Wednesday, January 11, 2017


There have been significant shifts in the drivers of our economy creating tremendous opportunities for organizations. The psychological evolution of the workforce, the changes in regulation, legislation and approach of our governments, and the availability and access to human capital have all made a mark. The opportunities lie in ‘how’ to manage these shifts and challenges.

Traditional methods in human resource management, like organizational restructuring, compensation, and benefit package changes and employee attraction, retention and layoff strategies, are often risky, costly and limiting. Interim management is cost effective in addressing necessary organizational, program and/or human capital changes; creating additional options for organizational leadership Interim Management can provide a fresh perspective, while also bringing a wealth of knowledge, experience, and objectivity to your organization.

The economic shifts we have experienced the past 2-3 years demands that business leaders move past old cookie cutter approaches and dive deep to uncover insights and solutions to grow their businesses. The key distinction between many interim executives and those traditional business consultants is easy to remember; an interim executive has the skills to design the solution, AND execute on those plans. Business growth is both cost and time sensitive and an interim manager gives you a competitive edge.

Three ways an interim executive can positively impact your organization:

1. Never let a crisis go to waste.

In his bestseller, The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg notes the best leaders seize crises to remake organizational habits - those implicit, informal and unwritten rules that employees use to survive their work environment. Changing these habits takes awareness, time, effort, and in most cases, significant organizational courage. Change agents don’t always survive the change they need to instill. An interim executive has the required experience to objectively review, recommend and manage change while providing the face for any negativity associated with difficult transitions.

2. Get a fresh perspective.

When budgets are tight and teams are slim, quick understanding of the issues facing your business is paramount. Having a fresh perspective and a big picture view is critical. Sometimes your best people are too close to the issue and can miss the trend or opportunity. Adding an interim executive increases capacity and expands your options, and helps you to find the right solution.

3. Develop human capital.

Human resources are an organization's greatest asset while at the same time representing a liability, which must be managed, developed and nurtured to achieve the organization’s mission and vision. Without shifting and evolving the organization’s human resource management practices to meet the significant adjustments occurring in our economic and social environment business leaders are left wondering how they lost their margins and business leadership positions.

Change requires an ability to stand up against the established norms in order to ensure an organization’s survival. Working with an interim executive who has the experience to lead and grow organizations, teams, and/or individuals through these organizational pivot points, can not only grow the abilities and skills of your employees but can also fast track the changes as they are not as vested in the ways of the past.

Your business or organization can’t flounder through a transformation; it needs to be purposeful and effective for all stakeholders. If you're scratching your head on how to leverage these opportunities, consider an Osborne Interim executive. The Osborne Group team has a proven track record in Western Canada - introducing experienced interim executives with the knowledge, skills, and objectivity needed to push through major initiatives in a wide variety of fields and industries. To find out more, contact Osborne Principal Joel Benjamin.

Thursday, November 10, 2016


What is risk management?
As a small to medium business owner or manager, is risk management something you think about or do you even think it applies to your business? What is risk management anyway? In fact, what is risk?

Risk can be considered to be ‘the effect of uncertainty on your business objectives’ and it is an inherent part of being in business.  When you make investments in your business the hope is, that they will generate a positive return, but that return can be negative, positive or even far beyond your expectations.  It is that type of uncertainty that we would call risk.  The management of risk is concerned with reducing business uncertainty and the impacts arising when risk events do occur.

 “It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those 
   who will not risk, cannot win.”
John Paul Jones

The greatest challenge for small and medium business owners is to find the proper balance between risk, peace of mind and profitability.  Trying to completely eliminate risk from your business is unrealistic and can be prohibitively expensive or cause you to institute policies that may be so risk averse that your business never grows.  Gauging the correct level of risk will position a company to grow and be robust enough to withstand adversity. 

