B. Change Management Capacity

5. Harbourfront Centre Case Study

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The following case study profiles Harbourfront Centre’s effort to develop Change Management Capacity as part of its sustainability program.  The document provides an honest and detailed account of all aspects of the organization’s experience.

A. The Challenge 

Harbourfront Centre was committed to getting everyone within the organization on board with our sustainability program; not only to support our direction, but to be actively contributing as well.  We didn’t know who to involve or in what ways, and our past failed attempts at building sustainability-focused committees had created a number of negative associations we needed to overcome.

B. Capacity Building 

Harbourfront Centre was committed to getting everyone within the organization on board with our sustainability program; not only to support our direction, but to be actively contributing as well.  We didn’t know who to involve or in what ways, and our past failed attempts at building sustainability-focused committees had created a number of negative associations we needed to overcome.

1. Building a Change Management Team 

i. Leadership Team 

Program Sponsor:  The CEO initiated HFC’s effort to sincerely and strategically address the organization’s sustainability and acted as the Program Sponsor from day one.  

Program Champion:  A capable professional with extensive management consulting / change management expertise was secured externally and dedicated to leading the program.

Senior Supporters:  The CEO engaged all Directors in early efforts to define and develop the program.  The COO was added to the core Leadership Team and the Directors of Finance and Development were added peripherally to support the Leadership Team on an ongoing basis. 

ii. Action & Engagement Team 

The Leadership Team enlisted the support of all departmental Directors toward selecting a representative group of staff members to populate what was titled the EcoAction Team.  The group included capable staff members from different levels (from Intern to Director) and departments, all of whom had an interest in contributing.

iii. Subject Matter Experts 

Departmental Directors were also leaned on to help identify the ‘right’ individuals from each area who could be counted on to support our efforts to collect data and explore opportunities. 

iv. External Support 

The Leadership Team established a partnership with a highly capable and innovative engineering consultancy with expertise in the areas we were lacking internally.  They were prepared to work on special terms in support of the ambitious program vision established.

In addition, a strong network of NGOs and government supporters was assembled that the Leadership Team could look to for access to knowledge, expertise, resources and funding.

CM Case study Image



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Change Management Team

Team is very well-defined, passionate and influential.  A strong connection between program and employees is established across the organization.

Team is structured, representative and enthusiastic but lacks leadership involvement and influence.  Employees don’t see the team as important to the organization.  

A team is loosely assembled and largely made up of members of one or two areas of the organization.  Almost all focus is placed on making change rather than managing it.

Review of Harbourfront Centre Effort:  The Harbourfront Centre Change Management Team benefitted from sincere support from leaders at the very top of the organization and a strong pool of capability and experience.  The inclusion of a diverse group of committed staff was also an important asset.   Conversely, contracting an external consultant to champion the program rather than a staff member was less than ideal; naturally change being led by an external party is less likely to secure the trust and support of staff members.  Further, the staff engaged within the EcoAction Team and as Subject Matter Experts were only very loosely tied to their new responsibilities.

2. Developing an Engagement Team 

We focused our team on developing a multi-faceted engagement plan.  We examined and defined the various stakeholder groups of relevance, like staff, leadership and volunteers, in addition to those external to the organization, like the millions who visit annually and hundreds of artists we work with each day.   Because the team was unclear on how we wanted to impact the community, we opted to focus our initial efforts on internal engagement.

In planning engagement and meaningful, two-way communication, we identified existing channels that could be employed as well as new possibilities.  We took advantage the following commonly used vehicles:

  • Email blasts
  • All-staff meetings
  • Staff e-Newsletter
  • Intranet website
  • Organization-wide meetings

We also newly created the following vehicles to bolster our communication effort:

  • Intranet microsite: An internal website dedicated to our sustainability program alone.
  • E-Newsletter: An e-Newsletter dedicated to our sustainability program was distributed monthly.
  • Mandatory departmental meetings: Intensive meetings were hosted to provide an overview of the program and plans, allowing for a dialogue to be established with all staff. 
  • Bi-annual survey: To keep a pulse on progress, we launched a voluntary employee which also provided an opportunity for employees to anonymously provide feedback and suggestions. 



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Engagement Plan

A diverse group of approaches and techniques are uniquely applied to establish strong two-way communications and relations with various stakeholder groups.

A variety of techniques are inconsistently employed for communicating with employees and soliciting feedback as a secondary priority.  The change management team lacks understanding of what employees are experiencing.

The same Information is disseminated to all employees sporadically through very few mediums.  Feedback is not proactively solicited and the change management team is out of touch.

Review of Harbourfront Centre Effort:  While the use of a diversity of engagement vehicles was quite effective for launching the program and initial internal engagement, we lacked the plan and capacity needed to advance the level and intimacy of engagement over time as well as to expand our efforts to include the communities  we serve externally.

3. Formalizing Change 

In line with our program vision and through intensive discussion within our Leadership Team, we declared three key program objectives that would help ensure our efforts would remain sincere and meaningful:

Operational Efficiency:  To address our internal impact by finding efficiencies and reducing resource use.

