The Fruit Will Come Naturally

JGBlock-RootofSuccessThere are two components to corporate culture; the fruit and the root of a tree.  Travis Dutka, Culture Curator at 360insights, has developed this analogy to help explain and better understand the different aspects of corporate culture.

“The fruit is the part that everybody thinks they want. It’s the expression of culture, it’s the beer kegs, the Ping-Pong table, the popcorn, the after work socials. It’s the events, the shiny things,” explains Travis, “but the real roots of culture are the way things are done, not the things themselves. Often much more intangible things like, ‘what are your communication habits’, ‘do you have high levels of trust’, ‘is there passion and drive, in your teams’ or the sense of accountability”.  They are things that are not as sexy and are much harder to measure and quantify”.

Travis has found that many companies, in an attempt to develop their corporate culture, will add a “party planner” type role to their company.  However, if you do not have the roots to support this, it will not last over a long period of time and will not be able to weather the storms.  “What a lot of companies do when they want to build a great culture or want to fix something that needs a little TLC”, says Travis, “is they try to put fruit on the tree that does not exist there or it isn’t native to that tree, or worse, they have fruit that’s really rotting so they paint it!”

In other words, if you decide to get a beer keg for your team, but no one really drinks beer, they will not appreciate it.  Or if you create a mandatory bowling event when people on your team are not getting along, you will be resented for it. “If you’re only nurturing the fruit, eventually the tree will be top heavy and fall. The fruit won’t taste good and your team will resent it.”, explains Travis, “whereas if you focus on the roots, the fruit comes a lot more naturally and it becomes a lot juicier”. In addition, the fruit will even become employee initiated.

One of the biggest pitfalls however, could be perception.  CEOs wear several different hats; they are often pulled into sales meetings, board meetings, operation meetings, etc.  Then all of a sudden, they find themselves having forgotten to tell their team that they have hired a new VP of Marketing or changed where an entire team sits. There is nothing wrong or bad with the action itself – that’s part of the job of senior leaders, however, the mixed signals happen when the company prides it self on transparency or communication. Those examples erode trust even though there was nothing malicious about the actions themselves.  “A lot of companies, when they have an issue with culture, it is not because they lack intention or desire [on behalf of the leadership], it is because of the perception that is created because of specific actions or inaction”, says Travis.  “This happens all the time; it looks like someone is not living up to the company’s values, but it is actually just the way their communication style is received or genuine oversight. Because of the power of perception, especially in growing teams where there is more and more disconnection from the leadership team, it is so important to be intentional in the planning and delivery of how, what and when things are communicated to the team.

Focusing on building strong roots really helps to avoid the previously mentioned situations and keeps the focus on the important details. Building a great root system (company culture) takes work and pre-planning. “I’ve heard people say the best cultures are organic and they just happen”, says Travis, “and I think that is partially true.  With great cultures, the fruit will happen organically and naturally.  But taking care of the roots of culture is not by accident at all, it takes a lot of intentionality, especially in the tech/start up world because everyone is pulled in a ton of different directions”.

Travis was asked what his advice would be for companies forming their corporate culture. He said “clearly define what you want your culture to be.”  In other words, if you want your culture to be innovative, then the decisions you make should tie into that.  Even if there is an interruption like a paper plane throwing competition, your events should tie into your desired culture.  “Don’t party plan just for the sake of planning events and over scheduling”, says Travis, “a healthy tree will produce the fruit on its own and the farmer should not try to put fruit on the tree.  The farmer is only pruning the tree, cutting off the tree branches that aren’t doing well, picking a couple bad fruits, but for the most part the tree is doing it by itself.”




Canadian entrepreneurs plan to invest $111 billion in 2016

Contribution by the Business Development Bank of Canada, one of AceTech Ontario‘s Sponsors.


Despite misgivings about the economy, nearly three in four Canadian entrepreneurs plan to invest in their businesses in 2016, a new study by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) has found.

Owners of small and medium-sized businesses intend to invest a total of $111 billion in 2016, an amount similar to what was invested in 2015, according to BDC’s survey of investment intentions.

“While Canadian entrepreneurs are wary about the state of the economy, they appear generally optimistic about the future of their business,” BDC Chief Economist Pierre Cléroux said. “It is encouraging to see small businesses remain focused on growth and productivity in spite of a challenging economy.”

The investment intentions of small and medium-sized businesses are a significant indicator of Canada’s economic vitality, since SMEs represent 99.8% of all Canadian firms. A willingness to invest in assets such as equipment, machinery and IT is key strategy of fast-growing businesses, a separate BDC study found.

“The future belongs to entrepreneurs who invest in their businesses,” Cléroux says.

First study of its kind

This BDC survey of investment intentions is the first study of its kind in Canada.  The survey of 4,000 entrepreneurs was conducted from August to November.

Ontario has the largest number of small business of any region in Canada (35% of all small businesses) and the survey found the province also holds first place for total planned investments ($44 billion.) This represents 40% of the value of planned investments for Canada and is 2% higher than in 2015.

Ontario entrepreneurs also have greater than average optimism about their business prospects in 2016—49% believe their revenues will increase, compared with 45% of all the survey respondents.

That said, more executives in Ontario mentioned having difficulty in obtaining the financing required for their investment projects. The survey indicates that nearly one Ontario small business out of five (17%) is having trouble raising the funds required to carry out projects. This is considerably higher than the national average (13%).

Start-ups businesses as well as those experiencing high growth were the most likely to report financing difficulties.

Additional details are available in the BDC survey report.

Entrepreneurs invest to grow and boost efficiency

Top reasons cited for investing were to fund growth plans (77% of respondents) and to boost productivity or efficiency (75% of respondents).

