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Features
The Power of Credit Reporting
PROACTIVE MONITORING OF YOUR OWN FILE A GOOD POLICY

If you have ever applied for a credit card or even rented an apartment, you have a credit file. Unless you have been refused credit, you probably don’t even know that behind the scenes, credit reporting agencies have their computers humming building up information about whether you are a good credit risk. They even record every time that you ask for credit or even inquire about how much more you might qualify for in a mortgage. Most of us are blissfully unaware that all this financial data is not just being collected but shared with a variety of sources every day.

Philip H. Gennis,
Grant Thornton
Limited
Credit reporting agencies have always been around in Canada, but only over the last few years have more people being paying attention to their behind the scenes work. That’s probably because of the recent phenomena known as identify theft, where unknown people get access to another person’s bank account or credit card and then use that information to rack up unauthorized expenses against them. Anyone who has been the victim of identity theft will usually be advised to check their credit report so they can find out if their credit rating has been damaged more than just in their pocketbook.

Identity theft has woken a lot of people up to the fact that they need to keep their credit card information secure, but all of us should start paying attention to what information is contained in credit reports and who might have access to them. There is another very important reason to know what’s in your credit report- the information may not be correct. The CBC program Marketplace did a survey a few years ago and asked 100 people to review their credit reports to see if there were any mistakes. Over 40 people found errors in their report and 13 of these cases were serious enough to affect their credit status.

So what is a credit report and who maintains this information? More importantly, who has access to this information and who can make changes to it? Every province and territory has some form of regulation about the collecting and sharing of individual credit information but the basics are similar across the country.

Credit information is collected and maintained by a credit reporting agency. There are a number operating in Canada but the biggest are Equifax and Trans Union. They keep files on the over 21 million Canadians who have ever applied for credit and these files called credit reports give a snapshot of borrowing and credit applications. There’s a surprising amount of detail about every loan you've taken out in the last six years, whether you make your payments on time, how much you owe, what your credit limit is on each account as well as a list of institutions or companies that have accessed your file.

Who can access your credit file? According to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, you have the right to see your credit report and no one else can have access to the information in your report unless you allow it. When you sign documents such as a loan or a credit card application, you will be asked to authorize the organization that is giving you credit to check your credit history. Credit reporting agencies will only give information from your credit report to someone else when you have given permission, and when the request is related to credit, collection of a debt, rental of a house or an apartment, or an application for employment or insurance. If an employer or prospective employer wants to access a current or potential employee’s credit file, the employee must give written consent before the employer can obtain the information.

The information on your credit file is maintained for a period of six years and you can request a copy of your credit report by contacting a credit reporting agency by phone, fax or e-mail. It is free to obtain your credit file by mail but you will have to provide proof of identification. If you order electronically, there is usually a $15-20 fee. If you find mistakes on your credit report, you should notify the credit reporting company immediately and they have an obligation to investigate your report. If the information is not factual, they must correct it immediately. Experts recommend that you check your credit record at least once a year. If you want to really stay on top of the situation, all of the credit reporting agencies will do this for you, for a fee of course, and provide you with an electronic update that will alert you of any changes in your credit status within hours.

If the information on your credit file is correct and your credit status has slipped for whatever reason, you should take steps to correct this situation as soon as possible. Improving your credit rating will take time, but you can do this by always paying your bills on time, paying bills in full on the due date, not exceeding credit card limits and reducing the number of credit applications you make.

We have seen an increase in advertising for credit repair services over the past few years. Some people have tried using a credit repair service to quickly improve their credit rating, but most of these services are designed just to make themselves money and can’t really solve your credit problems. The only thing they can fix is an inaccuracy in your credit file and you can do that yourself for free. There is really one way to restore your credit rating: slowly and over time, by re-establishing yourself as a good credit risk to potential lenders, and by continuing to monitor your credit record.

The above information has been provided by Philip H. Gennis, LL.B, CIRP, Vice President, Recovery & Reorganization, Grant Thornton Limited. He can be reached at (416) 366-0100 or via email at philip.gennis@ca.gt.com.


