Putting People First

Deloitte's Jason Winkler is helping improve one of Canada’s most successful organizations through sustained workforce development

With almost 200,000 employees and a reach that spans 150 countries and locations, including its Canadian firm, headquartered in Toronto, Deloitte needs little introduction. The massive professional-services firm has annual revenues surpassing $31 billion from clients in audit, tax, consulting, and other advisory areas, so its greatest challenge might have less to do with profit margins and more to do with ensuring its employees don’t feel lost or insignificant by comparison. However, chief talent officer and managing partner Jason Winkler is going even further, working to boost the company’s bottom line by unleashing its workforce as its greatest asset—through efficient organization, new programs, and an ambitious initiative for the future.

Winkler has been around the world, from the United States to Iran to Hong Kong. Today he leads all talent-related activities for Deloitte’s more than 8,300 employees across Canada. “My job is to take a long-term view of our investments in people and to balance what is right for them with what is right for the firm,” he says. Winkler is also responsible for the day-to-day operations of the national talent team, including key functions of learning and growth, health and benefits, and leadership development.

His philosophy is simple: Deloitte should do for its employees what it does for its clients—enable them to be successful. “We need to find and keep the best people and give them interesting work that challenges them and keeps them engaged,” he says. To do that, Winkler’s team makes choices on how and where to invest. The HR leaders analyze business dynamics and nuances in several areas, and a long-term view helps guide their decisions. Winkler has empowered 12 direct reports, each of whom focuses on a particular area and takes a tailored approach. “Skills and markets are different, so we work in very specific ways in each business and region,” he says.

Although he studied international politics and worked as a recruiter before entering the world of HR, Winkler says the role is a natural fit. “The elements of people and how they change the success of an organization is very intriguing,” he says. “Good people can overcome a mediocre business, good people can make the best of a mediocre product, but the inverse is not always true. Ineffective people erode even the best service or organization models.”

For Winkler, it always goes back to people and how they can improve the business. “The question is, ‘Will this make our people more successful, and will that in turn make our firm profitable?’” he says. It’s an idea Winkler and his colleagues have been devoting more time to in recent years, with “connecting strengths and strengthening connections” as their mantra. By focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses, Winkler hopes to create a robust network of energized and dedicated employees.

“Develop your HR brand or specialty. A generalist is good, but a deep area like talent acquisition or leadership development is important. At the same time, build your general business knowledge and your industry expertise because it will make you a strong practitioner and a business player around the table.” —Jason Winkler
“Develop your HR brand or specialty. A generalist is good, but a deep area like talent acquisition or leadership development is important. At the same time, build your general business knowledge and your industry expertise because it will make you a strong practitioner and a business player around the table.” —Jason Winkler

Such motivated staff members are more likely to remain excited about their work and loyal to their employer, and at Deloitte such speculation is not just talk. Winkler’s team has created the 2020 plan, an initiative to make the company competitive beyond 2020. The first step is building the balance sheet for the future by investing heavily in leadership development and taking advantage of a broad and diverse recruiting pool. Second is a focus on creating extraordinary life experiences through a range of initiatives. Third is enabling the HR team through superior skills and training processes. “HR professionals are always about helping others and don’t always get the skills development they need,” Winkler says. “We are making sure that this changes.”

Another way Winkler invests in Deloitte’s people is by encouraging flexibility. “I’m not sure a work-life balance exists anymore, but people need to choose what they need when they need it,” he says. Working from home or during different hours can help, but Winkler believes in providing long-term career options and opportunities that fit employees’ interests. “I had an interest in working overseas and was in Hong Kong for a stint, and the international experience was important to me,” he says. Deloitte accommodates such interests through an international-development fellowship that gives sponsorships to employees who want to serve overseas without quitting their jobs. “Companies have to be much more holistic about how they can support people’s aspirations,” he says.

Unorthodox training and development programs help Winkler empower Deloitte’s employees in unusual ways. Those close to retirement age can take advantage of programs that prepare them for second careers, and the company has piloted events for women and the LGBT community. “Different groups face different circumstances in how they become leaders, and it’s important to equip them properly,” Winkler says.

The steps are working. Winkler’s team is investing in people who in turn work hard for Deloitte. It’s largely because of this that the firm saw more than $1.8 billion in revenue in fiscal 2012, and in addition to its financial success, the company has been widely recognized as one of Canada’s best employers.