Opportunities New Brunswick’s investment in workplace culture returns premiums

Opportunities New Brunswick’s investment in workplace culture returns premiums

If you want a workforce to perform above and beyond the call of daily duty, you might want to take a page from Opportunities New Brunswick (ONB)’s playbook. There, workplace culture isn’t an afterthought; it’s the foundation it builds on and the force that guides it.

Thanks to its commitment to culture, ONB has been named one of Atlantic Canada’s Top Employers for five years in a row (2017-2021). It was recognized by Waterstone Human Capital as one of Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures (Broader Public Sector) for 2018. 

ONB is a provincial Crown corporation that connects local and worldwide businesses in traditional and emerging industries to advantages the province offers. With its provincial, federal and community partners, it drives economic growth and job creation, supports innovation and helps the next generation of business leaders realize their true potential. Over the past five years, ONB has helped create more than 8,700 jobs and has helped generate $1.3 billion for the provincial economy.

At the centre of all of this is its culture, which imbues its people with a sense of belonging and shared purpose. “We’re not content with just having an HR department,” says ONB’s Chief Operating Officer Traci Simmons. “Culture is a strategic design for us. We very much live the culture that drives our results.” 

For example, the organization has put cohorts and individual employees through its Emerging Leaders Program, half of which were women. The participants, (the next generation of talent apply through a competitive process) invest their time in developing personal and professional leadership skills that are tied directly to achieving results for ONB. 

Lync & Learn, an ONB professional development program, was designed and developed inhouse as a way to leverage employee knowledge sharing. Sessions are offered virtually to all ONB employees on a monthly basis, and each session is unique and geared towards skills-based training for employees with defined learning objectives that capture what information and skills the participants can expect to learn. ONB employees can also fine-tune their facilitation skills by leading a session. Sessions are recorded and then posted to the ONB Portal for future use and training.

Friday @9 is a biweekly 30-minute podcast that brings all ONB employees together to receive information regarding organization-wide updates. It often includes an update from ONB’s CEO, as well as additional updates from three to four presenters from various lines of business. Each session is recorded and then posted to the ONB Portal for those who were unable to attend.

In all of this, diversity – gender, culture, age – matters. ONB has created opportunities to hire new graduates, increasing the number of employees under the age of 30 from five per cent in 2015 to almost 10 per cent today. To this end, it maintains a Student Program that provides, on average, 10 post-secondary students a year with dynamic and meaningful work experiences as well as the skills and results- oriented resume to support success in their next roles. 

By diversifying the age of its own workforce, ONB has secured the presence of new creative voices at the decision-making table. “We are making decisions around culture that motivate and engage our teams,” Simmons says.  “People here know and believe in the reasons they come to work every day.  They have a great common purpose. People do believe that their work here is important.” 

They do, indeed. According to ONB’s 2019 annual employee survey, 94 per cent of employees believe ONB is making a positive impact and 93 per cent feel they are supported in achieving work-life balance.

Simmons says the trick, of course, is not to over-define what culture means in an organization, but to engage, enable and empower employees to reach their full potential. The results can be invaluable both to the organization and to society – whether that’s successfully building a new technology or the environment in which a new technology company can thrive. 

“We work with hundreds of New Brunswick companies every year, and through them, we see great cultures and meet inspiring leaders every day,” she says. “For us, culture is not just one thing, but it is made up of all the passion and professionalism that employees bring to work every day. It’s how we all play an important role in driving economic growth and prosperity for New Brunswick. •

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