Innovation:  To be creative and develop new capacity that would serve other organizations.

Engagement:  To positively affect and engage stakeholders, whether employees, visitors or otherwise, through the improvements we make.

We attempted to put new policies and procedures into place to support the program, including:

  • Establishing a standard process for rigorously assessing and selecting projects.
  • Measuring and reporting on our carbon footprint.
  • Creating a new profit/cost centre for accurately tracking the net financial impact of our program.
  • Developing a new internal position to be dedicated to the program; we struggled to bring this to fruition for a host of reasons, none greater than the cost and associated risk)



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Formalizing Change

Major changes are adopted that necessitate new ways of working and affect how performance is measured.  Finer changes trickle down to individual processes and job descriptions.

Some changes are adopted that affect certain processes and individuals but few that meaningfully impact leadership or decision making.

Changes are made in practice or principle but rarely formalized.

Review of Harbourfront Centre Effort:  While the steps taken to formalize change, like reporting on carbon and establishing a new profit/cost centre, were highly effective, the effort was incomplete.  There was no formal change made to the accountability of staff the performance metrics by which they are evaluated.  Although individuals were motivated to undertake sustainability projects, the lack of a tie between our efforts and individual performance, limited the profile of sustainability within the organization.

4. Overall Results 



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Overall Results

Individuals throughout the organization are engaged; they feel considered, listened to and many are active in participating.  Most employees naturally progress through the change curve, albeit at different speeds.

Only some employees are involved and engaged while others are apathetic or have decided to be unsupportive.  A tension exists between those who believe in the change and others who do not believe it is worthwhile.  This limits the progress of the organization as a whole.

Few see the value in the changes being implemented and many have taken a hard position against the program.  Some have been alienated and either resent the organization or quit.

Review of Harbourfront Centre Effort:  It seemed like a strong foundation of change management capacity was established to support our program.  However, as momentum was built and the program expanded, a lack of clarity and planning for simultaneously increasing how stakeholders were involved in the program became a limiting factor.  After some time there was an obvious need that appeared to embed new ways of doing things into the organization but the leadership team, for a host of reasons, struggled and hesitated to define how to best solidify and formalize a ‘new normal’ which has held the program back and left it lacking stability.

C. Case in Point: The Harbourfront Centre Theatre Retrofit 

The following story illuminates a real, exceptional and unexpected outcome that would not have been possible had we not focused on effectively building change management capacity.  Although the capacity developed had weaknesses, the benefit of working toward the standards of Refocus Sustainability Program Model, made many outcomes possible that would not have been through conventional approaches.

1. Background 

One of our most exceptional successes came about hardly over a year after launching our program.   The glass envelope surrounding the well-known Harbourfront Centre Theatre (formerly the Enwave Theatre) needed to be replaced as it had been employed beyond its usable life.

The theatre itself was originally an icehouse built in 1926 that serviced the food terminal building next door.  It was repurposed in 1986 as a 422-seat, state-of-the-art theatre.  In 1991, the theatre was renovated to add glass its envelope, creating lobby space that surrounded the theatre.  By 2009 the envelope enclosing the Harbourfront Centre Theatre was leaking and at times uninhabitable because it was doing such an extremely poor job of maintaining a comfortable temperature.  In addition, several other building technologies including lighting, controls and HVAC components were out of date or required replacement.

2. Change Management Capacity Considerations

Harbourfront Centre’s Site Operations Department had developed a project to manage the retrofit of the theatre’s envelope, which had been planned and budgeted for over years.   The project had been delayed for some time and needed to be complete within roughly six months.  The change management capacity developed and efforts put forth through the HFC sustainability program had a tremendous influence on this project.  Let’s examine a couple of key elements more closely.

Engagement Planning:  Objectives were clearly defined, leadership support was perceived to be strong and all staff were consistently communicated with and encouraged to contribute.  It was no wonder our Leadership Team was proactively engaged to discuss the project.   A year prior at launch, skepticism was high and individuals were much less likely to lend their support; it was clear our team was involved because our efforts had made a difference. 

In reviewing the project our technical partner presented the idea of developing a demonstration project, integrating Building-Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) technology into a portion of the new glass envelope enabling it to generate electricity.  In addition to generating renewable energy, we could also build industry capacity by sharing what we learned from our project given that BIPV was unutilized in Ontario at the time. 

Action & Engagement Team:  With an active and engaged EcoAction Team in place, as part of planning all prospective projects were presented to the group, recognizing the opportunity it gave us to identify potential opportunities and challenges that may not otherwise be apparent, even with the best of technical expertise at our fingertips. 

Sure enough when the project was presented, an EcoAction Team member who overseas our Craft Studio suggested she knew of a glass artist working with BIPV to create electricity-generating artwork.  We connected with Canadian artist Sarah Hall, who spends much of her time working in one of the world’s leading glass art studios in Germany.   Upon engaging Sarah, we found she was immediately interested in participating, especially given our larger program commitment, even though our timelines were horribly tight and financial feasibility was uncertain. 

