Ask the HR Department: What can I do to position myself for business success in 2024?


By HR and health & safety consultancy Peninsula Canada

As the new year unfolds, it’s a great time for businesses to reassess their objectives and strategies for the year. Starting the year off strong will not only help set up your business for success, but will also help build a solid foundation for growth and resilience. Below are some important tips for how businesses can kickstart the new year effectively.

Reflection is key. Learn from past experience, celebrate achievements, and pinpoint areas for improvement. This reflective analysis provides invaluable insights to foster continuous improvement and keep the businesses running smoothly.

Set clear and achievable goals. Plan out short-term and long-term objectives that are aligned with the company’s vision for the new year. Whether it’s releasing new tools or enhancing the overall business operations, well-defined goals serve as a road map for the business. It will also ensure that all projects point to one common goal.

Communication is crucial for any business. Whether you’re engaging with employees or customers it’s important to be aligned. Transparent communication creates a unified sense of purpose, rallying the organization toward common objectives.

Invest in employee development. Training programs and skill-building initiatives contribute to a more capable and motivated workforce. A well-skilled team is better equipped to adapt to market changes and enhance productivity.

We’ve all seen the increase in technological advances and the benefits associated with them. Embrace innovations that are relevant to your specific industry. Innovations in tech can enhance efficiency. That in turn will help you improve customer experiences and give you a competitive advantage.

The approach of the new year is the perfect time for businesses to reflect and set goals. By strategically approaching the new year, businesses position themselves for success, growth, and sustainability in a dynamic business landscape.

Peninsula is a trusted HR and health and safety advisory company, serving over 6,000 small businesses across Canada. Clients are supported with ongoing updates of their workplace documentation and policies as legislation changes. Additionally, clients benefit from access to a 24/7 employer HR and OHS advice line and coverage on legal through the Peninsula Protect service promise.


Expert Advice of the Month: A good boss is a good communicator. But it’s a two-way street


Pierre Battah is an award-winning author and workplace leadership specialist. He is a long-time workplace columnist for CBC/Radio-Canada, a TEDx presenter, a former senior manager in HR, and was previously an associate professor in management. He holds an MBA and several professional designations. He is the new executive-in-residence and moderator at the Wallace McCain Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership, and he recently received Rotary International’s highest distinction, the Paul Harris Award for outstanding contribution to the community. Battah’s book, Humanity at Work, Leading for Better Relationships and Results, won gold at the U.S. Nautilus Book Awards in 2020—and is a great read. 

When the Atlantic Building Supply Dealers Association reprised its annual HR Conference in November, bringing Pierre Battah back to the stage was a no-brainer. Battah had given a full workshop at the first ABSDA HR Conference in 2022 and it was nothing short of a goldmine of valuable information and insights.

This year’s presentation was just as engaging. Battah gave each table of delegates a set of tasks and challenges through the morning. At the heart of his talk was the need for communication. Not full-on all the time, but tailored to the situation. And that includes communication that addresses conflict within the team, something too many leaders are reluctant to face.

“We can lose people if we’re not prepared to have the difficult conversations,” Battah said. These tough conversations help get to the heart of which issues are divisive for a team. “A lot of what we do as managers is trying to get everyone on the same page.”

Those questions, he says, should be part of your communication style right from the start, including interviews during the hiring process. When hiring, be up front about the opportunities and the challenges that can be expected in the job and with your company. But be clear as well about the opportunities that will help the candidate’s career when she joins your company.

But good communication is a two-way street. That’s why Battah offers this bit of hiring advice: “Give 10 reasons why they’ll want to work for you. Then ask the candidate to provide 10 reasons why they want to work for you, as well.” Next, he says, wait for the answer. Let the candidate reply in their own way.

“We have to ask questions. Then we have to shut up. People need to be heard and listened to.”

ABSDA gathers Atlantic dealers for master class in hiring and retention practices


The Atlantic Building Supply Dealers Association held its second annual HR Conference last month, bringing together experts on hiring and recruitment with a room full of dealers looking for ways to cope with the ongoing shortage of available workers.

“It’s a perfect storm of aging demographics and a new generation coming up,” said ABSDA president Denis Melanson in his opening remarks. He added that 34 percent of the population in Atlantic Canada is now 62 years or older, and where the new workers will come from is a serious concern for this industry.

The venue was the Halifax Convention Centre and more than 100 delegates attended.

Melanson and his team created the HR Conference in response to a survey of members that pointed to hiring issues as pain points for the membership. The issues included recruitment, onboarding, and what kinds of policies are in place to help individuals along in their careers. “It identified some glaring gaps, but in turn it provided some opportunity for us as an association to provide services.”

