2016 HR Professional of the Year: Barbara Meens Thistle, CPHR

Barbara Meens Thistle, CPHR

Barbara Meens Thistle, CPHR

From coast to coast and back again, Barbara Meens Thistle, CPHR has championed better business and people practices alike. In her short time with the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC), she has had more of an impact than many might hope to have in an entire career. In recognition of her ongoing accomplishments, Meens Thistle was most recently presented with the Award of Excellence: HR Professional of the Year at the 2016 HRMA Conference + Tradeshow.

With a career spanning from B.C. to Nova Scotia, Meens Thistle worked for a range of companies including Emera Inc., Nova Scotia Power, Eastlink and BC Hydro. Throughout, she assessed, aligned and delivered on the promise of better people practices, elevating executive perception of HR in the process—and emerging as a role model for women aspiring to be senior leaders and HR professionals overall.

What guided you towards a career in HR, and what maintains your inspiration?
My Dad spent his career in HR—he was a chief personnel officer in the Armed Forces for over 20 years and then he went on to be the chief HR officer for Camp Hill Hospital and Halifax Infirmary in Halifax.  He has been a wonderful sounding board for me throughout my career.

I have a steeped belief and commitment to the value that HR plays in any organization.  Organizations are made up of people and it is only through people that organizations can be successful.

Throughout your career, you have been credited with elevating the executive perception of HR. What advice do you have for others seeking to do the same?
Find a way to be involved in an operational or strategic project or initiative—even if it is to facilitate the conversation.  Having and adapting to the business language of the organization (e.g. financial, customer, operational) and avoiding “HR Speak” will make you an invaluable member of the team and will broaden your understanding of the business of your organization.

Throughout my career as an executive, I have made sure that all decisions and discussions at the executive table have had a “people” dimension. When making decisions on mergers, acquisitions, organizational change, upsizing, downsizing, etc…I always ensure there is a front and centre focus on the required skills, competencies, culture, engagement, communications and understanding of expectations to make the business objective successful.

I have a strong belief and commitment that HR is an integral part of the business and therefore I don’t “ask to be at the table”—I show up at the table with a fulsome understanding of the issue at hand and contribute relevant and integrated solutions.

What advice do you wish someone had given you earlier in your career?
Do as many of the HR functions as you can over two to three year stints, during your first seven to 10 years (e.g. recruitment, compensation, OD, labour relations).  Then you can decide whether you want to be a technical expertise, generalist, or OD professional.

What do you think is the greatest emerging opportunity/challenge for HR professionals?
While every generation has brought something different to the workplace, the employees who are currently age 20 to 30 years old and those future employees who will enter the workforce in next five years, are, and will, fundamentally redefine the expectations of the employee value proposition.  They are tech savvy, confident, holistic in their desires, focused on greater good (society and environment) and have low tolerance for bureaucratic hierarchy.

HR must anticipate and adapt to this changing employee profile and ensure our programs, approaches, practices and policies are reflective of this very diverse and savvy employee.  We need to challenge our current policies and practices about flexible work arrangements (or lack thereof); reflect the ability to multi-task into our overly structured job descriptions; and provide “flexible compensation” options that better reflect the employee value. We also need to provide opportunities to build communities at work (virtual and in person) through resource groups—for new parents, elder care, community/charity, diversity/inclusion, etc…

The HR teams that don’t take the lead and facilitate changes to the traditional workplace will not be serving their organizations well into the future.

Where should HR professionals be focusing the learning and development of their organizations?
It isn’t about structural fit…it is about a more fulsome, holistic approach to learning and development…so it can sit anywhere from a structure perspective.  It needs to be about culture—a learning culture so that every opportunity (structured, unstructured, just in time, formal, on the job, etc) is recognized and optimized.

Every aspect of the organization provides learning opportunities and needs to be more openly shared – especially with the younger generation.  It needs to be flexible, adaptable, relevant, multi-purpose, and accessible.

(PeopleTalk Fall 2016)

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