Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

In the competitive landscape of modern business, having a strategic plan is essential for long-term success. 

 

A strategic plan serves as a roadmap, guiding an organization toward its goals and ensuring that every action taken is aligned with its overall vision, mission, and core values, which are foundational to all subsequent planning and decision-making processes. 

 

By defining these elements, an organization can ensure that all employees understand the overarching goals and are working cohesively towards the same objectives. This unified focus prevents efforts from being scattered and ensures that resources are allocated efficiently.

 

But determining when the right time is for an organization to review and update its strategic plan is something that leadership should always keep in mind, suggests Peter Wright, President of The Planning Group

 

“If you have a strategy that you’re going to grow in this particular direction and all of a sudden the world around you is changing from a competitive perspective, then you need to be able to adapt to that,” he says. “A strategic plan really never lasts for more than three years.”

 

Peter recommends never leaving a plan ‘on the shelf’ during that time, and depending on the industry, supports a refresh within at least a year, followed by a performance review on a quarterly basis.

 

Planning establishes benchmarks

 

“Most of the companies we deal with are on a good trajectory already, with good leaders and customers who trust them,” he says, adding most companies can advance with ongoing operational improvements but that good strategic planning can help them advance even further. “The very act of planning should take you to a new place where you wouldn’t have arrived otherwise.”

 

A good strategic plan also establishes benchmarks and key performance indicators (KPIs) that are essential for measuring progress. By setting specific, measurable goals, organizations can track their performance over time and make informed adjustments as needed. This continuous monitoring and evaluation process ensures that the organization remains on track to achieve its long-term objectives and can respond swiftly to any deviations. 

 

Organizations that operate without a strategic plan often find themselves reacting to changes and challenges as they arise. This reactive approach can lead to hasty decisions that may not align with long-term goals. Conversely, a strategic plan allows an organization to anticipate changes, identify potential obstacles, and develop strategies to mitigate risks. This proactive stance enables businesses to navigate uncertainties with confidence and agility.

 

Surprisingly, Peter says the benefits of updating a strategic plan may not be obvious to many business leaders, and that some go through the process because they feel it’s expected.

 

“A lot of our clients come to us under the assumption they want to change their strategic plan because they just always do a strategic plan,” he says.

 

Plan should focus on the future

 

A strategic plan is not just a document but a vital tool that guides an organization toward its future goals. It provides direction and focus, enables proactive management, ensures efficient resource allocation, facilitates performance measurement, boosts employee engagement, and secures a competitive advantage.

 

For any organization aiming for sustained success, investing time and effort into developing or updating a comprehensive strategic plan is indispensable and doesn’t have to be an insurmountable task, says Peter.

 

“With our clients, we’re always trying to set the bar at a place that will scare them a bit, but not so much so they say, ‘that’s aspirational and we’re not actually meant to get there’,” he says, adding a good plan should always focus on a specific, tangible, practical and measurable view of the future.

 

In terms of the process itself, Peter says businesses often get bogged down in creating or updating a strategic plan that is too detailed which can sour the whole experience. 

 

“We often mistake detail for rigor, so we make these processes so detailed and put so much detail into a strategy that’s never going to come to fruition, and then it does become a big chore,” he says. “It shouldn’t be a chore. It should be something that excites and enthuses people.”

 

Reviewing a strategic plan is crucial for a business due to several key reasons:

 

  • Adapting to Changes in the External Environment: Markets, technologies, regulations, and competitive landscapes are constantly evolving. Regular reviews ensure that the strategic plan remains relevant and aligned with external changes.
  • Monitoring Progress and Performance: Reviewing the strategic plan allows a business to assess its progress against its goals and objectives. This helps in identifying what is working well and what areas need improvement or adjustment.
  • Resource Allocation: As priorities shift or new opportunities arise, it may be necessary to reallocate resources (financial, human, technological) to better support strategic initiatives. Regular reviews facilitate effective resource management.
  • Risk Management: By continually evaluating the strategic plan, a business can identify and mitigate potential risks. This proactive approach helps in avoiding or minimizing disruptions.
  • Alignment and Communication: Regular reviews ensure that all stakeholders, including employees, management, and investors, are aligned with the strategic direction of the company. This enhances communication and fosters a cohesive effort towards common goals.
  • Competitive Advantage: Staying ahead of competitors often requires agility and responsiveness. Regularly reviewing and updating the strategic plan allows a business to capitalize on new opportunities and maintain a competitive edge.
  • Innovation and Improvement: The review process encourages a culture of continuous improvement and innovation. It provides an opportunity to incorporate new ideas, technologies, and best practices into the strategic plan.
  • Financial Health: Strategic reviews often include financial performance assessments, ensuring that the business is on track to meet its financial goals and can make necessary adjustments to improve profitability and sustainability.
  • Stakeholder Confidence: Demonstrating a commitment to regular strategic planning reviews can build confidence among investors, partners, and customers, showcasing the business's dedication to strategic growth and stability.
  • Employee Engagement and Motivation: Involving employees in the review process can increase their engagement and motivation, as they see how their efforts contribute to the overall success of the business.

 

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A large majority of Canadian businesses are sluggish when it comes to the adoption of Generative Artificial Intelligence (Gen AI), according to the results of a recent report by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Business Data Lab (BDL).

 

The 38-page report details how a multitude of barriers, along with a lack of trust in the new technology, could impede the adoption levels needed to improve Canada’s economic growth.

 

Locally, the report shows that 11% of businesses in Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge are "using", or "planning to use" Gen AI, compared to 18% in Toronto or 15% in Ottawa. 

 

The report, Prompting Productivity: Generative AI Adoption by Canadian Businesses, underscores how Gen AI (referring to Large Language Models bases and the practical applications built on top of them) can help tackle one of the most significant economic challenges facing Canadian prosperity and standard of life — low productivity — while also exploring what is holding Canadian businesses back from adopting AI technologies.

 

The results detailed in the report, compiled from a survey of 13,327 businesses in January and February of this year, shows that larger businesses are nearly twice as likely to adopt Gen AI compared to smaller businesses. Overall, the data shows that one in seven businesses (roughly 14%) – mostly larger businesses and industries with highly educated workers – are Gen AI adopters. 

 

Patrick Gill, BDL's Senior Director of Operations and Partnerships, and the report's lead author, says he's surprised more small businesses haven't been embracing this new technology. 

 

“I’ve never run into a small business owner who wasn’t run off their feet and wearing multiple hats or wish they could replicate themselves,” he says. “But that’s the nice thing about this tool. With little or at no cost a small business owner or team can leverage this to fill in some of their existing skills gaps.”

 

According to the report, the top three industries adopting AI includes information & culture (31%), professional services (28%), and finance and insurance (23%). The two lowest to adopt are agriculture, forestry, and fishing (8%) and construction (7%).

 

Building trust an issue

 

Patrick says historically, larger businesses usually face more barriers adopting new technologies due to the fact their operations are more complicated and often have technology ‘stacked’ on top of each other.

 

“Smaller businesses usually face less of a challenge,” he says. “Their biggest challenge has usually been ‘Do I have the money right now to invest in a new technology?.”

 

Besides potential costs, trust is also a key issue.

 

“Public trust and the perception of AI will definitely play a crucial role in the adoption of the technology going forward,” says Patrick, noting a survey released last year indicated that Canada was the third most pessimistic country in the world and that only 38% of Canadians view AI in a positive light, slightly ahead of those in the U.S. and France.

