Business

By Lisa Gordon

Bruce Fraser is a thinker and a doer. The thing he loves most about human resources is the opportunity to plan out a strategy and then roll up his sleeves and get the job done.

For the past four years, Fraser has been director of HR for Nestlé Waters Canada in Guelph, Ont. Water in every form – from spring to sparkling – is the focus of the company’s 400 employees, who are located across the country.

With a solid background in operations prior to transitioning to human resources, Fraser was uniquely positioned to help Nestlé respond to some challenging times in the summer of 2016, when the company’s water-taking permits were squarely in the Southwestern Ontario spotlight.

He told HR Professional that times like those call for solid “communication, consistency, solutions and support” and that HR can be a leader in fostering employee engagement through transparency.

When did you decide you wanted a career in human resources?
Bruce Fraser: When I was an operations manager at another company in the mid-1990s, we were in the process of rolling out self-directed work teams. At the same time, I decided to go back to university for business since my background was technical. The whole notion of being a coach/facilitator/leader versus being a manager really inspired me. I realized there was a whole different way of working with people. Working through those self-directed work teams led me to consider HR opportunities and I haven’t looked back.

What was your first HR job?
BF: I was a recruitment specialist. I was responsible for all aspects of recruiting: co-op, production, professional and sales. It was building a recruitment strategy, working with the business, and getting people in. It was an awesome transition – supporting the business overall instead of focusing in on production.

Tell me about your current job. What are your main areas of responsibility?
BF: I’m currently the head of HR for Nestlé Waters Canada. I support our president. I have accountability for all aspects of HR and direct responsibility for things like compensation, benefits, positive employee relations, HR as a business partner, employee communication and change management. Over the last two years, I’ve been utilizing our centres of excellence for activities such as recruitment, health and wellness and payroll, with joint ownership on things like organizational development, expats in training and learning. On the recruitment side, my team owns frontline recruitment here, but our U.S. centre of excellence handles professional recruitment. It has also been a great opportunity to utilize the tools and economies of scale of a large organization while at the same time executing at a local level.

You need to understand business challenges and opportunities in order to bring solutions to the table. What do you love about your job?
BF: For me, I would say it’s probably the variety and the scope; no day is like another. You’re in touch with so many parts of the business. You’re mapping out strategy and direction over a three-year planning horizon while at the same time working on delivering the execution of that strategy. It’s a good opportunity to use my operations experience along with the number of specialty areas I have in HR. You’re building and planning strategy and then you’re rolling up your sleeves and executing. It’s a nice combination.

What are the challenges you experience in your job?
BF: Challenges are typically tied to the business, so it’s understanding what’s going on with the business and finding out how HR can help, whether that’s developing and executing a strategy or dealing with an immediate crisis situation. It’s about creativity and finding the right solution for the business, and not always about “buying something off the shelf.”
Secondly, change can be a challenge. With the global economy, businesses have to change faster than ever before. Helping the business and employees alike facilitate change has become a critical component of what we do.

What’s key to leading HR during a difficult time for a client organization?
BF: From an HR perspective, it’s about how HR helps to keep employees engaged and empowered and up to date with the latest information. Share the facts with them and communicate, communicate, communicate. It’s about communication, consistency, solutions and support. In a difficult time, a simple email won’t cut it. You need to get in front of people. Last summer we created fact sheets for every single employee and a website with facts. We made ambassadors of our employees by being transparent and helping people to engage.

What skills are important for success in HR?
BF: I have worked outside of HR and know what I was looking for from human resources. Now, being in HR, I understand what business leaders are looking for. Number one is business acumen. You need to understand business challenges and opportunities in order to bring solutions to the table. You need to be flexible and agile and think strategically, yet be hands on and work tactically. Far too often, I see junior HR people get into the business world and they don’t necessarily understand the business dynamics and can’t articulate an HR strategy into dollars and cents. I think that is absolutely critical.

What tips do you have for new grads or those in entry-level HR jobs who want to move up the ladder?
BF: I would say, “speak business.” Gain a breadth of experience and do not be afraid to step back to step forward. If your ultimate goal is to specialize in one area, my recommendation is to get out of it so that when you do focus, you’ll bring your client a wealth of solutions. Co-op is wonderful to get those different work experiences. Find a mentor; grow a network – all of these are important elements.

The HR field has been evolving. What changes excite you the most?
BF: When I first joined HR, we still weren’t totally recognized as a professional entity. Now, I’m most excited about the fact that we’re being recognized as a critical function to the business and we have established a set of standards that makes the profession better as a whole. We are seen as a business leader; I’m glad to see the HR function heading in that direction.

What’s the future of HR?
BF: I think HR is going to continue to evolve. Looking way back, it was an administrative function. Today, for the most part, it’s a business leader function. It’s up to us to keep driving it forward and earn the respect of the business it supports. I think HR will always have administrative components, but where HR is playing more of a role is in change management, organizational design, culture and business transformation. We need to continue to educate the world about the value HR brings to the business.

IN A NUTSHELL

First job: At 16, I worked in an independent lumberyard loading up trucks with insulation and lumber.
Childhood ambition: I wanted to be involved in the space program.
Best boss and why: I’ve had a couple of bosses who allowed me to grow and learn. It’s good to let your employees slip, fall and scrape their knee because it helps them grow. You just try to prevent them doing a face-plant! A boss who gives you flexibility and latitude but provides coaching along the way is awesome.
Current source of inspiration: My inspiration comes from seeing someone I’ve helped with advice, direction or support succeed – professionally or personally.
Best piece of advice ever received: There are always going to be things getting in the way and slowing you down in the pursuit of your goals. Deal with it – find solutions around it. Secondly, don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t get bogged down in the weeds; find a way to think strategically.
Favourite music: Blue Rodeo, Zac Brown Band, Pink Floyd or Supertramp – anything from rock to country.
Last book read: Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. I was looking at trying to transform a few things I was working on and someone recommended the book. It was pretty good.