Optimising workplace experience with ‘people’ – Debby Carreau [Interview]
About Debby Carreau
Debby is the CEO and founder of Inspired HR. Inspired HR was recognized as Canada’s top HR Consultancy and advises businesses in optimizing the workplace experience and becoming an employer of choice. She is widely recognized as Canada’s workplace expert. She is a regular contributor for Entrepreneur Magazine, CityTV and the popular TV show The Social. We’re extremely happy and honoured to have her on our interview series today.
We have the pleasure of welcoming Debra Carreau today to our interview series. I am Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team. before we begin just a quick introduction of peopleHum. peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work. We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.
Welcome, Debby. We’re thrilled to have you.
Thanks so much for having me and I’m looking forward to our conversation because it sounds like you’re doing great work with peopleHum as well. And I think our values are really aligned as it relates to the importance of employee culture and the workplace
Absolutely. We have similar thoughts there and, to begin with,
If you could start with or just tell us a little bit about your journey that has finally brought you to Inspired HR.
Sure thing. So I actually didn’t start out as an HR professional. I started out as an entrepreneur. While I was going to university, I wanted to be a lawyer and I started working in a restaurant for extra income to help pay for school.
And I fell in love with the hospitality business, just being around people and the energy and I very soon found myself while I was going to university full time, I was also working full time and got promoted to a manager in a restaurant and so I found out very quickly I didn’t want to be a lawyer anymore.
I was really passionate about business and within a couple of years of starting working in that restaurant, I actually bought into my first business, which was a restaurant with no help from my parents or investors.
I just went to the bank with a very good business plan and a great restaurant behind me and that was lovely enough that they took the chance on me. So I really started as a restaurant owner.
But I always loved the people side of the business, which steered me towards human resources and then fast forward a few years when I was doing my master’s in business, I realized that everyone else that was in my class in business school was really focused on going into finance and they all wanted to go to Wall Street or they all wanted to go to Bay Street or they wanted to do mergers and acquisitions with the Bay consulting companies.
And what I knew from working in restaurants and from running a business is that people’s issues were so important to look at from a business perspective. And that’s what gave me the idea to start Inspired HR and we were very lucky. We started at a time where HR outsourcing was very new but very quickly our clients realized the value until we grew really quickly, almost by accident. And now it’s almost 14 years ago.
That is so interesting. And congratulations on doing really great work in the whole people domain and you’ve also been into the Job 100 Hall of Fame, the youngest inductee in history. So that’s really amazing. So congratulations on that one.
Thank you very much.
And Debbie, you’ve also written a book called the ‘Mentor Myth’. Well, that teaches people how to take control of their careers and also navigate a successful career path. So what gave you inspiration to write this and what does the book really talk about?
So contrary to what the title says, I’m actually a big fan of mentors. But one thing I’ve learned when I talk to people about their career, whether we’re doing performance reviews or career planning or even exit interviews is so many people that haven’t been successful as they would like in their careers, they blame it on the fact that no one, no one developed me or I didn’t have a mentor or I would have been successful or the organization didn’t invest enough in my developments and one of the things that I just found so many people were missing is we’re all in control of our own success and a mentor is not going to make you successful.
It’s having your own plan, your own drive and your own belief in yourself is really what’s going to help you be successful. So “Don’t wait for a mentor to show up and help guide your career. You just need to take advantage of it yourself”.
“Don’t wait for a mentor to show up and help guide your career. You just need to take advantage of it yourself”.
And so that’s what the book is all about. Is it saying that a mentor is not the be-all and end-all for success? It’s one piece of being successful but you really need to take control of your own career.
That’s just a piece of the puzzle but it’s ultimately you who’s driving it.
And what do you think are the key tenets of creating an exemplary workplace? What people- process or tools or platform considerations drive this objective?
So there’s a couple things that I really believe in. The first one is, trust, is you have to trust your team and believe that they’ve got the top, the best intentions for the business as well. Organizations that micromanage people and have thousands and thousands of rules and are looking over everyone’s shoulder, they don’t let people do their best work.
