2011 Best Companies: Public Sector, Non-profit, Crown

As these best companies have learned, the important acknowledgements are often cheap or free.

All-staff meeting | BCBusiness
Bringing the entire staff together regularly helps to emphasize a collaborative environment.

As these best companies have learned, the important acknowledgements are often cheap or free.

Most of us view people who work in the public sector and at non-profits as selfless individuals who believe in society, idealists who are willing to take a pay cut for the greater good. There may be some truth to the common perception, but it turns out there’s more to the story. Indeed, in the public and non-profit sectors outstanding workplaces share similar characteristics: strong leadership, transparent decision-making, and, above all, a positive working environment.

Lynda Pasacreta, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Mainland B.C., is a firm believer that all three attributes are necessary for success. “You’ll never become rich working at a not-for-profit,” she says, “but you will become rich in other ways.” Ali Dastmalchian, dean of the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business and the newly renamed Sardul S. Gill Graduate School at the University of Victoria, agrees: “We can’t affect everyone’s pay package,” he says, particularly as the university’s support staff is unionized, “but we can go the recognition route.”

Public Sector, 
Non-profit, Crown

1. Better Business 
Bureau of 
Mainland B.C.

2. Canadian Breast 
Cancer Foundation, B.C./Yukon Region

3. Boys and Girls 
Clubs of South 
Coast B.C.

4. Partnerships 
Columbia Inc.

5. Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, UVIC

Pasacreta believes one of her main responsibilities as CEO of the Better Business Bureau is to implement a positive attitude and respect in the workplace. On her first day four years ago she removed the aisle that physically and psychologically divided the accreditation team from the resolution team, gave each of the nearly 30 employees a potted daffodil and announced that from then on they would be embarking on “growing a new garden” together. “We’re not government-funded, so we have to take the attitude that we’re all in this together,” she explains. Other initiatives that have contributed to Better Business’s corporate culture: movie screenings in the office, pirate-themed treasure hunts on site, and incentives such as meat draws, a chance to win steaks or other items from a local butcher.

Wacky as they may sound, these tactics work, especially when paired with leadership that fosters empowerment and accountability. “My role is to understand people’s talents, get them working in the right job, and let them be accountable,” Pasacreta says. “There has to be a lot of trust to allow that to happen.” At Better Business, the proof is in the productivity, which has doubled. The team now handles twice the number of consumer complaints it did four years ago. 

Dastmalchian has also worked at building a strong corporate culture at Gustavson, emphasizing a collaborative environment. “The key thing to remember is that it didn’t happen overnight,” he asserts. “Our vision statement alone took three years to craft.” Indeed, the first five of his 10 years as dean were spent consulting 850 Gustavson students, 120 staff and faculty and an external board of advisors on how to describe the school’s culture. “The more time organizations spend describing and figuring out who they are, the better off they are,” he insists. “Everything else, from your HR practices to your reward systems, becomes easier — everyone works together to deliver what they’ve agreed on.”

An example of corporate culture in practice is recruitment. “We decided a long time ago that hiring the right people was the most important thing,” says Dastmalchian. Hence, Gustavson’s interviewing budget is four times that of other universities; potential professors spend at least four days at the school, giving students and staff numerous opportunities to interact with them and later provide feedback on the candidates to administrators.

Similarly, at Better Business, weekly fireside chats provide forums for staff to discuss hiring needs, voice concerns and learn about company financials. “When you work in one department, it’s hard to see what’s going on in the other parts, and what your overall impact is,” explains Pasacreta. By getting everyone involved, she not only ensures the team is happy with new hires, but she has also improved employee retention and performance. “We calculate our return on investment differently,” she says. “It’s not necessarily how many years they’re here, but how good they are while they’re here.”
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