 

Patrick says the Business Data Lab report also indicates that people are nervous about what the adoption of Gen AI will mean for their jobs and notes most agree change will come in the way they conduct their jobs, versus losing them outright.

 

“Right now, the technology is predominantly being used to augment workers’ abilities and not to replace them entirely,” he says, adding many are looking at Gen AI as a tool that can accelerate production and improve quality and services in effort to reduce costs. “That’s incredibly important during this time of a high-cost operating environment.”

 

From a global perspective as interest in Gen AI continues to grow, the report indicates that Canadian businesses need to move fast to gain a competitive advantage over global competitors. Low productivity and business investment puts Canadians’ prosperity and living standards at risk and its GDP per capita is now significantly below the U.S. and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) average.

 

Businesses must ‘innovate or die’

 

“Gen AI is a generational opportunity to boost Canadian productivity at a time when our performance is steadily headed in the wrong direction. The time to prompt productivity and act is now. Canadian businesses must innovate or die, and that means embracing Gen AI,” says Patrick. “While adoption has begun in every industry, it’s likely not fast enough for Canada to be competitive on the global stage, especially since three in four Canadian businesses still haven’t tried Gen AI yet.”

 

Based on two adoption scenarios (“fast” and “slow”), the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s BDL projects that Gen AI adoption by Canadian businesses will reach a tipping point of 50% in the next three to six years.  This may seem fast but is probably not fast enough to keep pace with global leaders. Businesses in the U.S., China and several European countries are investing heavily in AI, likely outpacing Canadian investment.

 

“Those who move first basically set the standards and capture the largest market share,” says Patrick. “And everyone else is perennially playing catch up.”

 

He hopes the findings in the BDL report may gently ‘nudge’ businesses into more experimentation when it comes to adopting Gen AI. 

 

“There are so many low costs and no cost options available, so experiment and give it a try,” says Patrick, explaining how AI can assist with creating emails, marketing, and promotional content, and well as new visuals. “Use and test it and eventually you’ll find a way.”

 

Click here to the read the report.

 

 

Key findings from the report

 

  • Roughly 1 in 7 Canadian businesses (14%) are early Gen AI adopters. They are found within every Canadian industry and region, but are more likely to be exporters, larger businesses, industries with highly educated workers or emerging enterprises.
  • Larger businesses are nearly twice as likely to use Gen AI than small businesses.
  • 18% of Ontario businesses are ‘already using’ or ‘plan to use’ Gen AI (Toronto rate was 18%, while KW-Cambridge was 11%).
  • On its current trajectory, Gen AI adoption by Canadian businesses could reach a tipping in the next 3 to 6 years — likely too slow to keep pace with global competitors.
  • Depending on the rate of adoption, Gen AI could grow Canada’s productivity between 1% and 6% over the next decade.
  • The factor of “trust” will be important for future adoption, with public interest and acceptance of AI likely being positively correlated with countries’ business adoption rates. Global IPSOS surveys reveal that Canadians are less knowledgeable and more nervous about AI than citizens of most other countries.
  • Most businesses using Gen AI are predominately looking to accelerate content creation (69%) and automate work without job cuts (46%).
  • Interestingly, replacing workers is not the primary driver of adoption, with only 1 in 8 businesses (13%) that use Gen AI cite its value for replacing employees. 
  • Roughly 3 in 10 businesses cite hiring skilled employees and access to finance as top challenges to adopting new technologies.
  • Almost 3 in 4 Canadian businesses (73%) have not even considered using Gen AI yet.
  • Public interest and perception of the technology are likely additional major barriers to adoption by businesses. 
  • It is recommended that Canadian businesses move fast to adopt Gen AI to gain a competitive advantage over global competitors. This means starting with small-scale pilot projects to validate the feasibility and impact of Gen AI before gradually expand to larger initiatives based on successful proofs of concept, all while training and preparing employees for its adoption.
  • For its part, government can support Gen AI adoption by upskilling workers, setting adoption targets, tapping the private sector, and among other actions, ensuring regulation is proportionate and risk based.

 

Recommendations for business

 

Innovate or die: Canadian businesses need to move fast to gain a competitive advantage over global competitors. With Gen AI so accessible and applicable for every type of business, there is little excuse for Canadian businesses to sit on the sidelines. 

 

Pilot projects that measure uplift: Start with small pilot projects to validate the feasibility and impact of Gen AI. Compare metrics (e.g., efficiency, costs savings and revenue generation) before and after its implementation.

 

Change management and employee training: Prepare employees for the adoption of Gen AI. Provide training sessions, workshops, and resources to help them understand the technology and develop new workflows. 

 

Strategic alignment: Align Gen AI adoption with overall strategic goals. Identify where Gen AI can enhance existing processes, improve customer experience, or drive innovation. 

 

Data infrastructure and governance: Invest in robust data infrastructure and governance practices. High-quality data is essential for training Gen AI models. Ensure data privacy, security, and compliance. 

 

Talent acquisition and retention: Attract and retain talent skilled in Gen AI. Recruit data scientists, machine learning engineers and domain experts who can develop and deploy Gen AI solutions. 

 

Investment in cloud infrastructure: Leverage cloud platforms for scalable computing power. Cloud services facilitate model training, deployment, and maintenance, allowing businesses to experiment and iterate efficiently. 

 

Leverage public resources: Move faster by basing policies on the federal government’s Guide on the use of Gen AI or tapping available funding, such as the NRC’s (National Research Council of Canada) IRAP AI Assist Program.

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The health and well-being of its operator or owner is a critical, yet often overlooked element in the day-to-day operations any business. Many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and even some larger businesses hinge on the vision, leadership, and daily involvement of their owners.

 

But what happens if the owner suddenly falls ill and is unable to fulfill their role? It’s a situation, says Linda Braga, that many business owners do not think about.

 

“It’s not even at the forefront,” says Linda, Business & Executive Development Specialist with LMI Canada, which has provided leadership development for more than 50 years. “I think there is a real lack of awareness because no one wants to think about facing an imminent illness.”

 

In fact, according to a recent StatCan figure, only 15% of business owners actually have a contingency plan in place for themselves in the event of illness.

 

“That’s very surprising,” says Linda. “In light of what happened with the pandemic and contingency planning, it is something that leaders should have in place.”

 

A contingency plan serves as a blueprint for maintaining operations when the owner is incapacitated. It outlines clear procedures and assigns responsibilities to other key team members to ensure that the business continues to run smoothly. This foresight helps prevent disruptions that can lead to lost revenue, decreased customer satisfaction, and potential long-term damage to the company’s reputation.

 

Demonstrating resiliency

 

“We know that in leadership resilience is the theme and having a contingency plan is just demonstrating a company’s resilience to ensure that they are not going to be impacted in a negative way,” says Linda, adding that for many leaders, their business is essentially their ‘babies’. “Wouldn’t you want to ensure if something happens that it is going to be taken care of?”

 

She believes fear of showing any vulnerability is not necessarily the reason many business leaders appear to be hesitant to put plans in place, but pertains more to a time management issue.

