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HR and Brand Strategies in a Recovering Economy

Posted by Jared Smith on Jan 26, 2018

We’ve retreated in the face of a tightening economy in Alberta. But as we start to see economic recovery, have we retreated too far and neglected core functions of business like HR, culture, and branding?

Will such neglect affect the recovery of businesses in the province?

“We feel the way small-to-medium businesses operate their HR departments, is broken,” says O’Ryan Hughes, managing partner of Stoppler Hughes: a strategic managed human resources firm. “HR is ultimately seen as a call centre, yet our view of it is different where there can be significant ROI, if done properly and set up the right way.”

Hughes’ prior experience led him to build Stoppler Hughes’ foundational function: to help companies by collaborating with their team members and building off their existing infrastructure.

There’s a reality to recruitment and human resources. In a downturn, everyone is so focused on cost containment, restructuring, and layoffs, which develops an expressed need in the market for a more proactive, sophisticated, long-term approach to HR, company culture, branding, and more.

Jared Smith, principal at Incite, says, “The market for people tightening up in Alberta is noticeable, which is exasperated by the number of people who have left the province over the past two years in search of employment elsewhere.”

Other than first-hand experience with his B2B strategic marketing firm, Smith refers to CBC News articles published in September 2017, that cite stats of 35,000 people leaving the province last quarter, yet another 30,000 coming to Alberta within the same time frame. This means, about 1.5 per cent of the province’s population is in flux right now, which affects labour retention significantly.

Job vacancies were at 8,500 in the second quarter of 2017 for Alberta, according to Stats Canada: the second year-over-year increase. The largest increases in vacancies were in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas (1,300 new vacancies); construction (1,300 new vacancies); and manufacturing (1,100 new vacancies).

This brings back fear and memories of an ’80s-like recession, making many businesses still afloat hold on tight to their money and old habits (read: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it).

“Leaders in Alberta don’t forget what it was like in terms of trying to get talent. They’ll never forget how bad it actually was,” Hughes says. “People said their number one limitation to business growth was acquiring staff, and that was only four years ago.”

As the economy swings, smart organizations put more attention into building a strategy towards human resources, capacity, and brand. “They know that’s what will help them shift through the economy, or diversify into new markets,” Smith says. “Whatever they do, they need to get smart about how they survive.”

How to Get Smart

STEP 1: Do an employee engagement survey that involves a conversation with your employees. This helps you better understand how your brand is being positioned and what the equity is in your brand from an employee’s position. Not every strength or weakness is obvious. A focus group and qualitative research can support this step, too, but the key is to actually interview people and ask: “What’s working? What isn’t? What needs changing?”

STEP 2: Create a story around your business that’s relatable to your employees and be one they actually believe in. The story should be composed of the intersections of what your employees see as your strengths. What do your employees need? What’s different about your company? Understand how you’re positioned from your research and develop a story and platform around it all indicating what’s unique and strong about your business.

STEP 3: Get more proactive about disseminating all the information above—your brand, story, differentiators, and strengths—to become a recruitment tool for staff and prospective clients. By maintaining integrity within your internal and external relationships, and aligning with outside organizations, awareness of your company multiplies as others genuinely refer you and share your information.


O'Ryan Hughes, MBA
Managing Partner of Stoppler Hughes, a strategic managed HR firm
Born and raised in Edmonton, O’Ryan went to the University of Alberta and obtained a Bachelors of Arts in history and Masters in Business Administration. This set the stage perfectly for his recent professional undertaking at Stoppler Hughes where his goal is to create a happier, more flexible workplace by guiding business leaders towards achieving their strategic company goals. His diverse skills combine business and HR, enabling him to lead a company’s finance, operations, human resources, and marketing divisions.

Jared Smith, BCom
Principal and co-founder of Incite, a strategic marketing firm
Jared has a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta. He is a specialist in marketing strategy, client relations, and brand positioning and his thorough understanding of the state of business makes him a compelling resource for Incite’s clients. Jared meets with prospective clients, oversees the execution of clients’ marketing strategies, and strives to grow and develop Incite’s own brand. Jared has always had entrepreneurial spirit and owned and operated small businesses, including Canine Clean-up, before Incite. He uses his sense of adventure to drive him to expand Incite’s network, attract exciting new clients, and create an enticing place of work for the rest of the Incite staff.

Jared Smith


As a business leader and co-owner of Incite, Jared draws from his expertise in marketing strategy, communications, and business development to move his company and clients in new and innovative directions. A current member of the Edmonton Oiler’s Community Foundation, and Vice-Chair and Co-Founder of the Tour of Alberta, Jared is a sought-after public speaker and an active volunteer in the community.

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