Living Water Resort – on workforce challenges, attraction and retention

Most people in and around Collingwood have some awareness of Living Water Resorts. Cranberry Golf Course, Bear Estate, Living Water Resort & Spa, Living Water Marina and other Living Water properties are hard to miss, spanning both sides of Highway 26 at the west end of Collingwood.

But few have any knowledge of the philosophy behind the company, or the man—Larry Law—the driving force of this business-on-a-mission. One of the businesses he has built over his career, Living Water has seen tremendous success. There are many reasons for this, including shrewd business sense, anticipating market demands, and of course the calibre, pride and professionalism of its people.

Homegrown pandemic relief

When the pandemic rolled in, Law’s company doubled down on employee wellbeing, with ramped-up food donations and even subsidized housing…but taking care of employees started much earlier than that. “‘People’ is priority number one,” says Law. In the hospitality business, that is doubly true—of guests and staff alike. Collingwood and surrounding area businesses continue to experience staffing challenges, but Living Water has far less trouble retaining staff. The ‘why not’ becomes obvious very quickly.

As the pandemic gathered steam and the hospitality business fizzled, Living Water employees didn’t have to wait for the Government of Canada to come to the rescue. “I know that every week, people need their paychecks,” says Law, who continued to pay all staff up to 90% of their pay for the next 30 days. “I had no idea how much it was going to cost the business, but I didn’t care because I had faith that it was a good decision.”

It’s a philosophy that Living Water displays right on its home page at www.LivingWaterResorts.com:

We believe that every action you take and experience at the resort can create a wonderful ripple effect, not just at the resort but in the world around us.
That’s why our philosophy is ‘pay it forward’. At Living Water Resorts, we experience the Ripple Effect each day.

Larry Law—the driving force of this business-on-a-mission

For those employees who still had trouble making ends meet, because of non-Living Water layoffs in the household or for whatever reason, the company went a step further, with food baskets. “Thinking about it,” recalls Law, “we cannot see each other, but we can offer a food basket that could last for a couple days or nights’ dinner among their families at home.” Employees would drive through for the food baskets, which were passed to them in a socially-distanced manner. “You know, the joy in everyone’s eyes was just priceless,” says Law. “We created a human touch – precious. “

It didn’t begin with COVID

The pandemic might have made life more difficult for individuals and families, but it wasn’t the trigger for employee outreach at Living Water. The administration has instituted many employee-community initiatives over the years, such as taking on a company chaplain, a local church pastor, engaged on a part-time basis. A devout Christian, Law envisioned the chaplain as an outlet for employees’ issues, which is exactly how it played out.

That led to the development of an emergency fund. The Key Ring Fund is available to staff experiencing an emergency such as an imminent eviction, utility shut-off or similar. Law tells the story of one employee, a single mother who had been living in a toxic environment and desperately needed an apartment for herself and her son. “They have no fun and no privacy and no nothing,” he says. The Key Ring Fund came up with her last month’s deposit, enabling her to finally afford a home for her little family. “We are so proud that we were able to be part of that family-life journey,” says Law. “The first time the son said ‘I love you mother’, was after they first moved into their new home. “

Servant leadership

One thing that Law touches on again and again is the concept of servant leadership. “I’m your leader. But I’m here serving you with my loving heart,” he says. “Starting from the top, we care for your holistic well-being and that love inspires action.”

Law tells the story of a difficult time that he experienced some 15 years prior. A staff member came to see him and made it obvious that her department head was not acting according to Living Water principles of kindness and fairness. Further investigation showed that she was rude, unpleasant and unhelpful to her team. The bigger issue was that the department head was the wife of Living Water’s General Manager.

“Replacing a department head, that’s no problem,” says Law. “But replacing a GM? That’s a big deal.” After a few days’ deliberation, Law dismissed the pair and took over as interim GM. “It was the best experience,” he remembers. “I was working with everyone, really learning about the people. I saw all of these needs. One woman was a grandmother at 30. Why? Because she was a mother at 15. It’s a vicious cycle.”

After that, Law continues, he made sure that the senior people he hired had convictions in line with his own. Over the course of his career, he has found that most people are looking for a job with a higher purpose. It’s something he tries to deliver, in part by exemplifying what that means.

One example revolves around food. Living Water has a history of holding staff dinners, both within departments and as an entire group. With many employees of different nationalities, dinners have been headed up by Filipino, Indian and Mexican contingents, as examples, in shows of culinary pride and to learn to respect different cultures. Living Water has also cultivated local church partnerships to organize free Christmas dinners for members of the community.

The pandemic might have made life more difficult for individuals and families, but it wasn’t the trigger for employee outreach at Living Water

Showing the love

Another thing that Living Water does, both for recruitment and for philanthropic reasons, is to provide scholarships through Georgian College. But employees come through many channels. Law’s PR director talks of a friend asking him if Living Water could hire a high school student who was very unlikely to stay in school. He did, and after two days she quit. After a Living Water manager drove out and spent an hour talking with her, she came back and eventually brought nine of her friends to work as well as they had felt the love and acceptance.

“We don’t only want people to come here to work,” says Law. “We want them to come here to experience that we can be a nice human being as well.” While we all need to make a living, continues Law, we nevertheless don’t need to step on other people to do so. “When you are good to the people around you, that includes the customer in front of you,” he says.

Those are words to live by.

Living Water Resorts – on workforce challenges, attraction and retention

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Photo Credits: MyCollingwood.ca