HR Metrics and Analytics: So Many Numbers, So Little Time…

To show the importance of what this article covers to an HR professional’s effectiveness – and sanity! –  we want to start with a brief “cautionary” tale. We were asked to help the executive leadership team of the IT department of a Canadian bank determine the data they needed to improve hiring decisions for specific senior IT positions. They had asked an HR analyst with the bank to provide them with data to make better and often urgent decisions. Competition for these mission-critical positions is very acute between financial institutions. A bank needs to move quickly when a need or opportunity arises. And that was the extent of the instruction they gave to the analyst: “Bring us the data!” The analyst worked for two weeks gathering data and then made a presentation that included over thirty slides of dense charts and complex graphics; the analyst had basically downloaded every piece of information on senior IT positions across the bank. Unfortunately, it was of little or no help to the executives who were formulating strategy, managing risks, and making hiring decisions. As the executive who brought us in to help said: “After the 3rd slide my eyes started to glaze over. I had no idea what I was being told or what insights I was supposed to take away from it all. There was no structure and no viable conclusion.”

The evolution of data capture technologies now means that organizations have oceans of data to work with. The problem with this – and it is a “problem”, not merely a “challenge” – is that we need to boil this ocean of data into a drink of water that will help us and our leaders make key HR decisions across a range of issues: hiring, resourcing, training, compensation, performance management, health and safety, inclusion, diversity, employee engagement, and more. HR data analysis is a critical management tool, but only if used in a way that supports, not hinders, informed decision making.

In this article we will share two structured ways to look at organizing your thinking and your data analysis that will make more effective use of your time and lead to more timely and informed decisions. First, we will overview the HR Metrics Cycle which leads in clear steps from defining the opportunity or problem, to decisions and a relevant action plan. Secondly, we will dig more deeply into the Define step of the cycle. Starting any project with clearly defined goals and agreed terminologies and metrics is critical to a project’s relevance and success.

For those of you want to learn more about these models and their applications, we encourage you to join us for Queen’s IRC’s HR Metrics and Analytics program where we cover them in more depth, and where you can actively apply them to both case study material and one of your own “real world” live projects.

Download PDF: HR Metrics and Analytics: So Many Numbers, So Little Time…

Leading Human Resources in Transformative Times

The field of human resources has experienced incredible change and transformation over the last five years. These include the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and changing expectations about work, to significant labour market challenges and new views of organizations’ responsibilities related to issues of equity. There has been much to navigate within this context.

Accompanying these external influences and pressures are equally dizzying shifts occurring in our identity as human resource leaders. With a view to every corner of an organization, human resource leaders are critical players who contribute invaluable perspective and insight on how to leverage human, team and leadership potential.

This makes it an opportune time to pause and reflect on where we are and how to prepare for what’s ahead. How do we define ourselves within this context of increased complexity? What are our priorities and critical “must have” skills to support us within this environment? Who are we as human resource leaders and what roadmap should we be using to gain insight into our leadership journey?

Refining our focus to the “what” of HR leadership

A helpful tool and starting place to explore these important questions is the HR Competency Model designed by the RBL Group. Co-founded by renowned author and HR expert, Dave Ulrich, the RBL group has partnered with the University of Michigan for over 30 years to collect a significant amount of data from organizations around the globe to examine three questions:

  1. What competencies do HR professionals need to deliver personal, stakeholder and business results?
  2. What qualities exemplify an effective HR department?
  3. In what way can HR create circumstances to maximize business and organizational success?

In 2021, the group completed its eighth round of the comprehensive Human Resource Competency Survey, which identified shifts in how HR professionals’ success factors are characterized. Of note is that these most recent findings identified the importance of moving from a list of “traits” that HR professionals “need to develop” and instead focused on “actions” to support business and organizational success. This interesting shift may reflect the imperative that HR professionals be increasingly agile and responsive to their environmental context. The last five years have certainly shown the success with which many HR professionals have been able to do this.

The latest study recommended that HR professionals focus on the following five actions to be effective leaders within this context:

  1. Foster collaboration: The ability to build trusting relationships with others to achieve organizational goals.
  2. Mobilize information: The ability to anticipate impacts on the organization – from technological innovations to social challenges – and then acquire, analyze and apply information to navigate change and support better decision-making.
  3. Simplify complexity: The ability to sift through vast amounts of information to understand a situation, apply critical thinking, and respond calmly on issues of greatest importance.
  4. Advance human capability: The ability to understand what skills are needed for an organization to effectively meet the demands of its competitive environment. This entails ensuring that the organization supports the development of its internal talent as well as knowing which practices, systems and structures are required for the organization to succeed. This action also encompasses HR’s important contributions in creating a workplace that embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  5. Accelerate business: The ability of HR professionals to contribute to bottom-line results through understanding the organization’s external environment, how it competes in the marketplace and how it creates value for stakeholders, clients and customers.

Each of these five actions is worthy of exploration and contextualization within your organization. As an approach of discovery, HR leaders may want to layer each of these five actions onto their unique organizational and business context to identify which should be prioritized and enhanced. This will inform strategy and enable you to measure impact across the organization.


The HR Competency Model shared here is only one of many frameworks available to HR leaders. You may find that a different framework is better suited to your needs. Whichever you choose, a framework has value in providing context and support for your work as an HR professional – creating guideposts to keep you on track in what is an increasingly complex landscape.

