Innovative HR Teams 2023

Thinking outside the box

In the post-pandemic economy, HR has transformed from supportive arm to strategic business department. 

HR consultant Jana Tulloch explains, “The rate of change in the HR field right now is faster than anything any of us have ever seen.” 

Analyzing what constitutes innovative HR teams, Tulloch adds, “They are looking outward at what is happening in the workplace landscape, and how people’s needs and practices fit in with what is happening in the real world.” 

Implementing effective policies across corporate structures is the trademark of HRDC’s Innovative HR Teams. They have demonstrated an ability to deliver distinct benefits for their respective workforces.  


“Every month, we hold coffee chats with our CEO. It’s an open forum, and employees get a chance to ask questions directly”
Cheryl Stargratt, IPEX  Cheryl Stargratt, IPEX 


Feedback channels

Nationwide pharmacy chain Rexall has 7,000 workers, so it’s a challenge keeping their finger on the pulse.  

“We have a continuous listening strategy and that’s actually evolved into a continuous understanding strategy,” explains Jason Garon, director of talent and culture. “We share out engagement surveys and Pulse Surveys to understand what our employees are saying. Getting 4,000 responses and verbatim comments is great, so that we identify what’s most important and make small changes to make big impact.” 

The Rexall Support Center has 360 individuals as primary respondents who work across a variety of roles from pharmacists to cashiers and storefront managers. However, other ingenuity is at play. 

“We have a QR code in the employee staff room that they scan with their own personal device to complete the survey as well,” says Garon. “We’ve also got iPads in all stores, so there’s a shortcut they can access. They also receive a link to their personal email.” 

Garon also highlights how trying to hear from every employee for their HR feedback isn’t necessarily a smart move. 

“You really don’t want somebody to respond who doesn’t want to respond. So it’s voluntary and that’s important that we keep it that way. It’s less about getting 100% of people in a store to respond and more getting people who want to respond and want to share their thoughts and sentiments with us.” 

“We managed to hire over 140 employees last year but what’s really interesting about that is 90% of those hires were direct sourced”
Laura Salvatore, Centurion Asset Management Laura Salvatore, Centurion Asset Management 


Growing from the ground up 

RDJ Bakeries, located in Ontario, realized there had been an imbalance, favouring office-based staff. 

HR manager Hanen Ouni explains, “So we switched the focus to the floor level and all our initiatives start from there.” 

They created an in-house video library to help packers, mixers, sheeters and forklift drivers with their roles. 

One big issue is the 24-hour operation and offering all employees a chance to raise concerns. 

“We implemented daily, weekend and monthly inspections,” Ouni says. “All of their focus is on the floor level, so we have HR reps in every shift so we can listen to the night shift as well as the afternoon and day shift, because I’m here for all the concerns and issues on the day shift but I’m not here for a 24-hour perspective.” 

Initiatives that have been introduced include a packers’ ‘bring your kids to work day’ and a weekly English teacher because RDJ is a multicultural employer with a lot of immigrants. Then every post is advertised internally before externally. 

Ouni adds, “Last year we promoted 74 employees, all from floor level. You find that opportunity at RDJ Bakeries. We find people are now knocking on our door, they want to work here because they know that there is a path to success and they can grow.” 


“When there is an issue, we get together and brainstorm. Sometimes they are simple and don’t cost a lot for the company, but they have a big impact on the employees”
Hanen Ouni, RDJ Bakeries Hanen Ouni, RDJ Bakeries


Being better

Over the past year, Toronto-based Centurion Asset Management adopted a two-pronged approach. 

The firm faced the task of recruiting in a tight labour market. 

Vice president of human capital, Laura Salvatore says, “Companies were offering huge increases and fancy titles that I’ve never seen before. So, we really had to get very creative.” 

Salvatore adds, “We managed to hire over 140 employees last year but what’s really interesting about that is 90% of those hires were direct sourced. It really changed from being a typical interview process, to now we were trying to sell ourselves to these candidates saying, ‘here’s why you should come and work for us’.” 

The second part of their strategy focused on their existing staff. They launched the Centurion Learning Academy, an online portal giving employees access to thousands of videos focused on soft skills. 

“What’s nice is they can access the videos at anytime from anywhere, whether it’s on the subway or while their kids are at gymnastics. So, it’s really flexible and it meets our employees’ different needs.”  

This extended to a focus on their staff’s mental health, which included virtual yoga classes.  

 “We introduced a monthly wellness calendar that had different tips and tricks every day, aimed at increasing wellness,” says Salvatore. “Then we also gave employees an allowance to purchase things for their home office to have a healthier work from home set up.” 

Another key idea was the firm’s Rise Awards, quarterly employee nominations which have no management involvement. Salvatore explains, “Once a recipient is chosen from those nominations, they get an award and a write up that’s featured in our newsletter and posted on the website.” 



IPEX is a manufacturing company that develops solutions to the world's water challenges, and also accelerates the transition to clean energy. 

They saw demand surge during the pandemic, so they bolstered their HR department. One initiative was no longer having the entire HR operation housed at their Oakville, Ontario headquarters. 

