Published Articles

May 2017

  • Meet the HR Influencers: Alana Free

    Fit to lead

    By Lisa Gordon

    As vice-president of people and culture at GoodLife Fitness, Canada’s largest chain of health clubs, Alana Free is clear about her mission.

    “I’m responsible for the ‘get, keep and grow,’” said Free, who has been with the fitness-focused organization for 21 years. “In terms of the ‘get,’ we hire 200 to 400 people every month to cover growth and changing roles; the ‘keep’ is the traditional HR role of retention and engagement, organizational effectiveness, project management and internal communication; and the ‘grow’ covers learning and development and succession planning.”

    With more than 375 clubs coast to coast under two brands – GoodLife and Fit4Less by GoodLife – Free oversees a team of 90 HR professionals who implement policies and strategies for over 13,300 employees.

    HR Professional caught up to Free just before she donned her running shoes for a whirlwind tour of several clubs with GoodLife founder and CEO, David “Patch” Patchell-Evans.

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

    Alana Free: It did take a while to figure that out. I graduated from the University of Guelph with a degree in international development and geography. I wanted to be a high school teacher but took a break to work for a year. I was working in a retail store and joined GoodLife as a member. They were looking for a membership sales consultant and I got the job. At the time, I was focused on making money short-term and then going back to be a teacher. But then I fell in love with GoodLife and its purpose and vision.

    What was your first HR job?

    AF: Manager of learning and development, a role I took on about 12 years ago. That’s where I met GoodLife’s David McLean, who completely opened up the world of HR to me. I always thought it was black and white, about rules and policies. From him I understood it’s about organizational effectiveness; it’s about being that leader who helps to influence the whole organization.  

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

    AF: My role is to implement strategies and tactics that will help maintain and expand upon GoodLife’s award-winning culture and to ensure our associates are living our core values of caring, trust, integrity, passion, peak attitude, happiness and personal fitness. Creating that culture and environment and focusing on staff engagement, retention and development are priorities. I’m focused on helping our associates to be the best they can be so they can help our members.

    What do you love about your job?

    AF: I love GoodLife’s purpose: to provide everyone in Canada with the opportunity to live a healthy, fit, good life. To have that long life because you’re looking after yourself – that to me is amazing. I also love the diversity of our associates; they come from all walks of life and age ranges. And, personally, I also had my own fitness struggle. When I was 18 years old, I was diagnosed with severe exercise-induced asthma. I couldn’t do any exercise programs; I ended up being pretty chubby into my mid-20s, when I realized that if I exercised slowly and then built it up, my asthma was better. Now I can exercise without medication. I see that all the time; people going off blood pressure meds, or type 2 diabetes meds – miracles are happening because people are looking after themselves.

    What are the challenges you experience in your job?

    AF: We’ve had rapid growth; trying to maintain our culture has been a challenge. We do have a three-hour course for new employees called Super Success that Patch, our VPs and directors are giving, along with online and print communications and e-learning for all locations. The other challenge is that Patch has such a high entrepreneurial spirit; changes can happen fast, and we have to be quick to adapt while keeping our associates informed and engaged across the country.

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

    AF: I think one of the big things is trust. You must have transparency and make caring decisions by putting people first. If people trust you, they are more willing to forgive if they truly feel you have the right intentions. It’s also important to bring the right people together into cross-functional teams to meet challenges.

    What skills are important for success in HR?

    AF: I think you need to be very flexible and agile. You must be assertive to stand up for what you think needs to happen; you must have a willingness to learn with other leaders in the organization. Listen to employees and know how to speak the language of stakeholders. Ask for and accept feedback and listen to it; then make changes. Finally, I really strongly believe that HR professionals need to completely understand the business.

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

    AF: I think that being a strong business leader and truly understanding the operation is key. Having a good attitude and a great work ethic are critical; be ready every single day. Take responsibility for your own actions and when you’re in a leadership role, build your team with the very best people and give them the credit for successes. Also, take responsibility when something doesn’t work out. One acronym I keep in mind is “FAB,” for fast, accountable and better – that’s the way to be.

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

    AF: We’re no longer just the rule-makers. We’re part of the executive suite and have a role in creating the strategic future of the organization.

    What’s the future of HR?

    AF: I can see that the lines between IT, marketing, communications, HR and finance will become even fuzzier. HR needs to be at the head of making sure those areas are working together really well.  



    First job: I was a short order cook at The Big Apple in Cobourg, Ont. I flipped burgers for people on tour buses who were on their way to the casino.

