Incentives needed to unlock private capital to invest in private Canadian businesses

Article originally published in The Star
By Susan McArthur
Contributors Betsy Hilton and Dennis Matthews

It’s called sticker shock: That moment of honesty and dismay when the final bill arrives. We’re not even close to that moment when it comes to Ottawa’s COVID-19 spending, but that feeling is starting to set in.

So far, deficit spending has reached $343 billion this year covering everything from wage subsidies and unemployment benefits to money for seniors, students, rent relief and loans to business.

It may look like some politicians believe we can spend our way out of the economic shock, recession, and, perhaps, depression headed our way.

But what if tax dollars aren’t the only way to free up much needed investment dollars? What if there was a way to encourage Canadians to use their own capital to provide stimulus and support Canadian business?

Wealthy Canadians and corporations are holding cash and there are few incentives for them to invest in private Canadian businesses.

While the 2008 global economic crisis hit the big banks hardest, today’s calamity has struck a death blow to small business with little in the way of assistance coming from Ottawa.

That’s not to say a few small loan programs haven’t been helpful; they just haven’t moved the needle, and many small business owners have been reluctant to take on the risk of additional debt.

A recent survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business found that 25 per cent of small businesses will close their doors if they sustain a 50-per-cent drop in revenue for a month.

Many Canadian business owners are already well past that point. This is a tragedy. Small businesses are the heart and soul of the Canadian economy.

If you are a successful small business owner who has built a nest egg over many years, it is unlikely you will double down during a pandemic and reinvest your savings to keep your business afloat.

If you are evaluating an investment in, for example, a tech company looking for additional capital, the risks have increased significantly.

Unlocking private capital would provide additional support from Canadians who are not only looking for a return, but are also emotionally invested in the business’s success.

We’ve seen grassroots, microscale economic support for small business in communities across the country, including from community crowdfunding platform Distantly.ca, which enables individuals to send funds directly to local businesses.

The platform was conceived to make sure Mainstreet was still open post lock down.

Businesses such as restaurants, salons and gyms, which are closing their doors daily, would benefit greatly from an incentive for Canadians to make a much bigger commitment with that support.

Small businesses have a desperate need for capital to invest in digital transformation, working capital, personal protective equipment and other modifications required to comply with new pandemic regulations.

If Canada is going to emerge from this crisis stronger and more resilient, we need tax policy to encourage Canadians to invest in our small businesses.

We are not looking for anything unique or groundbreaking here. A handful of Canadian provinces have tax policy that encourages private investment in small business. New Brunswick has the Small Business Investor Tax Credit program, the most generous in the country.

If you live in New Brunswick and invest in a small business, you get a personal income tax credit of 50 per cent of your investment up to maximum of $125,000 annually. Corporations, trusts, co-ops and local economic development agencies are entitled to similar benefits upon investment. In the last five years, the program has generated almost $450 million of investment, supporting 2,200 small businesses in New Brunswick.

The federal government needs a bold, game-changing tax policy that will encourage Canadians with capital, including small business owners, to step off the sidelines and invest in small business.

We must establish qualifying parameters that encourage small businesses to grow. We must set the bar high in defining “small business,” so we don’t discourage growth.

The U.S. does this well. Section 1202 of its tax code allows for tax-free capital gains of up to $10 million or 10-times the investment if it is in a private business with up to $50 million in assets.

It’s a bold idea. That is easy to implement, were Ottawa so inclined.

As New Brunswick did, the federal government could provide an income tax credit to Canadians for investment in small- and medium-sized businesses. Business owners who double down and reinvest in their own business, could get a tax holiday on income earned, or charge no tax on dividends paid, for up to three-times the invested capital. For investors looking to back potential high-growth entrepreneurs, the program could provide tax-free capital gains — up to tenfold.

Ottawa has the power to do all of the above.

High-income earners in Canada pay more than half of their income to the government, not including municipal and sales tax.

Why not create a plan where Canadians can choose to provide private stimulus and invest in the small businesses and entrepreneurs so vital to the Canadian economy?

There is a playbook for return-to-work — Ask moms and dads

By Betsy Hilton Corporate Communications and Client Strategy Lead

At some point – maybe soon, maybe still many weeks away – we will be presented with the monumental task of bringing employees across the country back to work.

