Back to Business Coaching Program – Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Alberta

Winner, Global Silver Award and Canadian CMC Project of the Year (2018)

Project Team: Cheryl Lockhart CMC, Pierre Cormier CMC, CAC, and Keleigh Cormier CMC, CAC

This mini case study is part of an ongoing series profiling Winners and Runners-up of the 2018 Canadian CMC Project of the Year Award, showcasing Canada’s best management consulting engagements. Winners have been nominated for an international Constantinus Award.

Background – The Challenge

Fort McMurray, Alberta experienced the shock of an extraordinary disaster in the spring of 2016, when a wildfire devastated the area. It's now referred to as the Horse River Wildfire Disaster. A massive evacuation and the subsequent month-long re-entry of more than 88,000 individuals occurred; it is now known to be Canada's most expensive natural disaster, with an estimated cost of $3.58 billion.

Getting back to business as usual was difficult and overwhelming for many business owners after the disaster. It was imperative for them that they get their businesses up and running immediately, to support their families, employees, and community.

CMC-Alberta members saw the heavy burden and jumped to the challenge of helping the region’s business community.

The Fort McMurray Wildfire has cost an estimated $3.58 billion.

Engagement Review – The Solution

Three independent CMCs in Edmonton ("the team": Pierre Cormier, CMC,CAC; Cheryl Lockhart, CMC and Keleigh Cormier, CMC,CAC) shared a mutual desire to help and were determined to step-up and reach out to the community to offer professional advisory services to affected businesses.

Introductions and discussions were undertaken with the Municipality and the Back to Business Coaching Program (BBCP) was born and created in collaboration with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB). “They immediately understood how a coaching program could work to help businesses navigate through a very emotional and stressful time,” said Pierre Cormier (project manager).

BBCP was developed by the team to address business concerns relating to the immediate and long-term impact of the wildfires. The program was funded by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo through an emergency grant from the Government of Alberta.

The objective of the program was to help local business owners define urgent issues, set priorities and establish an action plan that could be implemented immediately during their business recovery efforts.

After an Invitation to Participate notice was sent to all members of CMC-Alberta, a roster of qualified CMCs was developed outlining their functional skills and expertise to optimize a matching process to meet the specific needs of each client. Through a comprehensive matchmaking process, BBCP directly paired a business owner and/or manager with a qualified Certified Management Consultant (CMC) for one-on-one business coaching and professional advice.

“The wildfires left many businesses in need of financial and professional support, and this program was created in direct response to help our business community”, said Lisa Slade, Back to Business Resource Centre Lead, Wood Buffalo Economic Development. “Consultants from the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Alberta were available for one-on-one coaching and helped our business owners and managers immediately to help drive business successes.”

The Results

RMWB staff were impressed by the CMC-Coaches who provided clients with business specific coaching services, including sharing of their knowledge and skills, while helping them better manage the daunting task of reestablishing and strengthening their businesses. The CMC roster provided capabilities in all functional areas of business including marketing and business development, financial analysis, operations and human resources, all big challenges for business owners after the wildfire disaster.

The CMC-Coaches were instrumental in advising how the client could reach out to customers while providing strategies to rethink how to re-position their business and identify/cultivate new target niches and markets.

Client Testimonial: "I started my 1st job with a new customer and promised 4 more houses in 2017."

The program helped affected business owners to identify and stabilize financial concerns to help them make positive decisions in a time of crisis.

Client Testimonial: "The CMC made our finances more visible to ensure we knew what performed well and what needed attention."

Program Highlights

  • A total of 66 businesses were assisted during the 1-year program.
  • Qualified businesses were eligible to receive 12 hours of support from a CMC within a 6-8 week period.
  • Business owners and their management team were matched with a CMC with expertise that aligned with the immediate needs of the client.
  • Together, they developed a practical and effective action plan.
  • All client meetings were done over the telephone or Skype.
  • Free for eligible businesses.
  • CMCs worked at a significantly reduced rate to ensure the program reached as many businesses as possible that requested professional assistance.

As this was a work in progress due to the urgency of the disaster recovery, communication was key as the program required supplementary adjustments to meet the evolving needs of all clients and stakeholders.