So where do I start? - Identify & Assess

Risk management can be very complex, but it doesn’t have to be.  The first step is to take a very honest and thorough look at your company and then to identify and evaluate the risk events that could impact it.  Here are some of the questions that you should be asking:

  • Do I you really know our business objectives beyond mere profitability? 
The strategic objectives in your business plan are a good starting point here, but you need to think about those business objectives that support your strategic plan.  Consider things like:
    • Your ability to attract and retain the right staff
    • Business processes
    • Workplace safety
    • The environmental impact of operations
    • IT Systems
    • Your relationship with suppliers and customers 
    • Regulatory compliance.

  • What types of risk events can impact our objectives?  
This involves identifying the risk events that can specifically affect your objectives and assessing both the likelihood of occurrence and the impact upon the organization.  This goes beyond looking at the downside, the catastrophe, or major issues that can hit your business. You also have to look at what new sales or growth opportunities are out there and the risk of not achieving them or the risks of not achieving them well.

  • How can I deal with our risks? 
We all deal with risk every day and the same strategies we use in our daily lives apply in the business context as well.  If we decide that a motor vehicle accident is a risk event that we wish to manage then we can control or treat that risk in a number of ways: We can decide to drive during a snow storm and ACCEPT the risk of an accident or AVOID the risk by staying at home.  We could put winter tires on our car to REDUCE the likelihood of an accident.  We buy cars with safety systems such as air bags to REDUCE the consequences of the accident.  We purchase insurance to REDUCE the financial impact of the accident or we could take public transit and TRANSFER the risk of having an accident.  

The same principles apply to risk in a business context.  The approaches of acceptance, avoidance, transfer, reducing the likelihood and reducing or mitigating the consequences, form the basis of risk management policies and treatments which can be used individually or in combination.  You should decide how to manage the identified risks to fit within your risk tolerance and resources available.  Most often a combination of approaches is the most effective.

  • Peace of Mind vs Profitability?  
In the risk management world, this is often referred to as ‘risk tolerance’.  Remember you cannot eliminate all risk, so you must decide how much risk your business can accept.  Achieving the correct balance is at the heart of risk management.  

These questions are the basis of the complex ISO 31000 risk management standard used by large companies to manage ERM when dealing with complex and dynamic risks.  This simplified process should, however, provide the tools and insight, not only to allow you to quantify your risks but also your position your strategic business plan to be more resilient.  

What’s next? – Monitor & Review

Now you understand your business objectives at a comprehensive level, you have identified the risk events that can affect the achievement of those objectives, you have decided how to manage those risks and now you can sit back and run your business?  Maybe not!  To be effective, risk management should be a dynamic and iterative process, your business doesn’t stand still and neither does the environment in which you operate.  To be truly resilient you must take it a little further.

Monitoring your competition, customers, suppliers, technology and changes in the law or regulations and will provide early indications of changes in your risk profile.  Perhaps you may consider establishing some key risk indicators, such as commodity prices, competitor pricing or currency exchange rates.  When these indicators fall below or rise above your indicator levels, certain actions may be initiated.  For example, lower fuel prices may prompt a shipping company to consider highway transportation for longer hauls, but at what point does it become more economical to switch to the railways? Similarly, the fluctuations in the exchange rate for the Canadian currency may influence where a manufacturer sources raw materials or what market in which to concentrate sales activity.

Taking a few days periodically to review and update your risk management plan is a wise investment.  The review should involve multiple levels of management from within your organization and (if warranted) a risk management consultant, to provide insights and perspectives that you may not have considered.  To identify new and emerging risks ask questions like:
  • Will a change in operations, or the addition of new equipment create new risks or change     existing ones?  
  • Will a new supplier or customer change your supply chain risk? 
  • Does a fluctuating exchange rate present a commodity price risk or an export opportunity?  

Having recognized that change may be occurring, an evaluation of your risk management plan is recommended.  Are your policies and internal controls at the right level? Are you reaching your target market or have new markets become accessible and if so what new risks may arise? Do you have a plan A, B and even C if things change unexpectedly?  Do you have a business continuity plan if you are faced with a catastrophic event? And finally, is your insurance coverage appropriate for your business today? 