Employees who have been physically disconnected from their commuting and workplace routines for far longer than your typical vacation. Some have been working from their homes. Others laid-off, furloughed or otherwise disengaged from work entirely. Regardless, the transition will be difficult and the scale of it, unprecedented.

Fortunately, there is a resource at your fingertips – parents. Specifically, those who have recently been on maternity or paternity leave. I wouldn’t call them an “untapped resource” – they’re pretty tapped right now, to put it mildly. But organizations who manage parental leaves well – who have formal and informal policies and processes to help new parents return to work – already have a roadmap, founded on empathy and a genuine commitment to helping their employees re-enter the workplace feeling understood and supported.

For those who have never given the return-to-work post-parental leave all that much thought, now is the time to examine the best practices of organizations who have made this a priority, and to figure out the key issues employees face when they return to work after a substantial absence.
Here’s the reality: an exceptional leave re-entry program is rare. More often than not, parents return to work to find their old desk occupied, their files reassigned and their responsibilities reallocated. A lot can happen over the course of a leave; former colleagues have left or been let go, office infrastructure has moved or changed, organizational priorities have shifted, familiar suppliers and clients have moved on.

The easiest solution is to maintain the recent status quo that was built through their absence and try to squeeze the returning employee in rather than disrupt the existing flow. The show must go on, but the new parent’s place in that show isn’t anyone’s top priority in many organizations. It’s up to them to carve out their space and showcase their value in a workplace that is both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. All while everything at home has been disrupted, too.

It’s not exactly the same — after all, this scenario requires you to imagine that your entire workforce went on parental leave at the same time — but there are some valuable parallels that can inform your thinking on how to help your employees manage this impending transition.

Your employees have experienced sudden, disruptive change, and the expectation that they will go back to performing as normal when they return to work after all of this may feel near impossible.

Psychological burnout as we come through COVID is a significant reality for a lot of people and the list of adaptations, complexities and compounded emotional burdens is substantial: The requirement to adapt to new technologies and ways of working, to diminished or lost income, loss of daily productivity and purpose, constant insecurity and uncertainty, loss of freedom of movement, increased household responsibilities, increased childcare or dependent-care responsibilities. And that doesn’t nearly cover it all.

Leaders need to reach out to the parents in their organization now, while the planning is underway. CEOs, VPs of human resources or senior executives leading the return-to-work transition need to pick up the phone and call that mom of young kids on their team. Ask her what it was like to come back from an extended maternity leave. Ask her how your organization handled her experience, because that experience is about to be shared by everyone. Dig into the specifics of her uncertainties, her frustrations, what was most unsettling — and most helpful — in her return.

The odds are good she will say this: coming back to work after a significant period of time at home is hard. And it was months before she felt comfortable in her old routines – even if she was returning to a welcoming workplace she’d known well for years.

As leaders consider how to best support their employees when the inevitable return-to-work begins, empathy should be a guiding principle. Now that everyone has lifted the veil a bit on their lives at home (thanks to video conferencing and, among others, dogs, cats and children), there is an opportunity to remain a bit more open about who we are, and to have more empathy for the individual challenges employees face coming back, on an ongoing basis.

Organizations have been presented a uniquely challenging scenario. This is the time to take advantage of an opportunity to create corporate cultures that are welcoming, and that understand and accommodate the new challenge of leaving our lives at home.

Tips for mental wellness from someone who does it every day.

By Jasmine Hermans

Update: I have updated parts of this article to reflect the longevity of this pandemic and lessons learned since then.

I try not to keep it a secret that I have struggled with my mental health for a long time. Almost six years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as well as panic disorder. I have tried everything you can imagine to help manage it, and the good news is that I have succeeded.

As everyone practises social/physical distancing, health professionals have warned that it will be difficult for neurotypical people to stay mentally healthy. As humans we are social creatures. We need interaction. We need to experience life. So how can we stay mentally healthy in these isolating times?

