Boosting organizational culture through rewards and recognition

TransAlta's award-winning rewards and recognition strategy key to cultural transformation

At the 10th annual Canadian HR Awards, TransAlta received an Excellence Award for Best Rewards & Recognition Strategy. In this episode of Canadian HR Reporter TV, Tawnie Dahl, TransAlta’s Director of Executive Compensation & Total Rewards, discusses her organization’s decision to implement a culture transformation strategy and how its “Boost and Bolt” reward programs have fuelled TransAlta’s success.

To view full transcript, please click here

Sarah Dobson [00:00:12] Hi there. I'm Sarah Dobson, Managing Editor for HR at Key Media. And today I'll be speaking with one of the excellence awardees at the 10th annual Canadian HR awards, showcasing outstanding HR teams, leaders and employers for the past year. As a standout in the Rewards and Recognition category, Transalta has shown plenty of innovation. And I'm looking forward to hearing more from Tawnie Dahl, who is the Director of Executive Compensation and Total Rewards. So, welcome. 

Tawnie Dahl [00:00:41] Thank you for having me. 

Sarah Dobson [00:00:42] So to begin with, can you talk about how and why Transalta decided to implement a culture transformation strategy? 

Tawnie Dahl [00:00:50] Sure. Turns out this business and strategy underwent significant transformation over really the last five to seven years, with a move away from traditional electricity generation, which was mainly cool to focus on generation of renewable, clean energy. So we deliberately evaluated the culture of the company at that time, and our CEO knew that we required a shift in our culture to be successful. So want to talk a little bit about what is culture. So we look at culture as the shared assumptions that drive thinking behavior, and actions in an organization. And when we took a look at our existing culture at the time, five plus years ago, we were really, really focused on order and results. We were highly interdependent culture, with a really strong orientation on predictability, caution, and planning. So to shift the culture, to the clean energy world, we really, we knew we needed to focus on some different some different things in our culture. So we wanted to shift to focus on results, purpose, and learning, really more of an outcome based, purposeful culture that values individual contributions, experimentation, creativity, learning and engagement, this is going to be really different from the culture that we have been before. And so we really felt that this change in culture would drive our strategic success, and enable the changes that we needed to make to achieve our clean energy plan. So continuing to think about what kind of culture change we needed to make this requires practicing psychological safety, through a culture of rewarded vulnerability. So it's a really important piece to have psychological safety, in order for people to feel safe and comfortable to think innovative and out of the box and bring up ideas. And the fifth is some role clarity, we call it own your patch, or sometimes I like to refer to it as freedom within a framework. So these were the five pillars of the culture that we felt would you know that that would really drive the right behaviors that we were looking for. So we also have, we developed what we call our Northstar statement that helps to clarify our purpose. Clean Power is fundamental to move the world forward, we have a very purposeful tagline that Transalta it's called energizing the future. And success at achieving this requires supporting our employees to contribute to an environment of continuous learning results and growth. And that requires modeling and rewarding the right behaviors. 

Sarah Dobson [00:03:53] Okay, great. Wow, that's quite a transformation. Can you talk about why I guess as part of this, it was so important to create a total rewards team? 

Tawnie Dahl [00:04:03] Yeah. So, you know, as I've alluded to, during that transformation over the past five to seven years, that was before my time at Transalta, much of that, we shut down our coal operations, we were mothballing plants, we were cutting costs everywhere, including significant reductions in the HR team. To put it really simply, we needed to get our company finances in order. And once that part of the transformation was complete, we started to rebuild with a clean energy girls focus. And so in 2021, we created a focus to that new total rewards team, to really to really focus on understanding how to compete for employees in the renewable energy business. We needed to attract a different skill set, and frankly, a different generation of employees with different needs and desires than our traditional workforce had seen. So our total Awards team was tasked with creating reward or recognition programs to specifically attract and support this new workforce. But really importantly, how do we actively engage employees in the culture transformation? How can we set up a reward and recognition program that that gets their buy in and gets their engagement?  

Sarah Dobson [00:05:22] Right, and I assume you're referring to the boost and bold reward programs. So can you talk a bit about why those have been so successful? 

Tawnie Dahl [00:05:28] Sure, are super, super excited about what we call our boost program. It's a peer to peer recognition program that provides our employees with what we call loose bucks. So every quarter, every employee gets a small pot of boost bucks, and we ask them to reward their peers and colleagues for displaying the behaviors that directly support the five pillars of our culture transformation that I just talked about. So it's not a lot of money in the bucket of money, but it really allows employees to decide who they want to recognize. And so employees then who receive recognition who are displaying the culture and the attributes that we're looking for, they accumulate and then can spend those boosts bucks on a gift card with popular retailers, including Amazon in our reward marketplace. So the program that we developed is a social media format. So that rewards and thank yous are public for other employees to like and comment on, leaders get notified whenever any of their employees receive an award. And not only can they send boosts bucks, but we also send out thank yous, congratulations, welcome to the team. Any cards, we have specific cards for the values that Transalta so safety being one of our top values, we have safety cards, and those have become part of our KPI measures that, you know that we measure performance on and talk about with our board of directors. So boost has been, we launched it in July of 22. Yeah, July of 2022. And we have been hugely successful with 92% participation in the program. So that means 92% of our employees are either sending or receiving awards in the program. And we have maintained that 92% participation all the way through right up until current. And so we think that the ability for all employees to easily thank and reward their peers and colleagues, combined with that social media format, they can like posts and comment on them and applaud people, it's really been the recipe for success with the generation of employees that we're trying to attract. And what I love about this program is that when they send out boost bucks, they have to choose a card that is one of those five pillars of our of our new desired culture. And so it is really front and center, every time you send an award, the behaviors that we are looking for, and that we are rewarding. So this is how we're building on this, and shaping the shared assumptions that create our culture. So I'm super proud of that program. And Bolt is our other reward program that we have. It's our name for it is like a lightning bolt. Again, just really tied to the Transalta culture. Bolt has a nomination based program. So employees are nominated by leaders across the organization. And it could be for excellent achievement on a particular project. It could be for something new and innovative, that they developed or thought of. It can also be the unsung hero and rewarding those people who give it their all day in and day out. And it's a way that we can also recognize those people for what they contribute to Transalta. So nominations are submitted quarterly, they're reviewed by leadership all the way up the chain. They're managed to an overall budget and approved by the CEO. And those awards get paid out as taxable cash. So rewards are for specific projects, specific achievements. They're timely. And it really does make people feel that their efforts are recognized and that they're valued. And I've just, I get really passionate a little bit about these programs because I've been working in HR and total rewards for just about 30 years. In my 30 years of working in HR and total rewards. I've never had the opportunity to create such innovative reward and recognition programs. Like I've had the opportunity to do here at Transalta. We my team is encouraged to review these programs and tweak them to make sure they're continuing to Meet our culture needs and to meet the needs of our business. And I'm so proud to work for a company that allows us the ability to really focus on rewarding our people. 

Sarah Dobson [00:10:10] That's great. Really interesting to hear that you're getting such impressive usage rates and that it's all wrapped around the values at Transalta. Well, thank you so much Tawnie for joining us today and sharing your insights. 

Tawnie Dahl [00:10:24] Thank you very much. It's been my pleasure to share our reward and recognition program journey with you.  

Sarah Dobson [00:10:29] And for more great content related to human resources, be sure to tune in to