What about insurance? – An Essential Component

When many business owners think about “risk management” it’s usually limited to purchasing standard insurance protection without much consideration for other ways to protect the business. Insurance is an essential part of any risk management plan but you must understand its limitations.  Insurance can mitigate the financial consequences of a liability claim or of a loss event such as a fire, or windstorm or even a major operational loss if you have business interruption coverage. But insurance will not reduce the likelihood of a risk event occurring nor will it help manage risks that are uninsurable such as supply chain risks or strategic risks.  

The optimum level of insurance is attained when your insurance is structured to provide your desired level of coverage, specific to you risk profile at the lowest possible cost.  This will raise the question of how much risk can I can accept?  You may be able to lower your premiums by accepting a higher deductible or you may decide that you need a higher level of liability coverage to do business in the US.  This comes back to that question of peace of mind vs. profitability. 

The coverage and policy limits offered by your insurance should be reviewed at least annually as your business develops.  It is important to look at the detail of your policies to make sure that you are not paying for coverage you don’t need and to confirm that the policies limits are reflective of your business today.  If you merely renew your policy every year you run the risk of misalignment occurring between your expected level of compensation and your actual policy limits.  Factors that lead to misalignment include changes in the cost of building or equipment replacement, changes in the size of the entity insured, business development into new markets and new or emerging risks.

 “One thing that makes it possible to be an optimist is if you have a contingency plan for when all hell breaks loose.” 
-Randy Pausch

Insurance is often considered to be a risk transfer mechanism but this is only correct insofar as it transfers the financial impact of a risk event to the insurance provider.  Insurance is most effective when it is combined with activities that reduce the likelihood or occurrences, mitigate the impacts and business continuity planning that can provide for rapid recovery.  For example in the event of a major fire at one of your facilities, your insurance will provide with the financial resources to rebuild or restore operations, but a business continuity plan will give you the roadmap to business resumption, allowing you to recover quickly.

It’s up to you – manage the risks or accept them?

There is no ‘one size fits all’ strategy for risk management.  Every industry has its specific risks and every company within an industry has its own unique risks based on its culture, maturity, market position and so on.  The amount of risk management activity each company undertakes will be different as well.  It could be as little as an annual review of insurance coverage and consideration of key business risks for a sole proprietorship, or as comprehensive as a department with a large staff managing claims, insurance and daily monitoring of key risk indicators for a large financial enterprise.  

For you, however, taking these few simple steps can kick start your risk management program and help you define and align your risk appetite with your strategy and the way you operate your business.  The end result is that you should have a business that is positioned to take advantage of opportunities when they arise and one that is more resilient when adversity strikes.  

 “Good Risk Management fosters vigilance in times of calm and instills discipline in times of crisis.”  
  - Dr. Michael Ong

Ivan R. McClelland LLB, MBA, P.Mgr. CRM

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Properly hosting an Olympics Games can be a real boom for the host country, province and cities. That said, the “how” and the “why” are critically important.

Many people are surprised to learn the real benefit is not in the 16 days. The actual competitions shine the world’s spotlight on the host community, but the real benefit is in the process, the profile, the future and the legacy. Understanding what can be achieved and setting out a path to get there is imperative. It is about leading and a legacy of attention. The “home run” happens in the future, after the “Games”.

Those who forget these basics and champion events that cost too much create controversy and fail their communities.

Frank King eloquently said almost 30 years ago, “When enough people believe, the dream comes true”. He was speaking to the qualities of enthusiasm and engagement - which are eventually the roots of  any successes.

All international events should be pursued on a similar basis. Is the community prepared to dream and be the best that it can be? What are its aspirations; and how they can be achieved by taking on this international  opportunity?

In Calgary, this is now the subject of important study and analysis. It is the next step, and it is not easy work. It must be viewed from many perspectives - the City, the Province, and the Country. But those will not matter if is does not first satisfy the aspiration of sport and culture, as those are the foundation of an Olympic Games. And the analysis must not forget about the needs of the Canadian Olympic Committee and finally, the IOC and international sporting federations. Thankfully, the IOC has recently made changes around expectations and processes. What might not previously been a compelling case, now might be possible.