Since I originally wrote this article, it has been estimated by Health Canada that 11 million Canadians will experience increased levels of stress during the COVID-19 outbreak. Calls to support lines have already risen by a staggering 44 per cent. A survey by IPSOS commissioned by Addictions and Mental Health Ontario and Children’s Mental Health Ontario shows that two-thirds of Ontarians feel that the mental health impacts of COVID-19 are going to be serious and lasting. And we know already that mental illnesses often creep up AFTER crises or traumatic events, so this is just the beginning of a larger strain on the already-existent mental health crisis.

What does this mean for us as individuals? It means that we need to be more aware of taking care of our mental health than we ever have before. It means that we need to recognize that while we take precautions to protect ourselves from COVID-19, we also need to take precautions to ensure our minds are protected.

This in no way means you will not or should not need help. Turn to your friends, your families, to professionals. But in a time where connections and help can feel scarce, here are some tips that can help you make it through.

  1. Make a new routine. I thrive on routine and planning. If life throws me off my plan, it really affects me mentally. But now I have had to adjust everything. I am doing so by getting up at my usual time, showering, making a plan for my day, and sticking to it. Pro tip—crossing things off a list feels really good.

  2. Drink water. Water is healthy—it reduces headaches, bloating and can also be a thing you cross off that list.

  3. Connect. Having regular calls, Zooms and check-ins with your family and friends will inspire a feeling of normalcy. Plus, an essential part of being human is connection with others. A study from Stanford proved that people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression.

  4. Make a happy playlist. Find songs that are light, upbeat and positive. Shout out to Spotify which has hundreds of playlists under ‘Happy’.

  5. Read for 30 minutes a day. Use this or other activities such as drawing or playing an instrument as a break from binge-watching. Keep that brain moving and distracted.

  6. Meditate. Or, just remember to breathe. It is science that when you take fuller breaths, your body and mind relax. Try the app Calm, or Oak is a good free one.

  7. Move. Go outside, stretch. You are allowed to go for runs and walks. Do so, regularly.

  8. Turn it off. It is tempting to keep yourself updated and that is fine but take breaks or turn off notifications and only check when you want to.

  9. Be kind to yourself. Maybe you have existing mental health issues. Maybe these feelings are new for you. But the trick is to allow your feelings to happen and accept that you are and will be okay.

  10. Keep your spaces clean. You know that feeling when you finally clean your room after ignoring it? It feels refreshing and you feel accomplished. Do that everywhere. And then, once you can be social again you won’t have to worry about it.

Not everything works for everyone. But spend a bit of time trying these out and find your mentally clear, calm place. Your mind and body will thank you.


To restore hope, start with changing the tone of sad, one-note pandemic commercials

Article originally published in The Globe and Mail

By Dennis Matthews

Dennis Matthews is a conservative strategist and commentator who is a vice-president at the national communications firm Enterprise Canada.

Sombre piano music plays in the background. A voice speaks calmly about the “challenges” we face in “these uncertain times.” We’re heading for a new normal, the narrator says – if not exactly with those words, then something very much like them.

These days, no commercial break on television is complete unless multiple companies have reassured you that things are far from business-as-usual – as though that hasn’t become painfully obvious to all of us.

In recent months, marketers in Canada have moved with impressive speed. Advertising helped companies that sold things such as luxury SUVs, steaks and all-inclusive vacation packages stay relevant during the pandemic. Their message: showing an understanding for the concerns we were all sharing, thus demonstrating all-important shared values with customers.

But while these ads made sense at the start of the lockdown, they have grown monotonous and unavoidable amid our daily routines at home. A creative YouTube user who goes by “Microsoft Sam” even edited together a supercut of COVID-related ads to show just how similar they are. That compilation of this “coronavirus aesthetic” has more than a million views and counting – which only shows just how much time we’ve all spent on our phones lately, where we’re then served even more of these one-note ads.

The messages have matched – if not enforced – the national mood. Consumers are in a funk. A study of consumer habits across 40 countries by McKinsey & Company found that Canadians are amongst the most pessimistic and least likely to spend money right now.

So how do you connect with customers in one of the world’s most pessimistic countries? Give them a dose of optimism for normalcy.

In recent days, our political leaders have increasingly pivoted toward discussing the economic recovery and the gradual reopening of the country. A recent survey from Abacus Data shows that Canadians’ anxiety about the “long-term financial situation” is now outpacing concerns about our health care system’s capacity as the driving fear about the pandemic. This past week, Quebec Premier François Legault turned a few heads when he justified his government’s announced reopening strategy by saying, “life must go on.” But so it must – even if it has not.