Leadership Team:   Having the CEO, COO, an effective Program Champion and leading-edge technical partner working together meant we had the leadership capacity and the political strength needed to make things happen.   Meaningful objectives were adopted on the foundation of a firm organizational commitment.

With timelines extremely tight and literally no budget to contribute beyond the cost of the original planned retrofit, changing course and expanding the project’s scope, complexity and cost seemed like a poor use of limited time and effort.  Having visionary leadership capable of recognizing the amazing number of ways the project had the potential to generate benefits is the only reason we even considered further exploring what occurred as a pie-in-the-sky opportunity at the time.

3. Outcomes 

Funding:  Rather than simply replacing the envelope with newer, more functional glass the project evolved to become the first in the world to combine BIPV with permanent glass art, and heat mirror technology.  This produced a wide range of benefits that were of importance to a variety of organizations willing to invest in the project including the following:

  • Canadian Heritage: Supported our commitment to preserving and honouring building heritage. 
  • Toronto Atmospheric Fund: Supported our effort to forge relationships with technology companies internationally and developing a detailed report around the opportunity for using BIPV domestically. 
  • City of Toronto – Better Building Partnership: Supported our effort to increase the energy efficiency of the building and generate renewable energy.
  • Live Green Toronto: Supported our development educational programming, including new school visits and camps programming focused on the art and technology involved in the project.
  • Enwave Energy Corporation: Supported the commissioning of artist Sarah Hall in beautifying and creating an iconic structure of the building for which they were the title sponsor. 
  • Project Delivery Partners: Supported the project’s execution on time and budget by making sacrifices, contributing effort in-kind and doing whatever it took for the project to succeed.

To produce the final solution, we collaborated with technology partners from France, Germany, Austria and Ontario.  Sarah Hall produced a stunning and highly visible piece of contemporary glass art that shared a completely unrelated by beautiful sustainability-focused story with the public.

Harbourfront is situated on Lake Ontario in Toronto and, in my design, the lake leaps into the glass canopy at the western end and fuses with a series of solar panels creating a pattern of energy and light on water. Flowing into the northern façade, the water forms a quiet, deep pool and then lifts from this into a series of waves. As the wave reaches the eastern end it becomes a spray and mist floating around the corner into the east façade. The water then becomes a dream-like boat holding our past, present and future. This is expressed through 360 screen-printed images of Lake Ontario – its history, geography, ecology and primal beauty.” Sarah Hall 

The level of funding secured more than offset the incremental cost of the BIPV, heat mirror and glass artwork, allowing us to invest in LED lighting, building automation and controls as well as a new boiler, expanding the project even further.

Impacts:  In line with Harbourfront Centre’s program objectives, the following outcomes were achieved up and above what simply replacing the glass would have provided:


  • The building’s energy use, the cost of operation and carbon emissions were significantly reduced.
  • Clean, renewable energy is generated each day producing a further perpetual cost saving.


  • Awareness and adoption of Building-Integrated Photovoltaic technology was advanced in Ontario.
  • New partnerships were formed around sharing our story throughout the industry.
  • Harbourfront Centre was widely recognized by the media and through recognition awards.
  • Organizations were more inclined to approach us with unique opportunities and to support our future projects because they saw us in such a positive light after achieving this amazing success.

Impacting People

  • The interior environment became significantly more comfortable, safe and productive.
  • Sustainability was made interesting and engaging to the public through the lens of contemporary art.
  • Employees were empowered by the difference a staff member, who was not a technical expert, was able to make and were proud of the improvement to our organization’s physical space.
  • Young people were engaged and educated through meaningful and inspiring programming.

Physical Snapshot of the Project:   The artistic elements are created with airbrushed, fired enamels with sandblasting on architectural glass. The photographic image gallery visible within the building uses screen-printed photographs and dichroic glass. The result is a sharp, clean image on a background that changes colour depending on the angle of the sun.

  • Square feet of hand painted and fired art glass: 1736
  • Total number art glass panels: 119
  • Solar / photovoltaic panels: 10 (1.5kW total)
  • Panels of art glass with screened photos: 10
  • Screen printed photos with dichroic glass laminations: 360

4. Conclusion 

Looking back this project and the innovation developed would have never been possible had our change management efforts been ineffective.  It would have been easy for our Site Operations staff to complete the glass retrofit or for us to have never been introduced to Sarah Hall and her network of technical experts by a staff member.  For our efforts we have a much transformed and world-class example of how we can function more sustainably that is consistent with our core arts and culture mandate.

5. Discussion Questions

  • In what ways does securing an external party to serve as Program Champion affect change management capacity?
  • What are some of the important aspects of an engagement plan that are likely to result in effectively connecting with a variety of stakeholder groups?
  • What aspects of HFC’s change management effort were most critical to the HFC Theatre retrofit and why?
  • How did the success of the HFC Theatre Retrofit contribute to lasting organizational change?
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