Q: What sort of retention strategy do you have in place?
A: The chamber is a non-profit organization, so we can’t compete against our members when it comes to compensation. On top of this, because a large portion of our staff regularly interacts with members, we can be something of a recruiting ground when word gets out about how good our people are. However, we have been very successful in retaining people by ensuring they understand our vision and mission; are passionate about it and see their connection to it. A big role for me is showing how the things our people do on a dayto-day basis makes a difference. If you work in accounting or administration, it may not be obvious to see how the Yes Winnipeg initiative, for instance, came about because of your specific efforts, but it absolutely is a contributing factor. Also, because we’re a public organization, there’s a sense of pride that goes along with working at the chamber that tends to include our employees’ families. They may be out at a gathering when someone will comment on one of our initiatives and that makes them feel good. So we know that when we’re hiring, we’re not just hiring that person — but the support network around them as well. That’s why we fully encourage spouse and family participation in our community philanthropy, planned social activities and staff recognition awards so that they can share in our employees’ passion and feel part of the chamber, too.
They feel a connection to a bigger mission. On the whole, the people we attract are not the ones who want to do accounting for a non-profit; they want to do accounting for a non-profit that has significance in this community. There’s also an “insider” element to working here and getting to interact with our members. The chamber is connected to what’s happening around Winnipeg and we certainly try to bring our staff into that reality as much as possible. This gives them an understanding of the dynamics behind the headlines, especially when they know the key business and political players involved. Q: In your view, what is one challenge business leaders face in terms of people practices?
A: I think that for many leaders, myself included, it’s a struggle to find a balance between the time you spend out in the community, travelling or making business deals and the time you spend in the office. I agree with Tom Peters’ principle of Management by Walking Around which is about staying in touch with the folks working for you. As a CEO, your presence has a huge influence on people while an absent leader creates real challenges to an organization. But it’s a fine line. You don’t want the staff to think you’re micromanaging them or that they have to vet every decision through you. But you want to be visible so you can lead by example and lend moral support, to recognize their efforts and to live your brand. Last year, I had a ton of travel built into my schedule and saw it reflected in our staff that I just wasn’t around enough. This year, I’ve been spending a lot more time here in the office and they’ve been asking, “So, when’s your next trip, Dave?” Q: What is some of the best piece of leadership advice you’ve ever received?
A: My first job was working for my uncle, who owned a computer product company and was a true mentor to me. At one sales meeting, he passed out copies of Think Big: Unleashing Your Potential for Excellence by Ben Carson. In the book, there was a real message to me: You only go through life once, so don’t miss the opportunities to think big. When you’re looking at an issue or coming up with an idea, how can you make it bigger? How do you get more people around it? Make it more significant? Since then, I’ve always carried Think Big with me. Right now I’m reading Ken Blanchard’s book, Leading at a Higher Level, and it’s about empowering your people by allowing them to take risks and if they fail, calling it research and development. As leaders, we need to be committed to the vision and to be able to communicate our expectations as to what employees are accountable for, but then we need to step back and stop overstructuring the workday so that we can give them the flexibility and freedom to be creative and find innovative ways to achieve outcomes.
— With reporting by Barbara Chabai