That means there’s a growing opportunity for companies to shift gears and start communicating about the future, and for creativity and daring to cut through the monotony.

Making a pivot to selling products and services again will require creativity anew – the same stuff that drove brewers and distillers to make hand sanitizer instead of beer and spirits. There’s no shortage of prognosticators who have elaborate visions about what the new normal will look like when this is all over, and despite the risks present, companies brave and creative enough to make a bet on that future can lead the way.

That’s why political leaders have been talking about their strategies to reopen businesses and schools at their daily news conferences, even if the execution of those plans remains far off. People need to see reasons to hope.

It’s a safe bet Canadians are ready to see love, laughter – and yes, products they can buy – again on their screens. At some point, an advertiser will need to break beyond the safety of capturing the dour mood. So if Canadians are craving scraps of a better tomorrow, it’s time for the messages about buying things, the comeback, and getting back to work – the things that broadly reflect that sense of optimism.

It matters that such hopes and visions are missing from the ads and marketing Canadians see. Advertising doesn’t just reflect back the mood of a nation; it holds the potential to shape public opinion and change behaviours. And our economic restart will rely on everyday Canadians at least thinking about making purchases sooner rather than later.

They might be missing because over the years, advertising has shifted from aspirational to honest. Authenticity reigns supreme: just think of how parenting and beauty products are portrayed today compared to decades past.

But while we might not be ready to click buy or allowed to shop in stores as we’re used to just yet, businesses shouldn’t be ashamed to start the processes of showing consumers how they can comfortably get back to normal. We’ve shown great progress in flattening the COVID-19 curve in this country, and now it’s time to flatten the curve of ads that increasingly remind us of the bad spot we’re in, not the bright road ahead. In fact, our jobs, our economy, and our long-term financial situation depend on it. ​


We may not know when, but we can plan

What companies can do to prepare for a return to work post COVID-19

Here is a problem you might not know you have yet: We’re going return to work.

Be it in the office or some version of what we had before. We can’t know exactly when, but we do know for certain it will happen, and it will certainly be different.

For those of us in non-essential services, that could mean leaving the home office and returning to the workplace or starting to look for employment after being laid off or put on furlough.

Whatever our situation, our return won’t look entirely the same as it did before COVID-19. It will feel strange and unfamiliar, and many will look to their employers to provide a sense of comfort and guidance on how to navigate the journey back.

Organizations – and their employees – have learned a lot in a very short time during the wild ride of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve learned to adjust how we work in real time. We’ve learned how to deliver services virtually and how to deliver a wide range of goods – from food and all varieties of retail products, to alcohol and restricted goods, to medical advice and education. We’ve learned how to pivot our manufacturing to necessary supplies.

We’ve learned how to integrate our personal lives into our professional lives, tolerating (even welcoming) restless children, barking dogs and keyboard-sitting cats into conference calls. We’ve learned how to manage our households, while at the same time working, caregiving and educating.

A lot of what we’ve learned through the course of this COVID-19 period will follow us into the new normal, whenever that comes to pass. It’s important to acknowledge that it won’t happen overnight — or even all at once.

We should expect changes to be transitional, over several months, as companies phase in their workforce. Not only will the phase-back be conditional on businesses having the revenue to bring back their teams, but caregivers, parents and others may have a longer road ahead as schools remain closed, summer camps are possibly unable to open and restrictions on the immunocompromised potentially linger, leaving them still unable to safely venture into populated public spaces.

As a result, the initial cohort returning to work may be a significantly reduced portion of the overall workforce and the feasibility of a permanent work-from-home opportunity may become a reality.

In the coming weeks, organizations need to consider what adaptations they’ve made that can – and should – stick, while balancing productivity within their business.

Decision-makers should be sitting down now with human resources to work through transitional and long-term employee policies. This whole situation may be unprecedented, and those who have an employee-first work culture and willingness to be nimble are already at an advantage. But that doesn’t mean that you too can’t look ahead and adapt.

What is being asked of companies isn’t new. We’ve done it before, building out return to work procedures for maternity, long-term disability and other leave policies.

