Waterstone Human Capital Client Stories: Arthritis Society Canada

At Waterstone Human Capital, our focus on helping organizations build high performance cultures means that we get to work with some truly exciting organizations across a variety of industries. The one thing that connects them all: a transition or event that is causing them to refocus on their culture and their people.

Arthritis Society Canada is one great example.

We recently sat down with President and CEO, Trish Barbato, to learn more about the organization’s experience working with the Waterstone team on a project to revisit and redefine their mission, vision, and values.

Waterstone Human Capital (WHC):  Talk a bit about Arthritis Society Canada – what the organization does and your role there.

Trish Barbato (TB): I’m the President and CEO, and I’ve been here for three years – I started just before the pandemic.

The organization is really driven to enhance the lives of the six million people in Canada who are living with arthritis.  We work to inspire donors to give, so that we can fund much-needed research, provide evidence-based education and support, spark innovation, and support individuals living with arthritis.  One example of our innovation is the Ideator Awards, where  entrepreneurs with innovations that help people with arthritis compete for four $50,000 awards.

(WHC): Talk a bit about the project you worked on with Waterstone.

(TB): When I started here, the mission, vision and values were not representative of where I thought the organization could be. That is, they were not representative or aligned to the organization’s potential. They were very cookie cutter and not very memorable – people couldn’t tell me the mission, couldn’t recite the values. When you have a mission statement and values that employees can’t remember, how can they possibly be living them? You know you don’t have them right. So, we set out to revisit them.

We worked with all employees to revise the mission and vision statement, which went well, and we were able to do this on our own. The values were more complicated. We knew that our employees needed to be at the heart of our values; they needed to be by them and for them. I know Waterstone’s President and CEO, Marty Parker, and I was aware of the creation of the Waterstone Culture Institute. And when I met with the team, I knew there was a great fit for going through a values rejuvenation process together.

(WHC): Why did you choose to work with a firm like Waterstone for this project?

(TB): We wanted to work with an organization where this was their area of expertise. To have a culture institute says a lot. Culture is important to me, and it’s an area I work on quite a bit: What are the tenets? What makes it real for employees? So, working with a leader who has knowledge, experience, and learnings from different sectors – it ensures that the best work with get done.

(WHC):  What was your experience working with the Waterstone team like?

(TB): Fantastic. The process moved at the right pace and the structure worked well.

Almost all the work was done during the pandemic, so the most exciting and memorable thing for me was that we had a virtual all-staff retreat. The Waterstone Culture Institute team led a four-hour session with breakout groups, identifying areas that were important to the team, narrowing things down and getting us closer to what the values should be. It was remarkable what was accomplished in such a short time – inspiring. We were kept informed throughout the process – Waterstone guided us and pushed us when we needed to be pushed.

We ended up in a great place – I love our values today.

(WHC): What surprised you most about your experience working with the Waterstone team?

(TB): We took something that was a bit messy (there were a lot of different words and views), and we ended up with something everyone agreed on. We’d done a lot of surveys before the retreat, and it was daunting thinking about how we’d take all this information and distill it into something everyone agreed on.

It still took a long time, but it was surprising to me that as we got closer, it got faster. From when I started to when we ended the process, it took 18 months – not with Waterstone alone, but the whole process of re-energizing the organization, the surveys, the retreat, more surveys, workshops, taking time at our meetings and town halls – so it is a lift. It’s work to do this. But the result is that you have employees who are totally bought in and have ownership of the values.

I didn’t know if we’d get to a place where it would be as compelling as we wanted it to be, or as future focused as I hoped it would be. I didn’t know if we’d get there but we did, so that was really gratifying.

(WHC): How did Waterstone help set your team up for success?

(TB): Working with Waterstone, we weren’t starting from zero – they already knew from all the best culture-focused organizations in Canada [through the Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures Awards program] what words were important. They knew the trends. So, you feel like you’re starting ahead of the curve, not from ground zero.

(WHC): What advice do you have for other organizations looking to undertake a similar project?

(TB): First, if you don’t like your mission, vision, and values – if your employees can’t remember them, or they’re undifferentiated – it’s time to do something about it. If that’s the backbone of culture, you’ve got to get it right. They also need to be living and alive; for culture to be sustainable it has to evolve. Culture that’s stagnant isn’t a culture. To see the progress you want, you really need to see that part of your organization’s life as something that needs to evolve. So, don’t be afraid, just tackle it. Tackle your mission, vision, and values if you don’t feel they represent the state you aspire to.

No matter where a company is in their culture journey, the team at Waterstone can help – from assessing, measuring and transitioning culture, to ensuring organizations have the right leaders in place to take their culture and performance to the next level. Schedule a meeting with our team today and find out how we can help.