CULTUREFEST Montreal 04–12–17

One of the First High Profile Events Dedicated to Transforming Workplace Culture in Quebec

MTL NewTech
5 min readApr 20, 2017

Culture Fest Montreal, the first high profile events dedicated to workplace culture in Quebec was put together on April 12 by the fine people at GSOFT, and hosted in the magnificent TOHU building, in the city’s north end.

As host, first to take the mic was Simon DeBaene, CEO of GSOFT. One of his dreams is to make Quebec shine even brighter internationally, and to do so, part of his focus is on the place where we spend the most time: the workplace. DeBaene told the crowd that over 50% of employees in Canada are “disengaged” at work, whereas only 20% are highly engaged. He believes that in order to rectify this imbalance, there is one thing organizations need to focus on: their employees.

The presentation then went on to give a list of initiatives GSOFT has put in place that showcase how they are investing in employee well-being and innovation in the workplace. For example, for the past two years GSOFT has been sending small teams abroad to collaborate on special projects geared towards innovation. This is in fact precisely how CultureFestMTL was born. Furthermore, once a year they send all their employees on vacation to an exotic destination. Other perks include a half pipe inside their office and a barista working full time. These examples have had a profound effect on the company’s retention rate and employee satisfaction.

Next up was an ask me anything session (AMA) with Konval Matin who is the director of culture at Shopify. This Canadian success story has implemented an elaborate system to help spread information and communicate effectively across the organization. For example, they themselves hold AMA sessions every Friday with different leaders within the organization. They also focus on being transparent about everything related to pay, the tools they use and the values of the company.

They made a surprising discovery conducting an internal study. Turns out employees who worked from home actually performed better. This is something that they now highly encourage across the company.

Other noteworthy initiatives at Shopify include hackathons that help promote innovation. Many existing product features were born from this initiative. They also help ensure their products are well understood, and dedicate entire days to learning about it during onboarding of new arrivals.

The last presentation of the morning was from Lisa Fecteau from Regitex Group — a manufacturing company. Her story was certainly very thought provoking, showing that big change can come from anywhere. After years of leading the company in an autocratic and hierarchical manner, she one day realized she was unhappy. Fecteau decided to step down and distance herself from the organization. She eventually got rid of all middle manager positions, reshuffling the employees in other roles. This led to a new holacracy, meaning that authority and decision making was redistributed to new, self-managed teams.

The results were very successful. Teams were fully functional and performing better than ever. The key came from improved 2-way employee communication. They took the time to learn what the pain points were, the strengths and weaknesses of each individual, and what motivated them. After that, they gave them the trust and resources necessary for them to succeed.

After a short break it was Sid Lee’s President, Martin Gauthier’s who took the stage and spoke about life at his agency.

There were three key to his candid presentation:

1. You are ultimately responsible for your own happiness. An employee that is happy in the workplace automatically transfers it to his household and to society in general.

2. You have to create a fertile environment to help talent perform at its best. No earth & no sun will yield no flowers.

3. People don’t leave a company, they leave their managers.

He then presented some examples of fundamental and essential elements in the modern workplace environment that they have themselves implemented at Sid Lee. Employers need to allow employees to work from home and to go back to school. They need to have a clear overtime policy, to offer a progressive return to work after maternity leave, flexible summer schedules, etc. The list went on. The key is to listen to your employees needs and to accommodate them.

“Is your employer still making you pay for coffee?” Gauthier jokingly questioned. “Then get the hell out of there!”

The last part of the conference was a panel discussion animated by Kahina Ouerdane from GSOFT that pooled some pretty significant talent onto one stage: Christiane Germain from Groupe Germain Hôtels, LP Maurice from Busbud, Antoine Rouzé from Moment Factory and Cédric Orvoine from Ubisoft. This hour-long discussion covered a variety of subjects including the importance of employees being the conveyor of company values, the importance of listening to them and what their needs are, recognizing their work but also their mistakes. Other debates were around the need for candor, feedback and transparency.

The final presenter of the evening was none-other than Alexandre Taillefer from XPND Capital. Alexandre has helped revolutionize the taxi industry with Téo Taxi by focusing on drivers’ well-being through good working conditions and with its electric car fleet.

He also aspires to a greater social good. His other compelling reflections were around how society has to reinvent business models in order for them to be beneficial to everyone. He proposed to install a nutritive fact sheet for all organizations in order for us to better understand them. “Just like food labels show us the amount of protein, sugar, and vitamins inside each portion, companies should do the same with their values“. It was indeed a great finish to the first edition to what may become a recurring event, because we spend far too much time in the workplace not to focus on these critical questions.



MTL NewTech

We are an organization of programmers, designers and hustlers working hard to support communities for tech innovations and startups in Montreal and beyond.