But this will require identifying an authentic approach for each business to create policies that address both a return to work and necessary contingencies, should we face a backslide in the spread of the virus that requires renewed quarantine measures after the initial wave passes.

Above all, to make this work, organizations must ensure they have a firm grasp on the communications required — leading up to the transition, throughout all the phases, and into a fully post-pandemic workplace. Communication that pre-empts and anticipates the needs and concerns of employees will go a long way in ensuring all employees remain connected and committed, regardless of where they fit in the phases of the return.

It’s been said by many (including pieces by us at Enterprise here and here) what corporate reputations will be made or broken through this crisis. That extends to how we manage our recovery.

Preparedness, along with regularity, consistency and empathy in communications will win the day in the recovery phase of this crisis.

Erika Barootes, Betsy Hilton, and Melissa Lantsman hold senior roles at Enterprise Canada, a national communications and public relations firm based in Toronto with offices in Edmonton, Hamilton, and Niagara. They bring over a decade of experience in corporate communications, issues management, and working with clients to develop a strong corporate culture.


A New Normal For Your Business: Considerations as you prepare for restrictions to (eventually) ease

By Semhar Tekeste and Melissa Lantsman

As health care systems across the country implement mass COVID-19 testing – seen as a critical step in finally containing the deadly virus – policy makers are beginning to prepare for an eventual reopening of businesses, organizations and services.

The governments of Quebec and Saskatchewan have signalled that they are considering a careful, gradual and methodical lifting of restrictions while cautioning that normalcy, as we once knew it, remains a long way off.

Amid some positive signs that Canada’s COVID-19 incidence is beginning to flatten, provincial governments are examining their respective infection data to determine when they might be able to begin the process of rebooting their economies.

It is clear that the pandemic crisis is far from over, but as light appears at the end of the tunnel, organizations of all types can get a head start for the eventual resumption of regular operations.

5 Steps to Ensure that Your Business is Ready

  1. Formalize Health and Safety Directives. Develop a guide that simply and clearly outlines directives for your employees. The document should provide all team members with an understanding of the measures taken by management, as well as the measures expected of employees, to maintain everyone’s health and safety.

  2. Adapt your employees’ work setting. Create a plan that allows employees to practice social distancing while in their workplace, should that continue to be the direction from public health agencies. All workspaces should be stationed at least 6 feet from each other, and employers should strictly limit the size of any inter-office gatherings. All employees should also be provided disinfectant products, while surfaces, equipment and supplies should be cleaned regularly. It will still be important in the short- to medium-term to ensure accommodations for some continued ‘work from home’ policies should government regulations change or personal situations of your employees necessitate it.

  3. Close all Common Areas. Be prepared with a strategy to prevent employees from congregating in work rooms, pantries, copier rooms or other areas where people tend to socialize.

  4. Promote Hygiene Measures. Display posters promoting hand-washing and other safety practices in multiple, high-visibility locations around the work space. Other communication measures, such as offering regular guidance and updates from occupational health and safety officers, should also be considered.

  5. Limit Travel. Unless absolutely necessary, restrict trips outside the office – not just out of town but to in-person meetings. As much as possible, continue to conduct virtual meetings and look for ways to keep your employees away from crowds, such as providing alternatives to public transit.

Final Thoughts

While it is important that businesses and organizations develop a plan to limit the spread of COVID-19 in their workplaces, it will be some time before the threat is eliminated entirely. Given this reality, plan ahead for the unfortunate possibility that one of your employees comes into contact with someone who is infected. Know how you will react – both to get that employee the support they need and to keep everyone else safe and protected.


Coronavirus has created a high-stakes moment for companies and their reputations

Article originally published in The Globe and Mail

By Dennis Matthews

Dennis Matthews is a conservative strategist and commentator who is a vice-president at the national communications firm Enterprise Canada.

We’re living in an era where heroes and villains are instantly made, and people are swiftly cast as leaders or bumblers – and this was even before the novel coronavirus changed the way we live. Our news cycles and attention spans, quickened by social media, have become even more short-lived, with everybody at home scrolling their phones for the latest news while physically distancing from everyone else.

During this pandemic, we’ve seen public-health professionals become household names. We’ve seen once-unpopular politicians earn plaudits for showing strong leadership, and we’ve seen others have their legacies rewritten – their reputations rising and falling as quickly as people sort out what matters to us now.

