Performance Coaching Brings Sustained Results to Canada’s Top Commercial Property Developer

February 2021 | By Delores (Dee) Conway

In 2020, Carmen Klein, VP Organizational Effectiveness and Systems (HR) at Cadillac Fairview graciously shared her thoughts and experiences using ALULA's Performance Coaching and Feedback as an enabler for their OneCF Culture. 

Cadillac Fairview is one of the largest owners, operators, and developers of best-in-class office, retail, and mixed-use properties in North America, valued at over $32B. Their real estate portfolio also includes investments in retail, mixed-use, and industrial real estate in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico.

Cadillac Fairview’s employee engagement ranks in the Global Top 25% Most Engaged Companies. The firm has received accolades for their OneCF Culture, including Waterstone Canada’s Most Admired Cultures and Achievers Most Engaged Workplaces in North America.

The company’s journey to make its people and culture a competitive advantage began years ago, when company CEO John Sullivan made this observation: “Cadillac Fairview’s success is partly defined by the results we achieve (EBIT, returns, growth). But our success also is defined by how employees achieve those results, and the mindset and behavior of every employee. Behavioral leadership is key.”


To enable these behavior changes, Sullivan contacted ALULA®, a business consultancy with a long record of helping Fortune 100 enterprises achieve better results. Thus, a decade ago, ALULA conducted a pilot workshop on Behavioral Science that introduced how Performance Coaching can shift peoples’ mindset and behaviors. The pilot demonstrated the connection between behaviors and results.

The Cadillac Fairview Executive Team further committed to Performance Coaching and Feedback (called OneCF Coaching) as a way to make people and culture become a competitive advantage. Today, the company continues to leverage Performance Coaching as an enabler of its OneCF Culture.

High-Impact Behaviors

“It continues to make a difference,” says Carmen Klein, the company’s VP of Organizational Effectiveness & Systems. When she joined Cadillac Fairview several years ago, Performance Coaching was her first initiative.

“Every quarter, we use Pulse Surveys,” she says. “Here are three questions we ask:

  1. Have you and your manager scheduled check-ins at least once per quarter to coach to your results and development?
  2. Have you and your manager identified a High-Impact BehaviorSM for coaching that will enhance your development and results?
  3. Does your manager regularly observe and provide targeted, meaningful feedback on your High-Impact Behavior?”

Carmen notes, “Most critical to making performance improvement work is the second question, Have you identified a High-Impact Behavior? This refers to a new behavior that both employee and manager agree upon—a behavior the employee will work on to enhance performance.

“The behavior could be as simple as ‘prepare at least one question to ask in every meeting.’ The behavior is individual-focused, building on the employee’s strengths—something they can do to perform better. And it’s really tough to do.”

Carmen is happy with their experience. “We’ve had success with it. We employ about 1,500 people in 30 locations. About three-fourths of our people indicate they are being coached regularly and have identified a High-Impact Behavior. Such a behavior stretches them in the direction they need grow. Our employees have grown comfortable with the language of behavior.

“Leaders who indicate their managers are coaching them regularly have a 26% higher engagement than those who don’t. Our data also shows that coaching is the number-one contributor to management effectiveness.”

Cadillac Fairview Has Come a Long Way

“When I started,” Carmen notes, “there was no regular engagement survey, just sampling. Now we have regular Pulse Surveys that sample 100% of employees, and we can view results by demographic.

“We’re not at A+ yet. Traditional coaching is easy, but the focus on behaviors is harder. The behavioral piece requires folks to be specific: What does it look like when you are doing this well? Will this behavior happen without coaching? How will you encourage these behaviors?”

As for coaching frequency, managers meet with each employee quarterly to coach for performance and results. This quarterly check-in is essential, because busy employees need a scheduled pause to discuss performance with their manager, and managers must carve out time to spend with employees. We also recognize ad hoc coaching when someone has a specific issue, or a manager observes something that needs prompt attention.

Real Success Stories

Performance Coaching at Cadillac Fairview has many success stories. Carmen cites two examples—

  • I watched one teammate progress from “an OK player” to a great player! She began in a junior role, and others felt she would not move much beyond that. She was so quiet in meetings that people thought she wasn’t engaged. So, we had her focus on a single High-Impact Behavior: in meetings, always make three contributions, like asking questions or offering suggestions. Her leader worked with her, and this small behavior started her transformation, enabling her to progress to another High-Impact Behavior. She worked one behavior at a time, and today she is promotable and grown in leadership capability, especially compared to others who did not receive the same coaching from their manager.
  • Another teammate had never received feedback, and this discouraged him, holding him back. But he identified a High-Impact Behavior—which is simply to speak more lucidly—and he now practices writing out things before he speaks in meetings. We’re seeing a strong improvement in his communication.

These examples show how Cadillac Fairview is shifting the culture, one person and one behavior at a time. Employees like the focus on coaching. They feel they are being developed, and that their manager is invested in their growth.

The Challenge of Performance Coaching

“It’s Behavioral Science 101, and it challenges people,” Carmen says. “It takes a lot to get it started, a learning curve. People struggle with understanding the behavioral thing. Also, it’s hard to fit into our day-to-day workflow, because people are really, really busy. But employee attitude toward the program is very positive.

“I’ve seen our organization’s view of feedback and manager-employee meetings change from ‘alien’ to commonplace. It makes me feel proud to be a game-changer in someone’s development. The main thing is that conversations are happening, which isn’t true in so many organizations.”

A Culture of Engagement

Cadillac Fairview has grown a great brand and workplace reputation, rooted in the OneCF Culture. “We are consistently benchmarked in the Global Top 25% Most Engaged Companies,” Carmen says. “We received the Waterstone Human Capital award for most admired in 2020. And we were selected by Achievers 50 Most Engaged Workplaces™ in North America for the past 3 years.”

Why Performance Coaching Works So Well

“We have a great sponsor in CEO John Sullivan, who is committed to making  people and culture our competitive advantage, a point of differentiation in the real estate world,” Carmen explains. “He champions what we are doing.

“So we have the right leadership and commitment at the top. We are doing Performance Coaching well, and the proof is in the public recognition of Cadillac Fairview’s engagement and culture. ALULA laid the foundation for us, got us started, and we now have full in-house coaching capability.”

Cadillac Fairview continues to evolve OneCF Coaching, recently launching refreshed values to support a three-year strategic plan, using Performance Coaching and feedback in-the-moment to achieve the plan. The whole behavioral-feedback-coaching program is essential to Cadillac Fairview’s culture for the future, reinforcing the right behaviors for success.

“We have taken people and culture to a good place,” Carmen says. “It’s a great journey!”

ALULA would like to sincerely thank Carmen Klein for taking the time to share the Cadillac Fairview story.

ALULA® is a registered service mark, and High-Impact BehaviorSM is a service mark, of CLG (dba ALULA).

Topics: Behavior, Leadership, Culture, Coaching