As HR professionals, we have seen how the global shifts in values over the last five years have led to new organizational pathways and approaches to HR practice and leadership. There are no indications that this rate of transformation is slowing. What won’t change is the importance of the HR leader. It is exciting and thrilling to be part of the journey.

About the Author

Janet Stewart





Janet Stewart is an accomplished human resource leader with a deep understanding of both theory and practice. As a consultant and leadership coach, she supports leaders across Canada to maximize workplace capacity, potential and harmony. She is a skilled facilitator on topics related to leadership, organizational wellness, workplace diversity, and building inclusive cultures. Janet is a Professional Certified Coach (International Coaching Federation), a Qualified Mediator (ADR Institute of Canada), holds a CPHR (BC & Yukon) and is PROSCI® change-management certified. She is a regular contributor to publications on topics related to HR leadership.

Janet is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Leading Human Resources program.



Ulrich, D., Ulrich, M., Wilson Burns, E., & Wright, P. (2021, April 21). New HRCS 8 competency model focuses on simplifying complexity. The RBL Group. Retrieved January 18, 2023, from

Bringing HR Strategy to Life: The Importance of Delegated Authorities and How to Make Them Work


One of the many lessons that the pandemic has taught us is that, more than ever, front-line managers and employees need to be ready and able to respond in the moment to the unprecedented demands and expectations of customers and colleagues alike. Effective empowerment and decentralized decision making, both virtually and face-to-face, are what drive great customer outcomes, as well as an engaged and healthy workforce. And in this dynamic digital age that cuts across diverse “brick and mortar” business models and geographies, the need to deliver customer and employee responsiveness and quality is key to both short and longer-term success. Anything less, and customers and employees alike can easily walk and take their buying power and human capital elsewhere.

So, in the face of these realities, how do employers translate human resources [HR] strategies and well intended policies into effective and responsive HR practices and results? A key driver of this success is the clarity and practical application of one’s HR “delegated authorities”.

Knowing what HR decision making authorities to delegate, to whom, and how they need to be supported and applied have become mission critical HR management realities for most organizations regardless of sector. Delegated HR authorities are key to “how” HR strategy is delivered, how desired workplace cultures and employee productivity aspirations are realized. They are also key to how meaningful line management accountabilities for employee engagement, wellness, and performance are achieved.

Download PDF: Bringing HR Strategy to Life

A Cautionary Tale: 3 Reasons HR Analytics Projects Can Lead to Frustration and Failure

Nothing frustrates me more than to see the expertise, experience and time of HR professionals wasted. And in today’s working environment, I see frustration and failure all too frequently in Analytics projects.

When I say frustration and failure, I refer to the type of Analytics project we have all been involved in. We have pored through oceans of data and done hours of spread sheeting and analysis, and in the end the leaders we have presented our analysis to have put it to one side or seemed confused or unimpressed by our efforts. Somehow we have missed the mark. Or the leader takes one look at our analysis and demands something different – other numbers, more numbers, different charts, flashier graphics – take your pick. And we head off into another round of more effort and increasing frustration.

Why does this happen? Is there too much data? Sometimes. Too much complexity? Possibly. Too little time? Maybe. When these and other analysis challenges arise, it can often lead to the frustration that we have invested time and effort for little or no return. And our managers or leaders are equally frustrated because they are not taking away the insights they need to make informed business decisions.

To make the most efficient use of our time and to increase our chances of success, I’m going to briefly outline three problems that can cause HR analytics projects to stall or go completely off the rails and hopefully point you in directions to ensure that this doesn’t happen to you.

The three reasons for frustration and potential failure that I will explore are:

  1. Poorly defining the problem we are solving and the outcome we want
  2. Not understanding the story the numbers are telling us
  3. Too much data

These problems are all avoidable, if we are aware that they may occur. I will outline the problems and some ways to overcome them below, but this is a very brief article. If you want more insight and practice in these areas of analytics, please join us for the Queen’s IRC HR Metrics & Analytics program. In the program, we provide in-depth strategies, tools and templates, and real world applications to help you to directly address these challenges.

For now, let’s look at these three common reasons HR Analytics projects fail.

1. Poorly defining the problem we are solving and the outcome we want

The purpose of analyzing data is to help us make decisions to solve problems, capture opportunities or monitor and manage potential risks. In the best scenarios, we use data to run a more effective and successful business or organization.

And while it may be obvious to say, data doesn’t make decisions, people do. We do analysis to help ourselves and our leaders make better, more informed decisions.

Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher, once stated: If we agree definitions, we end most arguments. To this, I will add: if we agree definitions, we get to better outcomes, we get to them faster and we get to them with much less effort and frustration.

Too often requests for analysis are poorly-defined or not defined in collaboration with the person who will be using the analysis to make decisions.  “Why does it take so long to hire? Bring me numbers on recruiting!” “Money’s going to be tight this year end. Analyze the data and tell me how much money we should allot for bonuses this year.”  “I want to know if all that money we spend on training is delivering value. Bring me some numbers.”

We can all bring opinions on these issues, some of it informed, some not, but we will each have different ideas on what defines time-to-fill positions, a “reasonable” bonus structure, and value for money in training initiatives. In order to carry out effective analysis, we need to agree on the definitions of the key elements of a project, report, or dashboard with our sponsor or leader before we launch into gathering data and conducting our analysis.

