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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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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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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Providing innovative programming that assists women business leaders reach their full potential as well as further their professional and personal goals is something the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce continues to do well. This will be especially apparent at our inaugural Women’s Well-Being Summit: Investing in Yourself to Achieve Your Goals on April 24 at Tapestry Hall. 

 

The summit features an array of expert speakers sharing their insight on areas centring on the theme of total well-being, focusing on both physical and mental health, emotional intelligence, as well as financial wellness.

 

“Helping to build a healthier community has always been an important role of the Chamber, and that includes not only economic prosperity but societal prosperity as well,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “Our Women’s Well-Being Summit fits right in with this role.”

 

Men are also encouraged to attend in hopes of creating more awareness and understanding in the workplace.

 

Greg notes that approximately 60% of Chamber Members are women and says the summit is the ideal extension of the many programs the organization already offers them.

 

Others include its popular Women Take Charge Breakfasts and Women’s Collective Series events, each featuring inspiring female speakers, plus the Chamber's annual Salute to Women in Business Luncheon which this year raised more than $13,000 for the breast reconstruction unit at Cambridge Memorial Hospital. To date, the Chamber has raised more than $143,000 from this event to benefit this important cause.

 

As well, its new Chamber Circles Program provides expert mentoring to women aimed at encouraging their professional and personal growth.

 

“Women business leaders play a significant role in our community and the Chamber is pleased to provide them with as many tools and supports as possible to ensure their continued success,” says Greg.

 

Summit speakers include:

 

  • Bridget Jensen of Better Bedtime will discuss the importance of good ‘sleep hygiene’ and how embracing your sleep-type sets the foundation for your day. 
  • Naturopath Dr. Henna Plahe will “break the silence” regarding menopause, offering valuable tips to navigating this natural life transition, especially as it pertains to the workplace. 
  • Ellyn Winters-Robinson, author, entrepreneur, mother, and storyteller will share her unique and positive insight on finding a transformative purpose in life after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • Psychotherapist Carling Mashinter of Relationship Matters Therapy will look at self-acceptance surrounding the cultivation of emotional intelligence, providing summit participants with practical strategies to support personal growth.
  • Kathleen Beech and Jackie McMullen of Scotiabank will discuss the importance of encouraging women to build confidence in taking control of their finances and why a solid financial plan can benefit a women’s mental and physical health.
  • Chiropractor Dr. Mark Guker of ReAlign Natural Health Clinic will outline a comprehensive guide to aging naturally and gracefully and explore various aspects of women's well-being. 

 

Click here for more on the Women’s Well-Being Summit including information about the Early Bird registration price that is available until March 29.

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The weight of responsibility can be overwhelming for business leaders.

 

They are constantly under pressure to drive growth, manage teams, make critical decisions, and ensure their organizations’ long-term success, which is something Debra Burke, Head of Client Success at H2R Business Solutions says has only been magnified in the recent years.

 

“Since the pandemic, some things have really changed. They changed during the pandemic and somewhat again since then,” she says, referring to a rise in negative conflicts which can lead to a toxic environment and even workplace investigations. 

 

“We’re seeing an unbelievable amount of those kinds of problems coming into play in organizations and have leaders coming to us because they’ve never had to deal with them before but are dealing with them much more often.”

 

She says employees have become more empowered with information, and that many are dealing with mental health issues and feeling ‘angry’.

 

“They may not be working with the same expectations in their jobs that they used to and for some people, there are more challenges as they deal with downsizing, and shifts,” says Debra, adding bigger workloads, and hybrid work situations could be adding to these stresses since they may no longer ‘align’ with what an employee wants.

 

As a result, she says many leaders are now seeing more employees who are willing to take employers to court, or a human rights tribunal, or filing a report with the Ministry of Labour.

 

“Leaders who may never really had many people issues to deal with are now finding they are faced with all kinds of these things just to keep the business going,” says Debra. 

 

She says the challenges can vary between the several generations of employees that are now in the workplace, noting there are still many benefits of having a multi-generational workforce despite potential issues.

 

Leadership can be isolating

 

“For a leader, becoming someone who has to manage all these things that come to play and the nuances and potential conflicts, plus the lack of time and resources, it’s very challenging,” says Debra. “When someone says being a leader can be a very isolating place, they are not wrong.”

 

She says leaders must first watch for warning signs and realize they don’t have all the answers.

 

As the demands of leadership continue to mount, it is vital for leaders to discover effective strategies to ease their burden and navigate their roles successfully, which Debra says can start with better communication.