We’ve also seen businesses, big and small, take on leadership roles in our communities. Canada Goose has shifted its production to medical gear, Shopify has launched remarkable small-business support programs, and Labatt has begun manufacturing hand sanitizer – all without government order or decree. Local restaurants are delivering meals to front-line healthcare workers, while auto-part manufacturers move heaven and earth to make ventilators.

But while a sense of Canadian spirit has animated most of our corporate landscape, some companies have suffered damaging embarrassments, too. Those black marks will survive this pandemic.

It’s all highlighted a high-stakes moment for corporate reputation – what the public, customers, clients, and employees think about a given brand. Such reputations take years to build, but only a minute to destroy, and that’s especially true now.

Consumers have increasingly looked to see their personal values represented when they spend their hard-earned money. That mentality has only grown, because personal sensitivities have been inflamed by this personal crisis. Indeed, the last time the country went through such an upheaval was the 2008 global economic crisis, but that was about businesses and markets, with people affected as a result; now, it’s individuals and families who are facing the direct brunt, and the economic devastation is a consequence of that. Indeed, last week, a global study by public-relations giant Edelman found that 65 per cent of consumers say a brand’s response to the pandemic will have a “huge impact” on their likelihood to buy their products.

Kindness can also help create customer empathy too, as companies navigate through uncharted waters. While WestJet was forced to layoff 7,000 employees in March, CEO Ed Sims was honest and compassionate in laying out the steps the airline was taking to survive. It served as a reminder that these days, the best marketing you can do is treating your employees as well as you can.

But while successful companies have led with empathy and have worked to be good corporate citizens, others have made missteps, prompting social-media storms. The Calgary Flames announced plans to cancel shifts for minimum-wage Saddledome staff as the NHL shuttered the season, but they were forced to backtrack. In Toronto, high-end grocery-store chain Pusateri’s faced accusations of price-gouging from consumers – not to mention Ontario Premier Doug Ford – for charging $30 dollars for one container of Lysol wipes.

Corporations have a long history of getting that human element wrong. Perhaps the most famous case in recent memory is Tony Hayward, former chief executive of energy company BP, who made an unforgettable, on-camera remark about wanting his life back during the Deep Water Horizon oil-spill disaster, which unleashed an estimated 4.9 million barrels into the water. Between the spill and the media blunder, it’s taken BP years to repair their reputation.

No executive wants to appear out of touch. That’s partly why every company you’ve ever purchased anything from has e-mailed you about their COVID-19 response – whether you asked for it or not. Yet the companies who are really getting noticed – and who will likely reap the long-term reputational benefits – are the ones taking real action.

Facebook’s donation of 720,000 masks to health-care professionals, and the move by McDonald’s and Tim Hortons to provide free coffee to health-care workers, won’t be forgotten any time soon. The pitch-perfect response by Loblaws CEO Galen Weston, communicating regular updates to changes to the shopping experience, and Sobeys’s early effort to launch a “hero pay” program by giving a bonus to front-line workers, will help keep grocery shoppers loyal.

When this pandemic is all over, consumers will be making new choices about how they travel, shop, work, and conduct their daily lives in a transformed economy. As these choices are made, it’s the corporate reputation of businesses across the country that will be foundational. And there will be long memories for how companies behaved and treated people during this crisis. Those who understand that will make it through stronger than ever.

Adjusting to the new normal: a positive corporate culture is essential with your workforce at home

Article originally published in LinkedIn

By Barbara Fox

As social distancing and working at home become the new normal, my long-held belief in the importance of a strong corporate culture has been confirmed.

I wanted to share some thoughts on how building one is more important now than ever from the perspective of a mid-sized consulting firm with 40 employees now working from home.

Last week, out of the blue, I received a message from one of our team members titled Gratitude in These Dark Times, saying “the way everyone pulls together to support one another and help even when isolated in our own spaces is really incredible.”

Calling our firm “a masterclass in teamwork,” the message goes on to say how proud everyone is of our culture and environment and that the team doesn’t take it for granted.

Nor do I.