To create effective analysis, we need to define a number of terms or elements. I’ll note them briefly here:

  • The problem we are solving.
  • The outcome we are looking to achieve.
  • The scope or population we are addressing.
  • The timeframe we want to analyze – both the historical past and predictive future.
  • The terminology we are using.
  • The relevant measures that will tell us the story of what is happening and will help us to make informed decisions.

Analysis in most organizational settings is done by one person or a team of people, in this case HR, to provide insight to another individual or team of individuals. In most cases, this will be your boss or a project team or your executive leadership team.  If you sit down for a brief meeting with the individual or team that needs the analysis – it doesn’t have to be long, an hour or less usually does the job – and agree the relevant definitions, there is a dramatically better chance that the analysis will be done in less time, insights will be more focused and meaningful, and decisions will be more realistically informed and easier to make.

Albert Einstein once said: If you have 20 units of time, spend 19 of them defining the problem. If the problem – and the other terms or elements identified above – are defined together by HR and the business leader who owns issues and the decisions, then the odds dramatically increase of using data in an intelligent, time-efficient way to come to better decisions and more sustainable solutions.

2. Not understanding the story the numbers are telling us

A very wise and senior HR leader that I know explained to a group why he liked the term “Human Resources”. He said that organizations had to use their Resources wisely – money, capital, systems, plant & equipment, patents, etc. – and so they had to know if they were being effective in their decisions and investments. This, he said, is the Resource part of Human Resources, and tends to be what the organization measures and analyzes (particularly the money ($$$!) part). But in HR, he said, it is our job to balance the Resources side of the equations with the Human side of the equation.

The point here is that, as HR professionals, we need to deeply understand both sides of the equation, the Resources ($$$!) part and the Human part, if we are going to be able to provide wise counsel and timely insights.

And this brings us to stories. Any insightful analysis is a combination of Numbers & Stories. If you stand back for a moment and consider any analysis you have been conducting, every number has come from a combination of human decisions and human actions. And every solution to improve those numbers will come from human beings understanding the story that underlies the numbers and making Human and Resource decisions to improve that story.

Numbers are the language of business. To understand the story in the numbers, we need to understand the business, how the business uses its resources and the numbers that measure and score the results. Our recommendations and efforts need to help the business to drive successful, sustainable results. To do this, we first need to recognize that a successful business leader focuses on three key issues: How do I grow revenue? How do I reduce costs or make sound investments? And how do I identify and manage the risks that are inherent in making more money and spending less?

Revenue. Cost. Risk. Any HR practice or issue can be linked to one or more of these business results, these business stories. What is the impact of sales training on raising revenue? How can we reduce risk if we fill empty positions sooner? How will that impact our revenue? What will be the impact of multiple retirements? What are the levers or drivers that will encourage employee engagement and greater productivity? How can we restructure a department or division to take out cost? If we understand the business issues – and define the key terms with our business leaders (see above!) – then we can begin to understand the numbers and how change initiatives and HR practices can help to move those numbers in a positive direction.

Numbers and stories. We need the relevant numbers and we need to understand the story that those numbers are telling us.

3. Too much data

Data is best used for two purposes: to identify opportunities for improvement and to monitor and manage risk. The reason we measure and analyze is to make better decisions or to identify areas of unacceptable risk.

Here is the ever-present danger that exists in today’s working environment. Because of the proliferation of intelligent data-capturing technologies, we are, figuratively speaking, DROWNING in data. And some days it feels like we are literally drowning in it.  To compound the problem, because the sources of data and the amount of data keep expanding, we lose confidence in the numbers we are looking it. (And I can already see other hands waving in the back: What about corrupt data? Incomplete data? What about systems that don’t talk to each other? What about huge gaping historical holes in the data? Or departments that input incomplete data or no data all? These are all very real problems that each organization needs to address, but for right now, for this article, we will only deal with having too much data. One tsunami at a time…)

So, how do we address the challenge of too much data? Remember, not all data is created equal. Data and analytics do not solve our problem – they help lead us to insights so that we can make informed decisions on how best to move forward. I have two recommendations before you start to wade through the oceans of data. Go back to the two points discussed above:

Recommendation #1: Work closely with your business leaders to define the problem they are facing and the outcomes they need.

Recommendation #2: Understand the story of what the numbers are telling you so that with the business leaders you can choose the relevant data to measure and analyze.

In the end, all three problems are connected. If we haven’t defined our problem and our desired outcome, then we don’t know what story the data is or might be telling us. Without having the clear, agreed definitions and understanding the story, we can’t determine what data is relevant and what isn’t and we quickly become overwhelmed by the amount of data available.

I encourage you on any project, but particularly where analysis is required, to work closely with your business leaders. Together with them define your terms, understand the story, determine the relevant data and from your analysis find the insight and benefits to help them make sound business decisions. And in the end, I can only hope that you can profitably use these ideas to avoid frustration and failure!!


About the Author

Jim Harrison

Jim Harrison is an international consultant and facilitator focused on strategy, sales and talent management for mid-sized to large organizations, including government, public service and healthcare organizations. He started his career in financial services, working as a money trader for RBC/Dominion Securities.  He has over 30 years’ experience in consulting, training, and executive coaching. He works with clients in North & South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia, and regularly facilitates strategy and training sessions for such well-known companies as IBM, Accenture, PwC, KPMG, Deloitte, Fuji, AGFA, TD Bank, AT&T, Deutsche Bank, and HSBC. Jim received his B.Sc. degree in Finance from Florida State University and a Master’s Degree in English from the University of California, Irvine.