 

“As a leader, you have to get comfortable with communicating. Employees want messaging and they want to hear it from the owner, CEO, or an executive,” she says, adding that a communication breakdown is often the key cause of any conflict, and that lack of management training could be the root cause. “When you do a job well and get promoted to management, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be a good people manager.”

 

As well, Debra says leaders can benefit from expert support from others who may have experienced the same issues they are facing, even those outside of a leader’s particular industry.

 

“I’m not a big fan of coaching for your own industry. You can receive a lot of benefits from working with a diverse support group,” she says. “Even if you feel like you’re an introvert CEO or leader, you might be really surprised how much that support is going to mean to you.”

 

And while some companies and industries are dealing with tight budgets, Debra says investing in training can pay off big time for a leader professionally and personally, as well as the organization.

 

“Those things are going to trickle down through an organization in powerful and impactful ways,” she says.

 

 

Several strategies to lighten the burden of leadership

 

Delegation and empowerment

Many leaders fall into the trap of trying to do everything themselves, fearing that no one else can handle the responsibilities as well. However, effective delegation distributes the workload and fosters team development and growth.

By entrusting capable team members with tasks and responsibilities, leaders can free up valuable time and mental energy to focus on strategic decision-making and higher-priority matters. Delegation is not just about offloading tasks but also about giving team members the opportunity to contribute and grow.

 

Building a support system

Establishing a support system of mentors, advisors, or fellow business leaders can provide valuable guidance and emotional support. Sharing experiences and seeking advice from those who have faced similar challenges can be invaluable.

Additionally, leaders should foster a culture of open communication within their organizations. Encouraging team members to share their thoughts and concerns can lead to more collaborative problem-solving and reduce the burden on the leader.

 

Embracing technology and automation

Automation can handle routine tasks, data analysis, and reporting, allowing leaders to focus on strategic initiatives. Investing in technology solutions that align with the organization’s goals and processes can significantly reduce the administrative burden on leaders. Moreover, data-driven insights can aid in making informed decisions and staying ahead of market trends.

 

Setting realistic goals and expectations

While ambition is essential, setting achievable goals and expectations is equally crucial. Unrealistic targets can lead to stress and burnout, as well as erode team morale. Leaders should work with their teams to establish realistic objectives and timelines. This approach fosters a sense of accomplishment and helps prevent the exhaustion that can result from chasing unattainable goals.

 

Continuous learning and development

Continuous learning and professional development are essential for effective leadership. Leaders should invest in their own growth by attending seminars, workshops, and courses relevant to their industry. Also, encouraging team members to pursue their own professional development can contribute to the organization’s success and ease the burden on leaders.

 

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In the changing landscape of business, where uncertainty and rapid change are constants, effective leaders must adeptly manage chaos to ensure organizational resilience and success.

 

Navigating through tumultuous times requires a strategic and agile approach, says Linda Braga, Business & Executive Development Specialist with LMI Canada, which has provided leadership development for more than 50 years.

 

“I think there’s still a lot of uncertainty out there,” she says, referring to issues that now exist in workplaces surrounding remote working, labour shortages and retention. “I think leaders are still adapting to managing the workplace and the whole side of leading and actually developing their people because we are successful through our people.”

 

Unfortunately, Linda says developing employees now often takes a ‘backseat’ as company leaders navigate these issues, some of which have been magnified by major shifts in the workplace.

 

“There are four generations in the workplace right now and each come with different attitudes and different viewpoints,” she says, noting older employees prefer having that ‘physical’ presence in the office while younger ones are looking for more of a ‘social’ connection. “It’s about leaders being flexible and adaptable, and having more of an open mind to solicit feedback from their people. Empathy is huge right now.”

 

However, this could prove to be difficult considering statistics show that at least 60% of small and medium-sized businesses owners are aged 50 or older and many will soon be leaving their companies, making it harder for some to adapt to these dramatic workplace shifts before they retire.

 

Self-care important

 

To manage the chaos effectively, Linda leaders should first look at how they manage and lead themselves.

 

“I think it’s important they are able to put on their own oxygen masks first because they’re very busy dealing with the day to day trying to keep their companies running and keeping their employees happy,” she says, adding ‘self-care’ is something they should take seriously.

 

Linda says often leaders have difficulty asking for assistance, especially from their employees.

 

“Just because you’re a leader or manager, or a company owner, doesn’t necessarily mean you have all the answers and know everything,” she says. “That’s what I feel separates really good leaders from managers is that they empower their people.”

