Finally, recognition for HR

Inaugural 2009 HR Summit Awards recognize excellence in HR leadership in Canada

During the first week of his first HR job, Nicholas Beynon discovered a union drive was in the works. Hired as an HR generalist at a Rona outlet in Toronto, he was pressed to understand what was going on and why morale was so low.

“And I did figure it out very quickly, luckily,” he said.

To improve employee relations, focus groups were held to give staff an opportunity to voice concerns. Beynon worked with managers to ensure employees were treated fairly across all departments, while management was encouraged to spend more time on the store floor. In the end, 73 per cent voted against unionization.

Just a year later, Beynon was promoted to oversee three Rona locations, though one was deemed not profitable and slated to close. Realizing the biggest problem was the across-the-street rival, Home Depot, he focused on improving customer service by launching a successful recognition program. In the end, that store not only stayed open but became “store of the year.”

“I’m in the people business — I quickly recognized if I’m able to increase the motivation at that location, then that location could be saved,” he said.

Beynon currently works as an HR consultant at LoyaltyOne in Toronto, operator of the Air Miles Reward Program. He successfully helped boost satisfaction and engagement at the company’s call-centre department, which won a silver Contact Centre Employer of Choice award in 2008.

This kind of skill set and commitment was recognized at the inaugural 2009 HR Summit Awards on Jan. 27 in Toronto when Beynon received the Carswell HR Rising Star Award.

The national awards — a partnership between Carswell, a Thomson Reuters business (publishers of Canadian HR Reporter) and the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) — recognize outstanding achievement in HR leadership.

“We’ve always been seen as behind the scenes,” said Beynon. “It’s great for us to step out of the shadows and be recognized for the achievements.”

The success of this year’s awards bodes well for their growth next year, and the growth of the profession, said John Hobel, Toronto-based publisher and editor of Canadian HR Reporter.

“It’s an idea whose time has come, recognizing professionals in HR,” he said. “It was heartwarming to see the appreciation of everyone who won.”

Also a winner was Sarah Burghardt, who won the TD Insurance Meloche Monnex Corporate Governance Award. As HR manager at A.D. Williams Engineering in Edmonton, she went through two tragic episodes at the company when it lost five of its seven-member corporate leadership team in plane accidents in late 2007 and early 2008 (including the founder and CEO and his son).

“The company was rocked,” she said. “After that second crash, we didn’t have too many people left on the leadership team. We had mourning staff who were shocked it could happen again, we had the families looking for support and we of course had the public and media very interested in this story.”

But everyone banded together to figure out how to pull through and fill vacant roles, she said.

“It was just amazing to see how good people are and how much they care.”

She shed a few tears when she finally saw the submission for the award, which should be for the whole company, she said.

“I had never looked at what I did from their side and it felt like I was just doing my job but when I read the submissions they put in, I saw it in a different way — maybe that was a lot to do,” said Burghardt.

She was also responsible for the development of Career Path, which created six levels of discipline for engineers, technologists and support services, with each path customized for each person. The program has evolved because it was originally tied to a bonus — “not an ideal relationship,” she said. There are now individual corporate targets with five measurable goals that affect the business, for every level of the company, and these are tied into the bonus.

“As time goes on, we’re winning everyone over and it’s going to be an amazing tool to make sure our staff are happy and developing with us instead of having to go outside the company for their development,” said Burghardt.

Another winner at the Summit Awards was Monica Donahue, vice-president of HR at McCain Foods in Florenceville, N.B., who was a co-winner of the Workopolis HR Professional of the Year Award. She was recognized for her contributions to the industry, which include five years of mentoring MBA students at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

“Looking at the roster of nominees and recipients shows the breadth and quality of human resources talent across the country,” she said, adding the number of CEOs present at the HR Summit Awards gala was “an important endorsement for the profession.”

Another accomplishment that led to her award was the decision, upon arriving at McCain two years ago, to conduct a company-wide job evaluation “which created the underpinnings for our compensation and talent management development,” she said.

A team of 14 senior managers was involved in the project and continue to use the system, said Donahue.

“There was definitely a need,” she said. “We knew we were spending a lot of time, and probably money, in making individualized salary decisions versus making decisions based on principles that supported our business guidelines, our business practices and would be consistent across the country.”

Donahue shared the award with Ken Lewis, manager of employee relations and compensation at Hydro Ottawa. He has spent 30 years with the utility, which has about 600 employees, focusing on employee relationships. In 2000, the company went through an amalgamation of five municipal utilities and Lewis played a key role in a joint cultural change program with the union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

“Certainly when you form a new company, in terms of building up the organization, one of the key challenges is building a new culture as well,” he said.

A steering committee set up to evaluate and make recommendations through the change continues today, he said, adding he is “humbled” by the award and has really enjoyed his three decades in HR.

“HR people are the unsung heroes in organizations,” said Bill Greenhalgh, Toronto-based CEO of HRPA. “It doesn’t matter whether the company or economy is expanding or contracting, they’re there in the trenches, trying to find people and keep them in good times and, in tough times, handling downsizing. And that is never recognized.”

The other winners of the 2009 HR Summit Awards were:

• Foster Brown, vice-president of HR at the Beer Store, winner of the Globe and Mail Corporate Social Responsibility Award.

• Guilherme Dias, director of the strategic talent management at Pitney Bowes, winner of the Teva Novopharm Overall Talent Management Award.

• Monica Belcourt, director of the School of Human Resources Management at York University, winner of the Right Management HR Academic of the Year Award.

Video highlights of the HR summit awards

Watch highlights at

Did you miss the inaugural HR Summit Awards last month in Toronto? No worries. Canadian HR Reporter had a camera crew at the gala event, and we’ve edited and posted highlights from the awards — including the speeches from the winners — on our website.  To view this story, see article #6649.

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