Surviving the Boom, the Bust…and What’s in Between
RESILIENCE THE KEY TO SUCCESS IN GOOD TIMES AND BAD

If I knew then what I know now! How many times has this been said in the workplace, in business, as a manager, a leader, a parent, as a spouse? If we knew then what we know now- would our results be different? Hindsight is said to be 20/20 vision, it is also an incredible tool for learning. A workplace can learn a great deal from the cycles it has experienced, and will likely experience again in the future (such as the boom and bust cycle).

Charmaine
Hammond,
President
Hammond
International
Inc.
This was precisely one of the key findings from the Surviving the Boom Action Research Project I completed in 2001. While the study was designed to explore the effects of rapid community growth on workplace conflict, the results revealed a great deal more. One of the findings was that resilience is a necessity to survive economic growth cycles. The second common theme was that hindsight and learning through cycles is key to companies surviving economic downturns.

Typically in booming situations, teams are working at a faster pace, with increased demands and fewer resources. There is often an undercurrent of frequent change, retention challenges, shortages in human resources and a heightened focus on productivity. Systems and processes often are dismissed in the effort to simply keep one’s head above water and get the job done. As you know, this pace can only continue for a period of time before issues begin to surface- critical mistakes, missed deadlines, unresolved conflicts, productivity declines, to name a few.

The economic downturn can provide employers with the opportunity to address some of these issues, review their business systems and processes, strategically plan for the next growth cycle, and build teams to withstand the next phase of the cycle. Employers would also be well served by investing in team building and development, coaching and mentoring programming (succession planning) and completing projects that have been put on the backburner. These three activities help create a more stable and resilient culture and preparedness for the next wave in the evolution and economic downturn.

Resilience is commonly defined as the ability to bounce back after change, challenge, crisis and adversity. Workplaces and teams who expend energy, time and resources to resilience-building will be much further ahead, now and in future economic and growth cycles.
There are many strategies that businesses and organizations pursue in resilience-building. Let’s focus on three: The resilient culture, retaining corporate knowledge and planning for success:

Creating the resilient culture or an environment where people will not want to leave is essential and provide beneficial in times of future staffing shortages. By striving to be an employer and team of choice, you may be less likely to deal with staffing shortages in high need times. Engaging employees in planning and innovative strategies to thrive in the downtimes is another way of creating this culture. One of the most important steps in creating this workplace culture is to address and resolve issues, concerns and conflicts early on. Provide team building and team training opportunities to strengthen the team and enhance communication and establish mentoring and coaching programs. Foster a variety of approaches that support work-life balance. Some teams have facilitated activities such as lunchtime walking groups, lunchbox workshops (presentations from different organizations on issues related to wellness and family), monthly staff event (e.g. BBQ, or recognition of birthdays).

Retaining corporate knowledge is essential. When employees leave, they take with them years of history and corporate knowledge that in many cases is not documented yet is critical to the companies’ operations. Engage the assistance and expertise of seasoned employees to mentor newer employees and create strategies for maintaining corporate knowledge.

Planning for success (and the next growth cycle) will help teams thrive instead of simply surviving. Establish new routines-the routines that evolved as a means of coping and surviving during the boom likely do not serve your team well now. Make your meetings the meetings that people want to attend. Find ways to make meetings engaging, meaningful and that offer high value to participants. Develop a plan on how the team/company will manage the next phase of the boom – bust cycle.

Learning from this experience will help your team build capacity and become a team that stands the test of time.

