The Strategy Behind Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures Award


What can I say? It’s awards season. But while others might be focusing on movies, TV programs or music videos, I’m interested in those that recognize business culture, performance, and growth. And there are several award programs out there for the Professional Services sector. EY (Ernst and Young) have their “Entrepreneur of the Year” Award, KPMG has QuantumShift, BDC has the “Young Entrepreneur Award” and “Innovation Awards”, and Deloitte has their “Canada’s Best Managed Company” awards. But the one that’s caught my attention is the company that’s taken the business awards principle one step further.

For the past 11 years, Waterstone Human Capital ( has to lead the charge to award some of the best companies in Canada with the “Most Admired Corporate Cultures Award” ( I recently had the privilege of attending this year’s gala in Toronto, hosted by comedian Brent Butt, star of the hit series, “Corner Gas”. While there, I was also able to spend some time with Waterstone’s founder, Marty Parker, a sharp, energetic visionary who initiated this great tradition and gave me a first-hand look behind the awards strategy.

As I quickly learned, just like other business awards strategies, “Canada’s Most Admired” awards strategy is simple yet striking in both principle and application.

1. It reinforces a leading market position.

Waterstone provides performance consulting, a new Culture Dashboard and executive recruiting services to a wide range of organizations. Positioning themselves as a thought-leader within the market by acting as the authority on Corporate Culture gives credibility to their “Corporate Culture” enhancing services. It can also provide them with great content for social media and email communication throughout the year.

2. It adds value for all stakeholders.

A strong Corporate Culture is becoming a greater focus for leaders in order for them to recruit and retain great people. These awards not only help promote Waterstone but they also add value and help the organizations that apply and receive them. The application process itself helps shape strategic thinking and can be a catalyst for positive change within these companies. For those companies’ employees, winning the award can help reinforce the belief that they are indeed working for a great company that cares. The receiving organizations can now leverage this distinction and the accolades received in their recruitment efforts to help potential employees choose them over another company. Additionally, award sponsors such as Air Canada, the National Post, and MacKay CEO Forums can create awareness and build credibility for themselves to both the high-value attendees and within their own stakeholder groups as well, including their staff.

3. It gives permission to engage prospects.

Every professional service firm, mine included, do not want to “sell” to prospective clients. We want to be able to help organizations perform better through our services and get paid fairly for the value we bring. We also know that engaging a professional service firm is best when there’s a trusting relationship as a foundation. This awards program gives Waterstone and its team permission to not only meet decision-makers at these companies but also to demonstrate competence while building a professional relationship. The value of this alone is staggering: you could never achieve that open permission through “cold calling” or traditional advertising campaigns.

The best part of this strategy is that it’s not limited to large organizations or nation-wide endeavours. Any organization can do this on a scale that’s right for them. It could be as simple as recognizing an industry event that they engage in. For example, a greenhouse grower of plants could partner with the nursery association and create the “Garden Centre Awards” and have categories such as “Best Innovation”, “Best Service”, “Best Displays” and so on. A regional accounting firm could create “BC’s Fastest Growing Companies” awards, similar to Inc. Magazine’s Top 5000.

While it may sound easy in theory, the execution can be challenging in that it requires some solid lead time and careful planning. The main thing to remember, though, is that you want to add value while partnering with others who share in your quest to achieve the right marketing position.

Have a great week!