2018 HR Professional of the Year: Michelle Sing, CPHR
Anchored by the belief that “our employees are everything to us,” Michelle Sing, CPHR has spent the past 26 years elevating and executing the profession of HR. The past 22 of those years have been committed to YWCA Metro Vancouver, where she provides overarching HR leadership to the executive and 400+ employees spread over 58 locations.
As an update to Sing’s inspiring story to follow, that responsibility has only grown since her nomination, with Sing stepping up and into the CEO role of YWCA to fill the void left by her departing mentor, B.C.’s new Lieutenant Governor Janet Austin.
With excellence in people practices fundamental to its organizational mission, Sing’s sustained tenure and rise to VP, HR is in keeping with the exceptional traits noted throughout her career with the YWCA. Leadership-level listening and calibre of communications have been hallmarks. Fittingly, Sing has most recently assumed responsibility for all communications, marketing and advocacy activities for the organization also—with a keen focus on ensuring the quality of communications is maintained internally as well.
Moreover, as a leader who walks her talk, Sing also holds operational responsibility for the YWCA’s most vulnerable clients in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside at Crabtree Corner Community Resource Centre, where her inclusive and collaborative style has made a significant impact. Listening, learning and then crafting solutions, her compassionate and empowering leadership motivates and supports those program leads and volunteers to make a difference in the lives of single mothers and their children.
As an engaged and dynamic HR leader, inspired by people and driven by results, her approach and subsequent practices and processes have greatly enhanced an already strong mission-focused culture, while freeing up critical resources, funds, people and time to advance strategic and operating objectives. Her ability to identify the enablers, detractors and key systems required to accelerate such organizational performance has inspired leadership and the employees alike. With an HR team of just two, including herself, Sing’s impact is even more remarkable.
Case in point are the latest figures from the YWCA’s 2017 employee engagement survey, in which the organization achieved a remarkable participation rate of 95 per cent and equally laudable, overall engagement score of 88.4 per cent. Impressively, that figure jumps to 94.2 per cent when AON Hewitt’s six “engagement driving” questions are factored in. A previous survey by AON Hewitt in 2014 resulted in YWCA Metro Vancouver being named one of Canada’s Best Small and Medium Employers in 2015.
In addition, her leadership on diversity—grounded and given wings by her ability to inspire, influence and mobilize her peers and colleagues—is credited with strengthening the organization’s ability to reflect the diverse community it serves, while providing invaluable, organic support to organizational goals and values.
Such feedback speaks volumes of Sing’s HR impact.
All of this is even more impressive considering the challenges Sing has helped the organization weather, such as the 2008 global economic crisis and its impact on charitable giving. Sing expertly balanced the needs of the organization and its employees to turn adversity into opportunity by introducing new programs, systems and processes, while evolving a risk intelligent culture across all groups and building capacity within the organization to ensure everyone is focused on the YWCA’s mission, vision and clients. This is of tremendous significance for any business, but particularly for a values-driven, entrepreneurial non-profit.
Most recently, Sing provided critical leadership in aligning the HR strategy with the YWCA’s 2016-2018 Strategic Plan. Developed by the Board of Directors and executive team, including Sing, the plan drives three core strategies—Safety and Wellness, Opportunities for Families and Hope for the Future—that help society’s most vulnerable to achieve personal and economic independence.
Bringing the best of all worlds to the table—on budget and on time—Sing also worked collaboratively with the Finance team in 2017 to lead the development and implementation of a new HR/payroll system in four months.
Also in 2017, Sing successfully concluded collective bargaining with the International Union of Operating Engineers, achieving a five-year agreement for close to 100 employees, and giving the organization significant stability at a critical time. Her strength in labour relations is evident in the consistently low number of union grievances received by the organization, on average less than two grievances per annum over the past 10 years.
To help meet the needs of a multigenerational workforce, she introduced heat maps to facilitate succession planning and accelerate the development of high-potential employees. She works with management across the organization to ensure every employee is captured in this initiative.
Well-versed, versatile and embracing a broader vision of service, Sing is an acknowledged leader in her field and is deeply committed to building capacity not only across the YWCA, but throughout the non-profit sector. Such efforts have ranged from founding the Vancouver-based HR Non-Profit Roundtable, to co-chairing a cross-sectoral committee for government and non-profit to build capacity and forge relationships across sectors, to helping PHS Community Services Society through the hiring and selection process of their new executive director. She has also provided integral support to other YMCA/YWCA’s with HR practices, key coaching and always sharing her learning to maximum benefit across all sectors.