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Nancy Groom

DNA of a VP of HR

DNA of a VP of HR Nancy GroomNancy has had a long successful career in HR. Starting as an HR generalist with JDS, was the Director of HR with Northwood Technologies, Director of HR for Marconi, and VP of HR with Iogen, before taking on the VP role with Egg Farmers of Canada. Nancy today leads the roll out and development of a three year business plan that defines their corporate strategy.

DNA of a VP of HR Egg Farmers of CanadaNancy Groom VP HR & Organization Development at Egg Farmers of Canada

What technical skills do you think are integral to the role?  

There are two areas of technical skills and knowledge that are important to the HR role. First, you need to have a good understanding of your business and the technical ins and outs of it, so that you can relate and communicate effectively with your staff. For example if within your company you’re dealing with engineers and developers then you need to be able understand their language and how they operate to earn their respect and buy-in. Secondly, in the age of technology, having a strong understanding of data management systems is integral.  

What personal attributes/characteristics do believe are integral to the role?   

You have to have the political savviness to walk into a room, read it, and figure out where you can have an opportunity to influence the discussion, direct it, contribute to it or when to sit back and be quiet.  Be flexible depending on who you’re working with and know your stakeholders.  Communication skills are essential.  You’re not there to solely produce spreadsheets and analysis, instead, much of HR today requires strong leaders to support business decisions. Leadership is about relationship building, having those tough discussions with management and being able to diffuse difficult situations. Understanding and relating to people by being approachable is essential to garnering their respect.  

In this role, walking the line between being an employee advocate and achieving business objectives can be a challenging task, but finding the right balance will help you along your career path to achieving a contributing senior management role in HR.  

How important is it to be exposed to all areas of the business?  

This is absolutely critical. I am involved in all areas of the business, however my role is a little bit different because I’m responsible for the business planning of the organization and very involved with the board.  However this involvement significantly helps with my role of recruitment and retention, as well as employee engagement. This is the great thing about HR today, you wear many hats and can contribute to the business in all areas. For example I am involved in social responsibility, and counteracting negative media attention in our industry regarding supply management as well as more traditional areas such as facilities, IT, and administration that report to me too.  My role is broad, which requires me to understand all facets of our business.

What’s your favourite part of your job?   

Certainly for me it’s the variety of the things that I do. No two days are alike and I never know what’s coming my way.  I don’t think you could be good at this role if you like to focus on one thing all day long.  

What is the one thing you have to have to be a VP of HR in your opinion?  

I don’t think you’ll achieve a VP level without the educational background, providing you a strong HR foundation; however, having said that, you’ll never get to that level without the right personal traits. You have to be willing to take some risks in order to move up as well as you have to be open minded individual as our environment is always evolving so you have to evolve with it. 

In your opinion, how important is change management?    

I don’t know any organization that can afford to remain static, it’s critical to be able to bring about change.  Hiring and retaining employees that are lifelong learners is important too.  As well you have to also be personally willing to grow and learn to lead by example. 

What road blocks should HR professionals be aware of to help them in their journey to success?    

To become a senior manager in HR my advice is to stay in the generalist stream.  Stay in a role that exposes you to a number of areas.  Specialists don’t have the same transferrable skills.  Be willing to take risks, I’ve made some very strategic moves in my career.  I wanted an aggressive career path to get to where I could contribute.  I have seen people that pigeon hole themselves in one area and then never seem to be able to branch out of it from there.  

Compared to 5 or 10 years ago, in your opinion how would you say your role has evolved?   

Well, for example eight years ago I wouldn’t have been allowed to contribute to the business plan other than a paragraph or two and today I have a process we follow to develop the entire business plan.  I work with the Board of Directors and Provincial Boards, it’s a unique opportunity and probably not typical of an HR function.  In the past HR has been viewed as overhead but now it has been evolving to bring true value to the organization, better efficiencies and cross functional teams.  You must been seen as adding value otherwise you are just overhead. Look at the existing staff and see how you can better engage them.  Work on business planning and then see how you can cascade it down into employee goal setting. By connecting business plan objectives to employees’ individual goals they can see how their role contributes to the big picture. 

Is there anything that the next generation should know?   

Truly understand business, the financial side of things, how businesses operate, in particular, the structure and where the bottom line comes from, a lot of us don’t understand that.  The biggest thing with HR programs is that you have to get buy in from the stakeholders.  Having the leadership team on side and leading HR programs is how you can be successful.  Bring value in everything you are doing.