Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: Excellence Through Innovation Awards Program
Year Submitted 2011
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name Title
Deborah Ovsenny Manager Compensation
Name of Institution University of Toronto
Office Address 215 Huron Street; 8th Floor
Toronto, Ontario M5S 1A2
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Telephone: 416-946-8788
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Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Christina Sass-Kortsak
Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Assistant Vice President, Human Resources
Office Address 215 Huron Street; 8th Floor
Toronto, Ontario M5S 1A2
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Telephone: 416-978-5805
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.

The Excellence Through Innovation Awards recognize staff contributions to the University of Toronto’s strategic objectives.  Numerous research studies show that employees are more engaged and productive when they understand how their work connects to the mission and goals of their organization. Often this connection is not clearly articulated, especially for those staff who do not have direct contact with students.   The challenge for the HR team at UofT was to create a rewards/recognition program that would make more explicit the link between the achievement of these strategic goals and the work that staff do – and to seek out and reward examples of innovation and excellence among staff across our three campuses.  The Excellence Through Innovation Awards (first called the “Stepping Up Awards”) were launched to fulfill this objective.   

Many Universities have staff recognition awards but the Excellence Through Innovation Awards program at UofT has several important and unique characteristics:

>            Based on clear, objective criteria tied to the University’s strategic objectives
The awards recognize innovation and excellence. Nominators are required to demonstrate how the nominee has contributed to one or more of the following strategic objectives:
1. Enriching the Student Experience
2. Supporting Outstanding Scholarship
3. Achieving Equity and Diversity in All Our Activities
4. Improving the Employee Experience by Becoming an Employer of Choice
5. Creating a World Class Infrastructure Through Administrative Innovation

>            Promote and recognize both individual and team accomplishments
Both individuals and teams may be nominated to receive an award. 

>            Provide meaningful and personalized rewards
Recipients are invited to a reception at the President’s house. The President, Provost and V.P. HR& Equity all attend and personally congratulate the recipients.  In the first year of the program recipients received a cash award.  More recently, we have moved to a personalized approach wherein recipients can choose a gift from an on-line reward site provided by UofT but hosted by an external provider.

Provide an opportunity to share best practices
The award winners and their projects are showcased on our website so that these innovations can be applied elsewhere at UofT.

Criteria Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.

This award program could easily be applied at other institutions. Each University has strategic objectives that can be translated into measurable objectives applicable directly or indirectly to all staff. The nomination process and the nature of the award would need to be adapted to reflect the structures and cultural norms of each institution. An awards program of this nature is particularly relevant to universities across Canada at this time, when salary increases are constrained due to pension deficits and, in several provinces, the existence of government mandated compensation restraint. At UofT, the Excellence Through Innovation Awards serve as another way to recognize and reward the valuable contributions made by so many administrative staff. An outline of the UofT program, the nomination form and the detailed criteria are all available at http://www.hrandequity.utoronto.ca/Assets/eti/details.pdf. UofT would also be pleased to provide other Universities with information about the third party provider of our online reward system.

Quality Impact

The award program has been in existence, with several modifications, for 5 years. The awards were developed to: - make more explicit the link between the achievement of the University's strategies and goals and the work that staff do - to seek out and reward examples of innovation and excellence among staff across our three campuses - to promote a "culture of recognition" among managers and academic administrators - to provide a mechanism for sharing best administrative practices among staff across the University. While it is not possible to quantify the impact, the award announcement and reception are highlights of the year and employees who may not normally have an opportunity to engage with senior administrators attend a reception at the President's house. Senior administrators across the University are engaged in the process either as nominators or as members of one of five divisional selection committees. Each year the quality of nominations has improved, with nominators more clearly articulating exactly how the nominee contributed to the achievement of the University's objectives. This has resulted in a broader understanding of and focus on these objectives for both managers and staff. Award recipients are gratified to receive this recognition and to be congratulated personally by the President and the Provost.

Productivity Impact

While the impact cannot be measured in quantitative terms, the impact of the award program has been significant in several ways. In 2010 a total of 222 staff from 29 divisions were nominated either as individuals or as members of teams and 76 staff members (3 individuals and 15 teams) from 18 divisions across the University were recognized with an award. These numbers provide an indication of the broad impact of the nomination process as well as the award itself. In 2010 we focused our efforts on ensuring that these innovative and excellent administrative practices were easily shared across the University by profiling each award recipient (individual or team) and their project or initiative on a dedicated webpage. The profiles describe the administrative issue, the solution developed, the challenges encountered and who to contact for further information. These profiles can be found at: http://www.hrandequity.utoronto.ca/news/eti.htm. Throughout the year the profiles were highlighted one at a time in the e-Bulletin, the University's bi-weekly internal e-newsletter sent to all employees.


Many Universities have some form of staff rewards but often these are based on general "excellence" rather than specific achievements in areas of strategic focus for the organization. The UofT awards program takes broad University objectives, typically expressed in terms of academic accomplishments, and translates them into strategic objectives which staff play a key role in accomplishing. Examples of contributing behaviours are defined, to promote clarity and objectivity in the nomination and selection process. UofT adapted the CAUBO QandP Awards evaluation criteria in establishing criteria for the selection committees. Each nomination is assessed on the transferability of the project or initiative; how innovative it is; the quality and productivity impact of the project or initiative; and the transformational value of the project or initiative on the department, the Division or the University. The nomination process is structured to engage managers and academic administrators in every faculty and division across all three of UofT's campuses in identifying excellent and innovative projects. The award itself is innovative in that, rather than receiving a plaque or cash, recipients can select a gift that best meets their individual lifestyle. Gifts range from jewelry to kayaks to cameras to mountain bikes.