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CEO Talk: The short-term future of HR

Canadian HR Reporter talks with ORCHANGO’s Edmond Mellina as part of a a series of CEO interviews about the future of HR.

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Source: Canadian HR Reporter

CEOs TALK

THE SHORT-TERM FUTURE OF HR

May 17, 2010

From a CEO’s point of view, what should HR be concentrating on in the near future? We asked CEOs how they see their human resources department evolving in the next five years, what new responsibilities might be headed HR’s way and the kind of experience they look for when hiring HR professionals.

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Edmond Mellina, President, ORCHANGO

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A learning and consulting firm, ORCHANGO specializes in organizational change. Created in 2002, three principals lead the firm from Toronto and Montreal and manage a core network of 15 freelancers.

As a small company, most of the HR responsibilities at ORCHANGO fall to its three principals, says Edmond Mellina, president of the learning and consulting firm.

Most of the HR work involves managing the firm’s network of freelancers, who provide learning and consulting services. This includes finding freelancers with the right skills and convincing them to join ORCHANGO’s network, he says.

“At the end of the day, what we sell is our expertise.”

As the firm continues to grow, Mellina says he hopes to hire a permanent HR manager who will take over most of the HR responsibilities while still working closely with the firm’s principals.

“The fact we are involved so much in HR, I think it is a very, very good thing. No matter what, we have to continue that,” he says.

While the business leaders will have to keep up their HR involvement, the HR manager will need a strong business background, says Mellina.

“The HR person who will be successful in our business will have to think business first and people second.”

The HR manager will need to understand how the business works to know which people to recruit and how to develop them to drive results, he says.

At ORCHANGO, the HR manager will take over some of the HR responsibilities the principals currently manage, such as recruitment, retention, compensation and termination, says Mellina.

While typical HR responsibilities, these will be challenging for the HR manager because she will be managing a network of freelancers, not traditional employees, says Mellina.

“How do you continually engage and develop the talent in the network? It’s extending what, typically, HR people do within an organization with employees, but extending it to a network of talent who are not technically employees of the organization.”

The ORCHANGO HR manager will also need the ability to work with different cultures and manage talent across different time zones as the company grows its international business, says Mellina.

In general, entry-level HR professionals benefit from having HR experience, such as an internship, but they also need to have spent some time in operations, says Mellina.

“You will come into an organization with a better sense of, of course the people side, but also the the business side of things, which is then going to ensure you do a better job in HR,” says Mellina.

HR professionals also need to work on their assertiveness skills and being action-oriented, he says.

“One of the things I like about HR people is they tend to be nice people but the drawback of that is sometimes HR people are not assertive enough and you get eaten alive if you’re not assertive in the business world,” he says. “To be assertive, you need to be confident in what you are doing.”

At the other end of the spectrum, HR executives will need a deep understanding of the nature of people — what turns them on, what turns them off, how they learn and how they react to change. For that, a degree in psychology is very helpful, says Mellina.

HR executives should also have the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation.

“If someone has a CHRP, I know they have at least a theoretical understanding of each piece of HR and they have some experience,” he says.

But if he had to choose between someone who worked in HR for her entire career and someone who also had operational management experience, especially in a profit and loss function, Mellina says he would choose the latter candidate.

“It would be a huge edge for a candidate to have real-world business experience,” he says.

In five years’ time, there will be two types of HR departments. In one, HR will think business first and people second, says Mellina.

“As a result of that, they will be really working in partnership with line managers,” he says.

Non-HR managers will speak highly of these HR professionals and the value they bring to the organization, he adds.

In the other HR department, there will be a lot of talk about being a business partner, but not much action as HR professionals focus on people programs, says Mellina. In these organizations, managers won’t see HR as adding value to the business, he says.

 

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Peter Hart, President and CEO, Rideau

A recognition program provider, Rideau is based in Montreal and has 250 employees across Canada.

Human resources at Rideau, a recognition program provider in Montreal, used to be more transactional and focused on benefits and payroll, but that’s all changing, says Peter Hart, president and CEO of Rideau.

“With the talent crisis coming up and with the economy, I think HR is going to become an important partner in helping build the business,” he says. “It will become an increasingly important part of our executive team.”

The HR department, a team of three people led by the vice-president of people and culture, has a key role to play in identifying cost savings and increasing employee engagement and organizational well-being while reducing employee turnover, absenteeism and presenteeism, says Hart.

