Some of the faces may be changing, but the focus remains the same for Workplace Safety & Prevention Services' Board of Directors: continued growth and success for WSPS and its customers.
Gordon Vala-Webb likes to roll up his sleeves and dig into a challenge. He is energized by collaboration, innovation and knowledge integration. And, he has been a passionate contributor to WSPS’s work in creating a culture of health and safety in Ontario for the past three years.
In June, he retired as Chair of the WSPS Board of Directors and turned the position over to his colleague Normand Côté, Vice President Client Services, Optimum Talent.
“It's been an honour working with Gordon,” says Elizabeth Mills, President and CEO of Workplace Safety & Prevention Services. He truly understands our business and the needs of our customers. I'll miss working with him, but I know that he is leaving the role in capable hands and that Normand will do an equally stellar job.”
“Gordon has led the board with a steady hand through tremendous change,” says Côté. “Under his leadership, we've matured from being operationally-focused to being a very strategic board.”
For Vala-Webb this change is bittersweet; it will enable him to focus time on building his new business, Dynamic Adaptation, but he will miss his work with WSPS and the active role he and his fellow board members have played in helping to build the organization. “The board shepherded WSPS through its amalgamation and has built a set of capabilities in the people, the organization and the technology that puts WSPS in very good stead going forward. And, at the same time, we've worked at building the competency and capability of the board.”
In addition to organizational changes, the board has led WSPS through tremendous provincial level changes, including the implementation of the recommendations brought forward by the Expert Advisory Panel's review of health and safety in Ontario in 2010; followed by the transfer of responsibility for Ontario's four health and safety associations, including WSPS, from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to the Ministry of Labour; and, most recently, consultations regarding the province's first integrated OHS strategy.
And, amidst all of this, last year WSPS launched its first three-year strategic plan with three significant areas of focus - building its reputation as a trusted business partner, expanding its reach, and generating revenue through the creation of health and safety products and services that enable customers to achieve results.
It’s been a challenging period to lead the organization, but WSPS is fortunate to have a group of directors who share Vala-Webb's passion for health and safety and interest in actively engaging with staff and stakeholders. In addition to their focus on strategy execution, organizational performance, managing risk, and fiduciary oversight, members of the board have also participated in building brand awareness, strengthening strategic alliances and partnerships, and have led critical conversations with customers and other stakeholders about system changes and future needs.
Mills believes this is essential to the organization's success. “We have a hefty mandate to meet the health and safety needs of over 154,000 workplaces in Ontario, and we have set the bar even higher by promising to be a trusted business partner to our customers - helping them grow their businesses. It is no longer realistic or possible to confine the board's activities to simply overseeing compliance and fiduciary matters. We need a much higher level of competence and involvement from them in order to achieve our strategic goals.”
It was through this lens that the organization recruited its three newest directors, appointed at WSPS's annual general meeting on June 25, the same day that Jon Johnson, an attorney who joined the board in September was officially welcomed, and Côté was elected as Chair.
Chris Young, Vice President, Hydroelectric and Thermal Projects, Ontario Power Generation, Eric Preston, Osborne Group Consulting and Peter Gregg, Chief Operating Officer, Hydro One Networks Inc., may share some history in terms of the organizations they've worked for in the past, but each one brings a unique skill set that will be essential to the future performance of the organization.
"I was involved in the selection process and I'm extremely pleased with the candidates that were chosen," says Côté. "We are careful about selecting individuals who have skill sets that complement those of the other board members. We don't want a board made up of a group of people with the same skills and experience. These gentlemen officially joined the board on the 25th, but they had the opportunity to work with us on a couple of occasions before then and they have already clearly demonstrated the big value add they will bring to the table."
Vala-Webb is confident the new team has what it takes to help WSPS move to the next level of performance. "The key is to have diversity of perspectives and thinking, and to be able to resolve conflict in a positive way. We've designed the board with an emphasis on strategic capabilities, critical thinking and collaboration, and we've gotten really good at coming together to reach a shared decision."
As Côté contemplates his role as Chair, he notes his priority will be to continue to simplify and to maintain the steady approach that Vala-Webb employed to lead the board through constant change. "With so many changes and lack of stability, it's critical that we simplify so that we become really good at the essential things and not just average at many things - this is the only way we can deliver value to customers and WSPS can continue to grow."