 

“They are just so busy with everything that they’re doing. It’s not their priority,” says Linda, adding some fully trust their team will be there to ensure the business continues to smoothly operate and leave no plan in place. “They have to realize when it’s not written in stone or a procedure that’s written out it can create ambiguity and lead to decision paralysis with the leaders and management that’s left behind.”

 

She says knowing there is a plan in place can significantly reduce stress and anxiety for the owner, their family, and the entire organization. It provides peace of mind that the business can withstand unforeseen challenges, allowing everyone to focus on recovery and continuity rather than crisis management.

 

“If you’re dealing with an emergency, why would you want to add any additional stress?” says Linda. “All of your top-level management should have a contingency plan in place.”

 

By preparing for the unexpected, businesses can safeguard their operations, protect their stakeholders, and ensure long-term sustainability. Every business, regardless of size, should invest time and resources into developing a robust contingency plan, securing its future against looming uncertainties.

 

 

Preparing for a scenario where the business owner suddenly falls ill and must take a leave of absence is crucial for ensuring the continuity and stability of the business. Here are several strategies a business can implement to be well-prepared for such a situation:

 

1. Develop a Comprehensive Succession Plan

This involves identifying key personnel who can step in temporarily and ensuring they are adequately trained.  The plan should include:

 

  • Designation of Interim Leadership: Appoint a trusted individual or a committee who can take over the owner’s responsibilities. This person or group should be well-versed in the business operations and decision-making processes.
  • Role Clarity: Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the interim leaders to prevent any confusion or overlap of duties.
  • Emergency Contact List: Maintain an updated list of key contacts such as legal advisors, financial consultants, and major clients or suppliers.

 

2. Document Key Processes and Procedures

Having detailed documentation of all critical business processes is essential. This should include:

 

  • Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs): Document daily operations, workflows, and procedures for all key functions.
  • Financial Protocols: Outline how to handle financial transactions, payroll, and accounts payable/receivable.
  • Client and Vendor Information: Keep an up-to-date list of clients, vendors, and contracts with detailed notes on ongoing projects and relationships.

 

3. Implement Robust Communication Systems

Ensure there are systems in place for seamless internal and external communication:

 

  • Crisis Communication Plan: Develop a communication strategy for informing employees, clients, and stakeholders about the situation and how it will be managed.
  • Delegation of Authority: Clearly communicate the hierarchy and decision-making process to all employees.
  • Regular Updates: Establish regular check-ins and updates to keep everyone informed about the business status.

 

4. Leverage Technology

Utilize technology to maintain business operations smoothly:

 

  • Project Management Tools: Use tools like Trello, Asana, or Monday.com to keep track of ongoing projects and tasks.
  • Cloud Storage: Ensure all important documents and data are stored securely in the cloud, accessible to the interim leaders.
  • Remote Access: Set up secure remote access to critical business systems so that management can operate from any location if necessary.

 

5. Financial Preparedness

Ensure the business is financially prepared to handle the owner’s absence:

 

  • Emergency Fund: Maintain a reserve fund to cover unexpected expenses during the transition period.
  • Insurance: Consider business interruption insurance and key person insurance to mitigate financial risks.

 

6. Legal and Administrative Measures

Take care of legal and administrative preparations:

 

  • Power of Attorney: Assign a trusted individual with the power of attorney to make legal and financial decisions on behalf of the owner.
  • Review Legal Documents: Regularly review and update legal documents such as partnership agreements, bylaws, and contracts to reflect the succession plan.

 

7. Training and Development

Invest in continuous training and development of employees:

 

  • Cross-Training: Train employees to handle multiple roles and responsibilities to ensure versatility.
  • Leadership Development: Develop leadership skills within the team to prepare them for taking on higher responsibilities if needed.

 

 

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Dealing with toxicity in the workplace can be detrimental to employee morale, productivity, and overall organizational success. 

 

For business leaders, addressing this issue requires a combination of empathy, clear communication, and proactive measures to foster a more positive and supportive work environment.

 

“Ultimately, it’s going to affect your bottom line because you’re going to spend a ton of money on recruiting talent because you’re going to have a revolving door,” says Carrie Thomas, a human resources expert and founder of Nimbus HR Solutions Group.

 

It's essential to identify the root causes of toxicity within the workplace. It can stem from various sources, such as authoritarian leadership styles, irresponsible behaviour of employees and managers, unrealistic performance expectations, lack of transparency, or a history of punitive actions. By understanding the underlying factors contributing to fear, leaders can develop targeted strategies to address them effectively.

 

“You have to find a balance. How do you maintain your employees and give them some input on things?” says Carrie. “But that’s where trust comes from. Change comes from the speed of trust.”

 

Address issues promptly

 

However, finding that trust can be difficult when leaders are faced with challenging issues surrounding time theft and absenteeism, especially after many businesses introduced hybrid work schedules. Employers must address these issues promptly and effectively to maintain a healthy work environment and ensure the smooth functioning of their operations.

 

“You have to nip the bad behaviour in the bud,” says Carrie, noting that inaction can easily demoralize other employees. “You can put policies in place because if one person burns that bridge it’s going to make it crummy for everyone else and the leader will have to deal with it.”

 

To offset potential issues that can lead to a toxic environment, she recommends leaders take a closer examination of the work culture which may require immediate attention and says creating an employee engagement survey can be a good starting point.

 

“If employees chose not to answer, that immediately tells me you have a culture of fear in your workplace because they don’t want to speak up,” says Carrie, adding in this situation HR assistance may likely be required. “But you have to ensure the HR person can handle the situation in a confidential and professional manner that follows the rules on how you handle an investigation or a complaint because there are laws pertaining to no retaliation.”

 

As well, she also suggests leaders visit the work review site Glassdoor to get a sense of what may be taking place at their company.

 

Good mechanisms needed

 

“I remember saying at the beginning of COVID, the businesses that will come through this is because their success in retaining people will solely be based on how they treated their staff during the pandemic,” says Carrie. “So, there are a lot of employers right now saying they can’t find anyone. But if you weren’t kind to your employees then, nobody will want to work for you. I call it the ‘tainted talent pool’. If people see a job continuously posted, they’re not going to want to touch it.”

 

She notes the ‘new’ generation of employees in the field are not apt to remaining in a job if they deem the work environment as toxic.

 

“Sometimes they may try and discuss their issues once, or even twice, with an employer but if they see no change, then they’re gone,” says Carrie, adding addressing concerns is imperative for leaders.

 

As well, she says having good mechanisms in place such as weekly one on one meetings are good vehicles to diffuse potential issues before they start affecting the entire team, especially when others may see their co-workers not adhering to the rules.

 

“I always say leadership is a shared responsibility,” says Carrie, adding ‘skip level’ meetings with a higher level of management may also be required to solve some of these issues. “But this falls in line with an open-door policy and being honest and transparent.”

 

 

A few key issues business leaders may encounter when dealing with a toxic work environment:

 

Decreased Employee Morale and Engagement: Toxic work environments can lead to decreased morale and disengagement among employees. This can manifest as increased absenteeism, lower productivity, and higher turnover rates, all of which can have a negative impact on the company's bottom line.

 

Negative Organizational Culture: Toxicity often stems from underlying cultural issues within the organization. Changing entrenched cultural norms and behaviors can be difficult and requires sustained effort from leadership to promote a more positive and inclusive culture.

