Creating a Thriving Workplace

Moving Forward From a Place of Vision & Purpose



Habanero Consulting Group is an IT company with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, and soon in Toronto, that now has more than 80 employees. Caterina Sanders, Habanero’s director of employee experience, says that the organization has always moved “forward from a place of vision and purpose.” Habanero has redefined traditional business concepts such as the triple bottom line, balanced scorecard and open books management. Its open-books management sessions have been particularly helpful and are credited with deepening employee commitment to the organization. Habanero’s approach has been successful and has led to the creation of a thriving workplace, repeated recognition as a best company to work for and the excellence of the solutions they create.



Habanero has a simple yet lofty purpose – to help people and organizations thrive. It achieves that purpose by creating world class employee and customer portal solutions, and by retaining highly engaged employees.

Habanero Consulting Group is an IT company with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, and soon in Toronto. It was started in 1996 by two professional engineers who wanted to establish a company where they would be excited to work. Today, Habanero has more than 80 employees. It is a privately held partnership that has resisted rapid growth strategies or outside investment in order to maintain high employee and customer engagement.


Habanero's Director of Employee Experience is Caterina Sanders. Sanders started as a web designer at the company in 2000 and in 2009, became a partner. Sanders says Habanero has always moved forward from a place of vision and purpose: “Fundamentally, you have to know who you are and who you want to be, and communicate that widely.”

To move forward, Habanero has typically redefined traditional business concepts. “Habanero does not have a triple bottom line in the traditional sense,” says Sanders. “We do track three bottom lines, but they’re made up of Habanero success, individual employee success, and our client success.We firmly believe we’re in the business of creating exceptional career experiences for people.

Maximizing human potential is core to our business – it’s not an offshoot. When you approach it that way – that it’s absolutely fundamental to what you do – it brings a lot of focus and makes us stand out. In the same way we want to create a specific impact with our clients, we seek to do that as well with our employees.”

Habanero’s approach is effective. The company consistently receives best workplace recognition ranking in the top ten of the Globe and Mail Canada’s Best Workplaces, Aon Hewitt’s Best Small & Medium Employers in Canada, Alberta Venture, Best Workplaces, and BC Business Magazine’s Best companies to work for in BC. Habanero also receives numerous awards for the solutions they produce as well as recognition for steady growth.


Habanero is committed to four core values or guiding principles: Sustainability – the company is in it for the long-term, Value – it provides meaningful value to employees, clients, and partners, Integrity – it seeks long-term, trusted advisor relationships, and Harmony – it believes in maintaining a work-life balance. To ensure those principles are reflected in everything it does, Habanero uses a balanced scorecard approach to look at its overall corporate health. The balanced scorecard is nothing new as a performance measurement framework, but Habanero has its own take on it. Its scorecard has five pillars: employee engagement, finance, clients/sales, marketing, and delivery. Clearly, for Habanero, the bottom line is more than financial.

“We firmly believe we’re in the business of creating exceptional career experiences for people.”


A vital aspect of Habanero’s balanced scorecard process is sharing the results with the whole company through monthly open-book management sessions. These meetings expose everyone at Habanero to all of their performance measures (both leading and lagging indicators) across their corporate health criteria.

Open-book management has been an integral part of growth at Habanero. “When open-book management was introduced, Habanero was a company of 20 people,” says Sanders. “Today we have over four times that number. At the beginning, we already had an open culture. Almost any meeting was open, our office had a physically open layout, and it was perfectly normal to walk into an office to chat. Open-book management was a natural extension of the culture that already existed here.”

Roadmapping – a key technique

in defining strategy & vision.


To illustrate how open-book management has helped Habanero, Sanders describes one of the company’s most challenging times:

“In 2009 we were overbuilt for the size of the market and we were faced with the decision to downsize and re-tool. It had become clear that we would have to lay people off to stay viable. We ended up laying off 20% of our staff – we had never laid anyone off to that point. It was especially difficult because of the close relationships we all had with each other.

We focused on being upfront and open about the process – with employees and the market (we didn’t want to dress this up to be anything it wasn’t.) It was painful but being an open-books company really helped. By clearly understanding the overall situation, through the clarity of open-books management, the team bounced back very quickly. We had fixed our cash situation within six months. People stayed engaged and motivated even through a tough time. Later that year, we actually managed to win a Thrive Award at the Globe and Mail Best Workplace Awards.”

Open-book management

encourages informal chats.


Sanders believes that with the open-books approach, employees deepen their commitment to the company. “Employees understand when there is a need to push more work through in order to achieve revenue targets,” says Sanders. “Without an open-books approach employees may assume that revenues are higher and costs are lower than they actually are. Our performance as a company is directly related to our ability to drive a common understanding of how our business operates, the factors that most impact our success, our current state, and where we are heading.”


“Employee engagement doesn’t just happen,” adds Sanders. “It’s a process that begins with having a genuine intention to create a thriving workplace. A balanced scorecard and openbooks approach are tools that a company can use to increase engagement and ultimately profit.”


Categories: Bottom Line