And so I think that that’s really one piece of it. And if I was to give just one tip to business owners before anything else, I would say most business problems, including leveraging your employees and making them happy and making them on a state work is, the answer is right there. You just have to ask your team.
So often leaders will go off-site and they’ll do a strategy session or they’ll read tons of books and all those things are great. But what they often forget to do is actually ask the team, how do you think we can make our business better? What could we do to make your work experience more enjoyable?
What are your customers telling you that can help us be more efficient or more effective? I think sometimes we just forget to ask the team because the answers are right in front of you and we overcomplicate things too often.
Yes, I completely agree with you, Debby. I think that it’s great to have theoretical knowledge but you need to apply it and you really need to ask. And that’s such a big hindrance that we just stop success in its tracks because we’re not able to ask our teams and bridge that gap. So…
100%. It’s a lot easier than people think it is.
And even with respect to the current situation of the Coronavirus, right? Do you think that there is anything that is lying ahead that you probably find scary as well as exciting in terms of work culture?
Well, there’s a couple of things. One is, what’s really exciting but it is very scary for business owners is we don’t know what the future looks like. We don’t know when people go back into the workplace. Are we gonna have to have social distancing in place for the next five years, so we don’t know.
Are people gonna be scared to come back to work? Do we need to restructure our offices so we have 25% the number of deaths that are in there, or are we gonna need to do temperature checks and have people wear face masks at work. There’s just so much that’s unknown. That can be very scary.
But the flip side of that is there are so many opportunities for businesses to take a step back, to reset and to start to say this is our opportunity. We’ve, in a lot of cases, employees are working from home, they’ve never done before and maybe it’s an opportunity to provide more flexible work arrangements for people and look at things differently. Maybe we don’t need as big offices as we have today, so it’s exciting. But it’s also scary.
And then the other piece that we can’t lose sight of is so many millions of people have lost their jobs for this and unemployment is gonna be higher than what we’re used to globally. And I think that’s a scary thing on how do we get people back to work? And how do we make sure that people can pay their bills and have a career and students graduating from university?
I’ve got something to look forward to, so there’s a lot of unknown right now and I think what we have to focus on is what we can control and do the best that we can to help our teams and to help the businesses be successful moving into the future.
Absolutely. I agree with you on that one.
And do you also think that there is something that HRs are as a function, they’re missing out on something that they should probably be concentrating on more at this point in time?
The biggest one I would say is no one ever focuses enough on communication and having the dialogue. So if you have your employees that are laid off or furloughed or some kind of temporary leave of absence, so often HR people and managers don’t talk to those people.
And I think it’s a real missed opportunity to not continue the dialogue, especially people that you want to rehire and bring back to your team or people that are uncertain what the future of their work looks like. Or people that we’ve reduced their work schedule from five days a week to two or three days a week.
I think it’s important to have those conversations that people understand what’s happening, and it gives them some positive sort of goodwill towards what might happen in the future for them. And so I think communication, ongoing and frequent, is the most important thing.
And do you think that in your lifetime, have you seen that the HR function has improved with respect to communication or with respect to leveraging technology, to boost employee engagement?
Yes, I have. 100%. So I think, definitely HR has moved from being all about rules and risk mitigation and all those pieces to really helping businesses be successful. So driving strategy, driving success, really, that piece of it, I think we’re still trying to figure out how to get technology right. I think in some places it’s worked really well. Like today we’re talking on a Zoom call.
I think technology has really enabled things like remote work and helping when you’ve got parents that are working and have young families and sometimes it gives a bit more flexibility. Technology helps you work from home.
I also think that we haven’t gotten technology a 100% right. Yeah. So AI is making great strides towards helping hiring, but we know that a lot of the AI tools, there’s some information coming out now that they can’t really figure out the biased piece of it.
So I always say, tread lightly with technology, there’s pieces that are great but you don’t want to be the first person to adopt the technology, you want to sort of let it play out for a couple of years. So you know what the opportunities are, but also potentially what the risks are.