 

Legal and Reputational Risks: Inappropriate behaviour such as harassment or discrimination can expose the company to legal liability and damage its reputation. Leaders must take swift and decisive action to address such issues and prevent them from escalating.

 

Loss of Talent: Talented employees may choose to leave the organization if they feel unsupported or mistreated in a toxic work environment. Losing key talent can disrupt business operations and hinder long-term growth and success.

 

Difficulty Attracting New Talent: A reputation for being a toxic workplace can make it challenging to attract top talent. Potential candidates may be wary of joining a company with a negative work environment, leading to difficulties in recruiting skilled individuals.

 

Impact on Leadership Credibility: Leaders who fail to address issues related to toxicity may lose credibility and trust among their employees. This can undermine their ability to lead effectively and diminish their influence within the organization.

 

Productivity Loss: Toxic work environments can impede productivity as employees may be preoccupied with workplace conflicts or feel demotivated to perform their best. This can result in missed deadlines, decreased quality of work, and ultimately, reduced profitability for the company.

 

Resistance to Change: Addressing toxicity often requires implementing changes to organizational policies, procedures, and cultural norms. Resistance to change from employees who are comfortable with the status quo can hinder efforts to create a healthier work environment.

 

 

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What began as a sunny spring day 50 years ago would end in a disaster causing millions of dollars in damages in the city’s downtown core, leaving lasting memories etched in the minds of many long-time residents.

 

The Grand River flood on Friday, May 17, 1974, lives on as a pivotal moment in Cambridge’s history because it showed not only the power of community spirit but the resiliency of local business leaders as they rallied back from this major disaster.

 

“Everybody was helping one another, no doubt about that,” says Murray Garlick, retired business leader and former board president of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce. (The organization had been created in 1973 by the merger of the Galt and Preston Chambers of Commerce and the Hespeler Retail Merchants Association).

 

Murray, who owned the former Barton’s Men’s Shop at 51 Main St., recalls returning to work after lunch that day from his new home in Blair when he received an emergency message from the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA). Not only was he Chamber board president at the time, he also was serving as chairman of the Downtown BIA and was that organization’s key contact for the GRCA in case of an emergency. 

 

“I got the call in the early afternoon that we were going to have at least two to three feet of water on lower Main and Water streets,” says Murray. “Driving to the store, water was coming onto Blair Road and by the time I got downtown, the Main Street bridge was shaking because the water was so intense.”

 

The spring melt, plus a 50-mm rainfall across the top of the Grand River watershed had created prime conditions for major flooding.

 

Merchants warned about the flood

 

Springing into action, he began going door-to-door warning the downtown businesses about the looming disaster urging them to start preparing.

 

The Chamber’s general manager, the late Don Faichney, did the same after also learning of the flood around 11 a.m. and asked the Waterloo Regional Police if they had a megaphone to inform residents of the impending disaster. The police did not have one.

 

“I would say half the people I contacted told me I was out of mind,” says Murray, who went back to his store and began moving his stock onto higher racks and to the second level. “By the time I called my wife (Susan), the carpet at the front of the store was starting to get wet and the water began seeping in. We just locked up and headed to higher ground.”

 

According to a 2014 article in the GRCA’s GrandActions newsletter, by 7 p.m. that night, the Grand River was rushing through downtown Galt at a rate of 1,490 cubic metres per second, nearly 100 times the normal summer flow. Floodwaters engulfed parts of Paris, Caledonia, Cayuga and Dunnville, and left about four feet (1.2 metres) of water filling Galt’s downtown core.

 

Murray says many of the merchants who were affected ended up waiting out the disaster at the Iroquois Hotel, which had been located at the southwest corner of Main and Wellington streets and was destroyed by fire less than a year later.

 

He vividly can recall seeing the floodwaters pouring into the former Right House building located at 60 Main St. 

 

“I remember the floodwaters filling up the store and then bursting through the front doors dumping water all over the top of the lower end of Main Street,” he says, adding at that point, it became a matter of ‘wait and see’ until the floodwaters began to recede later that evening.

 

The cleanup began almost immediately, says Murray, describing how he and Don used snow shovels to remove the silt left behind in his store by the floodwaters.

 

“Everybody went back to doing business the best they could and got cleaned up as best they could, and did what they could with their merchandise,” he says.

 

In fact, in a Cambridge Times article Bill Couch, who was the ‘retail chairman’ of the Chamber for the downtown, was quoted as saying approximately 90% of the 45 businesses that were severely flooded were back in business with their doors open soon after.

 

Financial impact hits hard

 

“Many brought their merchandise on to the street since it was nice sunny weather. Some of the goods were very dirty, and they knew they would have to reduce their prices,” says Murray, adding he was grateful when the City finally closed Main and Water streets to traffic. “The silt was so bad on the roads and all these people driving by to have a look were raising all kinds of dust and the merchandise was getting filthy.”

 

During this time, the financial impact of the disaster was being tallied.

 

In a Cambridge Times article published a few days after the flood, Right House manager Elmer McCullogh estimated damage to the store was at least $750,000. Major financial losses were also reported by many larger downtown businesses and industries, including Dobbie Industries Limited, Mannion’s Quality Furniture, and Canadian General Tower Limited.

 

“The monetary figure on our losses will be substantial. Plastic material can be cleaned up, but General Tower got a hard kick in losses of some paper products, materials and cores,” said Gord Chaplin, former president of the company, in a Cambridge Daily Reporter article. The late Francis Mannion was also quoted in that same article stating his company suffered at least $100,000 damage to the building and stock.

 

Being located on a floodplain, many businesses did not have flood insurance.

 

“It was just too expensive,” says Murray.

 

In the end, the total damage amount in Cambridge was pegged at approximately $5.1 million (the equivalent of $33 million in 2024), with approximately $2.9 million suffered by small businesses and residences, with industries facing $1.9 million in damages. These figures do not include cleanup.

 

Calls for compensation surfaced almost immediately, as the scope of the disaster continued to unfold.

 

Former Ontario Premier, the late Bill Davis, toured the area four days after the flood and eventually heeded demands for financial relief by unveiling a compensation formula where the Province agreed to provide $4 for every $1 raised by the Grand River Disaster Relief Committee.

 

“The province feels a deep sense of concern for those whose properties who have suffered from the Grand River flood, and the measure of relief we are announcing today is a direct reflection of that concern,” he was quoted in a Cambridge Times article.

 

Public inquiry held

 

As well as compensation, calls for a public inquiry were also growing as anger over how the disaster unfolded grew, much of it aimed at how the GRCA handled the situation when it came to warning of the disaster.

 

To assist, the Chamber’s general manager sent out a questionnaire to all citizens who suffered flood damage to gauge how they were warned of the impending disaster. Of the 546 that were sent out, 320 responses were returned with the results indicating a severe lack of notice had been received.

 

“One can understand the bitterness of the large number of victims who had no notice or had inadequate notice. A flood warning system must be devised to give citizens reasonable notice of a threatening flood,” wrote the Hon. Judge W.W. Leach in the conclusions of his 1974 Flood Royal Commission Report. “I have been critical of the City Engineering Department, the City Administrator, the Police, and the Fire Department, for the role they played in the flood warning system. However, in all fairness to them, once the city was in flood, they performed outstanding services to the citizens. This extended right through the clean-up.”