    Childhood ambition: My parents always talked about the Baby Boomers retiring when I came into the workforce. When I was 7, I wanted to own a big semi-truck with the back set up as a salon. I would drive to seniors’ homes and bring them into the truck and do their hair, make them feel good.

    Best boss and why: That’s my boss now, the COO and president of GoodLife, Jane Riddell. She is one of those quiet leaders; she can create culture. You want to work hard for her to make her proud. She makes you feel she is deeply interested in what is going on with you. She taught me how to listen.

    Current source of inspiration: There are two people: Pat Jacklin, the CFO of GoodLife, and Dorothy Walsh, who is Patch’s mom. Pat is a keen businesswoman; I’ve learned the critical concept of ROI from her and how every action has a reaction that needs to be considered. Dorothy is 97 years old and still works with the company every day, reviewing statements and budgets. She loves being part of the company; loves the detail. They both have wisdom beyond their years and will take a stand and make waves if they feel it’s important to do so. Both focus on treating people right.

    Best piece of advice ever received: It’s a quote: “Be responsible for the wake that you leave behind.” I’m focused on living life full of energy, enthusiasm and excitement. Be really grateful for what you have, because life is short. Enjoy every moment.

    Favourite music: I love to exercise, so something with a strong beat is ideal. I love electronic dance music. It keeps you going and going when you’re exercising.

    Last book read: To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink. The message is that “sales” isn’t a dirty word; we’re all in sales every day. For example, I have to sell my kids on doing their homework every day. We shouldn’t cower from that.


  • The Inevitable Talent Management Impact

    Hiring for the future in the midst of uncertainty

    By Frank Costanzo

    There is a certain quote that gets attributed to numerous speakers – from Albert Einstein to Sir Winston Churchill – and it goes like this: “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”

    Regardless of the source of the quote, we naturally focus on predictions for the future, or trends, that will have a dramatic effect on every aspect of talent management – from the way that we select and retain individuals to development and succession planning.

  • Increase Influence with One Question

    Making sure people feel understood is key

    By Christina Harbridge

    Ever been on a phone call, in a conversation or in a meeting and realized the conversation is unclear, or not working? Humans often go into conversations thinking about what they want to say rather than first thinking about what the listener is willing to hear. Communication is a two-way street, yet it is not always treated that way. Since communication requires that another person is listening, it really doesn’t matter what is being said if no one is listening.

  • Better Connection

    Four tips for improving your organization’s HR communications

    By Miranda Nicholson

    From performance reviews to paid time off (PTO) requests, most HR professionals understand that HR communication can be tricky. You need to collect a lot of information from your employees (which often entails tracking down individuals and sending countless reminders), but you also need to avoid over-communicating so you don’t clutter their inboxes with HR emails.

  • Reducing Employee Expense Fraud

    Strategies and tools

    By Greg Allworth

    Almost 94 per cent of employees say that they always only submit accurate and legitimate expenses. The five per cent who admit to falsifying their expenses claim to get away with about $2,500 each per year. As a result, it’s estimated that expense fraud committed by employees adds up to nearly $3 billion per year across North America.

  • One Small Step for HR

    By Karen Stone, CHRE

    This month’s cover story is a forward-thinking one – quite literally. It’s all about the future workplace, the digital shift and the HR professional’s role in advancing the people side of businesses in this age of significant automation and analytics.

  • How to β€œWin” at Mediation

    Employers need to be prepared in order to come out on top

    By Michael Mazzuca

    It’s sometimes said that mediation has no winners. It’s not true. Mediation is rarely all or nothing, but that doesn’t mean that one side doesn’t win. How do you “win” a mediation? As with many things in life, winning at mediation comes from doing your homework. By following the five key steps below, HR professionals can win before they even set foot in the mediation room.

  • Protect Your Employees and Your Organization from Everyday Risk

    One simple office policy can help save your organization from fraud

    By Kevin Pollack

  • Ready, Set, Future

    The challenges and opportunities of HR planning in a quickly changing world

    By Melissa Campeau

    A decade ago, you probably weren’t contemplating the best onboarding app for your new recruits. You likely weren’t having conversations about interpreting employee analytics to manage performance, either. And looking beyond Canadian borders for talent? That was likely the exception, not the rule.

    How ready was your organization for each of those changes? Did you, for example, dive into cloud technology when it was first available? See the value of employee analytics when that possibility came to light?