In a tumultuous year that has had a huge impact on workplaces of all kinds, HR professionals across the country were faced with unprecedented challenges.
Put in the spotlight, many of them easily showed their worth as innovative, dedicated and invigorated individuals and as HR influencers working hard to transform their workplaces for the better.
We spoke with three of this year’s HR Influencers to hear their stories.
‘Almost like a war zone’
Kyle Wagstaff is described as “the consummate professional who demonstrates the key capabilities and talent mobility of a passionate human resources professional.
”This past year, the senior HR business partner at Home and Community Care Support Services in Markham, Ont. engaged with over 110 staff into 170 deployment assignments outside of the organization to support critical needs across the health care sector. This meant working with HR and operations partners at long-term care facilities, retirement homes, hospitals and public health units.
“We had a number of individuals who raised their hands to volunteer to be immediately mobilized to go out and help provide support. And it was something that we’ve never seen or done with our staff before,” says Wagstaff.
“In the heat of the moment, and in the thick of this battle to address and respond to this need, it’s so easy to unconsciously just default to ‘We need numbers’ and forget that there’s faces and names and families and spouses and children to consider for these [employees] before you’re sending them into a long-term care home... They’re gearing up in masks, gloves, visors, gowns, etcetera and going into almost like a war zone.”
Wagstaff was also an active participant on a COVID-19 Response Virtual HR Team, where he helped develop a Regional Manager’s Playbook and Staff Exit Guide, which provided a guiding framework for people leaders to support their staff with the issues of workplace safety and productivity during the pandemic, along with off-boarding staff in response to various emergency levels.
“Due to the pace of everything moving forward, it was difficult to keep managers up to date on what that process was looking like,” he says, so the playbook had sections on issues such as accommodations, remote work deployment or performance management at home as a “go-to resource.”
Wagstaff also assumed a co-lead role for certain labour relations activities in challenging circumstances.
“There were directives coming out from the [government] that would give permission to specific organizations such as hospitals to override the terms and conditions of the collective agreement, as part of an effort of emergency response to address the health care system. And so, of course, the unions aren’t going to be too favourable of supporting that language,” he says.
“What I really feel helped us there was honest and transparent language right from the start... It’s [about] providing that reassurance that ‘We’re making our decisions for the right reasons, and although we don’t have all the information yet, we’re committed to sharing with you what we do know. And we’re committed to, when we make these decisions, keeping our employees’ best interests in mind as well.’ I think they really appreciated that.”
Bringing specialized talent onboard
Lisa Reich, director of immigration and mobility at Aecon Group, is described as “extraordinarily talented, determined, diligent and an absolute pleasure to work with.”
Over the past five years, and specifically in the past 12 months, she has worked hard to implement the necessary framework, policies and processes to ensure Aecon can compete for international talent, as well as deploying talent outside of Canada when required.
“Our immigration and mobility program and expanding on over the past couple years. It wasn’t something that was super prevalent when I joined Aecon about five years ago, and it’s something that I’ve been growing,” says Reich.
“With the type of projects Aecon works on within Canada, they’re very specialized projects, and for a lot of the projects you cannot find local talent that has the expertise. [And] if there is a talent that’s in Canada with this expertise, it’s been brought in by another organization, one of your competitors, so often you’re having to search externally for this talent.”
That’s why it’s important to look internationally to find these candidates, she says.
“That’s been kind of exciting, from my standpoint, getting to grow the program and work with these individuals who are extremely talented [and] very specialized. Bringing them and their families over to Canada to work on these projects and really help them establish a foundation here, a life here [and] get their family settled so that they’re successful on the project — but also at creating a life in Canada as well.”
Not surprisingly, the conditions of the pandemic made Reich’s responsibilities that much more challenging.
“Me and my team were having to navigate constantly, every day, changing rules and regulations regarding COVID-19, and whether people were able to come into the country... and families. We had to completely pivot the way that we normally went about bringing people into the country because those rules had changed and the processes had changed,” she says.
“There were significant delays in some cases, in terms of processing. And then we still had to manage the projects [and] expectations with getting people here in time for the projects.”
Connecting people, culture and technology
Described as having “an infectious personality” and “unique skillset,” Toronto-based HRIS specialist Sony Samaraj has been instrumental in improving the employee experience at Sunwing Travel Group by leading various people and culture (P&C) technology efficiencies.
Prior to 2020, Samaraj was exclusively a subject-matter expert for the HRIS/payroll system, but Sunwing realized she could handle more, so it expanded her portfolio to oversee and become the subject matter expert for all HR systems which include a human capital management system, a global learning management system and an applicant tracking system.
IT and HR “both are like people from different countries, so they sometimes talk different languages, different cultures, but marriage is possible — you just need to work with little tweaks here and there. But if you really want to marry them off and if the people on both sides are willing to collaborate, definitely, it is possible,” she says.
Samaraj’s first project focused on data accuracy and efficiency improvements within the learning management system (LMS). She partnered with talent development leaders to identify the gaps by preparing a needs analysis. She then designed and implemented a solution by working with the vendor and their IT department to articulate the gaps. Samaraj then created an automated report from the HRIS system which automatically integrates into the LMS to ensure all of the employee data is accurate and up-to-date on a daily basis. Her efforts on this project led to at least 25-percent administrative efficiencies within the talent team.
“The initial idea was to just clean up the data to make sure that the data accuracy is there... but then I realized that the same data is entered on both the systems — it seems also you are... giving all their data and then for the learning management system also, you are doing the same; it did not make any sense... three, four people are doing the same work into a different system,” she says.
One of Samaraj’s biggest accomplishments in the past year was successfully leading Sunwing’s first ever single sign-on project whereby employees gained easier and safer access to the HCM and LMS via their daily login into their network. She partnered with the IT department and several vendors to achieve this milestone, and along with gaining positive feedback from employees, network security increased by over 20 percent.
“Now the employees also don’t have to remember three different user usernames, three different passwords, they can just remember one email and one password and they can access all the systems [with] that single sign-on,” she says.
Canadian HR Reporter sought nominations for the inaugural 2021 Young Influencers list to showcase up-and-coming talent in Canada’s HR industry.
Interested participants were asked to fill out a brief entry form detailing the person’s recent accomplishments and what sets them apart from the crowd. Nominees aged 35 or younger as of May 1, 2001, were considered for nomination.
Criteria to consider included: demonstrated career progression and development in HR, and experience executing progressive HR initiatives.
The entry form asked for the nominee’s current role and responsibilities, along with an outline of the reason for the nomination, with a specific focus on performance and achievements from the past 12 months.
Nominees were also asked to provide details of relevant career goals and the steps being taken to achieve these goals. They were also asked to provide a 100- to 200-word recommendation from a direct superior or equivalent.
Canadian HR Reporter objectively assessed each entry for detailed information, true “rising stars” and proven success — along with benchmarking against the other entries — to determine the winners. We reserved the right to disqualify any nominations that did not follow the rules or demonstrate exceptional accomplishments.
Entries were open from May 6 to May 28, 2021. A total of 38 nominees were selected as HR Influencers for 2021.