Best Employers

Three ways corporate culture breaks down, and how these firms bounced back

Canada’s Best Employers 2018

Becoming one of the Aon Canada’s Best Employers rarely happens overnight, and seldom without some growing pains along the way. Here are three case studies of firms on the Best Employers 2018 ranking that hit a rough patch—and how they recovered.

How to overcome adversity

Farm Credit Canada has long been recognized as a top employer, ranking platinum on the Aon Best Employers list for the 15th year. But like any company, it’s had its challenges. “We went through a bit of a tough patch,” says Peter Mayne, FCC’s director of culture, learning and employee experience.

The challenge

A few years ago, the company introduced new processes and systems that directly affected the day-to-day work of more than half of the organization. The intent was to make it easier for employees to do their jobs, but in the short term, simple, routinized tasks were suddenly neither simple nor routine. Frustration mounted.

In the Aon employee survey, FCC took a hit on the enabling work metric: providing employees the tools and resources to do their jobs.

The response

It’s inevitable for companies to have growing pains, but strong cultures produce a halo effect that mitigates negative effects. Mayne says developing leaders who earn people’s trust are a major advantage because it speeds up the recovery from an inevitable stumble. “You can’t have a great culture over time if you don’t have leaders who are modelling it and living it and behaving in a way that supports that culture.”

The takeaway

Change management is always difficult, and the changes FCC made were a big deal. “When you have strong leaders and a culture where people feel supported and valued, you can get through bumps like that a lot more easily,” says Mayne.


For the 10th year, Cintas Canada, a uniform supplier, is on Aon’s list of the Best Employers in Canada. What puts them there year after year? Communication that flows two ways.

The challenge

It’s easy to get caught up with daily responsibilities and become lax in responding to concerns from employees, especially on the front lines. And there are many layers involved in communicating concerns up to the top executive ranks. If staff feel like their concerns are not being treated with a sense of urgency, their engagement slides. Also, on the flip side, if management fails to share the vision of its leaders, there is a potential for staff to feel dissociated from the vision from the top.

The response

It’s all about really strong communication across the organization, says vice-president James Dawe. “I know that sounds very simple, but it’s not always that simple.” He insists leaders across the company respond to any employee concern “with a great deal of urgency” and get back to them with an answer. “When a front-line employee feels that their concerns are actually entertained and people listen to them, it raises overall engagement.”

The company is serious enough about making sure employees know they can be heard that it introduced an employee hotline. “An anonymous direct line that essentially goes straight into my office,” says Dawe. “Someone can let us know if something isn’t being dealt with at their location.”

In the past few years, Dawe has also shared what’s on his mind. The catalyst was some Cintas locations feeling frustrated about the company making capital investments at locations not their own, he says. “A lot of that stemmed from the fact that we had to prioritize.” Dawe decided that he’d do more to explain those priorities and share detailed information about their capital plans.

The takeaway

“I thought the benefits of the employees knowing why we were delaying a certain project or when a certain project might be coming gave us a lot more credibility.” And it has. “In the absence of information, [employees] make up sinister stories, and we have seen that disappear when we err on the side of more transparency.”

Doing well, doing good

Credit unions have a community focus that can make them more like a family than a big bank. But Meridian also has big ideas about expansion beyond Ontario to create a national digital banking brand, so the company has to be an innovative family, all pointed in the same direction with the same values.

The challenge

How do you combine your do-good community focus and culture with the competitive ambition of a growth company? It’s not a simple task. “For us to be successful, we have to be an innovative corporation,” says CEO Bill Maurin. That has meant concerted efforts recently to foster an innovation mindset across the organization.

The response

Meridian now thinks more like a disruptive challenger, where creativity and new ideas are championed. To encourage what Maurin calls “big-ticket ideas,” the company created an innovation lab last summer. mLab is only two people, but the objective is to nurture and spread bold thinking across the organization. If a big idea is presented, mLab will assemble a cross-functional panel to learn more about the opportunity and evaluate the fit for Meridian.

To encourage “smaller-ticket” ideas that may have less dramatic impact but still contribute to a culture of entrepreneurialism and innovation, Meridian implemented the Soapbox platform earlier this year. Employees can use it to share business challenges across the organization, with everyone encouraged to comment, share their ideas and build on proposals. “You get more of a feel from more than just one employee about a way to solve a business challenge,” he says.

The takeaway

Despite the push into new territory and the formal efforts to encourage new ideas and behaviours, Maurin keeps reminding staff that Meridian will stay true to its original do-good ethos. “That DNA won’t change, and it’s very important that it never changes,” he says. “Just because we are growing aggressively and doing a lot of cool new things doesn’t mean we have become some other company with a new identity. No, we are still Meridian.”

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