As well, when it comes navigating uncertainty and rapid change, setting goals is key for leaders.

 

“It’s important for our leaders and managers to have crystal clear goals, which they need to communicate,” says Linda, noting there is a big difference between efficiency and effectiveness. “They can be really good at being effective and doing things the right way. But are they doing the right things? Even as a leader, are you hitting your own goals? All leaders should be able to look at themselves in a mirror and be self-aware.”

 

 

Some key methods for business leaders to manage chaos:

 

 

Develop a Resilient Mindset:

Successful leaders should acknowledge that change is inevitable, viewing challenges as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles. Embracing uncertainty allows leaders to respond with flexibility and creativity.

 

Establish Clear Communication Channels:

Leaders must provide regular updates, share relevant information, and foster a culture of open dialogue. Clear communication helps employees understand the situation, reduces anxiety, and builds trust in leadership.

 

Prioritize and Delegate Effectively:

Leaders must prioritize activities based on their impact on the organization's core objectives. Delegating responsibilities to capable team members ensures that tasks are handled efficiently, preventing overwhelm at the leadership level.

 

Encourage Adaptability:

Business leaders should encourage employees to embrace change, learn new skills, and remain agile in the face of uncertainty. An adaptable workforce is better equipped to navigate chaos and contribute to innovative solutions.

 

Invest in Technology and Automation:

Leveraging technology and automation can streamline processes and enhance organizational efficiency. Implementing digital solutions allows businesses to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and minimizes the disruptions caused by chaotic events.

 

Build a Diverse and Inclusive Team:

A diverse team brings varied perspectives and skills to the table, enhancing the organization's ability to address challenges creatively. Inclusion fosters a collaborative environment where team members feel valued, increasing their commitment to overcoming chaos together.

 

Conduct Scenario Planning:

Business leaders should engage in proactive scenario planning to anticipate potential challenges and devise strategies to address them. This foresight enables quicker and more effective responses when chaos unfolds, reducing the negative impact on the business.

 

Cultivate Emotional Intelligence:

Leaders with high emotional intelligence can navigate uncertainty with empathy, providing support to their team members and maintaining a positive organizational culture.

 

Learn from Mistakes:

Successful leaders acknowledge mistakes, learn from them, and apply those lessons to improve future decision-making. This adaptive learning approach contributes to organizational resilience.

 

Strategic Resource Allocation:

Business leaders must strategically allocate financial, human, and technological resources to areas that will have the most significant impact on maintaining stability and achieving long-term objectives.

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As technology continues to rapidly evolve, businesses are increasingly turning to Artificial Intelligence (AI) to streamline operations, enhance efficiency, and gain a competitive edge. 

 

There is no question surrounding the benefits of integrating AI into business processes, but there remain legitimate concerns that accompany this technological leap.

 

One primary concern is the ethical implications of AI implementation. As AI systems such as ChatGPT, ClickUp, Copy.ai, or Kickresume become more sophisticated, they often require access to vast amounts of data to function effectively. This raises questions about privacy and the responsible use of sensitive information, as well as legal concerns surrounding the use of intellectual property.

 

“The question is fair use or is it a violation of copyright,” says Maura Grossman, Research Professor, School of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, whose expertise centres on AI policy and ethics. 

 

She notes that an AI user can reference a particular article, book, or poem, despite it being copyrighted.  “It shouldn’t be able to do that because that’s a copyright infraction, but it can. The law hasn’t caught up with that yet but there are a number of legal cases now pending.”

 

Algorithms a concern

 

As well, Professor Grossman says bias in AI algorithms is another major concern. AI systems learn from historical data, and if that data contains biases, the algorithms can sustain and amplify them resulting in discriminatory outcomes and reinforcing existing social disparities.

 

“You’re going to find that in the language as well as the images. Open AI has spent a lot of time trying to remove toxic language from the system, so you get a little bit less of that with ChatPT,” she says, referring to the problems Microsoft experienced when it released its Tay bot in March 2016. The bot, under the name TayTweets with the handle @TayandYou, resulted in Twitter (now known as ‘X’) users tweet politically incorrect phrases and inflammatory messages resulting in the bot releasing racist and sexually charged messages in response to other users. Initially, Microsoft suspended the account after 16 hours, erasing the inflammatory tweets and two days later took it offline.  

 

“Most systems, like ChatGPT, are trained on the internet and that has its pluses and minuses,” says Professor Grossman, adding ‘hallucinations’ pose another big problem for AI users. “ChatGPT for example is trained to generate new content and to sound very conversational, so it uses what it has learned on the internet to predict the next most likely word. But that doesn’t mean it’s telling you the truth.”