The main factor limiting investment is a lack of confidence in the economy (48%).

In terms of value, the largest planned investments were earmarked for commercial real estate projects, with a total of $63 billion allocated for 2016, a 5% increase from last year.

Investments in technology continue to attract the attention of a majority of businesses. Of the small businesses that intend to invest in 2016, 59% are choosing to purchase computer hardware and software, while 51% are opting to develop a website and e-commerce activities.

The fastest-growing companies are most likely to be planning information technology investments.

The time is ripe to invest

Three quarters of planned investments come from just 10% of firms. These companies are more likely to export and invest abroad. They have also been in business for more than 35 years on average and have 20 or more employees.

These findings reinforce the idea that a small number of businesses have a high impact on the Canadian economy. In a report published in 2015, BDC showed that “high-impact” enterprises play a key role in job creation, GDP growth and improvement in Canadian competitiveness.

“These SMEs [who invest] have better growth prospects, a larger number of employees and the best chance to succeed in international markets,” says Mr. Cléroux. “We strongly encourage SMEs to step up their investments in the coming months. Also, with the cost of borrowing at an all-time low, the time is ripe.”


How to Get Women into Tech: Step One

Women-Tech-Job-630x455For many companies, having diversity within their employees has become something of great importance. Some say it has even become a CEO-level issue. Yet, in a Global Gender Gap Report, Canada ranked 20th on gender equality behind countries such as Nigeria and Cuba. Within the workforce, women are missing in several industries; technology in particular.

I sat down with Jasmin Ganie-Hobbs, Senior Development Banker at Business Development Bank of Canada to discuss this issue. Jasmin has worked with thousands of tech companies over the years and is a Spokesperson & Champion for Women Entrepreneurs. Throughout her experience, she has seen time and time again that the issue is not that women are not wanted in the tech industry, it is that they are not persuing careers in technology. “Many people have told me that if they are looking for a developer, they do not have to use head hunters or recruiters to find males that specialize in development,” says Jasmin, “but if they want to find a female, they have to use a head hunter”.

So why are women not persuing careers in technology?

A report from TD Bank shows that women are only half as likely as men to start their own business. In the undergraduate and graduate level according to Statistics Canada, less than 20% of students in computer science and engineering are women. In pop culture, movies such as The Social Network have portrayed coding as “a guys’ thing”. “It has not been considered a traditional career for women”, says Jasmin, “I do a lot of mentoring with high school students and when they are thinking about careers, it’s not often the case that they will think about tech as something to aim for”.

So how do we fix this?

There have been many initiatives such as Ladies Learning Code to encourage women to pursue careers in technology, but Jasmin says we have to do more. For many, career aspirations start as young as elementary school age, but since the media portrays technology as being “a guy’s thing”, we need to “put forth tech as a great career choice for women and need to start having women thinking about that from the time they’re really young”, says Jasmin.

Jasmin notes the work of Ray Sharma, who is the Founder and Executive Managing Partner of Extreme Venture Partners. Ray has started hosting hackathons for girls in middle school where they get to build a video game through coding. By creating more opportunities for girls to be exposed to coding, they will be more comfortable persuing a career in technology as opposed to feeling intimidated when they start to learn the basics in their 20s. Jasmin feels we need to start teaching coding as a language to children in elementary school.

“There’s no denying it, the jobs of the future are in technology and the opportunities for women are endless”, says Jasmin, “the doors are flinging right open”. For women persuing a career in technology, the job prospects are great, especially as opposed to a field already saturated with women. In addition to all the perks and the high pay scale, Jasmin says that you will never be bored; there is always a leading edge or bleeding edge project happening.

I asked Jasmin if she has any final words of advice for women interested in persuing a career in technology.

She said “just go for it!”


How Your Company’s Core Values Can Improve Your Hiring Process


12804152_10204947911571271_1287835091_n.jpgEver find that when it comes time to start the hiring process for a new employee, you are bogged down with a huge pile of resumes trying to find the right fit?

Rob Carmichael, CEO of CampBrain and AceTech Ontario member, has some tricks that can simplify finding the right fit.

About 5 years ago Rob and his business partner, Shane Miskin, sat down with a marketing expert and one of the first questions they were asked was “what are your company’s values?”  Since this is something which Rob and Shane had never documented, they were set on a path to compose their values and mission.  They established five key words that their company lives around – simpleintuitivetrustpassion & beautiful.  These words are now their way of speaking and are what they refer to when making any decision.

So how can this help you?

Before CampBrain went through this process, they hired based on a certain skill set and knowledge.  Well, when you read their five key words, there is not a lot about skills and knowledge in there; they are more about attitude, empathy and caring.  CampBrain went through a number of hires that were not meeting the company’s promise.  So they analyzed their methodology around this and created a specific strategy to guide who they hire, how they hire and where they look to hire.

Since Rob & Shane have implemented this strategy, their employee turnover rate has gone down significantly. “We’ve hired people more in line with what our values are and so when we bring them in, it feels like a place they want to work,” says Rob, “if they are doing something they love to do in an environment they love to do it in, then the result is that they are going to serve our clients in the way we want them to be served.”

There is a huge fight for talent in the technology world, but since CampBrain is so defined, they are going to attract prospects who are attracted to that definition.  Any programmer or developer has choices about where they want to work.  They could work at a large bank, they could work at IBM, etc. “We do not get a lot of people who apply to us who also applied to work at a bank.  That’s great because if they are going to work at a bank, our environment is completely different and would not be appropriate for them”.

If you are not clearly defined or focused, you are going to attract prospects who are not clearly defined or focused.  So by spending some time on your company’s core values, mission and promise, you will attract employees whose values are in line with your company’s and in turn, will become more successful.