Jim teaches on the Queen’s IRC HR Metrics and Analytics and Linking HR Strategy to Business Strategy programs.


The Making of the Super CHRO

Today CHRO’s are judged on what they deliver and how they get things done. Aligning talent, fostering engagement, enabling common shared vision and values are critical elements in their toolkit. The CHRO has a vital role in shaping the direction of the organization and ensuring business success for all its shareholders. A tall order for sure but one that I believe we are fully equipped to deliver.

In a previous article, Aligning HR Strategies to Create Business Success, I (Philip Wilson) described a Human Resources Framework encapsulating the five components which I propose are the knowledge competency base that are requisite elements for CHRO success:

  1. Strategic Business Planning and HR Alignment
  2. Talent Acquisition Allocation and Management
  3. People Management
  4. Compensation, Rewards and Recognition
  5. Employee and Leadership Professional Development

This article gives more detail on item 1 above – Strategic Business Planning and HR Alignment. The intent is to provide the reader with a deeper insight and focus on the strategic business planning process and how CHRO’s can help align HR with the overall strategic business priorities of the firm. That activity must include consideration of areas such as board governance, corporate vision, mission, values, logic modelling and how the strategy is executed. Bill Greenhalgh, currently President and Chief Executive Officer Stratx Inc., provides insights from a CEO’s perspective.

Download PDF: The Making of the Super CHRO

5 Questions to Help You “Sell” the Value of HR

In the current business environment, it can be very frustrating some days to be an HR professional. In many ways it is like we are living the first line of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Never have there been more HR programs and initiatives that can have a direct impact on business results – and never has it been harder to get the attention, investment and commitment of business leaders to make substantive – and at times even minor – changes in order to use the full value of our HR expertise.

In many companies, while HR has been granted a “place” at the table – or earned that place – they have not yet been granted or earned an equivalent and impactful “voice” at that table.

Businesses are in a constant state of change; yet, HR often waits in line for attention and investment behind technology, and technology, and technology, and then marketing (driven more and more by technology) and finance (often driven by technology in the endless appetite for more data). I think you get the point – and if you are an HR professional you not only get the point, you are probably living it. There is an endless, jostling line-up at the money trough for change initiatives – and there is a limited amount of money, resources, “brain-space”, time or attention to handle them all.

There are three reasons why it is easier to sell a technology – or marketing or finance – investment than an HR investment:

  1. The business value of a change in technology can be easier to calculate and justify. The business case is usually more predictable and anchored in more accepted investment metrics.
  1. There is often a “business imperative” that is easier to identify and argue – “Our value proposition is falling behind our competitors because we can’t offer (fill in your own technology-driven blank) – or “Our cost base is too high compared to our industry peer group because we are not utilizing the most up-to-date technology” or “Our data security is not strong. Our customer data is at risk!”  Loudly supporting these imperatives in the popular press are studies like the recent Citibank research that claims that 57% of all existing jobs will be lost to technology in the next twenty years.[1] This is in addition to the jobs that have already been lost!!
  1. Finally, changes driven by HR are usually changes that involve – gulp!! – people! Shocking! But people – managers and staff alike – are a lot harder to manage or change than machines, or marketing campaigns or financial data sets. On top of which it is often harder to draw a direct line between a dollar investment in HR initiatives and a specific, time-bound rate of return.

The great irony, of course, that is never lost on HR professionals is that it is only by developing a well-recruited, qualified, motivated, engaged, well-managed, and competitively compensated work force that any change can be effectively evaluated and executed.

So that’s where most of us live – in a competitive, noisy, money-driven environment. What can we do?  We can teach ourselves how to sell our ideas. To sharpen our pencils and our presentation skills. To build relationships and accept small, steady, measureable victories – to accept the reality that in this day and age having good ideas and a willingness to work hard are not enough. We have to shape and sell and implement those ideas so that they can be seen to have a measureable impact on business results.

To help HR professionals “muscle up” in the realm of selling and relationship management, we have created a checklist of 5 Questions that you need to answer as you work to be heard and have impact. They are essential questions to test yourself against at the start of every project. As you read through this for the first time, we suggest that you identify a critical HR initiative that you are responsible for getting your senior management team (or your boss) to support. As you work through the 5 Questions keep a pad of paper to one side. Answer each question as clearly and honestly as you can for that initiative. In other words, let’s start by candidly admitting where we stand.

Download PDF: 5 Questions to Help You “Sell” the Value of HR


[1] Dyer, G. (2017, January 18). Davos: The Rich Are Worried | Gwynne Dyer. Retrieved April 06, 2017, from


Performance Management – Many Possibilities…and Implications

Performance Management (PM) has become a core organizational strategy and management priority for many organizations. From Boards of Directors to front-line managers, PM can effectively be used to drive accountability, quality, productivity, competence, and rewards and recognition. Going beyond simply a tool to drive “appraisals” and incentive rewards, PM can be complex and not without risk but it can also drive a sophisticated quality and performance-based culture.

Performance management has also become both a strategic imperative and a challenge for many organizations in this data analytics day and age. As a core enabler of performance optimization and accountability, many executive and HR leaders view PM as a core management practice and a key ingredient to becoming a higher performance organization. As a result of various regulatory, methodological and technological developments over the past five years, however, PM has become a misunderstood topic that is confusing for many organizations, especially for those that do not recognize the interdependencies that cut across other management and human resources practices at the enterprise-wide, team and individual levels of performance.