 

Official policy needed

 

She says there have been instances of people using AI to conduct legal research and submitting bogus case citations in court. “I think the first case happened recently in B.C., but it has also happened all over the U.S.,” says Professor Grossman.

 

For businesses utilizing AI, she recommends drafting an official policy to outline usage.

 

“First they need to have a policy and then need to train who in the business is going to use AI because people need to understand what it does well and doesn’t do well,” she says. “Your policy needs to say what permissible uses are and what impermissible uses are.”

 

Impermissible uses could include creating a deep fake video in the workplace.

 

“Even if it’s a joke, you don’t want employees creating deep fakes,” she says, noting the policy should also outline what workplace devices can be used for AI. “If you need to save something because you’re involved in a lawsuit, then you don’t want to it be on an employee’s personal device because you won’t have access to it.”

 

Employees require training

 

As well, Professor Grossman also recommends employees clearly know what AI tools are okay to use and which are not and ensure they are fully trained.

 

“You don’t want them violating intellectual property rules or other privacy rights. You also don’t want them putting into a public tool any confidential or propriety information,” she says. “Some companies have turned off the ability to use these AI tools because they are terrified employees will put propriety information out there while asking a question about a problem they are working on. If you’re using one of these open-source tools, it’s like Google or anything else; it’s free rein.”

 

Professor Grossman says rules and regulations around AI will be gradually strengthened, noting a new regulation coming into play in B.C. pertaining to issues surrounding intimate imagery is just one example.

 

“As soon as this starts making its way more into politics, we will start to see more effort into creating regulations,” she says, referring to a recent ‘deep fake’ image that surfaced of U.S. President Joe Biden.

 

Despite these issues, Professor Grossman says AI is something more businesses will become comfortable using and should embrace this new technology. 

 

“It will save on efficiency,” she says, noting AI can greatly assist in the creation of marketing material. “Companies need to explore it and learn about it but learn about it in safe ways and understand where it can be beneficial and not just let people experiment on their own because that’s going to lead to a lot of trouble.”

 

 

AI hurdles in business

 

  • Data Quality and Availability: AI models require vast amounts of data to learn and make accurate predictions. However, businesses often struggle with data quality issues, such as incomplete, inaccurate, or biased data. Additionally, accessing relevant data across various sources and systems can be challenging.
  • Data Privacy and Security: With the increasing emphasis on data privacy regulations businesses must ensure that AI systems comply. Protecting sensitive customer and business data from unauthorized access or breaches is crucial.
  • Lack of Skilled Talent: There's a significant shortage of professionals with expertise in AI and machine learning. Hiring and retaining skilled data scientists, machine learning engineers, and AI specialists can be difficult and expensive.
  • Integration with Existing Systems: Integrating AI solutions with existing business processes, legacy systems, and IT infrastructure can be complex and time-consuming. Compatibility issues, scalability concerns, and resistance to change within the organization can hinder successful integration.
  • Interpretability and Explainability: AI algorithms often operate as "black boxes," making it challenging to understand how they arrive at specific decisions or predictions. Lack of interpretability and explainability can lead to distrust among stakeholders and regulatory compliance issues.
  • Ethical and Bias Concerns: AI systems may inadvertently perpetuate biases present in the data they were trained on, leading to unfair outcomes or discrimination. Ensuring fairness, transparency, and accountability in AI decision-making processes is essential.
  • Cost and ROI Uncertainty: Implementing AI solutions involves significant upfront investments in technology, infrastructure, talent, and ongoing maintenance. Businesses may struggle to justify these costs and accurately measure the return on investment (ROI) of AI initiatives.
  • Regulatory Compliance and Legal Risks: AI applications in business must comply with various industry-specific regulations and standards. Failure to meet regulatory requirements can result in legal liabilities, fines, and damage to the company's reputation.
  • Change Management and Cultural Resistance: Introducing AI into the workplace often requires significant cultural and organizational changes. Resistance from employees, fear of job displacement, and lack of understanding about AI's potential benefits can impede adoption efforts.
  • Performance and Reliability: AI models may not always perform as expected in real-world environments due to factors like changing data distributions, unexpected scenarios, or adversarial attacks. Ensuring the reliability and robustness of AI systems is crucial for business applications.