Senior manager, talent acquisition Saudia Satar says, “As we think about diversity in attracting talent, we also reflect internally to ensure we have our talent acquisition teams located across North America. This enables us to have a deeper understanding of the communities, culture and market related to the various regions in attracting the right talent.” 

The firm has also made a concerted effort to broaden its workforce. 

“We increased our skills and specialization and connected with schools and different community organizations such as ACCES Employment and Women in Manufacturing to reach a broader spectrum of candidates,” Satar explains. “Manufacturing – especially in terms of gender equity – is currently unbalanced. There is opportunity at IPEX to reduce the gap in this area, so we’ve focused on increasing the diversity of our workforce and embedding inclusion into our workplace practices and behaviours.” 

IPEX also has its New Graduate Development Program for new graduates to gain a comprehensive understanding of the business. Director of talent management Fiona Pace adds, “It includes a mandatory rotation in manufacturing, so that even if grads are going into sales or engineering or another area of our business, they get experience with our manufacturing team. This way, they know exactly what their colleagues are doing on the front lines and understand the business at its core.” 

Their HR and executive teams have undergone unconscious bias training, as have the executive team. IPEX uses Textio, a tool which reduces the bias in the language of job postings to help reach those candidates from communities not as well represented in the manufacturing industry. 

“We have a continuous listening strategy and that’s actually evolved into a continuous understanding strategy”
Jason Garon, Rexall  Jason Garon, Rexall 


Staying sharp

Innovation is about tomorrow. Those who lead the way are always one step ahead and planning for the next initiative.  

Ouni explains how RDJ Bakeries is a meeting of minds. 

“When there is an issue, we get together and brainstorm. Sometimes the ideas are simple and don’t cost a lot for the company, but they have a big impact on the employees.” 

The other thing they do is ensure any new policies are given full support. 

“We work on it, enforce it, do the awareness and the training until it becomes part of our life and then we jump to the second idea.” 

Whereas Salvatore is relishing being leading her team, as a more integral part of the business.  

However, she adds that it’s paramount to listen and learn where the HR momentum should be focused. “We recognise it’s often people with boots on the ground who know and recognise better than we do.” 

To that point Centurion has its Employee Innovation Channel, where all workers can recommend ideas which are shared among all staff.  

Salvatore says, “It gets in front of the CEO. So we have an employee at the site level who would never have a chance to have a one-on-one conversation with the CEO, is now getting their ideas right in front of him.” 

This is echoed by Garon, who also stresses how innovative HR is about responding and not blindly creating policy. 

“It’s really important to stay connected because what we think is important isn’t necessarily what’s important or what needs work,” he explains.  

To that end, Rexall introduced LiveWell.  

“It was through our engagement survey our employees told us wellness offerings at Rexall were underutilized and difficult to locate when employees needed them most. For this reason, we rebranded wellness at Rexall, pooling all of our available resources under one banner LiveWell.” 

IPEX also make the distance between higher and lower levels as short as possible.  

“Every month, we hold coffee chats with our CEO. We invite a group of employees from different departments and different levels of seniority, and they just have a chat for an hour,” says chief human resources officer Cheryl Stargratt.  
“It’s an open forum, and employees get a chance to ask questions directly. We get a lot of great feedback this way, so we know areas that may be the ones to address.” 


Innovative HR Teams 2023

  • 123Dentist
  • Air Canada
  • AstraZeneca Canada
  • Boutique La Vie en Rose
  • BlueCat
  • Canuck Place Children’s Hospice
  • Centurion Asset Management
  • CIBC Mellon
  • City of Vaughan
  • Coast Mental Health
  • Co-operators
  • CWB Group
  • D&A Group Services
  • D2L Corporation
  • Definity
  • Dejero
  • Gallagher
  • Gordon Food Service
  • Humania Assurance
  • Hydro Ottawa
  • Ingram Micro
  • McLean & Company
  • Microsoft
  • Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery
  • Mobials
  • Paystone
  • Pythian
  • RDJ Bakeries
  • SAP Canada
  • Sephora Canada
  • Sollio Agriculture
  • Tata Consultancy Services
  • The Corporation of the City of Vernon
  • Top Hat
  • Town of Innisfil
  • TransAlta
  • VHA Home Healthcare
  • Wave
  • Westland Insurance
  • Wilfrid Laurier University
  • Zymeworks


HRD Canada’s Innovative HR Teams 2023 report recognizes firms that are breaking boundaries to move the HR industry forward — whether it’s by taking a progressive approach to recruitment, introducing new technology or rolling out a ground-breaking reward and recognition strategy. The report offers HR teams a unique benchmarking opportunity to see how their initiatives compare to those of the profession at large.   

Readers were invited to submit entries showcasing HR teams that have agile, bold and forward-thinking people strategies. Nominations focused on areas including talent management, diversity and inclusion, health and wellness, and HR technology. Initiatives introduced and results achieved in 2022 were highlighted. HRD Canada objectively assessed each entry for detailed information, true innovation and proven success — along with benchmarking against the other entries — to determine the winners.