Best practice performance management is clearly not a “one size fits all” endeavor. Rather, it needs to fundamentally reflect the unique contextual needs of one’s strategic direction, business model, workforce profile and leadership preferences. Best practice PM also needs to be thoughtfully configured, and in many cases, phased in and allowed to mature, otherwise, the policies and programs that it supports will collapse and be rendered ineffective – a management risk that could be quite damaging, ultimately constraining front-line performance and of key importance, customer satisfaction.

Why is performance management such an important and trendy topic these days? The answers are numerous and fundamentally include:

  • A variety of inter-related governance and accountability developments over the past five to ten years that believe that PM is key to better oversight processes and outcomes;
  • The ever-increasing availability and power of technology to produce relevant operational performance data and analytics;
  • Recognition that effective PM can actually connect and translate strategic direction to front-line teams and employees;
  • The need to better support and drive executive and employee pay for performance with focused and measurable value added metrics;
  • Competitive pressures and the belief that PM can really impact and contribute to quality management, cost reduction efforts and improve the customer experience;
  • Given the dynamic state of various labour market segments and the importance of top talent attraction and retention, a view that good PM can be used to inform employee and workforce performance, their engagement, career development and deployment; and
  • An historical perspective that PM is one of the key means for validating the performance/compensation employment relationship.

The current trend and focus on PM these days is also being driven by a provocative point of view that is challenging the PM value proposition and a debate that suggests that individual performance ratings have had their day in the sun. This debate is certainly timely and is serving to raise the bar on how PM could be used and optimized, and what management and HR applications should PM actually be used to drive and enable. At a minimum, the debate is stimulating real and thorough discussions around the boardroom table and in the executive suite, with the net result that PM strategies and practices will continue to evolve and mature, albeit possibly in a different form.

This new “rating-less” form, however, is contextually unique to certain types of businesses – those with knowledge-intensive workforces, project and team-based work delivery, mature operational performance measurement systems that are woven into the fabric of work and job designs, increasingly sophisticated competency and behaviourally-based assessment practices, and an organizational commitment to ongoing performance dialogue and discussions between managers and employees, where managers have limited spans of control that are conducive to the necessary preparation and time for regular performance coaching sessions. Again, one size doesn’t fit all! Adopting and applying these characteristics [and trends] to all types of business models, organization designs and cultures would be folly and highly risky – as such, business and HR leaders truly need to understand context, choices and implications before they make strategic PM decisions that could possibly compromise enterprise value and people’s careers.

Finally, current PM trends are also being driven by the fact that we have passed the technological and information management point of no return – web-based technology systems and information management practices, social media and transparency of disclosure, and workplace automation and data analytics are fundamentally changing the way organizations plan, measure and operate. This profound change is and will increasingly drive foundational PM in the vast majority of industry sectors and businesses. Technologically-based workplace performance measurement is now becoming embedded in and inherently core to how work is done and how customer value is created. As a result, management across all sectors and enterprise sizes now have low cost and ease of access to measurement analytics, and more PM choice than ever before – the dilemma for many then will be why, what and how do they want to use more easily accessible, timely and accurate measurement data for PM? And as we all well know in this day and age, and to the consternation of many private and public sector leaders, if organizations don’t embrace and control the instant messaging and social media wave, interested or vested stakeholders will, in some shape or form, get access to performance data and use it to suit their needs and agenda in a very transparent and immediate way! So the bottom-line now is that more sophisticated and complex PM strategies and practices aren’t just the purview of high performance organizations and their controllable management systems!

So in the context of these trends, opportunities and implications, where is the interested business or HR leader to begin on the PM journey? Start by answering key questions:

  • Why do you need performance management, how should it work, and what do you want to use it for?
  • Do you have foundational planning and measurement practices and systems to support various PM applications?
  • Given the nature of your mandate, business model and workforce, will more sophisticated PM practices contribute to better operational processes and productivity, marketplace results, employee engagement and motivation, and strengthened pay for performance linkages?
  • What are the risks and implications of pursuing a contextually misaligned PM strategy or not executing the PM program well?

Like most core annual management practices, the risks and challenges associated with poor strategy and methodological decisions can be quite challenging, constraining and difficult to address in the short term:

  • Strategy dilution and misalignment of focus, efforts, and ultimately, less than optimal quality outcomes and results;
  • Line management and employee distraction and confusion;
  • Low value added administrative time and opportunity cost; and
  • Poor pay for performance, training, and career management decisions and investments.

Fundamentally then, and as the wise adage suggests – you need to be careful for what you ask for and aspire to achieve with PM! Do your homework and be careful about your aspirations, strategic approach, the implications and risks, and the intended consequences…but if you can contextually and successfully make PM happen, the benefits are enormous, ultimately contributing to a high performance culture and more importantly, sustainable competitive advantage and customer loyalty, and simply, a great place to work!


About the Author

Ian Cullwick

Ian Cullwick, CCP, CHRL, CMC, is a Partner in Mercer’s Ottawa office. He joined Mercer in 2015 after having served as the Vice-President of HR and Organization Research at the Conference Board of Canada, and as a Partner at a major international consulting firm. Ian specializes in governance effectiveness, performance management, human resources strategy, and organization design.  He consults to a broad cross-section of organizations in both the private and public sectors, including high technology companies, financial institutions, crown corporations, health care and not-for-profit organizations.  He is also a noted thought leader and has authored a number of articles on organization design, performance and compensation. Ian has an MBA from the Ivey Business School (Western University), an MIR from the University of Toronto and an undergraduate degree from Queen’s University.

