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Calgary Zoo helping front line managers become effective leaders

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About Calgary Zoo

The Calgary Zoo is committed to saving species around the world and here at home. The zoo has received international recognition for its conservation research and in 2013, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums said, "The Calgary Zoo sets itself apart as one of the top zoos in the world.” Welcoming more than more than 1.3 million visitors in 2016, the zoo shared its messages of hope and inspiration through on-park experiences with its guests, encouraging them to make a difference in the world.

What prompted the decision to offer managers training in leadership skills?

Training for the management group was triggered by the results of an internal employee engagement survey and requests from employees for the opportunity to improve their skills. The Manager of Human Resources, Sean Duggan, seized the opportunity to develop a plan for leadership and performance management training. Supported by a Canada Alberta Job Grant to offset training costs, he made a successful pitch to the zoo’s executive and senior leadership team.

Calgary Zoo opted for four days of leadership training spread over four weeks

People are busy at the zoo and most don’t have a 9-5, Monday to Friday schedule. Human Resources scheduled a full day of leadership and performance management training once a week for one month to allow the maximum number of people to be part of the training — and to integrate learning over time.

Why on-site training for the team?

For the Calgary Zoo, you might say arranging the schedules of its managers is a little like herding exotic animals. On-site learning meant no additional travel time for employees, as well as the opportunity to use their own training rooms in a beautiful setting.

What outcomes has the training yielded?

Maria Martiniello, Event Sales Manager for the Calgary Zoo, says the impact of the training was felt immediately. “From the first day, we realized how vital and valuable it was for managers from across the organization to have candid, healthy conversations about how our work impacts other areas. We arranged to have monthly meetings where we engage in peer-to-peer mentorship.” Adds Martiniello, “I’ve begun having conversations each Friday within my business unit about lessons learned and difficult situations we’ve handled. This really clears the way for a good week ahead.”

How important was the Canada Alberta Job Grant in offering leadership skills to management?

“Very,” says Duggan. “The job grant made it possible for me to put together a training proposal that was very palatable to our senior leadership. Without the grant, we wouldn’t have been able to provide four full days of learning for our managers.”

“We need to support our managers and give them the opportunity to strengthen their leadership skills.”

Sean Duggan
Human Resources Manager
Calgary Zoo