As a national strategic communications and public affairs firm, our clients at Enterprise are counting on us more than ever to provide sound advice and deliver the issues management, crisis communications and public affairs support they need – quickly, efficiently and accurately.

We do our best work in times of crisis and change. And I’m proud to say that our team is responding and operating extremely well.

To succeed, we need our team to be pulling in the same direction. We need a team who can come together seamlessly while working from home to do it.

Technology makes this possible – yes, we’ve switched to video conferencing and added slack for office chat (which is a lot of fun!) And if I’m being honest, the adjustment has been easier for some members of the team than others. I’ll be the first to admit new technology isn’t my strong suit, but it doesn’t have to be to see the enormous potential it’s given us to continue serving clients who need us.

But what’s become more apparent to me throughout this is that corporate culture is what truly makes it work, no matter what technology you’re using.

Enterprise Canada, staff pic

A strong corporate culture doesn’t happen by accident or overnight. I have spent an enormous amount of time cultivating and modelling the kind of environment that I and others want to work in. It starts with how you treat people. I have operated on the golden rule – treat people the way you want to be treated yourself. It’s a philosophy that has served me well my entire life and in my business career, today more than ever.

Getting to know your team, trusting them, celebrating their success and understanding when things are difficult and not going well, are fundamental. We all have good times and challenging times. We need to support one another through these times and not put barriers up that make it even more difficult for people.

It’s simple common sense but over the years I have seen many poor examples and talked to many unhappy people in their work environments. I constantly see and hear of examples of companies not getting this right. Things have changed in the workplace and will change again as a result of COVID-19.

Organizations must support their people at times like this to keep them healthy, productive and committed.

While it starts at the top, everyone plays a critical role in ensuring a positive environment. We have more than 40 consultants in Toronto, Edmonton, Ottawa and Hamilton. They have all jumped in, working long hours from small home offices, supporting each other and our clients, finding ways to work together as a team to overcome the barriers.

I have seen members of our team helping one another both in day-to-day client work and as friends, supporting one another with tips on anything from how to effectively operate at home to maintaining each other’s mental health and ensuring that everyone is doing well.

Last Friday when we couldn’t get together in person for our social start to the weekend, people joined remotely, with a glass of wine or beer in hand to talk about the past week and the week ahead.

Enterprise Canada, staff pic

The best work comes from people who feel connected and part of a team that they can collaborate effectively with. Happy, engaged people produce the best results.

I am enormously proud of our team and how they have quickly mobilized and responded to this unprecedented situation we are all in. And I’ll be following closely to ensure the corporate culture that exists in our physical office stays intact as we work from home.

So let me leave you with this: there are tough times ahead for businesses all around the world. The temptation to take short cuts on corporate culture or treat people differently as we manage the coming economic downturn will leave a lasting stamp on your business.

No matter what decisions you need to make, take a lesson from my 25 years of building a corporate culture that’s enduring the COVID crisis and treat your employees as your number one asset.


Beating COVID-19: what it takes to start producing medical supplies

Article originally published in The Hamilton Spectator

By Katie Heelis

Calls from provincial and federal governments across Canada came through loud and clear late last month. Governments at all levels and of all political stripes were pleading for domestic manufacturers to start producing medical supplies — hand sanitizer, N95 masks and gloves.

With a surge of COVID-19 cases in Canada and around the world, the desperation of our political officials was made clear through their pleas to industry as our stock of medical supplies runs dangerously low. Official stockpiles, stowed away for just such pandemics, have proven inadequate for a crisis that few anticipated would be quite so stark and vast in reality. It’s now critical to be innovative in how we develop products: international supply chains are compromised, and the pandemic shows no signs of letting up in the coming days or weeks.

The good news first: Canada benefits from having access to a highly educated and innovative workforce with a strong, high-tech manufacturing industry. We have the right blend of scientists and engineers to redesign systems and the skilled labourers to build the products we need. And this is already underway.

Many distilleries have shifted production lines from beer and spirits to hand sanitizer. Auto manufacturers are gearing up to produce ventilators and 3D printers are being used to print face shields for medical professionals on the front lines.

So, for companies ready to raise their hand to start producing medical supplies, what does it take?

First and foremost, you’ll need ingenuity. The knowledge of your skilled workforce and your access to the right supplies will determine how your operations can be remodelled.

