The Culture Evolution: Key Learnings from the 2023 Canada’s Most Admired Award Winners

Every year, the Canada’s Most Admired Corporate CulturesTM Awards program gathers culture data from hundreds of nominated organizations, providing a macro view on the ebb and flow of culture trends.

In 2023, organizations of all sizes and across all industries demonstrated a commitment to the continued evolution of people and culture strategies. Tools and best practices that had long been considered table stakes for high-performance organizations were being re-invigorated, and renewed emphasis was being placed on nurturing top talent from within the organization – great indications that a culture evolution is underway.

Four key themes from the 2023 Canada’s Most AdmiredTM Corporate Cultures Award winners

1 – Balancing people-first culture with measurement and accountability

In 2020, the pandemic forced widespread changes across the business world. Organizations adapted – implementing policies and procedures to better support the needs of their people within a new world of work. For some organizations, these changes meant that measurement, accountability, and performance took a hit; but, with an uncertain economy and growing concern about the sustainability of remote work, organizations need to find a way to drive performance, while maintaining the people-first programs that have become vital to recruitment and retention efforts.

For leaders, this can mean giving people the tools they need to succeed and a clear, transparent system for measuring success. It can also mean making some hard choices – choices that don’t always align with the benefits their teams have become accustomed to over the past few years. As a result, it can be easy to mistake these choices as culture red flags instead of what they really are – a focus on strengthening the growth and performance of the organization so that leaders can continue to support people-first efforts in the long run.  Because after all, what’s more people-focused than having the results to maintain a strong employee base?

2 – Engaged, accessible leadership

Gone are the days of inaccessible leaders tucked away in corner offices. Instead, leaders today need to be hands-on in cultivating (and reinforcing) a positive organizational culture. 

In high-performance organizations, effective leaders are more than champions of the brand – they are ambassadors for the organization’s purpose and culture. They continue to move away from top-down, command and control styles and towards a more engaged, interactive, and collaborative approach – collecting feedback and insights from all corners of the organization, sharing information transparently, and working together to drive a high-performance culture that can grow and evolve with the company.

The result is that, now more than ever, organizations looking to bring on new leaders are looking beyond the job-specific skills and seeking out leaders with a high EQ, a connection to purpose, and a commitment to equity and inclusion. 

3 – Prioritizing employee retention and development

In an uncertain economy and with turnover costs for senior staff estimated at up to 400% of their annual salary, organizations are focused on reigning in recruitment costs and strengthening development and retention efforts. Recruiting new talent into an organization can be an excellent opportunity to leverage new ideas, explore new perspectives, and drive performance within an organization. But leaders who prioritize culture today are emphasizing retention and development in their people strategies. Career pathing, succession planning, pipeline building for all roles (not just specialized or senior roles), total rewards packages that go above and beyond, and facilitating learning and development efforts across roles and functions are all core elements of a people-first, culture-centric strategy.

The focus on retention also plays a central role in managing recruitment costs, building institutional knowledge, driving engagement and morale, and support growth and performance – all core to a strong organization and a strong culture.

4 – The intentional, structured expansion of DEIB programs

The evolution of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) strategies continues for organizations of all sizes. Notable in 2023, leaders were taking a deliberate approach to DEIB – having moved beyond reactionary efforts and programs, to those that are closely aligned to the organization’s purpose and values, and relevant to all areas of the business (from hiring to vendor selection and more).

Also notable is a move away from single-source DEIB programs and policies, to a more holistic approach – one which sees every team member held accountable for driving DEIB efforts in line with the organization’s overall strategy and approach.

DEIB policies and processes will continue to evolve, but making workplaces more inclusive starts with ensuring every team member knows the important role they play in championing these efforts – and that shift has allowed organizations to build DEIB into their core values and operating systems, rather than addressing issues on a case-by-case basis.

The People and Culture landscape is continually evolving, but the last few years have brought an unbelievable amount of change. At Waterstone Human Capital, we work with companies every day to help them assess and develop their people and culture. Schedule a meeting with one of our experts today to find out more about the key themes and best practices driving today’s top cultures, and how we can help your organization attract and retain high-performance talent who will help you drive growth and success.