But you have seen an increase in adoption of technology especially, let’s say, in Canada?
Oh, 100%. And I think that’s so important. So whether it’s HRS systems that you use for electronic employee files or instant messaging or vacation tracking or performance management, those items I think, it’s a no brainer that they should be embraced in technology now and I think that that’s really important. So I think that those pieces are great. “I think that there’s room for technology and I also think that we don’t want to lose sight of interpersonal connections as well. So this is a place for both”.
“I think that there’s room for technology and I also think that we don’t want to lose sight of interpersonal connections as well. So this is a place for both”.
But definitely, if you look at industries that are growing, HR technology is going through the roof because there are so many new things happening in that space.
And even with respect to hiring, right? So there are things that are very tedious for the HR function, let’s say candidate engagement where you can possibly use a chat bot. What’s your opinion on that?
I think this, as long as you’re making sure that there’s no bias built into the system, I think in terms of managing process, large volume of candidates, people make mistakes. Computers generally don’t make mistakes on process type things, so I think anything you can automate like that makes a lot of sense.
If you’re in an organization where you get hundreds or even thousands of applicants for a position, absolutely you want to be using some of that hiring technology. It makes a lot of sense.
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And do you think that as a market there are some specific features that companies are looking forward, which they don’t find in these tech tools?
This is where it gets really interesting and I think that there’s huge opportunity here and it is for those companies that are doing high volume of hiring. As those tools get smarter and machine learning and artificial intelligence get better, those tools can help screen for key traits and characteristics and skills that the candidates have.
I think this is a really important area, probably more so than anything, and then the other one is, that I find really interesting is background checks and instead of just be able to do a couple of references, there are software tools out there that are starting to scrub the Internet and pull together a profile of the candidates based on everything that’s available in the public domain.
And I think that’s really interesting because some of the software I’ve seen, it would take a human being like weeks and weeks of searching to try to get the data and the program can do it in a matter of minutes. And so I think that’s really interesting.
The problem is they haven’t figured out 100% how to make sure all the information is accurate and that’s where it just needs to be fine-tuned a little bit. But I think once we can perfect that, that’s going to be so helpful for workplaces.
And with respect to measuring performance, tracking employee engagement, do you think that tools can really help in that part as well?
Absolutely. So, I’m a big fan of regularly checking the employee pulse, so we actually use a software program where we do a weekly employee engagement mini-survey like a pulse survey and so weekly we’re actually using a tool that checks in with our team and it gives us sort of areas to focus on, things we’re doing well, the place where an employee can do a private comment directed to the manager who can respond without knowing who you’re talking to.
So there’s additional confidentiality. I think that’s really important. And then the other piece is we’re seeing more and more research around performance management, is much more effective when it’s done informally, and so doing more frequent informal check-ins is much more effective and technology can definitely help with that.
Right. Yes, I agree with you. It’s not just about the quarterly based result or performance review that you do but if you can do something that engages with your employees at a continuous level and if you can provide feedback at a continuous level, I think that should be helpful for leaders, right?
Yeah, 100%. And it also makes it less stressful for the leaders and for the employees because the old fashioned performance reviews that say 70% of people walked away from the performance meeting feeling demotivated, which is exactly the opposite of what you want them to do and they just weren’t working.
So I’m happy to see more and more organizations working collaboratively with their employees and setting goals and talking about what’s working and what’s not working. It’s just so much better to approach it that way.
Absolutely. And even on the people front, most role models today, if you see, they’re edgy, they’re more curious, brilliant leaders that do not necessarily focus on both workplace or employee engagement. So…
Not at all. They focus on culture, I would say, sort of more broadly, like building a community.
So how do you explain that dichotomy in brilliant leaders and their perspective of employees and engagement?
That is such a difficult question, but it’s so interesting. What I think, and I’m gonna particularly focus on the tech sector here because this is the one you see the most, right? With the beautiful headquarters and the skating rink in the middle of the employee area and restaurants and unlimited liquor or whatever the case may be.