I’m exited the City of Calgary is prepared to look at the merits of a bid and further, that they have committed resources adequate for the analysis to insure it meets its needs. Our “next” generation is ready to take up the challenge and I hope they are given the chance to show the work the greatness of our people and the majesty of our little corner of the world

The real opportunities will follow this step, its work and study. Our Osborne team has the experience to help businesses explore and then implement plans that can be beneficial to the eventual organizing committee. Exciting times ahead!

Russ Tynan (click to see Russ’ profile)

Russ Tynan has worked in significant roles on two Olympic Winter Games (1988 & 2010) and provided counsel to two other Olympics (199 and 1994) and another international sporting event held in Canada (1994).

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


In my January newsletter article “2016 Outlook – Hospitality and Tourism”, I forecasted this year to be another economically challenging one for the tourism sector, even with a few favorable conditions existing in the market. A weak Canadian dollar will incent Canadians to travel their own country more and will motivate the American traveler – our number one international travel market - and other foreign visitors to make Canada their 2016 destination. Also, with lower fuel prices lower travel costs will provide travelers some relief at the pump for the important “rubber tire” market. However, my prediction of 2016 duplicating the poor results of 2015 was based on an expected drop off in business travel due to the Oil and Gas economy.

This forecast was not a difficult one to make and I certainly wasn’t the only person projecting this type of year; and so I am not suggesting I am this generation’s Nostradamus or that I will be spending more time looking into my crystal ball. However, I do believe that with the Calgary Stampede upon us, and as we enter the third quarter of the year – tourism’s highest revenue quarter – it might be healthy to look at our vital signs and see how we are doing!

Alberta GDP growth projections in the first quarter of 2016 were all negative by four leading institutions: ATB Financial -0.5%; Scotiabank -1.9%; RBC -1.6%; and the Conference Board of Canada -1.1%. The Canadian Tourism Research Institute forecasted in 2016 growth of Overnight Pleasure Travel by Canadians of 1.6% on top of the 0.7% growth estimate in 2015. Business Overnight Travel by Canadians was projected to rise 1.8% over 2015 but that is based on an estimate of a 6.3% drop in 2015 performance to 2014. USA Overnight Travel and Overseas Overnight Travel were forecast to rise 3.8% and 4.1% respectively. Combined, Total Overnight Travel visits were estimated to increase by only 0.3% in 2015 and 1.9% in 2016, with these small growth projections being driven by leisure travelers.

In January 2015 and February 2015 the West Texas Intermediate price per barrel in US dollars was $47 and $51 respectively. In January 2016 and February 2016 the same measure was $32 and $30 per barrel – an average of 36% drop from the previous year in these two months. In January 2015 and February 2015 the RevPAR (Revenue Per Available Room) in Alberta was $75 and $86 respectively. In January 2016 and February 2016 the RevPAR was $55 and $63 – an average decrease of 27% in revenue per room for these two months. There is a direct correlation in hotel performance related to the Oil and Gas sector performance, and while leisure tourism growth helps to offset business travel decreases, it cannot match the high yield of business travel for hotels.

Another factor we are seeing in 2016 is the ongoing increase in hotel room supply. New hotels, like the Hilton in East Village and Marriott at the airport, on the heels of new hotels opened last year, are increasing significantly the amount of hotel rooms available to travelers at a time when demand is flat or diminished from previous years. This puts tremendous pressure on hoteliers to maintain rates in a very competitive environment. Tourists, whether for leisure or business, are the beneficiaries as room rates drop and hoteliers struggle to keep RevPAR at budgeted levels.

Reports suggest that the mountain resorts are expecting a great summer in hotel occupancy. Hopefully room rates will reflect the high demand offsetting the downturn in business travel the other seven months of the year. Leisure travelers are definitely driving the tourism bus this year in Alberta!

