Lynne B. Gervais, CHRP, ICD.D, has been reappointed to a five-year mandate as Associate Vice-Principal (Human Resources). When FORUM asked her to share her insights on the role Human Resources plays in supporting the University’s goals, she was clearly passionate in describing her vision of HR.
What are the achievements of which you are most proud?
I am especially proud of the fact that we have built a network of HR professionals and that we have raised our level of expertise to better serve the community in a decentralized structure. Our network now allows greater sharing of information and the ability to leverage our colleagues’ experiences in addressing issues. This is where HR adds real value to the community.
What are your goals for McGill’s HR unit?
We need to remain focused on organizational development. Our Leadership Development Program has been a major success and should continue to attract those who want to exert effective leadership in managing teams. The program develops leaders at different levels of the organization who use these skills as a motivating force which in turn allows them to connect more effectively with colleagues.
We also need to emphasize other career development opportunities that are available to employees. The Organizational Development team offers a wide range of programs aimed at complementing what skills employees may want or need to develop in seeking future opportunities.
What have you identified as your main priorities in HR?
Talent management is a major priority because of its wide-ranging reach. It starts with recruiting the right employees into the right job and collaborating to make their integration as seamless as possible. Talent management is also about helping employees to develop their full potential to achieve their career goals and recognizing their achievements. Finally, talent management entails succession planning – transferring knowledge and ensuring the competencies and career aspirations of our employees meet the evolving needs of the University, bringing the job experience full circle.
Another priority lies within the HR unit itself – we will continue to focus on streamlining processes to be more effective in the way we serve our community.
What are some of the challenges facing HR?
Delivering value to the community with limited resources is a constant challenge, which is why we need to streamline our processes. Our HR offering has to be relevant. We have to work as a team to avoid redundancies and to make sure employees have the information they need to make the right decisions. In HR, we regularly benchmark with organizations that are considered best-in-class in HR practices and we have learned from their experiences.
Feedback and communication are important factors in successful HR management; what mechanisms work best?
Face-to-face communication is effective because it allows immediate feedback but not everybody is ready or willing to express their opinions in group settings. Some prefer to reflect on certain issues before voicing their opinions. For that purpose, we need to have in place mechanisms that will allow us to capture feedback from other sources as well.
We also need to do more to encourage employee feedback on an ongoing basis; often they are the ones with the solutions in dealing with day-to-day issues that in the end improve work processes and contribute to continuous improvement in the way we deliver services.
Another important mechanism to provide feedback is Performance Dialogue. It is an effective tool to engage in a meaningful conversation with team members about areas that can be improved. It is a good approach in arriving at a conclusion with regards to mutually agreed upon solutions.
What are the most important trends in HR?
The generational differences will require different approaches to managing employee groups. For the first time in our history, we have four generations of employees working at McGill, categorized as follows: veterans (1922-1945), baby boomers (1946-1964), generation X (1965-1980) and generation Y (1981 to 2000). Studies have identified typical behaviours with each group although there are exceptions in each.
At McGill, veterans represent about 5% of our employees. Typically, they value authority and discipline. Baby boomers on the other hand represent about 50%. They take great satisfaction in personal fulfillment. Veterans and baby boomers are resilient and they are committed to their employer.
The younger X and Y generations make up the remaining 45%. Typically, they are self-reliant and tend to bend the rules. They thrive on creativity and flexibility in their work. They embrace technology and much of what they experience is in real time, so they are more spontaneous in their approach.
The X and Y generations want to be challenged, which may mean moving to different organizations and even considering career changes. As these younger employees move into more demanding jobs, organizations will need to support them in continuously adapting and developing their skillsets. More than ever, HR professionals must be attuned to these generational shifts and be ready to deal with them.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy leading teams and specifically my team. I draw great energy from individuals and teams who are passionate about their work and life in general. I also aspire to bring out the best in people. There is nothing more rewarding than to see someone thrive because they feel supported and empowered. It is our job as leaders to help our employees succeed, by guiding them, sometimes against tremendous odds, toward their goals.
What keeps you up at night?
It’s the ability to deliver on the promise of serving the McGill community effectively with limited resources. Despite the rapid pace which at times can be overwhelming, it is sometimes necessary to take a step back, reflect on the issue and consult with colleagues before taking action. This is the true value of teamwork. Tackling the pension plan deficit is another issue that sometimes keeps me awake at night, but that’s a different matter…
What is your advice to someone aspiring to a career in HR?
Flexibility and resilience are critical because the only constant is change. It is also important to remain on top of HR trends. Human resources management is not black or white. HR professionals need strong intuitive skills because every day they encounter a variety of issues, personalities and concerns. They need to adapt their approach to different settings and not just rely on their knowledge of HR policies, which I am proud to say characterizes the HR team at McGill.
The next five years will be challenging certainly, but I personally take great satisfaction in knowing that the HR team throughout the community will play a key role in contributing to the University’s goals. And that’s no small feat.