Participation or Pseudo-Participation? Change Agent Challenges in Implementing Organizational Change

Creating energy, engagement, and commitment to change initiatives is one of many challenges we face as change agents. Increasingly, organizations, managers, and change practitioners espouse a belief that involving people in the change initiative is important. Many of us would agree in principle with this philosophy: Participation is essential to successful change implementation. However, the practical dimension of how to actually accomplish employee participation in change initiatives poses a challenge to change implementers.

There are many benefits of participatory processes. Participation may help minimize resistance to change initiatives. It affords employees the perception of a greater sense of control during a change process. Control is an important factor in helping to address the feelings of vulnerability and other emotional reactions that employees may experience during change. When employees are honestly engaged in opportunities to contribute their ideas, suggestions, and creative solutions to real and anticipated problems, to express concerns and alternatives, the entire organization can benefit as people learn how to solve problems. However, despite embracing a philosophy that values participation, the reality of how change practitioners actually solicit and use input tells a different story.

What do HR managers involved in major change initiatives actually do to foster employee participation? Researchers Laurie Lewis and Travis Russ (2012) explored this question in an empirical study with 26 human resources managers. They investigated the actual practices that HR managers utilized to solicit and use employee input during major organizational change projects. The study identified four different approaches that are described below: open, political, restricted, and advisory.

  1. Open Approach
    The first style, the open approach, is an informal approach that invites people to offer their input and to talk about the issues involved in a change initiative. HR managers reported that employee input was more likely to be considered if the input was deemed to be “correctly motivated” and likely to improve the process, and rejected if it was “complaining for the sake of complaining.”
  2. Political Approach
    The second style, the political approach, was described as being more strategic in orientation, in contrast to the open approach. HR managers sought input from powerful individuals, regardless of whether the input would be considered relevant or important. Input would be used if it came from the “right people” who might contribute significant resources to the change project, such as money or other services. Given the high power status of those consulted, the change agenda might be altered based on this input.
  3. Restricted Approach
    The third style, the restricted approach, was the most commonly described method used by HR managers. Input was sought from key stakeholders: Individuals perceived to be most affected by the change, high performers, and those described as knowledgeable and savvy. However, input from key stakeholders was rejected if it did not reflect a majority view, was not perceived as relevant to the general population, or was perceived as unworkable. Unique comments, comments perceived as ‘venting’ or ‘lashing out’ and comments that were perceived to be self- motivated or not aligned with decisions that were already made, were discarded. Input was used to support the original change vision.
  4. Advisory Approach
    The fourth style, the advisory approach was the second most common approach to soliciting input. Input was sought from opinion leaders who occupied ‘pockets of receptivity’, those individuals perceived to be ‘thought leaders, strategic thinkers, innovators, and advocates’ who would support the change and be helpful in persuading others to become supportive. The purpose of soliciting input was to seek affirming information and, if necessary, to persuade these employees to change any negative perceptions of the intended change. Deliberate decisions were made to avoid the ‘complainers’ and in some instances, HR managers recounted examples where senior leaders dictated who would be interviewed—those individuals that senior leaders felt confident would provide the answers they expected to hear.

Examining what HR managers actually do in practice provides several important insights that can help us be more thoughtful as we strive to clarify the purpose and intent of participation. This study raises some interesting questions about our work as change practitioners. Are we as change agents engaging in “ritualistic participation,” concerned with soliciting advice from a variety of stakeholders more for “show”, advice that may not be taken seriously (Lewis & Russ, 2012)? Are we working within organizations that in reality support “pseudo-participation,” where managers give the impression of openness, but retain decision-making in their own hands? Are we focused on soliciting input that supports pre-conceived plans, or do we encourage honest and open dialogue about the potential benefits and pitfalls of a change plan? Are we consciously or inadvertently discouraging inquiry, the testing of assumptions, challenging the status quo?

As change practitioners, we need to be clear about our purpose in soliciting input, and how that input will be used. We need to acknowledge the inevitable tensions that exist between approaches that focus on persuading employees to get on board with a pre-determined change initiative, and approaches that are designed to encourage creative and critical reflection on the change vision and how to implement it.

Being effective as a change agent requires us to not only identify our own assumptions about participation, but to help others in senior leadership roles make their implicit assumptions more explicit. We have a responsibility to ask ourselves and others some tough questions:

  • What are the goals or intentions of the participation process? Is it to minimize any alterations to the change initiative?
  • Is there any potential to actually influence and change the intended direction and implementation plan, or is soliciting input an exercise in persuading employees to get on board with the change?
  • Are we just going through the motions of seeking opinions and concerns from stakeholders, concerned only about the optics?
  • Are we trying to make stakeholders more receptive to the change, or simply placating them by inviting them to give feedback?

There can be a danger in some of the simplistic, cookbook approaches to employee participation. Similarly, there is a danger in under-appreciating the skill level required by change agents to address the complex task of managing the tensions and challenges involved in soliciting and using input from employees.  Engaging employees and managers in open, honest discussion of the potential strengths and the potential pitfalls of an intended change initiative requires a specific set of skills in fostering dialogue, compassion, intestinal fortitude, and the support of senior leaders. As change agents, we need to help others learn how to express their diverse views and opinions in ways that might usefully critique and improve our change efforts so that we can move our change projects, and our organizations forward, empowering our teams, and ourselves, along the way.


