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Shopify VP of HR: the new HR rulebook

ineffective HR ineffective HR
Photo credit:

Jonas Tana

Without data, it becomes impossible for an HR function to work effectively.

The HR rulebook has been ripped to shreds, burnt and tossed to the curb.

Now, a new generation of HR professionals are rebuilding it. Leveraging digital to transform the way organizations build competitive advantage through its people.

The evolution of HR largely comes from business leaders recognizing that collective talents and ambition of employees defines the ability to achieve business goals.

Now, leadership is taking an active role in guiding a once ineffective HR function away from the roles and policies that previously bogged it down, freeing up time to focus on the people agenda.

Helping provide a platform for workers to really thrive and grow is the approach taken by Brittany Forsyth, VP of HR at 12-year-old Canadian e-commerce platform Shopify.

Forsyth believes that “at its simplest, HR is about enabling individuals to do great work.” And having studied HR at Carleton University, Forsyth rose to prominence at Shopify rapidly, initially joining as an office manager.

Forsyth set to work her plans for the removal of any remnants of ineffective HR at Shopify.

Raring to go, she made the agreement with hiring managers to do everything needed on the office management side and would, in her own time “if I worked fast enough, start doing some HR initiatives.”

The first, an employee handbook outlining company culture and On-boarding processes was a success. From there, Forsyth was given increasing amounts of responsibility, eventually rising right to the top, setting to work her plans for the removal of any remnants of ineffective HR at Shopify.

Initially concerned that she would have to conduct her role with a “police officer hat on, to ensure everybody abided by the rules and was treated in the same way,” Forsyth was fast struck by the realization that HR isn’t so much black and white, as it is grey.

“And that’s what makes data so valuable” explains Forsyth, “It creates clarity in the areas that were previously grey.”

“Clarity gives more information, more research and it helps with removing bias too. The great thing about data is that no matter the circumstance, it can help create a clear picture to feed into strategic or problem solving initiatives.”

This perhaps, is why ineffective HR functions rose to prominence in the first place.

Understanding customers was always something of paramount importance, yet understanding employee populations was something secondary, visited annually with lagged results that rendered data useless by the time it was fed back to employees.

A 2005 survey by consultancy Hay Group illustrates just how ineffective HR was. Finding that just 40% of employees commended their companies for retaining high quality workers. And only half of workers below managerial level believed their companies took a genuine interest in their well-being.

These 2005 figures, at the time will largely have remained unknown, despite the detrimental effect on overall productivity.

Enter millennials

HR now is different entirely. With fleet of foot being the name of the game in order to patch up and improve organizations on the fly.

Forsyth explains that this is done through “gallop surveys twice a year, which are a great way to get quick data points on how engaged our company is and what we need to work on. It tells us who the strong leaders are and informs bigger initiatives that feed back into overall business strategy.”

“People are starting to see the value of trends too. Starting to see the value of aggregated data to see where we are improving and where things can be done better. It isn’t simply about the one on one conversations, but instead doing this to scale and how results can best be harness to become more strategic.”

Forsyth explains simply that these changes result from a “different generation, in a different time” which HR has had to adapt to accordingly.

This new generation, millennials, are fast becoming the most influential market today. Possessing a nuanced perception of what offices should be like and how they expect their working lives to be.

This new army of workers will represent nearly 75% of the workforce by 2025 and are an expectant bunch.

Unless they feel they are receiving personal benefit or growth, I guarantee you they will have no reserves about upping and outing.

The average tenure for millennials? Two years.

What’s more is that millennials are digital natives, having grown up in an era with infinite resources that have shaped them into efficient problem solvers and astute critical thinkers.

So why slow them down with ineffective HR departments?

HR in the 21st century should not be an afterthought. It shouldn’t be, as Forsyth explained, a department that “cleans up the mess instead of strategizing the problems at hand.”

When you fall into that trap, you are always left chasing your tail rather than taking a proactive response.