 

 

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The evolving nature of work continues to shape the employee landscape due to unprecedented changes driven by technological advancements, shifting societal expectations, and the aftermath of a global pandemic. As a result, organizations must adapt to emerging employee trends to foster a resilient and engaged workforce.

 

One way to accomplish this suggests Frank Newman, owner of Newman Human Resources Consulting, is to keep in touch with employees through engagement surveys.

 

“Listening to the pulse of your organization is going to be more important than ever,” he says. “Employers may also want to think about their work culture and in terms of what attracts people, and they want to make sure they are managing leadership effectively.”

 

Among the many trends employers must embrace is creating a more welcoming work environment, especially when it comes to Canada’s growing immigrant population.

 

More than 430,000 immigrants were brought to Canada in 2022 by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), with an additional target of 485,000 this year and a further 500,000 in 2025. IRCC data indicates in 2022, 184,725 of these new permanent residents came to Ontario.

 

“There is a large talent pool available, and employers have to be thoughtful in how they bring new talent into their organizations from our immigrant population,” says Frank. “The whole concept of diversity, inclusion, and equality is rising in terms of what’s important for companies and for individuals. If you’re not having that positive and diverse work culture, that’s going to hurt you in the long run.”

 

AI gaining importance

 

He says the introduction of AI tools, such as ChatGPT, Copy.ai and Kickresume, have not only benefitted Canada’s newcomer population by helping them become more proficient and fluid in the English language, but have become valuable assets for businesses as well.

 

“I think we are going to see more employers looking for people who have some AI experience,” says Frank. “Being able to say you can demonstrate use of those tools is a good thing for potential job candidates.”

 

However, there are potential downsides such as the creation of AI generated resumes and materials that can help a candidate embellish their qualifications.

 

“There are tools to test a document to see if it’s been AI written and you may now see many sophisticated employers doing just that,” he says. “They may also be thinking of asking a potential employee to provide writing samples.”

 

Managing performance key

 

Another trend is the emergence of ‘The Great Stay’ phenomenon, which experts say has been replacing the ‘Great Resignation’ experienced during the pandemic as employees re-evaluated their priorities and migrated to other opportunities.

 

“I’m not sensing The Great Stay too much in this region and am still sensing a fair bit of fluidity, but having people stay longer is always a good thing because it’s less costly,” says Frank, noting it can cost at least three times an employee’s salary to replace them considering the recruitment process, training, and upskilling. “Employers still have to focus on managing performance if people are going to stay longer and they have to invest in leadership and coaching if you want to maximize your investment.”

 

He notes employees may also be a little reluctant to move due to the ‘shakiness’ of the economy.

 

“I think employers may want to continue to monitor salaries which have stabilized quite a bit and want to make sure they are staying around that 3-4% annual change,” says Frank. “But I think in general, employers are cautiously optimistic about things going forward.”

 

 

Job Market Trends 

 

Hybrid Work Models

Employees now seek a balance between the flexibility of remote work and the collaboration offered by in-person interactions. Organizations that embrace hybrid models will likely attract and retain top talent, offering employees the autonomy to choose where and when they work.

 

Employee Well-being Takes Centre Stage

Organizations are placing a heightened focus on mental health, work-life balance, and holistic wellness programs. Employees value employers who prioritize their well-being, leading to increased job satisfaction and productivity.

 

Continuous Learning and Development

With the rapid pace of technological advancements, the demand for upskilling and reskilling is on the rise. Employees expect continuous learning opportunities to stay relevant in their roles and advance their careers. Forward-thinking organizations invest in robust training programs and partnerships with educational institutions to foster a culture of continuous development.

 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

Employees prioritize working for organizations that are committed to fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces. Companies that actively address and rectify disparities in hiring, promotions, and pay will not only attract diverse talent but also create a more innovative and collaborative work environment.

 

Emphasis on Employee Experience

Employee experience encompasses the overall journey of an employee within an organization. Companies are investing in enhancing the employee experience, from onboarding to offboarding. Personalized employee experiences, feedback mechanisms, and inclusive company cultures contribute to higher employee satisfaction and retention rates.

 

Remote Employee Engagement

With remote work becoming a staple, maintaining employee engagement is a challenge for many organizations. Companies are leveraging technology to create virtual team-building activities, foster communication, and build a strong remote work culture. Employee engagement tools and platforms play a crucial role in keeping teams connected and motivated.

 

Job Search and Career Success Hinge on Ethics

Employers are still looking for candidates who create undeniable value, not just put in clocked times, who have above-average communication skills, have a strong work ethic, will be reliable, possess the ability to think critically and above all, will fit their culture. Regardless of the uncertainty ahead, the key to creating job search luck will be the same as it has always been: preparation of hard work. 