 

Despite any controversary in the aftermath, Murray can still recall some lighter moments during the disaster, including how he found his friend, the late Aubrey McCurdy, wading through three feet of water in his flower shop trying to retrieve flowers for a Saturday wedding.

 

“I told him he had to leave, and he said, ‘No, I have to finish this’,” laughs Murray.

 

And even when Aubrey told a Cambridge Daily Reporter journalist a few days later his store suffered a $10,000 loss, he still found a reason to remain positive.

 

“The flood did have its good points,” he was quoted as saying. “It showed how unified merchants are and highlighted a spirit of co-operation never seen before.”

 

 

Grand River Flood facts

 

  • GRCA issued a prediction for Galt at 9:15 a.m. for a five-foot (1.24 metres) rise of water during the afternoon to a probable height of 16.7 feet (5 metres).
  • The flood affected at least 75 businesses and caused approximately $6.7 million in damage (the equivalent of $36.9 million in 2023) across the Grand River watershed, cleanup not included. 
  • By noon the Fountain/ Blair Road intersection was closed to traffic.
  • Highway 401 westbound was closed due to culvert washout and traffic was backed up more than 24 km. 
  • Highway 24 was closed by early afternoon.
  • Floodwaters flowed over the bridges at Concession, Main and Park Hill.
  • The low-level railroad bridge (Holey Bridge) on Water St. South was completely submerged.
  • Many of the dramatic photos taken during the flood occurred at its peak between 2:45 p.m. and 3:55 p.m.
  • Floodwaters crested at 6 p.m., reaching a height of 18 feet (5.4 metres) – 16 feet above the Grand River’s normal height at that time of year.
  • No major injuries reported, although 45-year-old Norm Taylor spent close to 10 hours in a tree before being rescued by a helicopter. 

 

Flood prevention measures 

 

  • The flood accelerated and added significant control elements to the development of a Grand River beautification program announced by the Cambridge Greenbelt Committee in September of 1973. The initial stages of the plan called for the creation of a park running along the east bank of the Grand River from Park Hill Road bridge to the old Carnegie Library at Dickson Street. Buildings standing along that portion of the river were to be purchased and demolished and replaced by parkland.
  • In 1980, city council approved an $8.2 million flood control project that would see earth and concrete barriers built along the banks of the Grand River. Two years later, council also endorsed a $317,220 flood control program calling for the construction of a berm from Mill Race Park to Dickson Street. Also, the GRCA introduced its extensive Grand River Water Management Plan which included improved forecasting and monitoring tools, taking into consideration the localized effects of climate change.

 

 

 

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In the dynamic landscape of modern business, where competition is fierce and innovation is paramount, the role of effective leadership cannot be overstated. Among the many responsibilities of business leaders, one crucial aspect often stands out: conducting performance management reviews. These periodic evaluations of employee performance are not merely administrative tasks but essential components of a thriving organizational culture.

 

“People really need to have those conversations because quite often they’re operating in a vacuum,” says Debra Burke, Head of Client Success at HR2 Business Solutions, adding most people believe they are doing a good job and take pride in their work. "And in the absence of any feedback to the contrary, they go about their merry way with that. But you just can’t come around and surprise people afterwards if you haven’t had those conversation with them.”

 

Performance management reviews provide a structured mechanism for evaluating employee contributions and aligning them with organizational goals. By assessing individual performance against predefined objectives, leaders can gauge the effectiveness of their workforce in driving the company's mission forward.

 

This evaluation helps identify high performers who deserve recognition and rewards, as well as areas where improvement or additional support may be needed. Such insights enable leaders to make informed decisions regarding talent development, resource allocation, and strategic planning.

 

But how a manager or leader initiates the process should be done in a positive way, says Debra.

 

“When you say, ‘performance review’, sometimes I feel we can go down a negative road,” she says. “It has mixed messages for people, especially those who have had really bad experiences with those kinds of things. I prefer performance conversations.”

 

Setting clear expectations vital

 

Debra believes that employees want a clear understanding of how their performance is being viewed, especially when it may relate to compensation or promotions, and when they know that their work will be evaluated regularly and objectively, they are more likely to stay focused, motivated, and committed to achieving excellence.

 

By setting clear expectations and providing constructive feedback, leaders empower their teams to take ownership of their roles and strive for continuous improvement. This culture of accountability not only enhances individual performance but also cultivates a sense of trust and camaraderie among colleagues.

 

“Having those conversations is absolutely critical and managers and leaders need to get better at them because to be honest, many are not,” says Debra, adding some may lack the necessary training. “When you become a manager or move into a leadership role, it’s certainly not everyone’s forte to be very adept at having those difficult conversations.”

 

She says it’s easy to offer praise, but that performance conversations can be much more nuanced when it comes to outlining potential strengths and weaknesses. 

 

“At a minimum, the conversation should be about growth and where you want the role to grow and how do you help guide and mentor them, and what path they should be on,” says Debra. “A lot of times, the problem with people who don’t have performance conversations at all is that they don’t know what the expectations are, so there is a big gap or void, and they may not find out until it’s too late and a termination may be involved.”

 

Managers and leaders too busy

 

She recommends ongoing performance conversations can be far more effective and beneficial – especially for managers - rather than scheduling annual or even quarterly meetings.

 

“The No. 1 reason performance conversations are avoided is because managers and leaders are just too busy, especially if they take this on as a once-a-year project. Even half year or quarterly meetings can suddenly become a time management issue,” she says. “If you’re giving feedback on performance on a regular basis, where people are being guided and informed, it’s not a big scary thing. Even when there might be poor performance involved, you can accomplish it in ways where people are really receptive to it.”

 

Debra says a conversational approach can take a lot of the problematic parts out of the process for the leaders as well as the individuals, providing it’s done in a compassionate and empathetic manner.

 

“There should be some element of careful language and the potential for opportunities to help because sometimes you might have to provide feedback to someone who won’t have the skills set to make those changes unless you actually help put those things in place for them,” she says, adding there are tools available to help leaders who may not have the natural ability to have those difficult conversations. “I feel like conversations don’t happen as easily and as compassionately, or maybe as kind as they used to.”

 

 

Tips for business leaders to enhance their performance management practices:

 

Set Clear Expectations: Clearly define performance expectations for each role within the organization. This includes outlining key responsibilities, goals, and performance indicators. When expectations are transparent, employees understand what is expected of them, leading to better performance outcomes.

 

Regular Feedback: Provide regular and constructive feedback to employees regarding their performance. Feedback should be specific, timely, and focused on both strengths and areas for improvement. Encourage open communication and dialogue to address any concerns and provide support for development.

 

Goal Setting: Collaboratively set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals with employees to align individual objectives with organizational goals. Regularly review progress towards these goals and adjust as necessary to ensure they remain relevant and achievable.

 

Performance Reviews: Conduct periodic performance reviews to assess employee progress, provide feedback, and identify development opportunities. Performance reviews should be conducted in a supportive and objective manner, focusing on accomplishments, challenges, and future goals.

 

Recognition and Rewards: Recognize and reward employees for their contributions and achievements. This can take the form of monetary incentives, promotions, or simply verbal recognition. Acknowledging employee efforts boosts morale and motivation, leading to increased engagement and productivity.

 

Training and Development: Provide opportunities for continuous learning and growth to empower employees to reach their full potential. Development initiatives should be aligned with both individual and organizational goals.