The morning was devoted to a hands-on workshop conducted by HR expert and workplace issues expert and author Pierre Battah. He managed to keep the audience riveted for the entire morning. (Scroll down to see more from Pierre in “Ask an Expert” in this issue.—Editor)

Julie Melanson is an HR consultant with JMC HR Consulting in Moncton, N.B. She took to the podium after lunch to share some tips and guidelines for hiring and retaining staff with her “HR tool kit.” Stressing the need to create a positive and welcoming environment for your candidates right from the start, she reminded the audience that some people can be extremely nervous during a job interview. “It’s not something we do very often.”

Stop the bullying! It’s insidious and all too pervasive


Sharing your story can be powerful.

We started Hardlines HR Advisor in the middle of Covid, as we saw the investment in human capital, namely, your coworkers, come to the forefront. Covid fractured our psyches and bent our lives in painful directions. But through it all, we had to show up for work.

Our mandate is to provide information and intel to help this industry stay current and competitive. Through the pandemic, we realized we needed to address the people side of our industry as well as the merchandising trends and corporate takeovers and the latest product innovations.

So, we started sharing stories of companies and individuals on the HR side of the equation. Many HR leaders have stepped up to support us. Consultants and coaches have taken time to share with us their expertise and insights, including Sarah McVanel, chief recognition officer at Greatness Magnified. But one blog post she sent out earlier in the fall really stood out for me. In it, she shared a story of being bullied throughout her life. I thought: no way. Sarah is so together, so grounded, so professional. She didn’t get bullied.

Then I read the post. I was so wrong, my assumptions so off-track.

McVanel started out her post with this:

“The strongest injustices you experience in your formative years influence your life purpose. For me, it was bullies. Oh man, I cannot handle a bully! I was bullied my whole life. And I’ve dedicated the rest of my life to helping spread recognition as one powerful way to help create toxic-free zones. Let me share a bit of context so you can see why it’s an unwavering, non-negotiable, unchangeable mission of mine and everyone here at Greatness Magnified.”

She went on to share a litany of incidents that typified the treatment she received regularly from fellow classmates, first in elementary school, but continuing through high school. The ill treatment even carried over to the workplace, including one boss “who might have been Satan’s mother.” Wow.

I sent her a note thanking her and she replied with even more detail of the cruelty she faced. That resulted in another blog the following week. There, McVanel dug even deeper into her own story, and how pervasive and detrimental bullying can be—any kind of bullying.

(I encourage you to take a few minutes from your busy day to read her account.—Michael McLarney)

Ask the HR Department: November is Men’s Mental Health Month. Any tips on how to better recognize this issue?


By HR and health & safety consultancy Peninsula Canada

As November unfolds, it brings with it a special focus on men’s mental health, shedding light on an often-overlooked aspect of wellness. This month serves as a reminder to prioritize and discuss the mental health challenges that many men face.

Men’s mental health matters, and addressing it has far-reaching benefits. By acknowledging and destigmatizing mental health concerns, we pave the way for healthier individuals, families, and communities. Talking about mental health is not a sign of weakness but a fundamental aspect of overall wellbeing.

In recent years, movements like “Movember” have emerged, dedicating the month to raising awareness about men’s health issues, including mental health. Movember provides a platform for individuals and organizations to actively engage in conversations, break down barriers, and foster a supportive environment for men to share their struggles.

During November, various initiatives focus on men’s mental health, urging men to speak up and seek support. From awareness campaigns to community events, the goal is to create a culture that normalizes conversations around mental health and encourages proactive steps to maintain wellbeing.

Ultimately, by highlighting the importance of men’s mental health during November, we contribute to a broader dialogue that transcends a single month. This collective effort fosters a more empathetic and understanding society, where individuals feel empowered to prioritize their mental health year-round. It’s important to remember that breaking down the barriers to men’s mental health is not just a seasonal endeavour but a perpetual commitment to the wellbeing of every individual.

Peninsula is a trusted HR and health and safety advisory company, serving over 6,000 small businesses across Canada. Clients are supported with ongoing updates of their workplace documentation and policies as legislation changes. Additionally, clients benefit from access to a 24/7 employer HR and OHS advice line and coverage on legal through the Peninsula Protect service promise.

Expert Advice of the Month: Despite their differences, you can establish solidarity across generations


This month we hear again from Zaida Fazlic, vice president of people, culture, and change management at Taiga Building Products, the national building materials wholesaler.

Workers from different generations have distinctive perspectives than can be mutually enriching and shouldn’t be reduced to stereotypes. That was Zaida Fazlic’s message to delegates at the 27th Hardlines Conference last month in Whistler, B.C. Fazlic is the HR lead at Taiga Building Products.

Fazlic herself identifies as an “Xennial” or “elder millennial,” “on the cusp” of the turn from Gen X to the millennial generation.

“Each generation has their own version how it was hard for them. It was hard for my parents, it’s hard for my generation, and it’s hard for my son and his generation. But it’s not a contest.”

