Canadian Workplaces: A 2013-2014 Review

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Report Summary: Canadian Workplaces 2013 -2014

This report is a summary review of 32 Canadian workplaces. Each of these workplaces (which cannot be named) participated in a Values study in 2013 or 2014 using Barrett Values Centre Cultural Transformation Tools. They asked their employees to identify the values that were evident in their current workplace culture. These same employees were asked what values they would like to see evident in their desired workplace culture.

In this report we will examine the state of the Canadian Workplace and the wisdom that comes from the people who work in those workplaces.
There is a level of toxicity in workplaces in Canada. This is not news. What we should focus on is that these employees have solid ideas about how to reduce this friction. Management of these companies would have to agree with the values that employees would like to see in their workplaces.

Current Workplace Culture Results

The participants in this workplace survey were given a list of values to select from. Some of those values are potentially limiting values. Things like Blame or Confusion are options just as Honesty or Integrity are options. The participant is looking for the words that best describe what they are experiencing at their workplace.

The Bad News

Twenty-Four percent of the values selected in these surveys are Potentially Limiting. People in these workplaces experience these things as extra hurdles that must be overcome in the normal commissioning of their job. Extra hassle or stress. We also refer to this as Entropy. In the 32 Workplaces that took this survey these are the Potentially Limiting Values that showed up commonly:

Cost Reduction
Silo Mentality

The Good News

The values that showed up commonly in Canadian Workplaces were as follows:

Customer Satisfaction
Results Orientation
Continuous Improvement
Community Involvement

On the face of it these values would appear to be healthy and appropriate. A company that focuses on customer satisfaction, has employees that are working as team, with accountability and an orientation around results with continuous improvement would appear to be armed with the right values to drive excellent results. And, add in a focus on community – that adds a healthy element to those workplace cultures.

How is it that those things can co-exist? This composite of the Canadian Workplace identifies firms that have a clear focus on results and being the best. The trouble is that bureaucracy, hierarchy, silo orientation and confusion are limiting values that cause friction and a loss of movement at precisely the same area as the positive values. They work against getting things done. It is no wonder that productivity in Canada is not outpacing other countries.

Desired Workplace Culture Results

In the desired workplace no potentially limiting values made it into the top 13 values that would describe the desired workplace culture. The 13 values that were identified by the workers in these workplaces could be categorized into the following lists:

1. Keep Doing
Customer Satisfaction showed up as a value in 69% of the workplace cultures – the most selected value to describe those 32 workplaces. In the same companies this value showed up in 56% of the company’s desired workplace cultures. This would indicate that people in these workplaces feel good about the level of focus and intensity placed on customer satisfaction. The fact that it is still on the list indicates that a continued focus is required.

2. More Please
The following values showed up in both the description of the current culture and the desired culture. Each moved up the list or was selected more often as a needed value in the desired culture.

Teamwork was evident in the current culture of 56% of the participating firms. In the desired workplace culture this moved up to 84% of the firms. People are indicating that their companies value Teamwork but more is needed.

Accountability was evident in the current culture of 50% of the participating firms. In the desired workplace culture this moved up to 91% of the firms – in fact to the top desired value. Once again people in these firms are indicating that accountability needs more work.

Continuous Improvement was evident in only 38% of the participating firms. This is a relatively low level – the employees in less than 4 out of 10 firms in Canada use this value to describe how their company operates. In the desired state of the workplace 72% of firms would have this as a value in evidence.

3. Something New – the Antidote
There are quite a few values that show up as descriptors of what people in these workplaces would like to see in their workplaces. The workplace of today is more challenging and faster paced. The old ways of dealing with uncertainty – run it up the chain of command and wait for a decision – isn’t working. It is too slow, inefficient. Some of these values are the Antidote to the potentially limiting values that show up in the current workplace culture.

The values being requested are:
Coaching/Mentoring People are expecting managers to be involved in business differently than the past. Employees want their managers be engaged in a coaching role. Watching the plays and being ready to coach the employee to better performance. These same employees expect management to be mentoring them and helping them with career progression.

Balance (Home/Work) This is not a value that people use to describe their current workplaces. And it is something that they are asking for. Balance is usually requested when the feeling is that the employer seems to only care about the employee in as much as they are working.

