Fostering Tomorrow’s Leaders Today

November 22, 2023 | Hamilton, ON
Contributed by Izabela Shubair, DeGroote Contributor

At Conservation Halton, one employee may be unstrapping their skis after assisting a three-year-old with their first skiing lesson. At the same time, another could be designing a creative solution to a problem as a water resource engineer. While a third is helping to protect the endangered Jefferson salamander. With such a range of specialized expertise, the organization wanted to ensure that across its teams, staff skill sets included leadership capabilities and business fundamentals.

To do so, it turned to Executive Education at DeGroote. By taking advantage of the department’s custom programming solutions, Conservation Halton is helping its teams develop the necessary business skills to prepare the organization for the future, all while supporting employee lifelong learning.

“We wanted to ensure that we were investing in our staff when it came to business fundamentals such as strategic thinking, design thinking, and the importance of topics like cybersecurity,” says Plezzie Ramirez, the organization’s director of human resources, who leads the implementation of the Emerging Innovation Leaders program.

“Because we have everything from parks-focused operations, rec programs, and ski instructors to ecologists, water resource engineers, and hydrogeologists, it’s such a diverse organization that it would be difficult to take a program off the shelf. We needed to make sure we had the flexibility to customize, and that’s what motivated us to work with DeGroote. The end result is seeing our staff happy, adding value to the organization, and supporting our strategic plan.”

A Customized Solution

In collaboration with Executive Education, Conservation Halton created the customized Emerging Innovation Leaders program. The five-module program covers topics such as emotional intelligence, change leadership and mentorship, digital transformation, strategic thinking, and employee engagement. Three cohorts of employees have now made their way through the offering, which culminates in a capstone project. The project is an opportunity for participants to apply their newly acquired knowledge, connect with colleagues, and tackle challenges their organization faces. Ramirez says the capstones have also gone beyond the program, creating a lasting legacy for participants and moving the organization forward.

“We’ve really taken a serious approach to these projects,” she says. “We purposefully design the groups so that we have cross-functional teams. We’ll have someone who is supervising recreation operations, a water resource engineer, and a finance specialist all in one project team. With that design, they can get to know colleagues they may not typically interact with. The teams have done a fabulous job in presenting the results of their capstone projects. So much so that we’ve taken some of the concepts and are working on implementing them.”

Employee Impact

Conservation Halton Emerging Innovation Leaders program participants.

Senior manager of operations Justin Silva, participated in the first cohort of Emerging Leaders in 2020. The capstone project his team worked on has inspired a new program at Conservation Halton. Silva’s team proposed a community outreach initiative to get newer Canadians involved in the region’s parks. Today, the parks ambassadorship idea has evolved into the Conservation Halton Trails Association (CHTA), a volunteer program that allows locals to work within the trails.

“These are plans and initiatives that will have a lasting effect on the parks in the community,” says Silva. “Although CHTA wasn’t exactly what we planned for the ambassadorship to look like, the capstone still gave me the confidence to roll this out because I had a very good framework. I think being involved in the capstone really gives a sense of accomplishment.”

Beyond the achievement of being involved in a lasting project, Silva says Emerging Innovation Leaders was an avenue that helped to expand his knowledge base. The program also increased his confidence because it touched on numerous areas of leadership and business in such a comprehensive manner. Topics such as critical thinking allowed him to push the limits of his comfort zone. Emotional intelligence allowed Silva to better understand how to work with people and to interact more effectively with colleagues across the entire organization.

“What surprised me is just how we were able to break down the silos and the amount of support that everyone is willing to give each other,” says Silva, who now mentors other Emerging Innovation Leaders participants. “I’ve seen this organization grow to a very supportive, well-rounded place. I think this Emerging Innovation Leaders Program has really catapulted that because it’s getting people to talk to each other that typically wouldn’t.”

Ramirez adds, “One of our priorities is to invest in our brightest people and make sure that we have a growth mindset. We couldn’t have done it without the partnership with DeGroote. Having that flexibility to customize the program for our organization has added to the success of the program.”

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