Serving up a winning culture

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People, performance and purpose. These are the pillars on which Compass Group Canada has built a winning culture and successful business.

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Compass Group Canada is a leading food services and support provider. Its more than 14,000 dedicated associates support hospitals and long-term care facilities, retirement homes, schools, colleges and universities, sports and leisure centres, corrections facilities, offshore oil rigs and remote mining camps.

The organization also works with brand-name franchises within those facilities, including Tim Hortons, Starbucks, Subway and Pizza Pizza. It is a winner in the Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures Enterprise category.

“We are in every part of Canadian society, from coast to coast to coast,” says Saajid Khan, CEO of Compass Group Canada and ESS North America. “You will likely have met a member of our team somewhere in your travels and had a Compass meal without even realizing it.”

The secret sauce for success across such broad-ranging sectors and institutions lies in bringing the Compass team culture together with that of the client, and finding enough commonalities to create a strong, coalescing environment, notes Khan.

That strength and cohesion was never more vital than over the past two years, with a significant number of Compass associates playing a critical role on the front lines, against a backdrop of field kitchens and temporary field hospitals.

“With so many pandemic protocols in place and changes happening daily, our people really stepped up to the task to ensure meals were put in front of those in need and to ensure proper cleaning and sanitation at all times,” notes Khan. “To add to the challenge, our teams were often affected by events outside the pandemic, such as forest fires across Canada and flooding in British Columbia. Without hesitation our teams were jumping in to support their communities as much as possible through food donations and support of camp establishment, for example.”

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During good times and those of crisis, dedication and compassion are always overlaid with an absolute obsession with safety and recognition.

“Recognition doesn’t simply mean an email or cash token. It means highlighting the actions of individuals or teams that have benefitted the consumer and the company — those who are setting the example of how a people-first company should operate,” Khan says.

In terms of associate safety, Compass upped the ante with extensive vaccination education, expert videos from medical professionals, and by initiating paid national pandemic sick days. Safety materials were translated into six additional languages to ensure they were available in a form that was comfortable to the maximum number of associates. A COVID critical incident team of senior managers was developed to meet daily to address new protocols, provide updated information, and develop go-forward strategies.

The associate-centric approach at Compass has been a journey that began in 2018 with the development of four leadership commitments: We Care. We Share. We Dream. We Deliver. Whether leadership is defined by job title or exemplified in leading by example, these commitments are the key ingredients that have shaped a culture of caring, compassion and resilience at the company.

“These commitments are a promise of how we define ourselves as ambassadors for the organization from leadership to frontline associate,” explains Khan. “It cascades into examples of what we will and will not accept in terms of behaviour, culture and values. Every conversation is an opportunity to insert a culture-related message. This constant drive to take our values and make them real, with empirical evidence of why they are important, is why we have achieved such success.”

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The launch of CompassFIRST has made a significant contribution to the enrichment of the organization’s culture. The initiative, launched during COVID, focuses on bringing associates back to work through redeployment into new facilities or open salaried positions. To date, the CompassFIRST program has returned hundreds of former associates to active roles within the company.

“Like many, we had to make some very painful decisions during the pandemic as we watched customers close down and roles for our associates disappear. We made an ironclad commitment at that time to look at every future vacancy within the organization and first try to fill it with someone who had lost their position in the company as a result of COVID. We also committed to supporting them and training them should their new role require it,” explains Khan.

“We want to bring valued employees back into the fold. Whether a person had formerly worked in one of our factories or behind the scenes, we know they already have what it takes to be a part of our winning formula — wherever they are redeployed.”

Additional commitments have helped realize benefits for Compass team members and surrounding communities, including:

Company-wide, there is tremendous support for associate mental health, including their mental health and wellness site, along with a mental wellness bonus program and health benefits expansion, helping associates to focus on their personal wellness.

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Recognition programs that celebrate great associates, along with in-the-moment bonuses and social channel recognition to celebrate frontline heroes throughout the pandemic.

Community and environment support through initiatives such as the Toronto Police Services Engage416 program and a partnership with the Jamaal Magloire Foundation to donate iPads and schools supplies to help students prepare to return to school.

When it comes to equity, diversity, & inclusion (EDI), Compass continues to press forward. It begins with a promise to listen, learn and act. This promise is delivered in association with the company’s diversity and inclusion action councils, responsible for supporting the diversity team with planning associate initiatives, such as the Black History Month leadership panel, fireside chats with Indigenous leaders and a celebration of diversity on social channels.

“Given our size as a company, and the broad audiences we serve, equity, diversity and inclusion are vital,” says Khan. “We work hard to ensure it is embedded into every aspect of our organization and build programs and structures that reinforce our commitment.”

The ecosystem of culture-building tools that are brought to bear at Compass speak to a strong will and desire for associates to be engaged, happy and willing to step up for customers. “Our top-tier recognition programs are a big part of that. It is important that everyone knows they have the opportunity to grow here, both in terms of their job and as a person,” Khan notes.

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As for the future, Khan admits to being in uncharted waters as a slow re-awakening occurs post-pandemic and in how food, beverage and safety will evolve for the longer-term. “There is still a great deal of uncertainty, so rather than trying to address all eventualities we are working hard to future-proof our culture. We want to provide reassurances to those who may have left the hospitality industry and encourage them to return to the pool. We must acknowledge what they have gone through and offer an aspirational view of how they can be part of our ongoing success. That begins and ends with a great culture.”

For Compass to have been named one of Canada’s leaders in corporate culture is an honour of which Khan is incredibly proud. “This recognition is a testament to our associates, who embody our values and vision. We know that culture isn’t just a program or department. It is something we see our associates bring with them to work each day — with their passion for food and service and genuine enthusiasm to share great experiences with our guests — and I have an immense amount of gratitude to work alongside such special people.”

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Compass Group Canada.