About the Author

Kate Sikerbol
Kate Sikerbol, M.Ed., MA, PhD(C), is a facilitator at Queen’s IRC.  As an organizational consultant and coach, Kate brings extensive experience in business, healthcare, government, and higher education.  She has designed and delivered change management and leadership development programs, facilitated team building using strengths-based approaches, and provided leadership assessment and coaching to managers and leaders. Kate is passionate about enabling change agents and managers in leading and implementing change.


Selected References

Lewis, L. K. & Russ, T. L. (2012). Soliciting and using input during organizational change initiatives: What are practitioners doing? Management Communication Quarterly, 26(2), 267-294.

Pseudo-participation – Oxford Reference. (2016). Retrieved September 16, 2016, from

The Importance of Communication for Effective Change Management: A Case Study About the ‘Made in Cogeco’ Change Model

Working in the telecommunications industry, people assume that we are ahead of the curve in terms of change initiatives and communication practises.  But similar to other companies, we are challenged to come up with our own change management processes within our organization.  Our industry is changing rapidly, and that means we need to change too. In this article, I will share how Cogeco developed a new change model quite quickly to respond rapidly and succinctly to the transformational trends in our industry.

Cogeco Cable Canada is a telecommunications company that operates in Ontario and Quebec, and provides residential and commercial customers with phone, internet and cable services. In fiscal year 2015, we created a “Made in Cogeco” solution in response to the need to enhance service, stay competitive and cut costs.  There were 3 key factors that helped us toward this goal.  The first decision was to hire a Director, Communications and Change Management based in Montreal. Shortly thereafter, we hired a Senior Advisor, Change Management located in our Burlington office. Lastly, the Organizational Development staff was provided with enhanced skill development to become specialized change agents.  The result was that the  HR department, utilizing  this specialized change team was able to create the “Made in Cogeco” change management model.

Developing the Made in Cogeco Model

Applying some of the important principles found in many of the courses at Queen’s IRC such as Change Management and Designing Change, we selected a large project that would impact our business in Quebec and Ontario, and that could be phased in to pilot our approach.  Our vision was to transform how we do business in our call centre and with our field technicians, by increasing first call resolution for our customers and enhance their overall customer experience.  Customer service has always been a point of differentiation for our customers at Cogeco.  We were therefore looking for a new way to enhance that service.

The overall goal of the project was to reduce labour costs while enhancing the service for our customers by focusing on reducing services calls and the handling times of customer calls.  It was important for us to promote top line growth and reduce overall operational expenses.  As we introduced more advanced products out in the marketplace, such as TiVo, we had to get innovative and more efficient in how we delivered our customer service experience.  With the call centre transformation, we wanted to implement a first call resolution program and accelerate our self-care functionality. Out in the field, the goal was to reduce delays to install and improve procedural effectiveness by implementing new standards.  In both the field and call centre, skill enhancement was therefore key.

Our experts in HR change management worked with the operations team to make a plan to transform ideas and vision into action. This included:

  • Diagnosing the need as well as the team for change
  • Guiding the executive sponsor with selecting the right stakeholders
  • Developing the methods for communicating the change effectively
  • Implementing the change to ensure sustainability
  • Assessing and managing any resistance

Tasked with this exciting opportunity to implement the “Made in Cogeco” change model, the team quickly sat down to understand the why, what and how of change.  Working with the VP, Customer Experience and the respective operational Directors, the change team built the roadmap for transformation.  Most importantly, they quickly developed action plans to get input from the stakeholders to get a more informed approach to the change.  In particular, the goal of the combined team between HR and Operations was to erase any resistance, and mobilize commitment to achieve the desired results.

The Communications Framework

A major focus of the change management process was the communications framework.  Of particular importance was the method of communication across a big department that straddled two provinces.   It is well known, but not often followed, that you cannot over-communicate when you are asking an organization to change.  Many organizations come to this realization after the fact, often when it is too late.  We adopted a more proactive approach on this part of the change plan.  We were also clear that the message had to resonate.

For effective communication, there were some key recommendations that we incorporated into this organizational transformation.  The first was to link it to the corporate initiative.  All of the communication was geared toward one of the key initiatives that are the pillars in our five year plan.  The VP, Customer Experience went on a road show to clearly communicate the vision, mission and objectives of the project.  Both he and his Directors, along with the Human Resources Business Partner, worked hard to help people understand how the changes would affect them personally.  They conversed in small groups so there could be open discussion and a chance to ask clarifying questions.

Another overriding consideration was that the communication strategy needed to work through any roadblocks – we knew we needed to communicate the why, why now, and the risk to our organization if the change was not implemented.  We introduced a way to have information cascading both up and down between the front line workers and management within 24 hours.  The first step was to identify a primary sender who represented the corporation direction.  In this particular case, the primary sender was two levels up.  Next, the change team ensured that there was buy-in of the managers by involving them as the secondary sender of information. In turn, the managers would involve the direct supervisors.  The most important piece was to identify the WIIFM (what’s in it for me).  By doing this, the goal was to solidify the buy-in and mitigate any resistance.  The tone and attitude was set at this level because they were the conduit for this directional cascading of information up and down the pipeline.  It was identified that managers also needed a vehicle to ask questions.  By identifying this need, it broke down barriers and mitigated the noise and rumour mills.  The overall effect was that it created transparency.