Randy Williams (click to see Randy’s profile)
Head of Practice - Tourism, Hospitality and Destination Management

Other Articles by Randy Williams
Organizations Holding a Leadership Position - What Defines Them?
Leadership - The Holy Grail of Business
What Are the Competitive Challenges for Calgary and Canada's Tourism Sector?
Old Friends Not Visiting as Much; But We Attracted More New Friends
Taking a Trip is More Important Than You May Know

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


The last 18 months have been hard for Albertans, and while the price of oil is on a sluggish rise, we have seen reductions and layoffs in all industries, not just the energy sector, with a slow return to hiring. These cuts will have an impact in a way that has not yet been perceived, with the question being, have we gone too far?

The boom-bust cycle in Alberta is nothing new. As a matter of fact, the Baby Boomers have experienced this before, first in the early 1980s, with several others of varying degrees leading up to the current downturn. By all accounts though, this cycle is different as it is expected to be a structural change for the oil and gas industry that will affect how companies do business going forward. However, did companies consider their people asset requirements for the future in the latest cost cutting initiatives?

When one looks at the labour market demographics, as has been predicted for years, it is clear that the retirement bubble is coming. The recent reductions have seen companies reduce their staff significantly at the middle management and senior individual contributor levels. These employees were being groomed to be the next generation of “thought leaders” and to fill the leadership gap that will be created by the impending retirement bubble. Although we may not know for certain when the retirement bubble will burst, a look at labour market demographics, along with the Liberal government’s campaign promise to reinstate the retirement age of 65 from the current age of 67, it is certain that it is on the horizon.

The perfect storm is brewing; as a result of the latest cuts and potential retirements, I see a significant void that will be exposed once the economy starts to turn around. There will be a lack of talent who can effectively step into leadership and technical expert roles. As a result, attracting and retaining the right people will come at a compensation premium. In addition, the changing expectations of Millennials in the workplace will create a challenge that will require companies to either adapt or be left behind in their bid to attract and retain emerging talent.

What most companies have missed is an earnest review of their people practices and employee value proposition in order to support this new reality. Without a serious and in depth review, the next wave in the war for talent could result in a repeat of past mistakes. When the economy bounces back, and it will, the available talent pool will be underdeveloped, with the competition for this labour pool intense. I would expect there to be higher costs associated with recruitment, training, development and total rewards, with companies, as they have done in the past, looking to outside consultants to fill the gap. However, the competition for key talent (employee, contractor or consultant) could result in staffing cost escalations that may price some projects and companies out of the market.

In my opinion, people are an organization’s greatest asset, and like anything that contributes to a company’s revenue, there should be a strategy (short and long term) in place. Companies can look at their labour spend to understand the cost of these assets but, can they articulate the value received and resulting contribution to the bottom line from their people? Companies need to shift their approach to Human Resources from tactical to strategic; only then can a company say with certainty what is an employee’s ROI. At any point in time, a company should be able to:

  • Track the amount spent on an employee, whether it’s from recruitment, development, training, rewards and incentives, retirement plans, benefits, vacation packages, etc.
  • Know the expected ramp up costs where the employee is adequately trained and contributing, and measure what they are actually achieving with their new hires and promotions.
  • See a positive correlation between investment spent on leadership and training and the company’s bottom line.

So, what can an organization do to prepare for what’s coming?

  • Ask itself what kind of company it wants to be? An employer of choice? And whose choice?
  • Assess company values and culture and determine if it’s the right one for the long term.
  • Reassess, or determine if necessary, the company’s employee value proposition so that it attracts and retains the right types of employees, ones who will help the organization attain its long term objectives.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of all employee programs and make changes where necessary.

The answers will be different for every organization, but what remains the same is each company needs to ensure they have the right staffing mix, and one that includes people at all levels, including those poised to fill the leadership gap the next time a boom-bust cycle occurs, which, inevitably it will.

Joel Benjamin (click to see Joel’s profile)