Engagement During Turbulent Times: A Case Study

By Gillian Buergin, VP Operations & HR, Algonquin Automotive

“You look great!  Just one last set! You can do this!” As a part time fitness instructor I am passionate about coaching my group exercise participants to set and achieve their personal goals.  During each class I know it is my job to lead the group safely through the journey we will take together and to do it in a way that recognizes individual needs while presenting strong, confident leadership to the entire room.   Being a successful instructor means I must fully commit myself to continuous learning and to mirroring the essence of my program.  More than that, to serve my participants well, I must strike a balance between a highly energizing session and one in which meaningful connections can be formed.  I know that community is retention glue and when my participants feel connected to each other, they are more likely to return week after week, stay motivated and ultimately achieve their fitness goals.

What began as a way to relieve workday stress and improve overall health has grown into an essential adjunct to my life.  Being a present leader, fostering a motivating environment, facilitating the formation of a community; these are lessons that I take from the gym to my role as the executive Operations and Human Resource leader for an automotive accessory manufacturer.

Over the past two years world economic events have converged to create the Perfect Storm for the North American automotive industry.  Having faced a number of downward cycles during my career in this dynamic industry, I felt that I was prepared to weather the storm.  But this time has proven to be very different.  With a weakening Canadian dollar, budget cuts, a tightening credit market and a  consumer shift towards more fuel efficient vehicles, our organization has experienced unprecedented hardship and I have personally faced the most challenging period of my career.

The journey has been arduous and today, our organization is still confronting difficult days as the automotive industry struggles to regain its footing.  Our future still holds great uncertainty but reflecting on this difficult journey I have learned some very valuable lessons.   First, an empowered team is an absolute joy to lead (from behind).  Second, it is possible to engage and motivate an entire workforce to achieve amazing results against incredible odds.  Third, when the number of things beyond your control dramatically outnumber those within it, focusing on process and co-creating SMART goals will bring clarity and confidence.

Is it possible for a Leader Coach to stand in the paradox of creating a motivating environment for personal growth against the backdrop of a declining industry and uncertain future?  To answer, I will share the words of commitment put forth by my management team as they worked to create their Operational goals:

We are the warriors in the battle against waste and apathy

We rely on our team members and trust each other

We honour our core values and remember our past

We keep ourselves focused on the path ahead

We fight for the realization of our vision

We respond to factual feedback

We create an environment in which confidence and expertise can build

We strive to be top performers and remain team players

By inspiring positive change we can take on the world!

Whether I am in the gym or the office, creating the conditions in which an energized, connected team can form is my top responsibility and passion.   I feel privileged to play a part in the successful achievement of so many personal and organizational goals and I know that all that I have learned to this point is simply the precursor to greater experiences.  As a Leader Coach, my journey continues and as for my management team and their direct reports…well…they are ready to take on the world!