How Corporate People Responsibility Went From an Idea to a Reality

Hands-on advice from newly-minted entrepreneur Diane Wiesenthal

Diane Wiesenthal had invested more than three decades in HR with the Canadian Wheat Board, the largest wheat-and-barley marketer in the world, most recently as vice president of people and organizational services. But a major upheaval at the company gave her the impetus to strike out on her own. Wiesenthal, the recipient of the Innovative Practitioner Award from the Human Resource Management Association of Manitoba, the prestigious CHRP Fellowship, and other accolades, is now the president and CEO (“C Every Opportunity,” she says) of Corporate People Responsibility Ltd., a Winnipeg-based boutique “HR educator” dedicated to helping companies reengineer their HR programs and practices.
Diane Wiesenthal had invested more than three decades in HR with the Canadian Wheat Board, the largest wheat-and-barley marketer in the world, most recently as vice president of people and organizational services. But a major upheaval at the company gave her the impetus to strike out on her own. Wiesenthal, the recipient of the Innovative Practitioner Award from the Human Resource Management Association of Manitoba, the prestigious CHRP Fellowship, and other accolades, is now the president and CEO (“C Every Opportunity,” she says) of Corporate People Responsibility Ltd., a Winnipeg-based boutique “HR educator” dedicated to helping companies reengineer their HR programs and practices. PHOTO: Bruce Allen Hendricks

1. Start with what you know

Rather than leap into a new field, Diane Wiesenthal, who has decades of experience in HR, recently leveraged her experience and established Corporate People Responsibility Ltd. (CPR), which is dedicated to helping companies reengineer their HR programs and practices, to allow both individuals and teams to perform at their maximum potential. Thanks to her experience, starting the company came as second nature. “I realized that changing simple things could often make big differences,” says Wiesenthal, president and CEO. “And I think collaboration is a good way to move organizations—and their people—forward.”

2. Get good advice

Seasoned entrepreneurs have survived the pitfalls of starting a new business; novices haven’t. That’s why Wiesenthal first contacted a team of experts for advice. “One of the first things to do was securing the trademark for the concept and name. When I presented my idea, my lawyer immediately suggested registering the name of my new company as a trademark, and then setting it up as a limited corporation,” she says. “Those were things I wouldn’t have thought about myself.” And that’s the key. Good advisors can help you develop a road map to success—one that reveals shortcuts as well as potential hazards.

3. Sharpen your focus

CPR’s mission is to preserve and protect work environments. But instead of trying to be “all things to all people,” the firm chose to concentrate on five key areas: developing a “people vision and strategy” that parallels the company’s strategic and business plans; increasing organizational development/effectiveness; reengineering the HR function, to effectively address a company’s specific needs; and nurturing a positive culture and strong business structure, thus ensuring that people work at peak effectiveness; and creating better leaders and managers through coaching.

4. Build a strategic team

Having a vision is one thing; being able to implement it is another. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to provide all the necessary services by myself, so I brought along several of my former colleagues at the Canadian Wheat Board,” Wiesenthal says. The new core group included Shannan Gradt, Lana Stevenson, and Colleen Thompson—senior experts in organizational development, management consulting, employee relations, and other key fields. “They possess complementary skills. And that’s good for any start-up.”

5. Find your niche market

“Part of our strategic plan was identifying ourselves,” Wiesenthal says. “Not just the image we wanted to project, but the type of work we wanted … and what we didn’t want. We sought out natural partnerships, both in potential clients, and in outside sources that could bolster our key strengths.

“We decided at the outset to set our vision to be more of a boutique firm rather than a giant consulting house,” Wiesenthal continues. “There are certain areas beyond our expertise. Benefits, for example. But if a client needs advice in that field, we’ll refer them to preferred company. That puts us in a better position to deliver high-quality, measurable results.”

CPR’s relatively small size gives it another advantage: without the typical layers of corporate bureaucracy, the firm is nimble enough to respond quickly to clients’ needs at a lower cost, and designed and custom-built for their specific business needs.

6. Get the word out

Make sure your potential clients know you’re out there. CPR’s “official launch” occurred at Winnipeg’s Immigrant Centre. “At first glance, it seems like an unusual location, but we thought it was a natural tie-in,” Wiesenthal says. “The centre is dedicated to helping build healthy communities, and CPR is dedicated to improving work environments.”

But while glamour has its place, so does working in the trenches. “It’s critical to build a solid network before you launch,” Wiesenthal says. “Potential clients need to know what you are and what you’ve done.”

And although marketing materials are valuable, “make ‘word of mouth’ a key attribute,” Wiesenthal advises. “One happy client’s referral can make additional businesses feel confident about hiring you.”

7. Be ready

CPR found office space practically across the street from the Wheat Board—near the intersection of Portage and Main Streets in Winnipeg. And, of course, suitable surroundings are crucial to a business, but just as important is performing a “shakedown cruise” before your first client walks through the door. “Be sure your entire team is organized,” Wiesenthal says, “so that each member’s responsibilities are clearly defined. Test all elements of your technology systems, to be sure they operate properly.” If the phones don’t work, or the HVAC system is glitchy, you’ll be able to effect repairs immediately. It may take some time, but it minimizes the likelihood of offering awkward explanations to your client later.