 

Performance Improvement Plans: When performance falls below expectations, work collaboratively with employees to develop performance improvement plans. Clearly outline areas for improvement, set measurable goals, and provide support and resources to facilitate progress. Monitor performance closely and provide ongoing feedback and coaching throughout the improvement process.

 

Data-Driven Insights: Utilize data and analytics to gain insights into employee performance trends and patterns. Analyzing performance metrics can help identify areas of strength and weakness, inform decision-making, and drive continuous improvement efforts.

 

Employee Engagement: Foster a culture of employee engagement and empowerment by involving employees in decision-making processes, soliciting feedback, and recognizing their contributions. Engaged employees are more committed, motivated, and likely to perform at their best.

 

Continuous Monitoring and Adaptation: Regularly review and refine performance management strategies based on feedback, evolving business needs, and industry trends to ensure effectiveness and relevance.

 

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Debating policies to create evidence-based solutions that will benefit the business community and province’s economic growth played an important role at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s recent 2024 Annual General Meeting and Convention in Timmins.

 

Approximately 100 delegates representing Chambers provincewide made the trek north, including Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher and incoming Board Chair Murray Smith.

 

“Ensuring businesses have the legislative backing and supports they need to succeed and prosper is at the core of what Chambers and Boards of Trade do and the policies approved at this event assists our network in creating a roadmap to make that happen,” says Greg. “The conference also provides a great opportunity to connect with other Chamber leaders and share ideas and best practices.”

 

This year, 28 policies were approved by the delegates covering a wide variety of issues that can directly affect businesses including labour, education, healthcare, transportation, infrastructure, manufacturing, and housing.  These policies now become entrenched in the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s policy ‘play book’ to guide its ongoing advocacy work at Queen’s Park.

 

The AGM, held April 25-27 and referred to as A Northern Experience, featured sessions related to the creation of a more prosperous business climate for success in Ontario’s north surrounding labour and supply chain issues touching on the needs of the growing EV market in the southern part of the province. Guest speakers included Minister of Mines the Hon. George Pirie, plus representatives from the mining and renewable energy sectors.

 

Another session focused on the OCC’s Economic Reconciliation Initiative, created in partnership with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, and provided delegates the opportunity to share challenges and opportunities with OCC representatives that they have regarding building relationships with Indigenous Peoples and businesses in their communities.

 

The OCC will now review their findings and report back to the Ontario Chamber Network with feedback and potential solutions.

 

Economic growth imperative

 

The need to create economic growth was at the heart of a video message shared with delegates from Canadian Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Perrin Beatty, who urged the government to modernize its regulatory framework.

 

“Requiring federal regulators to apply an economic and competitive lens would encourage manageable regulations and reduce the interprovincial trade barriers affecting over 1/3 of Canadian businesses,” he said, adding doing this would ‘fortify’ Canada’s economic foundation. “Modernizing our regulatory framework would cost the government little or nothing at a time when Canadians and businesses from coast to coast are struggling with affordability. The government should be looking to relieve financial burdens wherever possible.”

 

Beatty also stressed the need for strategic and long-term investment in infrastructure to create a “resilient network” of gateways and corridors. 

 

“As the world increasingly needs what Canada can provide, it’s critical that Canadian businesses are able to get their goods and services to market reliably,” he said. “If we have learned anything from 2023 is that supply chains are only as strong as their weakest link.”

 

As well, Beatty also called on the need for the government to provide financial supports, like the CEBA (Canada Emergency Business Account) program during the pandemic, that require more tailored, strategic, and innovative solutions.

 

“The issue isn’t about how to bail out small businesses but how to build them out,” he said, adding collaboration between the Canadian and Ontario Chambers of Commerce, as well as local Chambers, is needed to make change happen. “The work of the Canadian and Ontario Chambers, and the rest of the Chamber network has never been more important than it is today. Canada has never more greatly needed what we as a network of Chambers can offer.”

 

Click here to see the OCC Policy Compendium.

 

 

Cambridge Chamber policies approved by Ontario delegates

 

The AGM provides an opportunity for Chamber leaders to come together to discuss and debate key policies that shape the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s (OCC) advocacy agenda for the coming year. The Cambridge Chamber presented three policies which received overwhelming support from delegates:

 

  • The first policy calls for the Province, in consultation with municipalities, police boards, and businesses communities, to use economic analysis principles when it comes to current and potential crime diversion programs that could reduce crime and in turn make it safer for businesses to operate. As well, the policy recommends that underperforming programs that don’t adequately serve communities of all types be identified and that funding be prioritized accordingly, and that the efficacy of these programs be evaluated in the context of other wrap-around services available in each community. Also, the policy calls for the implementation of a system to measure the long-term impacts of these program investments and insists municipalities continue to use Special Constables in urban areas instead of fully sworn officers to reduce tax burdens.
  • The second policy, which the Cambridge Chamber co-sponsored,calls for the establishment of timelines for the Province’s new Building Ontario Fund (formerly the Ontario Infrastructure Bank) to commence investments into projects. It also calls for a strategy put in place to ensure these investments in major projects are in municipalities and regions across Ontario.
  • The third policy, which the Cambridge Chamber co-sponsored, recommends the Province initiate a major review of provincial-municipal fiscal arrangements to ensure cost-effective program delivery and maintenance/expansion of infrastructure.
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Business failure, while often seen as a setback, can contradictory be a catalyst for growth and success in the long run. Although it may bring disappointment and financial loss initially, failure has the potential to foster resilience, learning, and innovation, ultimately paving the way for future accomplishments.

 

“Failing is the first attempt at learning,” says Ken Zelazny, owner of Cambridge-based Z2K Business Solutions Inc., which provides executive coaching to assist small and medium-sized businesses. 

 

Now semi-retired, the long-time business consultant has been involved with his own entrepreneurial ventures over the years which he admits have not always worked out and readily shares those experiences with his clients.

 

“I have learned a lot and talk about those failures during my coaching sessions with people and say, ‘Here’s what happened to me when I did that’,” he says, adding that type of honest approach can assist them in their decision-making process. “At the end of the day it’s not where I want you to go, but where do you want to go.”

 

Failure offers entrepreneurs a unique opportunity to assess what went wrong, identify weaknesses in their business model, and learn from mistakes.

 

By analyzing the causes of failure, entrepreneurs can gain insights into areas such as market demand, customer preferences, operational inefficiencies, and financial management. These insights enable them to refine their strategies, adapt their approaches, and make more informed decisions in future ventures.

 

Ken agrees and says conducting a ‘post-mortem’ is a helpful course of action for business leaders to take when a venture doesn’t work out.

 

Failure can foster innovation

 

“Talk about what didn’t work, and what did work, or why did it work? People don’t stop to think about those things as well,” he says. “There are lots of key lessons when a business owner does fail but the point is not to get disturbed by it and find out what did you learn from it?”

 

Failure fosters innovation and creativity. When conventional approaches prove unsuccessful, entrepreneurs are compelled to think outside the box, explore new ideas, and experiment with alternative solutions. Failure encourages risk-taking and experimentation, pushing entrepreneurs out of their comfort zones and encouraging them to embrace change and innovation. 

 

This is something many successful business leaders have experienced, including James Dyson, creator of Dyson, Four Seasons Hotels founder Isadore ‘Issy’ Sharp, Boston Pizza co-owner Jim Trevling, FedEX founder Fred Smith and American industrialist and business magnate Henry Ford.

