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PEOPLE Last modified on June 27, 2013

The people business

Recognising and rewarding good work and holding an annual Awards of Excellence programme is part and parcel of enhancing engagement and being an employer of choice, writes Christiane Beaulieu.

Anyone involved in business knows that some of the biggest challenges facing organisations are to attract, retain and motivate talented employees.

This is becoming even more critical in view of today’s workforce issues that are affecting all employers, including an aging population, the pending mass retirement of baby boomers, skills shortages, increased youth mobility and new social values such as work-life balance and personal development.

Increased layoffs of professional personnel in recent years have weakened the traditional loyalty arrangement between a company and its employees.

Gone are the days when one would work with the same employer during your entire active life. People are becoming more mobile too. Professionals, especially in certain high-demand areas, are becoming a sort of exchangeable commodity.

 In addition, the younger generation has different values and different views about work in general and view relationships with their employer differently. Family and personal life often have priority over work, or at the least, must be conciliated with work.  

Airports are, of course, not immune from these challenges, and need to come up with innovative ways to keep their staff engaged, or risk losing them to other industries.

James Cherry, president of CEO of Aéroports de Montréal (ADM), notes: “As employers, we can’t do much about these broad economic or labour market trends. But we can do something about the way we respond to these issues. We need to adapt our HR practices to ensure we keep our employees on board.”

ADM, which operates Montréal’s Trudeau and Mirabel airports, has about 650 employees and through innovative HR practices is committed to becoming an employer of choice, affirms Cherry.

“Being an employer of choice has many advantages. In addition to increasing your chances of attracting and retaining the best talent, it also enhances your competitiveness. Simply speaking, it makes great business sense,” he says.

For Cherry, an “employer of choice” has several defining characteristics, including an inspiring senior management, empowered employees, a distinctive corporate culture, a focus on talent development, and consistency of management practices.

“But, at the end of the day, in becoming an employer of choice, the number one objective is to engage employees,” he notes.

Engaged employees are important because they will talk about the company in positive terms, demonstrate a strong desire to remain in the organisation, and be more willing to go the extra mile to achieve its objectives.

Aéroports de Montréal has adopted a vision that states it “aspires to be an employer open to the world, one that leverages the talents of its employees, promotes their autonomy and recognises their contribution while communicating in an authentic way.”

As part of this vision, it champions team spirit, respect for the individual, loyalty, integrity, and creativity. Recognition is also a critical component.

“We believe it’s important to value and promote employee contributions,” says Cherry. “To offer concrete rewards in line with achievements and to support employee career development.”

Recognising excellence

In line with its vision, about a decade ago, ADM launched an innovative employee recognition programme designed to underscore that the organisation’s success is directly linked to employees’ contributions.  

ADM’s Awards of Excellence programme recognises individuals or teams whose achievements stood out during the year and winners are selected among entries submitted by employees themselves.

“This is a terrific peer-to-peer recognition programme that is highly appreciated by all our employees,” says Cherry. “Nominations have been increasing steadily year after year, and in 2012, totalled about 60.”

The awards are given in several categories which have been gradually expanded over the years and are based on a strict set of criteria. Nominees are judged by a jury set up for each category.

Enthuses Cherry: “The categories reflect our values and priorities. Innovation and creativity is probably the most popular, and the reason our positioning is based on innovation.”

Currently, the programme has seven categories, including:

  • Commitment and preparedness: For teams or individuals who went the “extra mile” or rallied others around a cause or common objective.
  • Team spirit: For a team who carried out a complex project requiring the cooperation of many employees or departments.
  • Innovation and creativity: For teams or individuals who proposed, developed or implemented a concept, technical solution or work method that was original and added value.
  • Environmental merit: For demonstrating leadership or commitment in protecting the environment.
  • Occupational health and safety: For teams or individuals implementing a solution, method or equipment that significantly improved EH&S performance.
  • Customer experience: For those who proposed an initiative having a positive impact on customer satisfaction or the delivery of a customer service.
  • Volunteerism and commendable action (a new category): For individuals or teams who show exceptional dedication, through volunteerism or acts of bravery.  


The Awards of Excellence are presented every October at a special gala presided over by Cherry and other senior ADM managers.

“It’s like our very own version of the Oscars, only funnier,” chuckles Cherry. “The gala is an immense success each year and employees are very proud to display their trophies.”

The recognition programme has become “an institution that says a lot about the kind of organisation we are,” he adds. “Employees really enjoy the programme as shown by the high participation level in terms of the number of nominations, the number of people involved and attendance at the gala.”

As an important player in the aviation industry, Cherry says that ADM is proud to be aiming high when it comes to employee relations and the working environment.

He says: “We believe that looking after your employees well is a win-win situation because they will, in turn, respect you and be loyal to the company. The bottom line is better productivity among the staff and better organisational results, plus a happier working environment for all.”

In fact, he adds, the most important aspect of airport leadership is the ability to engage employees and stakeholders.

“Without engagement and motivation, you can’t really hope to achieve your organisation’s objectives,” suggests Cherry.

Engagement requires giving employees a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities, communicating well, defining specific expectations, and, ultimately, providing proper feedback.

“These are all reflected in the recognition programme, which does not provide a monetary reward, but often encourages employees to aim even further and higher,” states ADM’s long-serving president and CEO.

Cherry says he believes the many successes at ADM over the past decade have been made possible by its strong, and highly engaged, team.

“Among these accomplishments has been the successful rationalisation of our two airports, which saw all passenger flights consolidated at Montréal-Trudeau and Montréal-Mirabel repositioned as an all-cargo and industrial airport.

“We also completed a major modernisation and expansion programme at Montréal-Trudeau, boosting capacity and incorporating the latest self-service technologies to make us a leader in this area. Last year we saw passenger volumes soar to record levels despite difficult times in our industry.

“We have achieved this because of our people, and they deserve to be recognised.”

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