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Illustration: Janne Iivonen

When Mark Wallace joined Medgate as president and CEO, he decided he would host a company party in his backyard every summer. In the 13 years since—as the Toronto-based software company has grown from 30 employees to nearly 200—he’s done just that. “It’s getting a bit uncomfortable,” laughs David Poole, the firm’s product marketing manager.

But Wallace is adamant about continuing the annual tradition. Indeed, it fits with his belief that company culture needs to start at the top and come to life through front-line managers. Take, for example, Medgate’s quarterly town hall meetings, in which Wallace urges managers to stand up and answer employee questions on the fly. It’s a way to keep managers sharp, but it also strengthens the trust between supervisors and the
people who report to them.

Such connections are powerful stuff; they’re the reason the adage “people leave managers, not companies” has persisted. According to Aon Hewitt, the extent to which an employee feels the person they report to is in her corner can greatly affect her overall engagement. Indeed, Medgate earned a spot on this year’s Aon Best Employers in Canada list for the first time in large part due to its habit of developing managers who care. (The word “family” comes up often in its employee surveys.)

Beyond holding parties and town halls, Medgate has several procedures in place to help front-line managers connect with their charges. The company offers programs to train managers to give more effective feedback and make employees’ work more meaningful. It will often pay for external education, too. Training, says Wallace, is essential. “High-performing employees do not wake up one day as born managers,” he says.

The key skill Medgate is trying to instil? Listening. “It’s easy to pay lip service to that, but we’ve found it makes a lot of sense to listen to, and actually do, what employees suggest,” Poole says. “They’re the ones doing the day-to-day jobs—they know what’s good for customers and for the business.” Medgate managers are trained not only to hold regular one-on-one meetings and team huddles but also to effectively solicit employee ideas during those sessions.

Wallace is the first to admit the process isn’t perfect; he sees the growth of front-line leaders as a perpetual project. “We’re improving [management] at the same time as we’re hiring new people,” he says. “That may seem arcane, but it’s important.”


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