 

“Some of the most predominant businesspeople in the world have gone bankrupt at least three or four times,” says Ken. “They’ve lost businesses, but they bounce back.”

 

He recommends clients create a detailed contingency or ‘disaster’ plan to offset potential pitfalls down the road, should their business venture suddenly start to flounder but stresses it should not deter them from focusing on their goals.

 

“I’m not suggesting this plan will be something you take down from the shelf and read every day,” says Ken. “But you have to be pragmatic because you have a fiduciary responsibility to your organization, especially when you’re employing people.”

 

He says similar to preparing a business plan, the ‘disaster’ plan should be fluid to accommodate potential changes.

 

Disaster planning essential

 

“When you write a business plan, you may have to pivot because things are going to change, no question. Your vision changes and the economy changes,” says Ken. “It’s the same thing with your disaster plan.”

 

He also recommends that business owners communicate with their employees, especially when plans are changing.

 

“It’s kind of like a marriage. When you stop communicating things can go south very quickly,” says Ken. “We don’t communicate enough in any business.”

 

While business failure may be accompanied by disappointment and hardship, it also holds the potential for growth and resilience. By embracing failure as a natural part of the entrepreneurial process and leveraging the lessons learned, entrepreneurs can transform setbacks into opportunities, ultimately emerging stronger, wiser, and more determined to succeed.

 

“If you love what you do, again, it’s a whole different situation,” says Ken, noting a positive mindset is vital. “I work with clients all the time who have the mindset of ‘I get to go to work’, and not, ‘I have to go to work’.”

 

 

Here are some tips for business owners to navigate and cope with failure:

 

Acknowledge and Accept Failure: Recognize that failure is a natural part of the entrepreneurial journey. Avoid denial or blame-shifting, and instead, accept responsibility for what went wrong. Acknowledging failure is the first step towards learning from it.

 

Reflect and Learn: Analyze what went wrong, identify any mistakes or missteps, and extract valuable lessons from the experience. This introspection will provide insights that can inform future decision-making and business strategies.

 

Seek Support: Don't shoulder the burden of failure alone. Reach out to mentors, fellow entrepreneurs, or a trusted support network for guidance and encouragement. Sharing your experiences with others who have faced similar challenges can provide valuable perspective and emotional support.

 

Focus on Solutions: Instead of dwelling on past failures, channel your energy into finding solutions and moving forward. Develop a concrete plan of action to address the issues that led to failure and implement corrective measures. Stay proactive and focused on rebuilding and improving your business.

 

Maintain a Positive Mindset: Cultivate a positive attitude and resilience in the face of setbacks. View failure as an opportunity for growth and learning rather than a reflection of your worth or abilities as an entrepreneur. Stay optimistic and determined to overcome obstacles and achieve success.

 

Adapt and Pivot: Be willing to adapt your business model, strategies, or goals based on the lessons learned from failure. Embrace flexibility and innovation, and don't be afraid to pivot in response to changing market conditions or feedback from customers.

 

Take Care of Yourself: Prioritize self-care and well-being by maintaining a healthy work-life balance, exercising regularly, and seeking activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Taking care of yourself mentally and physically will help you bounce back stronger from failure.

 

Stay Persistent: Perseverance is key to overcoming failure and achieving long-term success. Stay committed to your goals and vision, even in the face of adversity. Remember that setbacks are temporary, and every failure brings you one step closer to eventual success.

 

 

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The federal Liberals 2024 budget landed last week to mixed reviews, especially among Chamber of Commerce leaders.

 

While Deputy Prime Minister Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland kept her promise to keep the deficit from growing without raising income taxes on the middle class by tabling Budget 2024: Fairness for Every Generation with a projected deficit of $39.8 billion, slightly below the $40 billion projected last fall, the document contained few surprises.

 

“Most of the major new spending was announced by the government over the last few weeks, and the government’s projections for the deficit are largely in line with previous predictions. Instead of using a revenue windfall to reduce the deficit more quickly, the government chose to use it along with changes to the capital gains tax, to fund this new spending,” said Perrin Beatty, President and CEO, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, in a release. “What’s still missing is a clear plan to promote productivity and restore economic growth in Canada. Canada continues to slip further behind our competitors in both of these categories.”

 

This sentiment is shared by Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher, who says business operators regularly share their frustrations with him regarding the difficulties they continue to face trying to conduct business.

 

“Their concerns do not seem to reach the ears of the those who make the decisions,” he says. “The reality of it is the framework around how this current federal government wants to address the issues of the day are not conducive to solving the problem but probably more conducive to deepening the problem.”

 

Housing affordability crisis

 

Among these issues is the housing affordability crisis, which the budget addresses by putting special emphasis on generational fairness and helping younger people – Millennials and Generation Zs — with programs to help renters and first-time home buyers. While this may bring some relief, Greg says there are other ways to address the issue in a less costly manner.

 

“There is no secret to building more homes. You must create a market for home builders to access and ensure interest rates are acceptable for homeowners to borrow money and you must simply reduce the costs to developers in building the product we desperately need. None of these issues have ever been addressed by any level of government to this point,” he says, adding despite any incentive programs local political bureaucracies often create barriers for development. “You can throw all kinds of mud up against the wall, but none of it is going to stick when it’s already dry.”

 

Besides housing, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce says the budget should have addressed the need to build better resiliency surrounding supply chains by providing targeted financial support for small and medium-sized businesses. It has recommended the federal government work with the private sector to invest in digitization infrastructure and explore contingency plans for key trading partners and assess potential vulnerabilities.

 

“I think those are just sensible things our federal government should always be doing to ensure the flow of goods and services can happen because every issue that all levels of government deal with requires a strong, vibrant economy in order to find solutions to those problems,” says Greg. “Building a more resilient supply chain shouldn’t even part of a budget, it should be a core element of the government’s role.”

 

Despite these concerns, both he and Beatty both welcomed the budget’s move to support interprovincial trade through the creation of the Canadian Internal Trade Data and Information Hub, something the Chamber network has been seeking for several years.

 

“Strengthening our internal trade could elevate GDP growth by up to 8% and fortify Canada’s economic foundation,” said Beatty in a release. “It shouldn’t be easier to trade with Europe than it is within our own country.”

 

Economic survival imperative

 

Besides interprovincial trade, the budget’s promised investment of $2.4 billion towards building AI infrastructure and adoption advancement also came as welcomed news.

 

“The investment in AI infrastructure and support of start-ups in the AI field is good for business,” says Greg, adding he was disappointed the budget didn’t contain more regarding the co-ordination of broadband investments with the private sector. “The government has done nothing to extend broadband coverage to remote and rural communities and the fact of the matter is if you don’t have internet, you can’t do business. You can’t function without the most advanced technology.”

 

Overall, he says the 2024 federal budget sends a clear signal the current government is forgoing economic survival in favour of more social programming, a move that doesn’t bode well for conducting business in Canada.

 

“While I support taking care of those who can’t care for themselves, and every business I know supports initiatives to help others, we also have to recognize the No. 1 objective of any level of government is to ensure a strong and vibrant economy,” he says. “There are very little initiatives in this budget signalling that Canada wants to develop a robust economy.”

 

Click here to read the budget.

