HR Influencers
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Transformational leadership

By Lisa Gordon

When HR Professional connected with Allan Bartolini in late May, he was a man in transition. With just a few days left in his role as VP of human resources and organizational development with The Global Furniture Group in Toronto, Bartolini was preparing to move on to his next challenge at automotive replacement parts provider, Mevotech LP.

By the time this article is published, he’ll be driving to a new office. But Bartolini says that not only will his title be the same at Mevotech, so will the principles and philosophies that have been the foundation of his successful 34-year HR career.

When did you decide you wanted a career in human resources?

Allan Bartolini: The funny thing is that HR found me. After graduating with a business and economics degree, I was trying to find myself, as most young grads do, and began looking for a career. I targeted larger organizations as I felt they would provide me with a wider range of internal growth opportunities. I applied at Goodyear Canada for a mailroom position with the intention of working my way up. When I got home, I had a call that they had a position as a recruiter. And that’s how I got my start.

That was your first HR job?

AB: I handled recruitment at Goodyear for junior level positions. In those days, there was no Internet and everything was done through newspaper ads. I would use the existing job descriptions as the basis to create the ads, review the resumés, conduct interviews and develop a short list for the hiring manager. In this position, I quickly learned the importance of finding candidates with the “right cultural fit.”

Tell me about your current work. What are your main areas of responsibility?

AB: I have full HR responsibilities: talent management, rewards and recognition, succession planning, training and development, employee engagement and satisfaction. For me, it’s always been about developing a high performance learning organization; that’s been my passion and strength as an HR leader. It’s also about creating a culture and environment where employees form a connection, loyalty and passion for the brand, the product and the customer. This creates an environment of employee engagement and satisfaction within a learning environment. My philosophy is that an organization only grows as its employees learn. This belief is what attracted me to Mevotech. They are looking to continue their growth and success by creating a learning organization.  

What do you love about your job?

AB: I love the transformational leadership part of my job – transforming an organization by developing an HR infrastructure that supports the organizational core values and delivers high performance results on an ongoing basis. The satisfaction comes from knowing that HR has played a key leadership role in creating an engaged workforce with a high level of employee satisfaction.

What are the challenges you experience in your job?

AB: My challenge is creating an HR strategy that drives the business forward and enables our employees to understand their part as well as their contribution to the overall success of the business. Only then can we empower employees to make the right decisions at the right time and with confidence.

What’s key to leading HR during a difficult time for a client organization?

AB: Communication. An organization cannot do enough in this area. We need to communicate our vision, mission and strategy in the best of times. However, in difficult times this becomes ever more important in order to ensure that the organization is aligned and that everyone is pulling in the same direction. We need to continuously keep employees informed of our progress and shortfalls against our shared objectives, and we need to advise of any course corrections that may take place from time to time. The better informed, engaged and empowered an employee is, the better they can perform.   

What skills are important for success in HR?

AB: In today’s HR environment, understanding and embracing diversity is key to establishing a successful HR department. People bring different dynamics to the organization and we have to leverage diversity in order to become a stronger organization. If we all looked at things the same way, we would believe that we are never wrong. Allowing for discussion and differing points of view, leveraging diverse cultural backgrounds and the knowledge gained from those backgrounds can help us arrive at a better overall decision. You have to be able to listen with an open mind – make sure that everyone counts.

What tips do you have for new grads or those in entry-level HR jobs who want to move up the ladder?

AB: Number one is to focus on improving your emotional intelligence – how you interpret things and how you make judgment calls. Also, how you connect your feelings with your thoughts. Determine what you have to offer and build on those strengths; you also need to evaluate your weaknesses and work to improve. Find a mentor in the organization.

The HR field has been evolving. What changes excite you the most?

AB: I’m extremely excited about the Millennials coming into the workforce and how an organization can adapt and embrace what they are looking for. We can’t say they need to fit our mould, because that’s not what they are about. We need to offer an environment conducive to their needs and that motivates and inspires them to perform at their best. They are the future. Why resist? We need to embrace them. Organizations that promote this cultural shift will be able to attract and retain the best talent in the years ahead.

What’s the future of HR?

AB: The HR function has evolved significantly from my early years. It has transformed itself from the “personnel” department to that of a strategic business partner. I believe that the partnership evolution will continue and organizations such as Google, Apple and Netflix are leading the charge. I think that “people strategies” led by the organization’s chief cultural officer will drive the business strategy. Fred Smith, founder of FedEx and a CEO who was ahead of his time, subscribed to the philosophy of “people, service, profit.” Take care of your people and they will service the customer, and profits will be the result. 


First job: My first job was at a local garage where at the age of 15, I started working on Saturday mornings cleaning the mechanics’ pit, the bathrooms and the customer waiting area.

Childhood ambition: My ambition was to be a teacher. I never pursued it, but I’ve now taken on that role within the business as part of my talent development portfolio.

Best boss and why: It was Bryan DeMarchi at Goodyear Canada. He was a coach, not a boss. He taught me how to learn and evaluate myself, and how to focus on my weaknesses. He never made me feel that making a mistake was bad; it was simply a learning experience. Bryan, I thank you for that!

Current source of inspiration: My colleagues within the profession – those who are pioneering change within the HR practice and within their respective organizations, and more importantly the CEOs who are looking for a new HR perspective. CEOs such as Tony Hsieh of Zappos and Howard Schultz of Starbucks have made those organizations great by inspiring and motivating their employees to greatness, and they have made HR the driving force behind their transitional leadership.

Best piece of advice ever received: Never stop learning.

Favourite music: John Mayer

Last book read: Leading the Starbucks Way by Joseph Michelli

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