HR Influencers
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Creating Outstanding Organizations

By Lisa Gordon

By the time he finished high school, Greg Pinks knew he wanted to dedicate his career to helping leaders develop amazing organizations – the kind of workplaces that spark employee imagination, creativity and passion.

With more than two decades of experience in business strategy, employee engagement and leadership coaching, Pinks founded Axiom Performance Inc. in Guelph, Ont., two years ago.

Nowadays, as the company’s chief leadership officer, his work is all about creating outstanding organizational culture by awakening passion within senior leaders. Pinks’ focus on executive coaching and HR strategy lets him help others succeed, while realizing his own personal goal of making a difference in peoples’ work lives.

HR Professional spoke with Pinks about the relationship between great leaders and great workplaces, and how a positive corporate culture has a ripple effect that is clearly experienced by customers.

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

Greg Pinks: It was back in Grade 12 when I was considering what I wanted to do in university. My parents were very social and always had a lot of people around the house. I listened to the conversations and heard a lot of their friends complaining about work. So I went to my parents and asked if there was a job I could get into that would help people enjoy their jobs, since we spend so much of our lives at work. They put me onto human resources management and I did my undergrad at Carleton University, combining social psychology and business. I had a clear vision and I’ve loved it ever since. 

What was your first HR job?

GP: I was very fortunate in that the Ontario government had a program where they funded summer student work placements. In between my third and fourth years at university, I was selected to go into an organization, Queensway-Carleton Hospital in Ottawa, and I worked there for the summer under the guidance of two seasoned HR folks. They got me for free because the Ontario government paid my wages and I got to learn the ropes of HR. It was a fantastic experience. I sat at the bargaining table, learned about interviewing and recruitment and wrote some HR policies and job descriptions. They exposed me to many areas of HR management over those four months. 

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

GP: It’s about working with leaders to create amazing organizations. From the start, I wanted to make a difference in a workplace and I quickly realized that is all done through leadership. Leadership makes or breaks the organizational culture. So for a lot of my career, I’ve been focusing on supporting leaders and leadership teams to be outstanding. In a nutshell, I do executive and leadership team coaching and strategic HR consulting. 

What do you love about your job?

GP: It goes back to why I got into it. I wanted to make a difference in peoples’ work lives. I love having the opportunity to help create outstanding organizations that people really want to work within. If you can create that environment internally, then customers notice it, and they want to do business with you.

What are the challenges you experience in your job?

GP: The biggest challenge is focus. If you’re the VP of HR or you’re an entrepreneur, you’re faced with all sorts of great ideas and opportunities. The challenge is to stay focused on the big picture and what you’re trying to achieve. Focus on where your passion is and where you can make a difference. Time is a precious commodity, and being able to say no [to ideas outside the realm of your goals] is a powerful thing. 

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

GP: Every organization will have challenging times. Again, a focus on the big picture is required. Keep focused on where the organization is going and what it needs to achieve. The more you can communicate how each individual can contribute to the desired outcome, the better you will be. There is no excuse for not communicating in today’s technology-based world. Lastly, you absolutely must remain true to your values in terms of how you treat people. 

What skills are important for success in HR?

GP: You must be able to translate the needs of the organization into a people strategy. There is not much value in a generic people strategy; it must fit the business. Second is something I feel passionately about, and that’s being a student of human behaviour. This is where HR can add great value. We can only advise on creating a culture where people feel respected, protected and connected if we know behaviourally what helps people thrive. 

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

GP: First, get to know the business. You have to know the customers, how the business makes money and know its vision and mission. Understand the drivers of the business and what clients need from it. Secondly, continue to network. Your ideas will come from others, or from books or conferences. Maintain your connections outside of the workplace; part of your strength is the strength of your network. 

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

GP: One is how HR will start using technology and big data. We’ve seen some of the Google studies and they’ve shared data-based information on high-performance teams. I met with a guy in Waterloo last year who is working on creating an HR chatbot, so integrating a chat messaging system with an organization’s HR system and any union agreements. That will allow employees to get quick answers anywhere, anytime. That technology from an administrative standpoint will be a significant shift. 

From a broader organizational context, there is a need for a lot of change management. We are going to see a lot of jobs eliminated and a lot of new jobs coming into play. How do we in HR create an organization that can absorb that change and thrive within it?

What’s the future of HR?

GP: I think it’s pretty exciting. We’re seeing more organizations look at culture as a business imperative. As demographics dictate, and competition intensifies, it creates a real need for organizations to understand how their culture drives and supports their success. I see HR being fully integrated into the whole business as culture becomes a foundation, and without a strong culture, I think businesses are really going to struggle.

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