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HR is taking on an increasingly strategic role within organizations – and designations are a key factor for success

By Liz Bernier

It’s already apparent that having an HR designation leads to bigger paycheques and faster promotions. There’s more than a $10K jump in median pay for HRPA-certified versus non HRPA-certified HR professionals, according to 2017 Payscale research.

But at the most senior, strategic levels, an HR designation can make a critical impact on business results. The highest-tiered designation, the Certified Human Resources Executive (CHRE), is designed to equip HR executives with the rarified, tactical skills to deliver on C-suite business objectives.

Here’s what the top HR executives at four Canadian organizations have to say.

Cheryl Fullerton, CHRECheryl Fullerton, CHRE

EVP People and Communications, Corus Entertainment

Managing the dual portfolio of People and Communications at a bustling media company means Cheryl Fullerton has to stay at the top of her game.

“I’ve been (at Corus) just under two years, and it’s been an extremely exciting couple of years. We underwent a large acquisition shortly after I joined the company,” she said. “For an HR leader, it’s been like a kid in a candy shop. It’s been a chance to really look at what makes sense, what we’re trying to achieve and forget how everybody else does it and really think about what’s right for us right now.”

Earning the CHRE designation has provided a strong grounding for large strategic projects like the acquisition.

“It’s about the breadth of experience that’s been built up over a career. And it’s really those experiences that have helped me be able to have an impact here at Corus,” she said. “I do think that HR designations are very important.”

HR professionals are experts about people, and why people do what they do – but more importantly, they are experts in how to best organize and motivate and reward and lead people to bring out the best in them, says Fullerton. And that requires a high baseline of expertise and skill.

“We can only be successful as an organization if every single person in the organization is successful. So how do we, as a leadership team, live towards that? How do we achieve that strategic objective from a people and culture perspective?”

NormNorm Sabapathy, CHRE

EVP People, Cadillac Fairview

For Norm Sabapathy, leading HR for a multinational real estate firm means a lot of time up in the air. But even so, there are elements of his work that he enjoys a lot more than jet-setting.

“I love many things about my job. I love the fact that I can figure out how to marry together people strategy and business strategy to make a real difference in a business,” he said. “I love getting to work with other leaders in other functions that inspire me to be a better leader and a better business person. And I love working with an HR team that’s passionate about making a difference in the business and seeing that come to life in the organization.”

The Cadillac Fairview Corporation is one of North America’s largest commercial real estate companies. They have a $30-billion portfolio across countries like Canada, the U.S., Brazil and Colombia – which means Sabapathy needs a strong strategic component to his work in HR.

“I lead an HR team, and they are people experts focused on maximizing the effectiveness of people in our business to drive results,” he said. “HR is involved right from the beginning in terms of developing and setting the strategy for the company, along with all of the other functions. Then, the unique value that we provide is we create a people strategy and a people plan to enable those business goals across all the different functions.”

Holding the CHRE designation has helped him reach this point in his career, as it’s a respected designation based on a globally recognized body of knowledge, he says.

“It signifies that I have a higher level of skill and responsibilities that I’ve picked up over the years, and some executive-level competencies,” Sabapathy said. “I think the CHRO role, and HR roles in general, are becoming increasingly demanding – and it’s important that HR as a profession not only keep up, but step up to the increasingly complex, demanding world that they’re operating in. And being part of a regulatory body like HRPA is increasingly and extremely important to that end.”

SusanSusan O’Dowd, CHRE

VP Human Resources, The Hospital for Sick Children

Working at one of the top pediatric hospitals in the world gives Susan O’Dowd the opportunity to work with people at all levels who care deeply about the children, patients and families that they serve.

“I certainly play an important strategic role in HR – but I’m working with people who are saving lives every day,” she said.

HR plays a particularly strategic role at Sick Kids, because the talent they employ is highly specialized and delivers incredible value.

“We have a strategic map, and the people quadrant is a very important element of [that],” she said. “In addition to that, we drive strategic initiatives... such as quality, infrastructure, innovation and other parts of the institution’s mandate.”

The CHRE designation is an important tool in O’Dowd’s professional kit, because it provided her with skills and expertise in new areas of high-level HR.

“When I started my HR designation, I had been in HR for a few years, but I had not had exposure at all to some aspects of HR. I was able to take the courses that were part of the designation... and I was able to learn about balance sheets, financial statements, the whole process around unionization, and the rights and responsibilities of employees and employers. And that was really helpful grounding that I’m now using in my career,” she said. “The designation is really important for not only the experiences that you acquire while getting it, but also for keeping you current. I think it’s very easy in an organization to only look at HR or the business from the aspect of the business that you’re in. But the designation does require you to keep current and get experiences in different areas.”

ClaireClaire Silvester, CHRE

VP Human Resources, Vector Aerospace

Claire Silvester relocated from the UK to head HR at Vector Aerospace. When she made the move, she wanted to update her designation, as well.

“I was a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and the CHRE is the equivalent in Ontario for my level of experience and my designation,” she said. “I got my [CHRE] designation because I felt a bit vulnerable being an HR professional in a fairly senior job without a designation that was applicable to the country that I was working in.

“I really wanted to make sure that as quickly as possible, I could have something that to the outside world would show my experience, my qualifications, that I really was accepted by a validated organization in the country where I was living and working.”

Businesses really value the designation because it gives them a benchmark, she says.

“This gives them a nice hard edge for employers to be able to assess, ‘Is this person really serious about the business of HR?’”

But more than that, the designation gives senior leaders access to a lot of different organizations and a lot of different senior people, so they can see what other organizations are doing, she says.

“The thing that I love the most about my HR role is when I’m presented with problems that I need to find a solution for that involve people,” said Silvester. “And when you’re talking about people, and you’re talking about payroll costs and you’re talking about all of the issues that happen when you lose people [or] when you gain people, it’s really great to see that [HR] has its own designations and that employers are asking for it – no, insisting on it.”

Liz Bernier is a communications specialist with the Human Resources Professionals Association.

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