“All of those things HR, I believe, has a direct role in and a much more important role to play than what they did in the past.”

HR will also be increasingly responsible for ensuring the company is compliant with government regulations across the country and in the United States, says Hart.

One of the most important roles for HR in the coming years will be to help ensure an employee’s work experience lives up to the one promised by the company during the recruitment process, he says.

During recruitment, HR is responsible for delivering the brand promise — telling candidates what it’s like to work for Rideau and what they can expect from the job, the environment and the total rewards package.

“And, all too often, managers fail to deliver on that brand promise,” says Hart.

When that happens, employees become disenchanted with the company and leave.

“HR will help ensure managers make good on that brand promise so you’re reducing turnover,” he says.

Part of that will involve training managers on how to have a two-way dialogue with employees on a regular basis, not just once a year during performance reviews, says Hart.

Maintaining that connection with employees is also important for HR, he says. HR sits down with each employee once or twice a year, without the employee’s manager, to talk about the employee’s dream job and how the company can help her achieve it, or at least something close to it, he says.

It was through these one-on-one talks that HR found there was a big demand in the Montreal office for language courses (to improve either English or French). As a result, the company paid for classes, which employees completed on their own time. About 80 of the 220 employees in Montreal signed up, says Hart.

“That’s just identifying a need and keeping close to your people. I think HR has got to do that.”

Emotional intelligence and understanding what motivates people is extremely important for HR professionals, but they also need a firm grasp of technology to be successful at Rideau ­because so much of the company revolves around technology, says Hart.

Technology is also transforming HR, automating many of the mundane tasks and freeing up HR professionals to be more strategic, he says.

For example, payroll is now completely automated and tracks how much time employees spend on certain tasks. HR can use this information to figure out where employees might need help, says Hart.

They can also use it to gain a clearer picture of how each employee, in each department, contributes to the organization’s bottom line — another important skill for HR professionals.

“They have to understand how to read a balance sheet and where people come into play,” says Hart. “What are the things on the balance sheet, and the income statement, that people affect and how can (HR professionals) understand it to reduce costs or contribute to the well-being of the organization.”

While having a good understanding of the business is important for HR, entry-level professionals won’t need to have business training to succeed at Rideau in the future. But they will need the ability to learn the business, says Hart.

Entry-level HR professionals will also need a university degree, with a specialization in HR, and HR work experience, he says.

For an HR executive, a minimum of 10 years’ HR experience is needed along with HR designations, including the Certified Human Resources Professional and recognition certifications, says Hart.

“We want to practise what we preach.”

The executive also needs to be a strategic thinker, good communicator and good listener, he says.

Hart has seen many different organizations with different approaches to HR and people management.

“The ones that really get it are the ones that are the most profitable and the best places to work,” he says.

 

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Guy Parent, President, Corporate Investigation Services

The 45-person company, located in London, Ont., provides pre-employment background checks, investigations for corporations and labour unrest protection.

The right human resources person can help an organization grow and be more successful, says Guy Parent, president of Corporate Investigation Services in London, Ont.

“The HR position is one of integral power within the organization. They are vitally important, probably the key person within the organization,” says Parent.

Because his company is still small, typical HR functions are handled individually by Corporate Investigation Services’ three vice-presidents, who run each of the company’s three business divisions, says Parent.

But he would like to see that change in the next five years and have the HR function become a formal position within the company, perhaps run by the director of client services who is in the process of completing her Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation.

“I’ve got three different personalities right now dealing with three separate divisions who have three different skill sets, who in turn handle people differently throughout the organization,” says Parent.

Having one person in charge of HR for the entire organization will make the work experience consistent for all employees, regardless of which division they work in, he says. As part of that, one of the main functions of the new HR professional will be to instil a cohesive culture in the organization, says Parent.

She will also be responsible for hiring, terminations, benefits, pensions, training, motivating employees and providing employees with guidance on various issues.

But while HR often lends a sympathetic ear to employees, to be effective an HR professional must also intervene when an employee’s actions are affecting the rest of the workforce, says Parent.

For example, if an employee is fraudulently claiming workers’ compensation and all the other employees know about it, morale will suffer significantly if the organization allows it to continue.

To ensure that doesn’t happen, an HR professional needs to challenge the individual and take decisive action, says Parent.