A change management inbox was also created to receive the ongoing communications and it was accessible to everyone.  Training sessions were held with supervisors and staff by our Senior Advisor, Change Management.  There were two modules that were introduced: Communicating to Drive Change and Coaching to Drive Change.  Reinforcement was done through lunch ‘n learns that were scheduled regularly after these sessions.  During these sessions, staff was introduced to this new model for communicating news and information.  A template was also created to ensure consistency in the message. In particular, the template addressed the link to the corporate initiative, the back story, the why and the why now, how to get assistance, the timeframe, as well as the benefits to staff, the organization, and most importantly, the customer.

The communication opened up the timeframes and identified how and when the leaders would be available to answer questions.  This prevented the front line workers from shopping around for answers and it ensured that everyone was on target with the outcomes of the project.  In effect, the cascading sequence for the release was to approve the communication, send it to the supervisors/managers, allow for a call in option to answer questions, release the information to the front line and track and respond to feedback with 24 hours. The result created energy for the change.


Capitalizing on the success of the change management model for the project, we feel confident that we now have a prototype for change.  With this initial trial, we demonstrated that we were able to create the acceptance for transformation.  We will therefore use our “Made in Cogeco” methodology to apply to other projects and initiatives.  Based on this success, we have also developed a change management module to deliver to all of the organizational leaders within Cogeco Cable.

By applying many of the same principles that are shared with HR practitioners through the Queen’s IRC training, we were able to transform ideas into actions that will continue to propel this organization forward.


About the Author

Erin O'Flynn

At Cogeco Cable, Erin O’Flynn is responsible for providing the full suite of professional and strategic human resources expertise to the Operations Departments in Ontario. She develops, facilitates and implements HR business plans that align with overall business strategies to deliver superior HR services that enable operating departments to meet their business goals and provide a return on investment to the shareholders. Erin is responsible for developing or coordinating all HR programs such as talent acquisition, compensation and benefits, policy development, HR project management, change management, organizational development, establishment of strategic and operational initiatives, training and coaching for managers and executives, management succession and leadership as well as new initiatives for employee development.  Erin has extensive human resources experience in both public and private sector industries.  Previously she was the HR representative responsible for Public Health and Paramedic Services in Niagara Region.  She sat as a member of the strategic management team and was involved with four bargaining units and one non-union group. Erin has a Master’s in International Relations from the University of Toronto, a Certificate in Labour Relations from Brock University and an Advanced Human Resources Certificate from Queen’s University IRC.

About Cogeco

Cogeco Cable Canada regroups the Canadian cable operations of Cogeco Cable Inc. Cogeco Cable Canada is the second largest cable operator in Ontario and Québec in terms of the number of basic cable service customers served. Its two-way broadband cable networks provide residential and small business customers with analogue and digital television, high speed internet and telephony services. Cogeco Cable Inc. is a telecommunications corporation and is the 11th largest hybrid fibre coaxial cable operator in North America, operating in Canada under the Cogeco Cable Canada brand name in Québec and Ontario, and in the United States through its subsidiary Atlantic Broadband in Western Pennsylvania, South Florida, Maryland/Delaware and South Carolina. Through its combined subsidiaries, Cogeco Data Services and Peer 1 Hosting, Cogeco Cable Inc. provides to its business customers a suite of information technology services (data transport, colocation, cloud and managed services, and dedicated hosting), with 20 data centres as well as more than 50 points-of-presence in North America and Europe. Cogeco Cable Inc.’s subordinate voting shares are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX: CCA).

A Closer Look at Resistance to Change

Introductory Case Study: Transition to a Flexible Work Environment

In 2001, all non-computer products and services of the Ottawa branch of Hewlett-Packard were grouped into a new company called “Agilant” and moved out of the existing branch office. The remaining one hundred employees at the Ottawa branch office were solely responsible for the sales and servicing of Hewlett-Packard’s latest computer systems and software programs. At the same time, those at the Ottawa branch embarked upon a change initiative called “New Generation Workplace” (NGW), whose objectives were to reduce fixed office space costs by significantly reducing the number of desks and at the same time to move from a traditional to a flexible work environment. These changes had been mandated by headquarters in the United States. After these two changes, the size of the physical office was reduced by 35 percent and employees were encouraged to spend less time in the office by working from home.

Effective in March 2001, the majority of employees in the sales, servicing and marketing departments were no longer entitled to a designated desk space. In exchange, they were offered a choice between two drawers or space in a filing cabinet. A reduced number of workstations were made available by a reservation for a period of one to three days at a time. When they had not reserved a desk, employees were expected to work from home or out of a client’s office.

Initially, this initiative was met with skepticism. As one employee said: “We’ve lost the privilege of calling a certain desk our own, but the whole project hasn’t changed things all that much. I’m not sure if they’ll be getting rid of more desks in the future or not. For the time being, for all the hype there are still just as many people in the office as ever.” Sales members whose quotas were dependent upon team performance were also skeptical of the new approach. One sales employee stated: “By nature, sales people require high affiliation, so it won’t work.”

>> This paper is one chapter from Dr. Carol A. Beatty’s e-book, The Easy, Hard & Tough Work of Managing Change. The complete e-book is now available on our website at no charge: Download


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