How to Drive Employee Growth

As vice president of human resources, Lisa Locher is proud of ENTREC Corporation’s recent employment-related accolades. It made the shortlist of Canada’s Top 200 Employers in 2012 and 2013, and it was one of four finalists on the Alberta’s Best Workplaces list in 2013. It was also named one of Alberta’s top 65 employers in 2014.

VP of human resources Lisa Locher explains how she took ENTREC from 75 people to nearly 720 in just two years

1. Join the right team

In 2011, John Stevens, a senior executive that Lisa Locher had worked with in the past, told her that he and a team of other executives had purchased ENTREC Corporation from Flint Energy and were taking it public. Locher knew she had to get onboard. “John was an incredible leader and very effective in terms of employee engagement, and he was giving me the opportunity to build an HR function from the ground up,” she says. Within two years, she was able to take the company from 75 to 720 employees.

2. Offer competitive compensation

ENTREC is a leading provider of heavy-lift and heavy-haul services, with offerings including crane operation, transportation, engineering, logistics, and support. Most of the company’s heavy-haul competitors are unionized, but that particular part of ENTREC’s workforce isn’t. The company still stands out for its competitive wages, though. “We ensure that we’re not just paying competitively but serving as a leader in compensation, so we pay as well as, or even better than, the unions,” Locher says.

3. Keep an open mind

To facilitate its growth, ENTREC completed five acquisitions in 2011, necessitating the integration of the new businesses into its fold. Some companies make new businesses adopt a standardized set of procedures, but ENTREC took another approach. “We acquired those businesses because they were incredibly successful, and we thought that it was important to adopt some of their best practices,” Locher says.

4. Push top-up programs

When an employee temporarily leaves for education or maternity, ENTREC offers a top-up program to cover lost wages. For apprenticeship programs, which usually last six weeks, employment insurance typically covers 55 percent of regular wages; the same is true of maternity, which lasts up to 17 weeks. In both cases, ENTREC Corporation makes up (or, “tops up”) the difference, so employees receive 95 percent of their regular wages.

5. Introduce tuition reimbursement

Anyone within the organization—from crane operators to executives—will be reimbursed up to $750 a year for postsecondary education or coursework if it’s successfully passed. “Tuition reimbursement encourages continuous learning, improves the skill level of our workforce, and helps our employees understand that we support their growth and want them to be successful in their careers at ENTREC,” Locher says.

6. Find room for fitness reimbursement, too

One idea ENTREC got from an acquisition is to reimburse employees for fitness-related expenses. “We want to give people an incentive to stay healthy,” Locher says. “We’ll reimburse employees up to $100 per year if they get a membership to a fitness facility, whether it’s a gym, a pool, or even a hockey league.”

7. Implement employee ownership

One of the things ENTREC is most proud of is that it gives employees the opportunity to become owners. All employees can buy shares of ENTREC through their pension plans, through group-registered retirement-savings plans (RRSPs), and through tax-free savings accounts. ENTREC also annually grants restricted shares to certain key employees who have been with the company a certain length of time. Those shares vest, over five years, at 20 percent per year. “Having employees invest in the company really gives them a better sense of being part of its success,” Locher says.

8. Encourage development programs

“We want to ensure that employees have the opportunity to grow in their careers with ENTREC, and that requires that they move into roles they find satisfying,” Locher says. To that end, the company has each of its employees create a personal development plan. “We ask them where they want to be in two years, in five years, document that, and come up with a plan to help them get there,” Locher says. The company is also starting an online learning system that will allow employees to take courses more easily.

9. Conduct administrative and management retreats

Throughout the year, ENTREC runs retreats for its administrative staff and management team. Getting people who work in separate offices together in a central location serves as a “thank you” for all the hard work they’ve done, but it also gives ENTREC the opportunity to run learning programs, including safety refreshers and systems training. The executive-leadership team also gives presentations on the company’s growth path. “It gives people perspective they don’t necessarily get at their location,” Locher says.