HR Influencers

People Person

By Lisa Gordon

In her own words, Angela Briginshaw’s career has been an exciting ride – and there’s much more to come.

This fall, Briginshaw will be launching her own executive coaching and human resources consultancy in Ottawa. When HR Professional spoke to her in August, she was eagerly anticipating the next chapter of her career. Meanwhile, Briginshaw was wrapping up her current role as senior advisor to executives at The Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada (APEX).

APEX is an independent, not-for-profit national association with 15 employees that advocates on behalf of federal public service executives. As its sole advisor, Briginshaw focused on providing executive counselling on issues such as compensation, the work environment and public service management reform. She could be called upon to work with executives from 130 different departments, commissions and agencies, representing more than 6,000 federal public service executives.

While HR was a calling that came fairly late in her career, Briginshaw says she loves applying her business knowledge to the problems her clients face in the public service. As a people person who enjoys helping others, she is looking forward to establishing longer-term coaching relationships with her own private clients.

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

Angela Briginshaw: It was quite late in my career. I had been working at the spectrum management program at Industry Canada. It manages the radio frequency spectrum and issues licenses and certifications for different radiocommunication technology like cell phones, radio stations and cell towers. It was very scientific, very technical. Although I was in charge of leading strategic business and regulatory planning, everything even remotely people-oriented migrated my way, whether it was 360-degree feedback or a public service employee survey. After doing that for several years, I thought I’d like to go into HR. If I went into corporate services, I could broaden my people-oriented management strategies. So, I decided to signal to my assistant deputy minister and deputy minister that I wanted to move into HR.

What was your first HR job?

AB: The deputy minister agreed to the move and in January 2000, I was appointed as the director of employee development and resourcing at Industry Canada’s Human Resources branch. They decided they would use my business knowledge and transfer it into the HR environment. It was a relatively new phenomenon to integrate business and HR planning.

What are your main areas of responsibility in your current job?

AB: At APEX, I provided confidential advice to any executive in the federal public service. My background in HR allows me to deliver a different perspective to executives than they can receive from their own departments. I talk to them about terms and conditions of employment, difficulties with a boss or employees, harassment or bullying or performance management issues. Through my work, I realized there is a real demand for executive coaching. I can’t coach in this job, as it would be too demanding on my time; however, I felt there was such a need for executive coaching in the public service that I’ve decided to launch my own business in the fall.

What do you love about your job?

AB: I love helping people. I love helping them to bring clarity to whatever their personal situations are and to overcome some tough times. It’s rewarding work. There are a lot of quagmires in the public service and helping people manoeuvre around them is something I aspire to do. Contrary to what you hear in the media, it’s not easy being an executive in the public service! By going out on my own, I’ll be able to have longer term coaching relationships with my clients.

What are the challenges you experience in your job?

AB: It’s difficult to avoid taking your work home, especially if you’re a people person and you want to help – you want to fix a problem. Nobody comes to see you because they’re having a good time. If a client is coming, they’re having a difficult situation. As an eternal optimist and a positive person, I have to be careful at times that it doesn’t bring me down.  

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

AB: Being able to stay positive in the face of tremendous adversity is key. If you’re in HR and leading massive transformation or layoffs – both of which I’ve done – what I find is that the human dimension is often lost and forgotten by the business leaders. It’s so important for HR to be that voice on behalf of the employees. They are the heart and soul of any organization. HR needs to show leadership during difficult periods and they have to be exemplary in how they manage their own shops because people will be looking to them for guidance.

What skills are important for success in HR?

AB: Business acumen would rate really highly. You must understand the business you’re supporting so you become a strategic partner and a valued member of the management team. I think client service is also paramount. Quick, friendly, value-added service is critical. HR forgets sometimes that it exists to support its business.

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

AB: Be positive and provide the best service delivery of any person you know. Excel in your job; be friendly, helpful and confident. Client service delivery is key. Be eager to try new things, take risks and don’t say no to opportunities. Be creative and treat people the way you want to be treated. If you do these things, you’ll almost be guaranteed to move up the ladder. Lastly, find a mentor or coach – that goes without saying.

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

AB: I think HR moving from being considered a soft skill administrator to a full-fledged strategic partner has been a big change in the public service. HR now has a stronger voice at the table. This is a global economy with a high demand for skilled talent; HR has opportunities to partner with organizations to bring in talent and find win-win solutions.

What’s the future of HR?

AB: In government in particular, HR must continue to remain relevant. More and more, organizations inside government are giving the human resources responsibilities over to the leaders in a business. HR as a department has to show what its value-add is. They have to be seen as dynamic and creative.

 

First job: As a pre-teen, I was hired to count pills in a pharmacy. I put them in little bottles. That was my first job – it probably wasn’t even legal, now that I think about it! Later, as a teen, I tutored French and worked in retail.

Childhood ambition: Once I got over wanting to be a flight attendant and travelling the world, I decided I wanted to be an interpreter for the United Nations. I speak four languages: English, French, German and Spanish.

Best boss and why: I had two outstanding bosses in the federal public service. One was a deputy minister and one was an assistant deputy minister. They figured out what made me tick. They treated me well and gave me the freedom to run with my tasks. They never pulled on the reins.

Current source of inspiration: My children and their friends are an amazing generation. They are positive, in tune with creating a better world, and they believe in social justice and volunteer their time.

Best piece of advice ever received: It came from the deputy minister I mentioned above. He said, “Always respond to phone calls or inquiries the same day you receive them.” It’s about same-day service delivery and it will set you apart from the rest. I strongly believe it and do my best to achieve that goal.

Favourite music: Rock, mostly the old stuff like The Eagles, Chicago, Styx and Supertramp, as well as the Tragically Hip and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Last book read: The last decent book was The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. My son is a history teacher and a strong advocate of Indigenous rights, and he thought I’d find it an interesting read.