There are currently four generations in the workplace, Fazlic explained.

Baby boomers, those closest to retirement, are characterized by their “strong work ethic, loyalty to organizations, and their experience of major historic events.” They’re followed by generation X, which came of age during the advent of personal computing and so is “independent, adaptable, and tech-savvy.”

Millennials, or Generation Y, were broadly born around the last decade of the Cold War. While they may tend to have a more holistic view of work-life balance, Fazlic stressed that “millennials are also hard-working and driven and will deliver.”

Gen Z is the new kid on the block, just arriving in the workforce: “Just as managers are starting to figure out millennials, there’s a new kid on the block.” While millennials grew up with digital technology from a young age, Gen Z are “digital natives” who have never known anything else. Fazlic describes them as “purpose-driven” workers who “prefer to work with organizations whose values align with their own.”

According to Fazlic, organizations can thrive when team members across generations can bring together their insights to work in harmony and remain open to one another’s perspectives and experiences.

“Communication is the big one for bridging the understanding gap between generations. Older generations need to be patient with the younger ones as they figure out their own struggles and become adults. Younger gens need to remain open-minded about learning from older generations.”

“As much as we’re different, we also have a lot in common.”

(PHOTO: Josef Povazan)

The final steps in hiring: how to ask the right questions to references



In the past two issues, we’ve talked with our favourite executive recruiter, Wolf Gugler. This month, he provides some concrete tips on how to approach, and what to ask, the references on your potential new hire’s resumé.

As the lead at Wolf Gugler Executive Search, Gugler has had plenty of experience tracking down—and sizing up—candidates of all stripes for companies in the hardware industry. First off, he warns his clients against asking for references up front. He recommends leaving reference checks for much later in the process, when you’re about to make your final decisions.

When Gugler calls a reference, first he makes sure they have time for the call to give them time to gather their thoughts and ensure they are engaged in the conversation. Then he gives the reference a description of the opportunity and some of the key requisites the new employer expects from that individual, besides what the new role is and what skills are required. The reference can then answer in a more informed way, and potentially provide additional insights into the candidate’s suitability for the role in question. This helps make the interview more “open and freewheeling”—and not so structured.

This approach is better than just asking the reference to verify the candidate’s job history. As far as their resumé goes, Gugler says you can hire a third party to verify their background, “or just go on LinkedIn and see if it matches up with their resumé. It’s amazing just how many times that doesn’t match up, either.”

In terms of the interview process with the individual giving the reference, don’t be afraid to ask some soft questions that reflect the candidate’s personal life. Ask them about other stuff outside of work, such as charities or hobbies. “What kind of a person are they? What kind of things do they do outside of work? Do you know if they’re involved in any charitable activities or involved in their community, that kind of thing.”

He recommends asking the reference if they can think of anyone else the candidate knows and has worked with whom you could speak with. This gives you the chance to connect with someone who the candidate may not expect you to talk with.

“One of my last questions usually is, would you work with this person again? Would you hire them if the appropriate opportunity came up.” Then wait for the pause, Gugler advises. “That pregnant pause can tell you a lot.” It’s important to read between the lines.

That last response is best interpreted with gut instinct, something Gugler says he’s honed through years of experience (and just one more reason why a pro like Wolf is a good choice when making a hire—your unbiased Editor!).

IKEA president talks about affordability—for its workers as well as customers


IKEA Canada organized an in-person event earlier this month to present its IKEA Canada Summary Report 2023. The report highlights the company’s ongoing growth and its commitment to making affordable, quality home furnishings that are accessible to Canadians.

Selwyn Crittendon, IKEA Canada’s CEO and chief sustainability officer, offered some highlights from the report that reflect how the company has grown over the past year in this country. Crittendon told the audience in a downtown Toronto event space about the company’s solid growth, which included a sales increase of 10.9 percent to $2.9 billion for the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, and an increase in national store visits of 6.3 percent to 28.6 million.

Much of Crittendon’s presentation centred around IKEA’s concern for keeping products affordable for Canadian consumers. But he also directed his concern—and his comments—to the wellbeing of his own workforce.

IKEA Canada’s hiring and recruitment efforts have purposely focused on attracting new Canadians, people who have arrived here seeking not just a new job, but a new life. Crittendon shared with pride the many cases of longevity among workers within the company, saying people who have worked for 30 and 40 years at IKEA reflect the commitment the retailer makes to its people. He added that rising costs in recent months have challenged all Canadians, including IKEA employees. The company employs 7,200 people in this country.

Crittendon cited a series of grants that were made available to workers during Covid and through the time of inflation that has plagued the company in recent months. Those grants were worth up to $1,250 per person. “With our co-workers, we’ll always stand beside them in times of need.”