The government is looking for medical-grade masks, gowns, hand sanitizer, gloves and other preventative material. Do you have or can you obtain any of the raw materials to produce these goods and the right production equipment to make it happen? Think small first, such as plastic bottles for hand sanitizer or Plexiglas for medical shields.

Then, you need determination. If you can access raw materials, but maybe not the production equipment, think about partnerships. Who are the manufacturing leaders in your community, your region, who could potentially use your supplies for their production?

What staff or labour supports do you need to start and maintain production? Will it be possible to retrain staff to shift from, say, producing car parts to medical parts? Who are the medical producers in your community who you could partner with to help train staff?

And don’t forget: What are the steps you need to take from a public health perspective to keep your staff and your facility safe? At a bare minimum, you’ll need to start with regular or intensive cleaning, equipment for staff, access to hand washing stations and hand sanitizer.

Now for the patience part. Health care is one of the most highly regulated sectors in the world. For good reason. The devices and tools we are talking about are used to keep us healthy and save lives.

Health Canada has done a tremendous job to move quickly to remove as much regulatory burden as possible during this critical time, but that does not mean anyone, anywhere can start offering medical supplies. There are still certain standards that must be met.

Most organizations looking to produce medical supplies will need two things: 1. A site licence (this gives your facility “permission” to produce medical supplies); and 2. A product licence (this gives your facility permission to produce a certain product like a mask or hand sanitizer).

To receive these permissions, manufacturers must work directly with Health Canada to ensure they are meeting necessary health and safety standards. Health Canada has created an expedited process for the approval of products that can help in response to COVID-19.

In an emergency situation like this one, fast is never fast enough. But after days of working with Health Canada, I can tell you their hard-working civil servants are working around the clock to connect with, advise and approve new productions in short order. They’ve taken a process that sometimes takes months and turned it into days.


Companies that get it wrong now, will face lasting brand impacts.

Article originally published in LinkedIn

By Erika Barootes

COVID-19 went from being a terrible but distant event to something very real on our doorstep, impacting all of us, almost overnight.

Even as we spend hours online waiting for updates on what our new normal looks like, it’s hard to fully understand how big the social and economic impact of COVID-19 will be, from schools closed to the already struggling small businesses. While we don’t know how long this will last, we do know that the impact will be felt for a very long time, by everyone.

In times like this, corporate reputation moments happen in real time and decisions are amplified quickly. In week one of the pandemic, Shoppers Drug Mart and the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation both made big waves with their business decisions but for very different reasons.

Within 48 hours, the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation retracted their statement that they will not pay part-time employees for canceled events as a result of COVID-19. This quick retraction was a result of public outcry and will likely have lasting reputational impacts longer than a news cycle. Do I believe this will reduce the number of fans or attendees at events once regular venue schedules resume? Likely not but their community goodwill has taken a hit and even more important, the corporate culture of this customer-facing business will likely shift, meaning service and morale may not be what it once was.

It isn’t always the bottom line that takes the biggest hit during unprecedented times. These times reveal true leadership and opportunity for brands to live by the principles they espouse.

Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaws’ executive chairman, Galen Weston, was amongst the first to announce his company’s grocery stores and pharmacies would open early for seniors and people living with disabilities so they can shop before the crowds. As a result, Governments across Canada encouraged others to take this same dedicated-hour approach to operating their businesses.

And as retailers close their doors, lululemon athletica’s Chief Executive Officer, Calvin McDonald gets it right by assuring employees and customers that “during this time, lululemon employees will continue to receive pay for all hours they have been scheduled to work and have access to lululemon’s Global Pay Relief plan. I’m proud of how our teams are working to create space for our guests to connect through yoga and meditation classes online.” As a company that promotes mental and physical health and a balanced lifestyle, this was an opportunity successfully executed to lead by example and practice what they preach.

Communication and transparency can’t be ignored right now. We’ve all been bombarded by mass emails from companies about the organizational changes they need to make for the wellbeing of their business and their employees while some companies are carrying on with ad buys as if everything is normal. Guys, I’m not a buying a car in the middle of a pandemic.

You may want to revise your approach and focus on supporting each other, being nice, and putting the frontline before the bottom line.

Do the right thing and your brand will thank you.