“I’m looking for a balance between Mother Theresa and Genghis Khan.”

When hiring for the company’s new HR role, a CHRP is a minimum requirement, says Parent, as is business experience.

“I’m looking for someone who has started from a ground floor perspective, somebody who understands my business.”

Parent says he would also like someone who has experience in a unionized environment, even though Corporate Investigation Services isn’t unionized.

Someone who has worked on the union side has a better perspective of both worker and management needs, he says.

“They’ve seen both sides.”

The HR person will also need to understand all generations of workers and how to motivate them, says Parent. For example, recent university and college graduates are very focused on compensation and need to be challenged right from the start of their employment.

“When they come on board, if they are too bored, too quickly, they will leave,” he says.

But an HR professional also needs to understand older workers who have a different attitude towards work, he says.

“Any organization is only as strong as the human resources person you put in play,” says Parent.

In general, HR professionals should be given more time to focus on managing people and not get bogged down with other responsibilities such as pay equity and pensions, he says.

In some ways, it’s easier for HR professionals in a unionized environment because they don’t have to deal with issues of compensation, pensions and benefits on a regular basis — it’s all spelled out in the collective agreement, says Parent.

Over the next five to 10 years, organizations will rely more heavily on the HR function, he says.

“I see the bar being set as considerably higher than what it is right now. I see the demands being compounded. I see responsibility and culpability being downloaded more on HR than any other position within an organization,” he says. “I see their status within organizations increasing considerably within the next five to 10 years.”

 

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Kelly Lendsay, President and CEO, Aboriginal Human Resources Council

A not-for-profit organization based in Saskatoon, the Aboriginal Human Resources Council creates and markets various resources to help Aboriginal people integrate into the workplace. The council has 20 employees.

One of the most important roles for human resources professionals in the future will be measuring the value people bring to an organization, says Kelly Lendsay, president and CEO of the Aboriginal Human Resources Council, which creates and markets various resources to help Aboriginal people integrate into the workplace.

HR needs to be able to quantify the knowledge and experiences people have, and that the company invested in, and link that to the organization’s bottom line, he says.

“They need to look at the performance outcomes of the organization and start to draw a straight line from these performance outcome measures back to the people investments.”

Having a better understanding of each employee’s skills and experiences, and how those drive the organization’s success, will also help HR in succession planning and creating development plans for employees, says Lendsay.

At this time, most of the council’s HR responsibilities are managed by Lendsay, the CFO, the COO and the director of HR strategies, who is responsible for developing HR strategies for the council’s clients.

But, going forward, Lendsay would like to see the HR function grow and develop because HR is integral to an organization’s success.

“If you get a mismatch of skills and people with products and programs, it can be disastrous,” says Lendsay.

If a product or service fails, that failure doesn’t just reside with the program division or the marketing division, he says.

“It cuts across the entire organization. We make decisions about the type of people, the type of contractors we’re going to use,” says Lendsay, and those people decisions determine the success or failure of the council’s products.

To attract the right people, with the right cultural fit and the right skills, HR needs to have a good understanding of all the functions of the business, including finance, accounting, information technology, marketing and product development, he says.

“All of those areas have human resource decisions, in terms of investment in people or investment in contractors,” says Lendsay.

There is also a role for HR in developing products and programs for the council because one of its main goals is to show organizations how Aboriginal people can be a solution to skills and staffing needs.

“They have a really keen idea of what’s needed in the private sector,” says Lendsay.

And just as HR has been responsible for individual development in the past, in the future it will responsible for maximizing team effectiveness to ensure the entire organization is working cohesively, says Lendsay.

“We’re going to use our HR systems to really improve and develop our teamwork,” he says.

HR will do a systems review and analysis to see which teams are working well and where there are breakdowns.

As part of that, HR will also provide managers with performance feedback templates to ensure managers are providing employees with continuous and consistent feedback, says Lendsay.

He would also like to see HR spend more time on developing senior managers and ensuring they have the skills they need to lead their program areas. The head of HR will also support and advise senior-level managers, the board of directors and Lendsay himself.

To fulfil all those roles, HR professionals will need good communication and teamwork skills, he says.

“To be a good communicator is one thing, but to really get people to collaborate around the new approaches and systems is important.”

Editor

As ORCHANGO's editor, I post news and related articles about our firm on both our website and LinkedIn page. I also manage our YouTube channel.

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