IKEA Canada is about to launch a survey to find out what people want and need in this tough economy. But the survey isn’t going out to customers; it’s being sent to IKEA employees themselves. Crittendon said that the decisions about the company aren’t strictly made at the top only, but require input from the ground level of the company.

“We’re doubling down on our effort to make this the best place to work for our co-workers.”

Ask the HR Department: I read so much about how to nurture strong staff. But please, any tips for managing poor performance at work?

By HR and health & safety consultancy Peninsula Canada

Handling poor performance in the workplace is a crucial aspect of effective management, requiring a thoughtful and constructive approach that benefits both the employee and the organization.

First, open and clear communication is essential. Managers should initiate a private conversation with the underperforming employee to discuss concerns, gather their perspective, and understand any underlying issues contributing to their sub-par performance. It should be conducted in an empathetic manner, focusing on finding solutions rather than placing blame.

Setting clear expectations and goals is another critical step. Employees should be aware of what is expected of them and how their performance will be measured. Clearly defined objectives provide a roadmap for improvement and serve as a basis for performance evaluations. Moreover, managers should offer constructive feedback regularly, highlighting areas for improvement and acknowledging accomplishments.

Support and training are vital components of addressing poor performance. Sometimes, employees may lack the necessary skills or knowledge to excel in their roles. In such cases, providing training and development opportunities can help them acquire the competencies they need to succeed. Additionally, offering ongoing support and mentorship can boost morale and motivation, facilitating performance improvement.

Implementing a performance improvement plan (PIP) can be an effective strategy. A PIP outlines specific actions, goals, and timelines an employee can follow to enhance their performance. This should be a collaborative effort between the employee and manager, with regular check-ins to track progress. However, it’s important to make the PIP a positive and growth-oriented tool rather than a punitive measure.

In some cases, despite all efforts, poor performance may persist, leading to the need for more decisive action. Termination should be a last resort but may be necessary if the employee is unable or unwilling to improve, as sustained poor performance can negatively impact team morale and overall productivity.

Peninsula is a trusted HR and health and safety advisory company, serving over 6,000 small businesses across Canada. Clients are supported with ongoing updates of their workplace documentation and policies as legislation changes. Additionally, clients benefit from access to a 24/7 employer HR and OHS advice line and coverage on legal through the Peninsula Protect service promise.


Expert Advice of the Month: Young workers can benefit from a shared environment. Time to go back to the office?


Nicole Gallucci is an entrepreneur, transformational and performance coach, and professor. She has developed the Life Blueprint, a process that provides a holistic, actionable plan for building a life that integrates an individual’s dreams, goals, and values. She works extensively with young people, mentoring and preparing them to enter the workforce. This month, we continue our conversation with Gallucci about how to help nurture a new generation of workers, including why being physically in the office can benefit their career development.

“A big challenge coming out of Covid is that there’s great autonomy in working from home,” says Nicole Gallucci. People can work their 40-hour work week and be highly productive, “but the challenge is there’s not the collaboration. There’s not the learning, there’s not the mentoring, there’s not the hallway conversation that is the quick solve for a problem.”

In a previous generation, there was “management by walking around” and learning at the water cooler to share conversation and ideas, something that is lost with a new generation working from home.

“They’re missing the collaboration, but they don’t really know the value of it because they haven’t experienced it,” Gallucci says. “They don’t understand, ‘how’s that actually going to serve me?’ so it’s really tough when we say, ‘you have to come into the office,’ then they see only a handful of people are also there and they feel like it’s a waste of time—and they’re not wrong.”

It may require a leader to mandate certain days when everyone, or even certain teams, will be in at the same time, so they can interact in a meaningful and beneficial way.

“I do think there needs to be a balance,” Gallucci adds. “It’s one thing to want to be typing from a beach seven days a week and post online, but that’s not the reality.”

She encourages leaders to have the conversation with the team and ask them, “How are we going to do this?” The staff need to see the value of coming together, “but they have to come to that realization on their own.”

“They have to say, ‘I get why it’s important for me to come into the office and know what I’ll get out of it personally.’”

This creates a challenge for management to focus on each worker personally. “When we focus on the individual, they are going to be a bigger contributor and more committed to the company, and we’ve always said that. That hasn’t changed.”

The new generation of workers is very mindful and aware, she says. That puts the onus on the employer to prove even more aggressively than in the past the value of working together, tracking goals both personal and professional.

Common challenges working with young people include helping them establish a personal vision, then creating a path to achieve that vision. That includes modifying expectations. “It’s one thing to say you want it, but it’s another thing to have the step-by-step path, plus the discipline and the commitment to get it,” Gallucci notes.

Young people have to understand that, mindfulness aside, there’s still hard work ahead. “We have to put one foot in front of the other every day, but we’re going to get there.”