  • 21 Alberta based CMC's participated in the project including: Project Manager, 6 Matchmakers, 14 Consultants/Coaches.
  • An expertise matrix was created to match the skills of the CMC with the client’s specific needs as outlined in their assessment.
  • Tools and activities developed to optimize service delivery:
    • client intake questionnaire
    • consultant intake questionnaire
    • action planning framework and worksheet
    • matchmaking team for pairing with client needs
    • progress monitoring and adjustments when required
    • final report and invoicing templates

Participating businesses were able to get advisory services from qualified CMC's during disaster recovery. The three most urgent business issues were: marketing, human resources and financing.

Client Testimonial: "I have a better understanding of strategic planning, including innovative approaches to various business functions within my venture."

Through an evaluation by the municipality, this project proved to be one of RMWB’s most successful recovery programs to date. Results from RMWB's client survey:

  • Overall effectiveness to clients’ needs was rated 4.2 out of 5
  • Quality of Advice was rated 4.2 out of 5; and
  • Professionalism was rated 4.4 out of 5;

Client Testimonial: "As a result of the program, I gained more focus and a clearer understanding as a business leader from working with my coach. I would highly recommend the BBCP and working with a CMC. It has truly been a life changing experience for my business."

Other impacts of the project beyond the primary goal included fundamental business concepts taught to business owners that would help these owners become more successful in the long-term. The CMC-Coaches helped steer change with participating businesses as they were advised on new options and strategies in addition to sorting out recovery specific tasks to get back on track.

Other clients wrote: “When it is just not possible to do it, you just gave me the right plan, motivation and ideas. Wow!”

“I cannot express enough thanks to you for your guidance and support. I believe your input has been invaluable and something I will carry with me throughout the business and life as well. I look forward to the day when I can actually meet you.”

“Words are not enough to express my gratitude for you. Thank you for all of your support!”  

We wish to thank the participating CMCs who made a real difference in Fort McMurray.
  • Ivor Bernatsky, CMC
  • Stefan Bucatau, CMC
  • Sheila Carruthers, CMC
  • Maurice Enabu, CMC
  • Jane Grant, CMC
  • Barry Huybens, CMC
  • Cheryl Lockhart, CMC
  • Julianne McKinnon, CMC
  • Pauline Patenaude, CMC
  • Angela Pedrini, CMC
  • Marty Rybiak, CMC
  • Kevin Sheppard, CMC
  • Eugene Van Den Berg, CMC
  • Michael Watson, CMC
  • Tiz Benvenuto, CMC
  • Keleigh Cormier, CMC
  • Pierre Cormier, CMC, project manager
  • Brenda Crompton, CMC
  • Chris Harper, CMC
  • Rick McDonald, CMC
  • Claudia Verburgh, CMC
CMC Testimonials

"I found working with companies in the RMWB to be a rewarding experience. Most company owners had never reached out for help and were very appreciative of the support they received from the RM and the coaching program. Owners were honest about their situations – cash flow, HR issues, and the economy. The owners were open to new ideas to help improve their sales. With companies eager to move forward, we were able to achieve results in very little time. One of the companies who participated in the program is expanding operations by adding an in-house bakery and a butcher to help provide all customers in Fort McMurray with more healthy options."

"Great opportunity to give back to the community through the BBCP/CMC program. It was very rewarding as a CMC to engage with the individual business owners in the Fort McMurray area who may not have otherwise taken the opportunity to access support to re-focus on how to move ahead without the BBCP program being established. The biggest takeaway for me personally, was getting to know the individual owners, their unique challenges and gaining their trust to work out a plan forward. The coordinator of the program was supportive, great to work with and accessible. Everyone focused on ‘what was in the best interest of the client.’ Great team approach. I would not hesitate to be involved in future."

Moving Forward

With this success, the municipality submitted a grant proposal to The Canadian Red Cross to fund the continuation of the program.

Recently approved, the Municipality and the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Alberta have entered into a Disaster Response Services Agreement; the second phase of the program will be referred to as the Business Coaching Program (BCP). The program launch is scheduled for August 2018.