 

 ‘The Great Stay’

The current global economic situation, the state of China and other major economies, as well as the ongoing geopolitical conflicts will see recession talk intensify, leading companies to focus on vital roles and hold off on hiring for roles that aren’t ‘must-haves’. Taking these factors into consideration, the next year it will be ‘The Great Stay’ as opposed to the ‘Great Resignation’ when many people switched jobs/careers during the pandemic.

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In the fast-paced world of business, the success of any organization hinges on the quality of its workforce. Hiring mistakes can be both expensive and detrimental to a company's growth and stability, especially in this changing job market which is now seeing an influx of potential candidates in certain fields.

 

“I really do feel that the market over the last year has softened,” says Lisa Marino, Senior Recruitment Specialist with H2R Business Solutions, noting there are always a handful of roles that are specialized resulting in fewer available candidates.

 

Her colleague Sue Benoit, Head of Recruitment Services at H2R Business Solutions, agrees.

 

“On the trades side there still is a labour shortage, especially since those types of roles are really hard to fill,” she says. “But if you have an accounting or bookkeeping role to fill there’s 100 plus applicants.”

 

As a result, finding the right person to fill those types of positions means putting systems in place that can help you avoid potential pitfalls, such as taking too long to decide on a potential hire which is a common mistake many employers make, says Sue.

 

“If they’re taking too long in the decision or interview process, they can lose that great candidate who might have been hard to find in the first place,” she says. “Then it it’s a matter of having to start over a lot of the time because employers are not going to just settle, necessarily.” 

 

As well doing their due diligence regarding reference checking, her colleague suggests making a select group of others in the company part of the hiring process.

 

“Bring in one or two other people from the company into the process rather than letting the hiring manager do it all because somebody from another department may be instrumental helping you gain a different perspective of the candidate,” says Lisa, adding incorporating some of type of skills testing during that process, depending on the level of the role, can also be helpful. “It can give some insight of how a candidate thinks.”

 

She also says once a candidate has been hired, an employer should be diligent when it comes to monitoring the performance of that person during their 90-day probationary period and watch for potential ‘flags’. These can include absences, struggling to meet deadlines, or an overall disconnect with their new workplace or colleagues.

 

“Hopefully, the recruiter is good enough to catch some of those flags in our pre-screen conversations,” says Sue. “How interested are they in the organization? Have they done any research? Employers really want someone who is truly interested in what they’re doing.”

 

 

Tips for avoiding hiring mistakes

 

Define Clear Job Requirements

Before posting a job opening, employers should thoroughly analyze and document the skills, qualifications, and experience necessary for the role. This not only ensures that candidates are well-informed but also assists in filtering applicants more effectively.

 

Create a Comprehensive Recruitment Strategy

Develop a well-thought-out recruitment strategy that includes a timeline, sourcing channels, and a structured interview process. By outlining the steps from job posting to offer, employers can maintain control and consistency throughout the hiring journey.

 

Leverage Technology

The use of technology can significantly streamline the hiring process, from applicant tracking systems (ATS) to video interviews. These tools help in organizing candidate information, assessing qualifications, and conducting efficient interviews. 

 

Thoroughly Assess Cultural Fit

A candidate might have an impressive resume, but if they don't align with the company culture, it can lead to a discordant team dynamic. Incorporate questions and assessments during interviews that delve into a candidate's values, work style, and how well they would integrate into the existing team.

 

Conduct Behavioural Interviews

Conducting behavioral interviews allows employers to gain insights into how candidates handled situations in their previous roles. This approach provides a more realistic preview of a candidate's capabilities.

 

Check References Thoroughly

Reach out to previous employers, colleagues, and supervisors to gain a comprehensive understanding of the candidate's work ethic, reliability, and interpersonal skills. A candidate's performance history can reveal valuable information that might not be apparent during interviews.

 

Utilize Probationary Periods

Implementing probationary periods for new hires allows both the employer and the employee to assess the fit within the organization. This trial period provides an opportunity to evaluate job performance, integration into the team, and adherence to company values before making a long-term commitment.

 

Invest in Continuous Training for Hiring Managers

If possible, equip hiring managers with the skills necessary to conduct effective interviews, assess candidates accurately, and make informed decisions. Continuous training on fair hiring practices, diversity, and inclusion can help mitigate biases and enhance the overall quality of hiring decisions.

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