Taking the Business of People to Heart with New CPHR BC & Yukon Chair Naz Kullar
Naz Kullar, CPHR has thrived from her involvement with CPHR BC & Yukon since coming to Canada in 1991. Now, she is returning the favour in kind as the new Chair since the June 2023 AGM. As a member of the association for the past 25 years, a CPHR BC & Yukon board member since 2019 and having just recently stepped down serving a year on the board of CPHR Canada, Naz has long taken our Association and profession to the heart of business.
We sit down with Naz, currently director of people & culture at Trotman Auto Group, to get to know what fuels her passion for the profession, where she sees the greatest challenges and opportunities—and why, ultimately, people are the only business priority that matters.
What drew you to HR originally and what fuels your drive these years later?
What drew me to HR was a one-year management program I was invited into after I graduated with a degree in psychology from the UK. I was working for BHS—which is British Home Stores and was second only to Marks & Spencers at the time—and I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do, so it was an excellent way to be shown a range of options. I was able to work through every discipline for eight weeks, and so I went from store management to retail management to finance —then to HR, (or personnel management as it was referred to back then.)
It was there that I thought, ‘Hold on a minute—this is me.’ I absolutely loved it and when I think about why I am just as passionate about HR this many years later —because I am—I think it’s the opportunity to work with people, to shape a culture, to shape an organization and to see those people grow. It’s the opportunity to build something.
Later in my career, I was very lucky to experience the entire operations of an organization while in the finance industry. Our CEO resigned and the board asked me to step in as the interim CEO, so I had a phenomenal opportunity to look after and support the people who were responsible for operations, marketing, finance, retail. It was an amazing and challenging experience; sometimes overwhelming and brought me back to HR with a different lens.
Our current CEO where I work right now (at the Trotman Auto Group) sums things up well with one of his quotes, ‘We are in the business of people. We just happen to sell cars.’ To capitalize on his quote, I say, ‘People are our business. Without people, we have no business.’
What do you see as the primary challenges/opportunities for HR professionals in a post pandemic world?
For starters, be careful what you wish for. One of the things leaders learned during the pandemic was the importance of HR. There we were still screaming for a seat at the table in some cases, and now we were all there. Now, it’s time to stop talking about a seat at the table and keep delivering at that level as the challenges that continue to face every business are primarily people-first.
Our challenge in HR is top of mind for every business—attracting and retaining top talent. How we do that has to be top of mind because everybody is facing the same challenge and it is a competitive market—in the employee’s favour right now.
One of the other real challenges is reskilling and upskilling. How do we make sure that employees are trained for tomorrow’s workplace? A big part of that is building digital dexterity into the workplace with better training for everyone throughout any organization. Being technologically savvy served us well during the pandemic—we need to train with that in mind.
Moreover, people analytics is only getting bigger and not going away. As a profession we need to take a closer look at that in terms of creating further metrics to build on the impact of HR. We need to use the tools available, while being realistic about things like AI. When people ask me if I’m worried about technology pushing people out of jobs, I always say, ‘No. Not if we do our job right. I don’t think you can ever replace the human touch. It will always be needed.”
The other real challenge is managing diversity. What do I mean by that? For me, diversity is about acknowledging our differences, which includes our experiences, our values, beliefs, the culture. Then, when I am thinking about the greater lens of diversity, equity and inclusion; inclusion is utilizing that diversity in the workplace to make everyone feel that sense of belonging—particularly in a hybrid workplace.
On the flip side, the opportunities—particularly in the realm of DEI—are phenomenal now that we are striving to purposefully create more diverse workforces. It helps to shape best practices—bringing all those great ideas, thoughts and opinions to the table to build stronger standards in our workplaces.
The hybrid workplace itself is another big challenge/opportunity that is not going away, so we need to be able to not only manage it, but find ways to evolve it. I have always worked from home at least one day a week pre-pandemic. Given what we do for a living, I always needed one day a week just to reset, think and be on whatever calls I might need to be. I’ve been doing it for years, so I get it and it works—if you do it right.
That said, how do we do that for others? How do we connect people? How do we grow that sense of belonging when we’re alone at our desks all day long? How do we build that? I think that we’ve taken big steps during the pandemic, but it is the way of the future, so we need to keep evolving.
How has CPHR BC & Yukon helped you and others overcome those challenges facing the profession and make the most of the opportunities?
As a member of CPHR since 1998, I have always found the value our Association brings to be vast on a number of levels. It provides information and tools to HR professionals, no doubt, and that has only ever grown alongside the technologies and challenges.
For me though, the truest value has been the ability to network with the HR community at large to build relationships and support one another. That is what helped me get into HR when I came to Canada. As much experience as I had with an equivalent certification from the UK, it’s really about the people you know. I really believe this country is built on relationships.
When I say our association creates considerable opportunities, I speak from personal experience. When I came over here, I had to find my footing. At the time, this was pre-DEI , employers only wanted Canadian work experience and I didn’t have that yet. I had my IPM designation (CIPD). I had years of experience in HR and a degree in psychology. These didn’t matter nearly as much as the networks of peers I found in our Association.
That network and the Professional Mentoring Program is invaluable, and I have participated in the mentoring program every year for eons because of it— I absolutely love it. The starting point for me was the opportunity to give back—the opportunity to help, to mentor and coach someone else.
When I started in HR, there were no mentors and wow, wouldn’t that have been something I could have used to support my career? The opportunity to network and chat with someone who is more experienced than yourself. There are tons of people out there we can learn from and I am still learning today. On top of that, every single time, without failure, I learn something from the mentee, the protege—every single time! There is so much in the mentoring program for both parties. I encourage everyone to get involved. But it was that opportunity to give back from the start.
The other real value is in the in-depth research and subsequent reports and analytics the Association delivers to support its members—from the recent Diversity, Equity and Inclusion report to our updated Competency Framework to keeping the pulse of our profession throughout the pandemic and bi-annually on a broader scale for decades.
They, we, are always providing information, reports, analytics, etc., to support our members. That helps us as HR professionals support a far larger spectrum of people. It’s amazing.
On top of all that, the annual Conference & Expo is phenomenal both in terms of the opportunity to learn and to network.
What have you learned from your time on the CPHR BC & Yukon Board and where are your energies aimed for your time as Chair?
I have learned so much from so many and truly look forward to continuing to support Anthony and his incredible team.
That said, Sue Ryan and Kevin Howlett (both past chairs of the Association) have been amazing role models. I just completed a one-year term serving on the CPHR Canada board, which Sue Ryan now chairs, and I continue to learn from them all.
Our business as a board—to hire and support a CEO to do all this good work – that good work stems from the internal strategic plan we put together with Tony and what he and the team have done is take that away and put it into play in amazing ways—all of which tie back to one of our four strategic priorities.
From advancing the value of our profession and the CPHR designation to truly embedding DEI and Reconciliation in the workplace to continuing to enhance the value proposition for not just membership, but all whom we reach—Anthony and his team keep moving forward on all points.
Our role as a Board is to do provide every support possible to bring that plan to life and it is a phenomenal honour to do so. We just have to look at the positive results of the strategic plan to be reminded of the great work Tony and his team continually deliver!
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