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‘People-first strategy’ proves its worth during pandemic

Why Colonnade BridgePort turned to Stratford Managers to up its HR game

Laura Peddie and Hugh Gorman
Laura Peddie and Hugh Gorman

In business, peers and rivals merge for practical, dollars-and-cents reasons. Managing the people side of this equation entails much more than just addressing overlaps on the org chart.

What will be the “culture” of the new organization and how will it be fostered? How will the new organization attract and retain the talent to support business strategy going forward?

Several years after the merger that created Colonnade BridgePort – Ottawa’s largest commercial property manager – these questions continued to weigh on the minds of the management team.

“As we began to expand our operations and bring on more people, we managed HR and did the right things to be a good employer, but we didn’t have a specific people strategy,” said CEO Hugh Gorman. “We realized that we needed to be more thoughtful about it, but as a relatively small organization, we required some professional external support.”

The pressure on Colonnade BridgePort’s HR file arose from “a fairly significant growth curve,” Gorman said. In 2015, Colonnade Management and BridgePort Group of Companies merged to expand their combined portfolio in the Greater Toronto Area, as well as in Ottawa. The combined company’s services include property management, leasing, development management and asset management.

Enter the Stratford Managers team with senior HR consultant Laura Peddie. 

In 2019, Peddie began working side-by-side with Gorman and his team to turn the idea of a “people-first strategy” into reality. As a first step, she developed a strategic HR roadmap meant to carry the growing company through 2023. 

“I work in a hybrid way,” Peddie said. “At the leadership level as a consultant, but also embedded to deliver day-to-day coaching and mentoring to the whole team.”

A ‘balance of expectations’

This level of involvement provided Peddie with the deep insight to help Colonnade BridgePort develop the processes, procedures and mindset to overhaul everything from its onboarding and retention strategies, to leadership development and succession planning.

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“This is a really diverse workforce with different needs,” Peddie said. “We want to create an environment that makes everyone feel confident that they can succeed with Colonnade BridgePort and their needs are being met. At its core is a ‘balance of expectations’ – anything we do for the business, we need to make sure it is in balance with what employees expect of the company, too.”

Gorman calls it a “fair deal” that is ultimately about communication and accountability.

“We don’t want to be clock watchers,” he said. “We want everyone to work together with a blend of trust and flexibility that hopefully makes them more productive. It’s about their results and overall contribution – not just how much time they’ve spent on the deck.”

The pandemic strikes

Colonnade BridgePort mustered to adjust like everyone else. Office-based staff had to switch to remote working from home. Field staff had to mind their personal safety. Tenants and clients faced their own challenges, which put additional pressures on the team. Key HR activities like onboarding, mentoring and training that are best done face-to-face could no longer be done in-person.

Several months later, these challenges continue. But having had that culture of trust, accountability and flexibility already in place, supported by a well-articulated “people-first strategy,” has made all the difference.

“By virtue of having already had several quarters under my belt with the team, it was very organic to take a more active role to help manage these HR changes as opposed to being parachuted in at the start of the pandemic,” Peddie said.

In Gorman’s view, she is far too modest.

“From the very outset of our engagement, Laura has taken charge to shape our idealistic view of what our people-first strategy should be and put it into practice,” he said. “She is part of the team now and has done an amazing job fitting in as a coach and mentor to our people.”