 

Several measures announced in the federal budget to assist Ontario’s business community. These include:

 

  • Addressing the housing affordability crisis by investing in building more homes, making it easier to own or rent, and creating new programs to supply low-income affordable housing for those who need it most. The government is proposing a combination of tax measures, low-cost financing and loans, utilization of public lands, streamlined approvals, and programs to assist homebuyers and renters directly.
  • Building AI infrastructure and advancing adoption through a $2.4 billion investment. A significant portion of this investment is dedicated to building and providing access to computing infrastructure. An additional $200 million is allocated to support AI start-ups to bring new technologies to the market and accelerate adoption in critical economic sectors.
  • Advancing economic reconciliation through a national Indigenous Loan Guarantee Program and funding for Indigenous Financial Institutions that will accelerate capital for Indigenous-owned businesses and projects, support project development, reduce the cost of borrowing, and enable Indigenous communities to benefit from natural resource projects.
  • Supporting interprovincial trade through the creation of the Canadian Internal Trade Data and Information Hub, intended to enable all levels of government to work together to eliminate barriers to trade and labour mobility.

 

The Ontario Chamber network is calling for further action in the following areas:

 

  • Co-ordinating broadband investments with the private sector to avoid duplication and maximize the impact of public programs to enhance redundancy resiliency within broadband networks, collaborating with provinces and territories to establish future federal goals for broadband connectivity, assess opportunities for promoting competition and private sector investments in the sector, and expedite funding commitments while improving coordination with stakeholders to address gaps in private sector expansion plans.
  • Bolstering Canada’s life sciences ecosystem by creating new funding streams to encourage innovation and high-risk ventures, working with stakeholders to review approval processes, and enhancing regional collaboration.
  • Building more resilient supply chains through targeted financial support for small and medium-sized enterprises, working with the private sector to invest in digitization infrastructure, expanding capacity across all modes and channels of distribution, exploring contingency plans for key trading partners, and conducting an assessment to identify bottlenecks and vulnerabilities.
  • Implementing broader Employment Insurance reform to reflect the needs of today’s workforce by ensuring the governance, programs, policies, and operations are viable and sustainable, responsive, and adaptable, non-partisan, inclusive, and relevant for current and future generations of Canadian employers and employees.

 

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Customer reviews can serve as a powerful tool in the contemporary marketplace, offering invaluable insights for both consumers and businesses alike.

 

However, while reviews can elevate a product or service, they can also become a source of challenge for businesses as negative comments find their way onto Google Review, TripAdvisor, Trustpilot and Yelp as customers enveloped by social media vent their frustrations.

 

But just how businesses can utilize the information from this positive or negative feedback can prove difficult when it comes to gauging the impact.

 

“It’s one of those things where you can’t ignore it. Emotionally, you can’t ignore it, nor should you,” says Brad Davis, Associate Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, who specializes in consumer behaviour and trends. “If you’re seeing reoccurring patterns in your reviews, to me that’s free research so you will want to investigate the validity of that.”

 

He says customer feedback is clearly a good marketing tool and warns that companies attempting to ‘stack’ their reviews with positive ones can quickly pay a price, noting research shows consumers between the ages of 18 to 34 are very savvy when it comes to analyzing reviews.

 

“They can easily filter out the reviews where people are being too whiny or the ones that are too glowing and clearly smack of being written by a PR person,” says Brad. “They’ve developed this innate filter that can diminish the impact of much of it.”

 

Authenticity of reviews leads to skepticism

 

The authenticity of online reviews has become a growing concern, blurring the line between genuine recommendations and promotional tactics, leading to a loss of trust in reviews overall. In this way, the very tool designed to provide transparency can become a breeding ground for deception, causing skepticism among consumers.

 

In Canada, those promoting fake reviews could be liable under the Competition Act. Enforcing the Act is a key responsibility of the Competition Bureau and any business making materially false or misleading claims to promote a product, service or business interest could find themselves in legal hot water. 

 

Brad says there is already a certain amount of skepticism among consumers regarding online reviews noting research data shows that 88% to 95% of those between the ages of 18 and 34 say they rely on reviews. However, among them research also shows that 93% say they are suspicious of Facebook reviews, while 89% says they are suspicious of Yelp reviews, with 88% admitting to being skeptical about reviews on Amazon.

 

“On one hand, they’re saying reviews are very influential but on the other hand, they’re saying they are very suspicious of the content. I think there is a real shallowness about a lot of this research. There’s a lot of assumptions,” says Brad, adding consumer behaviour is driven more by subconscious emotional drivers where people rationalize their decisions after having already made them. “Consumers aren’t going to the reviews with a blank slate in most cases.  A review would really have to be very extreme in order to make you reconsider your decision.”

 

He says consumers often turn to reviews as a final ‘check’ to confirm they have made the ‘right’ choice and that striking a balance between leveraging the benefits of customer feedback and mitigating their potential drawbacks is crucial for businesses aiming to thrive in the digital era.

 

Companies must focus on genuine customer engagement, ethical practices, and continuous improvement to ensure that customer reviews remain a constructive force rather than a destructive one.

 

“I think consumers sometimes often just want to vent a little a bit and know they are being heard,” says Brad. “Reviews are worth monitoring but I would be concerned if businesses think they are a definitive thing and will make or break us.”

 

Tips on how to handle reviews:

 

Monitor Reviews Regularly: Stay updated with what customers are saying about your business by regularly monitoring various review platforms such as Google My Business, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and social media channels.

 

Respond Promptly: Address both positive and negative reviews promptly. Responding promptly shows that you value customer feedback and are proactive in resolving issues.

 

Personalize Responses: Personalize your responses to each review whenever possible. Use the reviewer's name, acknowledge their specific feedback, and express appreciation for their input.

 

Stay Professional: Maintain a polite and professional tone in your responses, regardless of whether the review is positive or negative. Avoid getting defensive or confrontational, even if the review is critical.

 

Acknowledge Positive Reviews: Thank customers for positive feedback and let them know that you appreciate their business. This encourages repeat business and loyalty.

 

Address Negative Reviews Constructively: When responding to negative reviews, apologize for any negative experience the customer may have had and offer a solution or compensation if appropriate. Avoid making excuses or blaming the customer.

 

Take the Conversation Offline: For complex issues or disputes, encourage the reviewer to contact you directly to resolve the issue privately. Provide a contact email or phone number for further assistance.

 

Seek Clarification: If the feedback is unclear or vague, seek additional information to fully understand the customer's perspective. This helps in providing more targeted and effective solutions.

 

Stay Consistent Across Platforms: Ensure consistency in your responses across different review platforms to maintain your brand's credibility and professionalism.

 

Use Feedback to Improve: Use feedback from reviews to identify areas for improvement in your products, services, or customer experience. This demonstrates your commitment to continuous improvement.

 

Encourage Positive Reviews: Encourage satisfied customers to leave positive reviews by including links to review platforms in follow-up emails, on receipts, or on your website. However, avoid incentivizing reviews in a way that violates platform guidelines.

 

Address Fake or Malicious Reviews: If you suspect a review is fake or malicious, report it to the platform for investigation. Provide evidence to support your claim and request its removal if it violates the platform's policies.

 

Seek Professional Help if Necessary: If managing online reviews becomes overwhelming or if you need assistance in developing a strategy, consider seeking help from reputation management professionals or digital marketing agencies.

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