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leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

We love our culture and 'growing our own' but that doesn't mean we'll offer to freeze eggs for female employees like Apple does. We also don't provide nap pods, oil changes, or concierge services like Google. And as a Crown corporation, beer will never be on tap in our cafeterias like it is at Hootsuite (not that there's anything wrong with beer).

Frankly, the BC Lottery Corporation (BCLC) doesn't participate in the seemingly endless competition to provide headline-grabbing perks for our employees. But we still have incredibly high levels of employee engagement that even rival numbers from the latest tech start-ups.

For BCLC, employee engagement is driven by our cultural drivers of collaboration, embracing change, customer focus, and trust. These facets of our corporate culture are brought to life, not by serving beer, but by creating opportunities for professional development for our people and by promoting from within whenever possible.

Basic, bread-and-butter initiatives like these have taken our employee engagement to 83 per cent – a figure that puts us in the company of top organizations across the country, according to Aon Hewitt's Best Employers in Canada Study. And we've done this without having a ball pit in the office!

Take care of your people. They will take care of your business.

I was fortunate to work for some great leaders as I grew in my career. One lesson I'll never forget was to take care of your people first – they take care of your customers, who in turn take care of your business. It sounds simple, but how many leaders work their butts off focusing on the business only to blame their people for not producing when things fail?

One of the ways we take care of our people is through our talent development program. From access to online courses, to comprehensive leadership programs that can boost their skills for their current roles or help prepare them for future opportunities, these programs have a little something for everyone based on their development goals.

For example, upward mobility is a motivator for some, but not everyone wants to be the CEO someday. However, those people who want to stay in their current role are valuable to the business, as they serve as great mentors to developing leaders as they rise through the ranks, and they're definitely worth investing in. For this reason, we will be creating opportunities for those who want to master their current role – we call this the mastery path. We give people the tools they need to excel in their current roles and this demonstrates that we value their contributions to the organization.

We also offer programs for those who do want to sit in the c-suite or for those who want to manage or lead a team. By partnering with UBC's Sauder School of Business, our people can enhance their learning in marketing, finance, operations and strategy from some of the brightest teachers in the country. Going to class together serves as a team-building exercise and it promotes collaboration and information sharing across the company. Over 100 people have benefited from participating in this program since its inception, and many of the final group projects have turned into new business opportunities for BCLC.

(Double) dip into your internal talent pool

As a fresh-faced university grad, I was recruited for a job in sales at Procter and Gamble. The only way to get into the company was by starting at the bottom of the ladder, which showed me first-hand the huge benefits of growing your own talent. At P&G, it's like graduate school – or some might even liken it to military school. Once you're in the door, you are given the opportunity to develop and move up the ladder or across the lattice, and ultimately, you're given the opportunity to prove your worth on the leadership track. P&G also appreciated the people who didn't want to move up or around, emphasizing their value as mentors. In that environment, those employees understood that their direct reports could become their boss in a few years.

I've fostered a culture that promotes similar values at BCLC. In the past 10 months, we have filled approximately 50 per cent of posted positions with internal candidates. Many of these growth opportunities are lateral moves, giving our people a chance to become well-versed in every aspect of our culture and business. This includes my executive team, where I have purposefully moved people into roles that match their skill set and the business need. I learned the value of this development personally when I went from running the lottery business to the casino business, before taking on the CEO role.

One of the most underrated keys to engagement is giving people the autonomy to make their job bigger and better than its description, whether they are working on product development, marketing campaigns or new, cutting-edge technologies to improve customer experience. One of our employees recently told me that she is engaged "because of the people. They're smart and they inspire me to be better. My manager is open to new ideas and gives me the freedom to prove my worth."

Lead with 'why'

In his famous TED Talk, marketing genius Simon Sinek says great leaders communicate from the inside out. Regardless of their size and industry, all organizations should think, act and communicate by starting with 'why' before tackling anything else.

Every day, I think about leading my team of 800 with the 'why' so they can get behind our vision. It's important to keep up the habit when times are good, but giving your people a sense of purpose becomes even more essential when times are tough. I practice sharing 'why' and our purpose through a weekly email and quarterly town hall-style meetings, where I share my insights about our business, recognize great work, and give people the straight goods on issues.

It can be difficult to host these types of meetings, where my leadership is put in the spotlight – in good times and bad – but showing vulnerability has facilitated incredible engagement that has positive impact on our bottom line. I wholeheartedly agree with Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, who says, "If you reward candour, you will get it." I don't want to surround myself with people who will tell me what they think I want to hear. I want to know if the light at the end of the tunnel is a train coming at me.

While many companies have the luxury of offering a menu of unique perks to their staff, there are still many opportunities for organizations that can't – they can simply go back to the basics. I believe any engagement effort should be grounded in an honest desire to focus on and honour your people. I love the saying, as a leader, you should 'eat last.'

Jim Lightbody is president and CEO of BCLC.