Working with human nature to change CN (Guest commentary)

Railway giant focuses on new tools, behaviours to boost engagement
By Les Dakens
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/17/2009

Change has many enemies. Prime among them is success, especially when paired with complacency. Why change, the standard thinking goes, when you’re successful? The problem is success is often fleeting and tied to context. When that context shifts, continued success requires continued change.

In 2001, when I joined CN as senior vice-president of HR, the company was a considerable success story. Lean and profitable, it had the best operating ratio in the industry at 72, compared with the industry average of 80, and the lower the better. Competitors copied its moves and savvy investors snapped up the stock.

On the face of it, there was little reason to undergo much further change. There had been plenty of dramatic change since CN’s initial public offering (IPO) in 1995. Up until that point, the company had been a government agency, which lost a dismal amount of money. After the IPO, under the leadership of CEO Paul Tellier, the mandate had to change. The goal became simple, clear and urgent: Build value.