Charmaine Hammond, MA, BA, President - Hammond International Inc. can be reached at 780-464-3828 or by email at charmaine.hammond@hammondgroup.biz


Transformation Management
COMMUNICATIONS AS CHANGE LEVER

The importance of a good communications strategy is frequently underestimated when organisations are undergoing a major transformation. In the upheavals involved in a restructuring, downsizing, merger or business expansion, executives may overlook the need to keep employees informed about what is going on and the likely impact on their jobs, or may just impose the changes on staff without giving them the opportunity to raise concerns or questions. Similarly, suppliers and customers may be kept in the dark about the organisational changes taking place, at least until they are complete. This is almost invariably a mistake; a good communications strategy is an important change lever which can help to ensure that any major organisational transformation can be implemented as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

Harold Schroeder
Schroeder &
Schroeder Inc.
Each organisation has its own culture, which influences how employees think and act at work and their receptiveness to change. The problem is that workplace culture is often deeply embedded in existing organisational structures and work processes and can act as a barrier to change. In the absence of adequate communications about the changes and what they will mean in practice for the individuals involved, employees are likely to cling to established ways of doing things, in fear that the changes will increase their workloads or threaten their jobs, or just in confusion about what is expected of them under the restructured organisation.

A much better strategy is to keep employees as well as other key stakeholders well informed about the organisational transformation and its likely impact on them, and by providing opportunities to discuss the changes and any concerns they may have. Regardless of the type of changes planned or the reasons for them, a proactive communications strategy will help prevent the spread of inaccurate information or rumours; allow the positive aspects of the changes to be highlighted and facilitate the development of a working culture which is receptive to change and in which people understand and are working towards the new organisational goals.

The following tips represent best practice in organisational change management communications:

Goals: The specific goals and objectives of the communications strategy should be clearly defined at the outset, and used to determine the specific methods and content to be used. For example, the approach required for a communications strategy intended to deliver factual information to keep employees informed about minor structural changes will probably be different to that required for a strategy intended to explore and address concerns about the likely impact of major organisational changes on jobs.

Audiences: One of the first steps in planning a communications strategy should be to define the various audiences. It may only be necessary to communicate with key customers or suppliers if they are likely to be substantially affected by the changes or if their “buy-in” is needed to help ensure successful implementation. On the other hand, employees should generally be kept informed about organisational changes which are likely to impact on them in any way, or which they will be involved in implementing.

Leadership: Top-line messages should generally come from organisational leaders, stressing their commitment to the proposed changes and how these support the company vision. Direct communication from relevant senior executives to staff, preferably in the form of a personal presentation, can help demonstrate commitment and the importance of the planned changes. However, heads of departments and teams also play a key role in tailoring the messages to their particular areas of the organization and in feeding back staff views to the top of the organisation.

Timing: It’s generally advisable to communicate information about planned changes well in advance. In this way, employees and other key parties will be prepared for the changes, questions and concerns can be addressed early on and when it comes to the implementation, resistance can be minimized. What’s more, employees and even external stakeholders might have useful suggestions to help facilitate a smooth change process. Once the changes are underway, the communications strategy should be used to keep people informed of progress and ongoing responsibilities; celebrate successful completion of milestones and identify and deal with emerging issues.

Method: The choice of method should depend on the audience and purpose of the communication. More formal methods useful for conveying factual information or updates on progress include letters, circulars, emails and presentations, while more informal or interactive methods include employee help lines, team briefings, training sessions and discussion groups. A good communications strategy should always be at least two-way, with employees and other audiences not just told about the changes but invited to ask questions or submit their views, or even multi-way, with ongoing dialogue between leaders, employees, customers and suppliers. Feedback and suggestions from employees or external stakeholders can be invaluable in improving the effectiveness of implementation of a change initiative.

Content: The specific content or amount of detail should also be tailored to the specific audiences, and within an organisation will probably need to vary by different areas or levels of responsibility. A rule of thumb should be to provide audiences with as much information as they need to understand the reasons for the changes, the likely impact on them and their own role in implementing them, and to keep them updated about progress, without overwhelming people with too much unnecessary detail.

Tone and Language: An upbeat tone which uses positive language to highlight the expected benefits of the changes can be very effective in helping to overcome concerns and reduce resistance. Any negative effects such as inevitable job losses should not be glossed over, however, but treated sensitively and with adequate explanation of the reasons for them. The specific language used should be appropriate for the audiences concerned, taking into account their responsibilities, likely concerns and areas of interest.

