, HU­MAN RE­SOURCES V-P

PHO­TO­GRAPH COUR­TESY OF AL­BERTA BLUE CROSS

Of­fi­cial 2015 Al­berta Blue Cross em­ployee group pho­to­graph: Each year, em­ploy­ees at head­quar­ters in Ed­mon­ton take a break,

head down to street level and join in on a team photo.

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