Interview with Alice Kieran, Director, Total Compensation

When Alice Kieran joined McGill in March as Director, Total Compensation, she showed her true colours even before day one on the job, zooming in for a formal introduction of HR directors meeting off-campus, and zooming back to her office, before starting at McGill. Read more »
Alice Kieran stands proudly in front of photos she took of Monet’s gardens at Giverny that grace her office.

When Alice Kieran joined McGill in March as Director, Total Compensation, she showed her true colours even before day one on the job, zooming in during her lunch hour for a formal introduction of HR directors meeting off-campus, and zooming back to her office, before starting at McGill.

Alice brings to McGill some 32 years of experience in total compensation in high profile organizations where she has earned a reputation for quick thinking, resourcefulness and getting things done.

FORUM spoke with Alice to find out how she envisions her role and what she considers her priorities.

What brought you to McGill? 

I was looking for a new challenge.  I saw the position advertised on the Canadian Human Resources Association website. The position looked interesting so I applied.

What is your first impression of your new job, of HR and McGill?

It’s an exciting place to work. The team in Total Compensation is great and I enjoy working with colleagues in all other areas of HR. I have started meeting senior administrators, deans, chairs and other unit heads. There appears to be many opportunities at McGill.

Is working at McGill different than what you expected?

Yes, in fact it’s better than what I expected. People within and even outside the University have told me McGill has outdated systems and procedures. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that many of our systems and procedures are web-based and administered electronically, doing away with paper. This is far from an “old fashioned” organization, compared with some of my previous employers and clients. I also like the fact that McGill has many green initiatives, which is in line with my personal values.

What are your objectives and priorities?

Right now I am involved in some major projects as I learn the history of McGill, the contents of the various collective agreements, HR policies and procedures, and learning more about my colleagues where clearly there is a sense of teamwork.

One major project is to examine McGill’s behavioural competencies and define the right level of proficiency relative to each, based on the job level. This project – which I volunteered to lead – is perhaps the most wide-reaching because we are drawing links not only to performance dialogue but to recruiting, career aspirations, organizational development and job evaluation.

Payroll process development and improvement is another big challenge. We need to look at more streamlined methods of administering payroll despite the wide ranging number of groups covered by different salary policies. We have established a work team with Information Systems Resources (ISR) and Shared Services to look at some of these issues. Despite the breadth of the project, the team spirit is truly stimulating.

These projects are important but, as I settle in, I am also learning more about ways to rethink some of our processes within Total Compensation, to the benefit of our clients. I am inspired by the innovative ideas that my team members bring forward to be more effective.  A big part of what we do is to benchmark with compensation policies in similar organizations.  We also spend time studying and integrating best practices.

What comments about yourself would you like to share with the McGill community?

I am a collaborator and a team player. I embrace change. If changing work methods can improve and add value to what we do, we should do it.  In fact, we should regularly question the way we do things, otherwise we become so entrenched in our work habits that sometimes the output may not be up to client expectations. Change is what keeps an organization healthy, current and relevant.

What is your career background?

I am an actuary by profession with a degree from the University of Laval and an MBA from McGill.

I have worked in several large organizations including Towers Perrin as a pension consultant; CP Rail, managing benefits; Blue Cross, responsible for actuarial services and Lafarge, managing compensation.  I later joined Bombardier as senior director with a worldwide mandate for compensation, pension and benefits.  More recently, I worked at Hydro-Quebec as chief of global compensation.

Is there anything you would like to share with us that we would be surprised to hear about you?

My hobbies are photography and woodworking. I am a single mother of two boys whom I adopted when they were six months old. They are now 16.  I am currently writing a book on native plants.

Any thoughts on what you would like to list as accomplishments in a few years from now?

I hope that my team’s contribution will have added meaningful value to the management of HR at McGill, especially in the context of retiring baby boomers and the fierce competition among employers to find the right match. Employers will need to be creative to attract, retain and motivate a competent workforce.

On a personal note, I hope to have found the time to visit and enjoy some of the exceptional features offered by McGill to its personnel: the libraries, the gym, the conferences, the museums, the Morgan Arboretum and so much more.