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Employee Engagement & Building a 'Best Workplace'

Apr 10, 2013 2:28:04 AM

in Expert Series

“Engagement” - it’s the buzzword in today’s HR world. But, what is ‘engagement’, exactly? Can it be measured or quantified? How do you increase it? And most importantly, how does ‘engagement’ impact a business’s overall success in the marketplace?

Habanero Consulting is a Top Employer. They have been named one of the Best Companies to Work For by BC Business Magazine, ranked as one of the top three Best Small and Medium Employers, and, most recently, were awarded as the number one Best Workplace in the Country by the Globe and Mail. Caterina Sanders is the Director of Employee Experience at Habanero Consulting and is a thought-leader in the HR industry. Here, she shares her insights on best practices in HR and building a ‘Best Workplace’:

TPD: What are the key differentiators at Habanero Consulting that have created your ‘Best Companies to Work For’ environment?


1. We hire for fit first. Skills come second.

Hiring should never be about simply ‘filling a seat’ - it is imperative that the ‘right people’ are in the ‘right seats’. Each person hired into the company will have great influence on those around them.

At Habanero, we don’t have official job descriptions written with a criteria of skills outlined to define roles. Instead, we fill roles with people that align with our company’s culture and exhibit the key characteristics that will allow them to thrive within the position.

2. We don’t have an Employee Handbook.

Well, we do... but it is more than 17 years old and probably hasn’t been updated in quite some time. That said, because we place utmost value on fit and hiring the right people from the get-go, a strict policy and procedure manual is not required to enable employees to thrive. Instead, we promote autonomy and empower our employees to make informed decisions.

3. Our performance review model is far from traditional.

Contrary to traditional performance review models, at Habanero, an employee’s assigned Performance Manager is rarely his or her own manager. Seniority or reporting structure does not dictate the lines of feedback. Instead, certain people within the organization apply for the position and earn the responsibility of becoming a ‘Performance Manager’.

Each Performance Manager is paired with five other people in the organization. We suggest monthly check-ins... but ultimately, we encourage an environment that promotes 360-degree feedback at all times, regardless of when the next review is scheduled to take place.

By utilizing this model, we’ve built a workplace that is collaborative (even across departments), transparent and promotes ongoing knowledge exchange.

TPD: What builds a ‘Best Company to Work For?


ccWhen the dust settles, it’s all about people. People build best workplaces. For this reason, Habanero places great value on our hiring process. We always hire for fit first. Skills come second.

In order for us to determine the best fit, we first had to get real with ourselves as an organization. After all, to know what you’re looking for, you first have to know who you are and what you want. This ‘reflection exercise’ or ‘culture assessment’ can be difficult. You have to determine your core values, define your corporate culture and align the business’s overall strategy.

TPD: How do you measure engagement at Habanero Consulting?


My office is located next to the lunchroom. When the kitchen is full, when people are coming and going, when I can hear laughter at lunchtime... we’re doing well. We’re engaged.

FEATURED EXPERT: Caterina Sanders


Vice-President and Director of Employee Experience Caterina Sanders is accountable for seeing that Habanero’s day-to-day activities align with and deliver on our long term vision, as well as ensuring high team function of our leadership team. She also oversees the design and delivery of our ideal employee and contractor experience. This consists of our unique approaches to performance management, professional development, hiring and recruiting, organizational design, personal learning and knowledge management for the organization.

In addition, Caterina works with clients as a client experience manager and also participates in strategic employee experience design activities. She has a diverse background which includes consulting for both employee and customer portals, interaction design, and project management.

Caterina is an honest and inspiring presenter who speaks regularly on employee engagement and building culture in organizations.

Caterina has been with Habanero since 2000 and in 2009 became a partner in the company. Caterina has taught classes in website design and development at Bodwell Internet School and is a co-founder of the Vancouver User Experience Group (VanUE). She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from the University of British Columbia.

Other Recommended Reads: The Importance of Employee Engagement in the 21st Century 

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