Open Communication Open communication shows up as a request for communication in two directions. In most cases it is clear and constant communication about priorities and objectives. In many cases it is also about communication from front line employees back to management. Confusion is a potentially limiting value that shows up in many current workplaces and open communication would be one way to counter that.

Information Sharing In some workplace cultures there is a culture of information hoarding. Information is power! This approach leads to politics and to power struggles. A request for information sharing is a request for more openness and for a belief that information shared makes the company stronger because people know the true picture of what challenges and opportunities exist.

Adaptability Cultures that are deeply rooted in efficiency and process are often unable to respond quickly to threats or requests from customers. The workplace that these employees are asking for will be one where there is a built in ability to respond, adjust, pivot and otherwise adapt to changing conditions.

Efficiency When employees request a culture of efficiency it is because they see the current workplace culture as inefficient – and that lack of efficiency matters. These employees see the silo mentality, the hierarchy, the confusion and the bureaucracy as highly inefficient. So while they see the focus on cost reduction they see the bigger picture almost as a penny wise and pound foolish situation. Employees who value this and continuous improvement are “all in” with a program to constantly improve processes and make the company even better at what it does.

Innovation Often the cry from management in companies is that “we must be more innovative” and the view is that the problem is that the employees have to be encouraged. While this might still be true this survey says that employees are asking for a culture that is more innovative – and they see it as needed for the success of their companies. The truth is that cultures (as described by the composite Canadian Workplace) that focus on being the best often do a terrible job of allowing mistakes. It is almost impossible to encourage a culture of innovation while maintaining a culture that does not encourage risk-taking.

Respect The request for respect in the workplace is associated with a need for a better relationship between management and the employees of a company. “Are we here as equal partners or just expendable pieces of the machine?” The employees surveyed in these 32 organizations are asking for clear support from their management. They want to know that they are loved and respected as contributors to the future of the company.

Trust Employees in our survey want to use trust as a way that they describe their workplace culture. The fact that no such word – honesty, integrity or trust was used to describe the state of the current workplace is revealing. The request for this value to be evident is supportive of the requests for information sharing and open communication. Employees are asking for management to give them all the facts, keep lines of communication open, give them the accountability and then coach and mentor them to the goal. This is about trusting them to get the job done.

4. Not Clear
Community Involvement shows up as a top value in the current workplaces in our survey. It does not show up in the desired workplace and that could be the case for one of three reasons:

1. We are pretty good at this – got it under control – no extra focus is needed.
2. We have bigger fish to fry and community involvement can take a back seat for a while.
3. It is a blind spot – perhaps there isn’t a clear understanding about why community involvement is part of the current workplace culture.

Each company might have a different view of the answer to this question. Generally, though, employees tend to trust management in a company that gives back in some fashion. A company that isn’t singularly focused on the bottom line is one that will also do right by their employees – or so employees feel.


Categorizing the values that have been used to describe the current state and the desired state of these workplaces yields some interesting perspectives.

Culture of Transformation

The values identified in the desired culture (accountability, teamwork, continuous improvement, balance, information sharing, adaptability, innovation) form a centre of gravity around a request for a culture that is a culture of transformation. This workplace culture would be a culture of learning, challenging and growth. This is distinctly different than the current workplace culture. The centre of gravity in Canada’s workplaces is very much around the brand image and the self-esteem that these companies are attempting to establish. Unfortunately the only positive value in this story is results orientation and it is being weighed down by the limiting values of bureaucracy, hierarchy, confusion and silo mentality.
The larger shift that employees are asking for is a culture that seems unable to change because it is trying so hard to be perfect. That attempt at perfection is usually tied to an old business model and we know that businesses that cannot adjust in today’s economy are doomed to be replaced by some version or Uber, AirBnB, Amazon or another company willing to throw caution to the wind and re-invent a category.


The secondary theme that comes up in this composite of the 32 companies surveyed is that many of the values requested can be categorized as supportive of an environment that would be interested in growth. In order to scale and evolve the values of continuous improvement (in existing culture but more is wanted), adaptability, coaching/mentoring, continuous improvement and innovation are requested by the employees of these companies.