Harold Schroeder FCMC, PMP, CHRP, CHE, Schroeder & Schroeder Inc. 416-244-0892 or www.schroeder-inc.com


Work-Life Balance & Today’s Workforce
ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL

No one can argue that the employee of today is different from the baby boomers in their approach to balancing work and life outside of work. Baby boomers lived to work and they created a work environment that supported this approach. But younger employees work to live and expect – some even say demand – that organizations recognize and enhance employee work-life balance. So how can we change our existing work models and view employees from a more holistic viewpoint? We can do this by creating a people-centered culture where both the organization AND managers support work-life initiatives. The following steps will help create this culture.

Barbara Adams,Managing
Director
HR architects
Identify employee work-life balance needs
Your first step is identifying the work-life balance needs of your employee base – and not just your current base but also your future employee base. For example, if the majority of current employees are baby boomers, the needs you identify will be skewed to this generation. Therefore, ensure you are creating an approach for your future population not confirming what worked in the past.

You can discover this information by looking at employee survey results, employee focus groups, usage of existing HR programs related to work-life balance, and other methods such as exit interviews (did people leave for work-life balance issues?).

Perform a trend analysis
Evaluate what your research tells you about employee work-life needs. Do not be dependent upon generic research – base initiatives on your projected employee base, industry, and specific work environment.

Don’t be surprised if you identify both consistencies and inconsistencies in your data among similar employee groups. Each employee is an individual with specific needs. Therefore, companies must enhance flexibility in the application of work-life balance practices to the individual not just the same practice or policy applied to all employees.

Evaluate current work-life balance strategies and practices
Once you know what employees are looking for, begin the process of matching what you already offer to these needs. Ask yourself the following questions.

What is meeting the work-life balance needs of our current/projected workforce? Implies practices that should be retained.
What isn’t meeting the work-life balance needs of our current/projected workforce? Implies practices that should be revised or eliminated.

What aren’t we doing that we should be doing to meet the needs of our employees?

Identify priorities for updated work-life balance overall approach
Your next step is to establish priorities. It is unrealistic to expect you can do it all – so what would give you the biggest impact for the budget and resources available? Look for a need that is consistent across all employees – even your projected base. This is probably your first priority. Build your action plan based on employee needs, projected employee base, and gaps identified in existing work-life practices. Next, establish a realistic implementation timeline.

Keep in mind that initiatives must take into account both the needs of the employee and the needs of the organization. Ensure you present a reasoned case, backed by external research and internal statistics, that supports a move to enhanced work-life balance within your organization. This case has to be solid – especially because you are probably presenting to a management team with a number of baby boomer members.

Companies wishing to enhance work-life balance should consider the following examples of strategies and practices that could be applied. Remember to consider the needs of your employee base when making decisions about what to implement.

  • Make HR policies more flexible to individual needs I.E. retirement plans, benefits
  • Enhance work schedule flexibility
  • Deal with work intensification – consider shortening the work week
  • Measure by results not hours
  • Support off-site work I.E. Telecommuting
  • Help employees discover what makes their “hearts sing”
  • Provide career or lifestyle training
  • Shape work and jobs to the needs of individuals – make work interesting and challenging
  • Rewards should reflect desire for work-life balance I.E. Offer time off, recreational activities as incentives
  • Redesign jobs to accommodate family demands I.E. Elder/child/pet care
  • Integrate the employee’s family and friends
  • Promote healthy lifestyles I.E. Food services
  • Support personal activities that contribute to the employee’s sense of well being and personal fulfillment I.E. Celebrate achievements outside of work
  • Allow time off for learning and personal development activities
  • Increase opportunity for time off (paid or unpaid) and guarantee reinstatement I.E. Sabbaticals, extended leaves

    Barbara Adams, Managing Director of HR architects, Refer to www.hrarchitects.ca for further information. Barbara can be reached at 604.881.1080 or hrarchitect@shaw.ca


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