Advancing HR at Encana: A Conversation with Dave Urquhart | Queen's University IRC

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Advancing HR at Encana: A Conversation with Dave Urquhart

Alison Hill, Queen's IRC Research Associate
Publication date: October, 2011
Alison Hill, Queen's IRC Research Associate
Alison Hill

Queen's IRC has now successfully delivered several iterations of our Advanced HR programming. During the program, participants are often engaged with the material and the discussions. But, to what extent is this engagement with learning maintained outside of the classroom? To answer this question, IRC Research Associate, Alison Hill, spoke with Dave Urquhart, Team Lead, HR Advisory, Staffing and Development at Encana. Dave has been a participant in the Advanced HR programming, and has sponsored several of his employees to attend as well.

This article provides one senior-level HR professional's perspective on the value of the IRC's Advanced HR programming. In particular, the article highlights Dave's views on the Queen's IRC advantage, the program content, and the ways in which he and his employees have shifted their thinking about HR as a result of the Advanced HR programming.

The Queen's IRC Advantage

According to Dave, "The Advanced HR programming offered by Queen's IRC is one-of-a kind. Though my organization is located in Alberta, I cannot find a comparable program offered by any of the academic institutions in the West. The IRC targets a niche market, with a program that is particularly geared towards HR generalists."

Program Content

The IRC's Advanced HR programming relies on the work of Ulrich, Brockbank, Johnson, Sandholtz, and Younger (2008). Their text, HR Competencies: Mastery at the Intersection of People and Business, is the program's primary resource. The competency model developed by Ulrich and presented during the Advanced HR programming was a key takeaway for Dave. As an HR professional, Dave was already familiar with Ulrich's work prior to his IRC experience. The Advanced HR program, however, provided a more in-depth exploration of Ulrich's work. For Dave, this exploration broadened and deepened his awareness and understanding of HR's functions and true capacities. "I'm encouraging every HR Advisor to get involved in the business," said Dave. "The Ulrich model is a good way to understand this. What is our strategy? What skills are needed to implement this strategy? How can leadership endeavour to support the strategy across the organization? The Advanced HR program gives its participants the credibility to work within the business."

Reframing Thinking

Dave Urquhart
Dave Urquhart

Gaining a holistic perspective on HR was another key learning for Dave and his employees. The content presented throughout the program encouraged Dave and his colleagues to consider approaching HR with a systems view, and to a more clearly articulate how interconnected HR is to other departments within the organization. At Encana, HR Advisors need to be acutely aware of how individual business units operate, and to cultivate partnerships across these units so that the organization can minimize production costs and maximize efficiency.

The discussion on organizational structure resonated with and was beneficial to Dave. The IRC's program enabled Dave to reflect on and critically think about how and why Encana is structured and how this structure relates to processes, people, and reward systems. Working to mitigate stress caused by organizational change, and to answer questions associated with organizational change, Dave's HR Advisors have a better understanding of their role and how it aligns within the organization by following the IRC's Advanced HR programming.

Advancing HR at Encana

Since participating in the Advanced HR program, Dave, in particular, and Encana, more broadly, have continued to adapt and utilize the Ulrich model to develop HR Advisors professionally and understand how to strive for the next level of partnership with the business.  Dave has embedded HR activists within the individual business units at Encana. Taking a team approach, HR Advisors attend management meetings, and are integral members of the senior leadership teams. HR Advisors, it seems, are recognizing the value of their role, and are gradually elevating their skills to become Credible Activists. Dave emphasizes that understanding the business, not only the internal operations, but that of the competitors is imperative. This understanding provides Encana with a competitive edge.

Closing Thoughts

In closing, Dave summarized why he advocates the value of the IRC's Advanced HR programming by saying: "I highly recommend the IRC's Advanced HR programming to those in a generalist role, those who currently sit at the leadership table, or should be sitting at the table. For my employees, the programming helped to reiterate why they are at the table. They aren't there just to provide updates on HR functions, but rather to be part of the leadership team and provide strategic direction on decisions and crucial organizational issues and matters. The Advanced HR programming enables a more holistic understanding of HR, including strategy, structure, performance, and leadership development. It gives participants an understanding of how to be a player at the table and the ability to question decisions, ask "Why," and to think critically about matters related to HR."

IRC Director, Paul Juniper, applauds Dave for being a forward-thinking HR leader. Paul is pleased that the learning acquired in the IRC's Advanced HR program has practical applications for organizations, such as Encana, and that the programming is perceived as valuable by its participants.

Please visit the IRC's website to learn more about our Advanced HR program.