Those people are focusing on building a community where people want to be at work. They want to work together. They want to do things collectively.
They aren’t thinking of traditional HR in terms of measuring KPIs and productivity and benchmarking wages. And really, what I think that they do is a lot of those companies are very visionary and then look at the end goal and they don’t worry about how they get there.
And so that’s exactly it, they envision a workplace, it’s like Disneyland and they build and they solve for that. And they just believe that if their people are happy and work really hard, everything else we’ll figure itself out, which sometimes works, but sometimes gets them in trouble as you see in the headlines, sometimes too.
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Right. Absolutely. I mean I think a lot of startups are suffering because of that as well. So I’d like to ask you Debby, you’ve been in this domain for such a long time.
Is there any specific advice that you might want to convey to the new age startup leaders that are trying to change the world?
I would tell them, you don’t need to go overboard in terms of HR and hiring HR departments and all those things. You need to take care of your people but you need to have that basic infrastructure in place. People really respond well to knowing what’s expected of them, what the boundaries are, what does success look like.
So even a startup where obviously funds are usually there, it’s tight, well, we all have small budgets when you have a startup, is invested having good employment contracts, a good employee handbook and the good communication tool that you’re currently, you’re consistently communicating with your employees because that’s how you prevent bigger problems down the road is to just start off properly with those couple of things and then you’re not gonna have bigger problems when you go down the road, particularly with the contracts in the handbook.
And with respect to inclusion and diversity and just about women in the workplace, right? Have you seen organizations shift their focus from the command and control hierarchical kind of leaders to people who are more, they lead with more empathy and they focus on women?
For the most part, absolutely. Most organisations today are very focused on having a diverse workforce and whether that’s gender diversity, ethnic, whatever form of diversity you want to look at, people are recognizing that diversity of thoughts helps performance and different organizations or different states of readiness in terms of their profile of what a successful leader looks like.
And I actually think, interestingly, as you look at the Coronavirus present and what’s happened around the world today is if you look at a lot of the world leaders, a lot of the really successful nations managing through this crisis have been females.
And so we’re starting to see a lot of conversations around these female leaders and how they approached the lockdown in their countries or how they were managing the pandemic versus others. And that is coming forward with a different kind of leadership style.
And I think people are recognizing that, so it’s not even just in the workplace. It’s globally, different kinds of leaders have different results, and I actually think that the Coronavirus has really spun a positive light on that, showing that in this specific example, when it comes to gender, some of the natural tendencies that we associate with female leadership traits have really served the nation as well.
And so I hope this lesson is going to continue to move forward as organizations think about their future leaders and what they want them to or how they want them to act and help treat the problem.
Oh, absolutely. And it’s so amazing that you’re an advocate of women and leadership and that is, it’s really heartening to see that because not a lot of people want to dive into this aspect, right? So, thank you so much for doing that and to wrap this interview up, I’m just gonna ask you the last question.
If you have any important soundbites that you would like to leave our audience with.
The biggest piece of advice that I can give anyone in an organization, we’re all busy, we all have limited resources. And if there’s one thing that you can do that can make you more successful as a leader, is “Remember to always focus on people before things”
“Remember to always focus on people before things”.
So, so many leaders, when we’re really busy, we say oh, my gosh. I just need to put my head down and get all my work done and you turn off your phone and you just literally focus on cleaning out your email inbox from whatever the projects you have to do.
If you can shift that focus to who can I work with on my team to get this work done, delegation and empowerment. All those pieces are just so important. You’re gonna get more done by delegating to people, working with them, they’re gonna learn. And just as with any human is, interacting with other people is gonna lower your stress level and clear your thought as well. So I always say, focus on people before things and everything else will come into line.
Well, that’s a great piece of advice. Thank you so much, Debby. I had a very engaging conversation with you. So thank you so much for making the time.
And thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Thank you. Take care Debby. I’ll stay in touch.
Thank you. Okay. have a good day. Buh-bye.
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