Honed Improvement

Christian Proulx uses communication, the most important tool of his trade, to lead RONA’s workforce toward better change management

Christian Proulx
Christian Proulx

For Christian Proulx, it was simple addition. When RONA Inc.’s senior vice president of human resources and communications had to choose between studying economics or industrial relations in university, he asked himself which would allow him to combine his love for numbers with his interest in people. Industrial relations was the obvious answer, and it’s a choice he has never regretted, because it taught him a set of employee-centric fundamentals that he still adheres to today.

After graduating, Proulx worked for 10 years in labour relations before moving to human resources for the television network TVA. After that, he joined several pharmaceutical companies before finally signing on with Canada’s largest home-improvement distributor and retailer, RONA.

The retailer now operates a network of close to 800 corporate, franchise, and affiliate retail stores, from big-box outlets to neighbourhood hardware shops. Most of the company’s business is done on the retail side, but about a third comes from its distribution of hardware and lumber products to 400 or so dealer stores operating under different banners. Together, these activities add up to sales of almost $5 billion.

RONA’s frontline store employees have essentially one job, which is to meet the high expectations of today’s consumers, but the only constant for many of the company’s support-centre employees is change. So Proulx earmarked change management as a discipline the retailer needed when he joined five years ago.

Dos & Don’ts

Successful HR Management

DO

Understand the business and be passionate about it.

Master your HR, but don’t remain beholden to it. It’s better to have a simple and effective program that’s easy to apply and fully supported than to have a perfect HR program that’s impossible to implement.

Use common sense. Despite the complexity of the environment, HR is not rocket science.

Measure what matters from a business perspective, not just what is easy.

Be flexible.

DON’T

Take yourself and HR too seriously.

Just try to implement HR best practices. They only live in books.

Do a manager’s job. Help them become better managers instead of managing employees for them.

Focus on the “don’t.”

One of his first change-management initiatives was a major overhaul of RONA’s financial department so that it could control its own processes, training procedures, and materials. IBM, which was integrating a new financial system for RONA at the time as a consultant, brought its own change-management strategies to the table, but Proulx kept as much of the training work in-house as possible, and this allowed RONA employees to become greater authorities on the system. It was a conscious decision to essentially buy IBM’s expertise and develop it internally, and after the success of that experience, RONA created a permanent change-management team, which later did similar work with JDA Software when that company came in to implement a new supply-chain platform.

Thanks to this team, RONA now has the ability to implement change management on its own, and in the past year it has embarked on a complete review of its business activities, and it’s now working on redefining its banner strategies. Last year, RONA had a group of banner stores based in Alberta called TOTEM that it had owned for several years, and it made the business decision to integrate TOTEM fully into its fold, changing the chain’s name, operating system, and financial system. Proulx’s team was there from day one, advising, planning, communicating, and training to ensure that TOTEM’s transition would be a smooth one.

In addition to change management, Proulx believes in the simple power of awareness. “To manage during challenging periods,’’ he says, “you need to pay more attention to employee concerns—communicate, listen, and communicate some more.” Applying such a basic tenet of customer service to RONA’s employees makes them feel more involved and respected, and this in turn translates to higher morale.

“From an HR perspective, there is no other industry where there’s as strong a correlation between employees’ work and the success of the business [as in] retail,” Proulx says. His keen understanding of how a company’s people connect to its numbers has been essential to RONA’s continued excellence in the retail world, and as he continues to streamline the retailer’s change-management team, its in-house capabilities will only improve further.
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ADVICE FROM AN HR PROFESSIONAL

“There are some fundamentals to HR, but you know what? People are people. In HR, we’re very good at creating fancy programs with fancy names and basically reinventing the wheel. HR is something that’s simple, and when you understand the fundamental nature of humans, it’s not difficult to manage people.”

Christian Proulx, Senior VP of People, Culture & Social Responsibility