It’s easier to think outside the box when your boss never puts you in one. That’s the luxury that Sarah Bettencourt, vice president of human resources at cloud-based high-tech senior-care solutions provider PointClickCare, now has. But that luxury has not always been available to Bettencourt during her career.
Bettencourt’s roots are in law. She received her bachelor’s degree in crime and deviance, but after working at a law firm in downtown Toronto after graduation, she quickly realized how poor a fit it was. “It was tough,” she says. “You have to have a certain tolerance as a criminal lawyer, and that’s not in my DNA.” It was early in her career, and Bettencourt had already reached a crossroads. “I put all my eggs in one basket,” she says. “I had no idea what I was going to be!”
Then, through adversity came opportunity. The one thing that Bettencourt did know she enjoyed was the aspect of dealing and interacting with people. So, when a coworker thought she’d be a good fit for a position in another company’s learning and development division, Bettencourt jumped at the opportunity and loved it.
New hires in 2014
Years it took to grow PointClickCare from 300 employees to 845
HR professionals at the company, up from 5 in 2011
Participation rate in HR’s 70-question employee-engagement survey
Bettencourt went on to pursue her postgraduate degree in human resources, which eventually led to her position at PointClickCare, a fast-growing company known for its award-winning culture. It was even named one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies by Deloitte in 2013. The company is the creator of a cloud-based software platform that has transformed the senior-care industry by making it person-centred, connecting senior-care providers with partners in health care to provide the highest-quality service. Bettencourt, though, initially knew little about the business.
“I’m sorry, PointClick-what?” was Bettencourt’s reaction when a recruiter first reached out to gauge her interest. Unfamiliar with the company, which was described to her as merely a long-term-care business, Bettencourt declined the conversation. However, after some persistence (and a clarifying phone call), Bettencourt became excited. “It was a blank canvas,” she says. “It was an opportunity to come and create many of the HR practices and programs from the ground up.” After six hours of interviews, Bettencourt wanted nothing more than to join the company.
Having never worked as an HR generalist—which is typical for someone in her position—Bettencourt has found it’s helped more than it’s hindered. “Joining PointClickCare with broad skills, not just one set, enabled me to be a better partner to the business stakeholders,” she says. “The company is both agile and growing, so my skill set lends itself to helping the company manage its talent, effectively plan for and manage change, and map a solid vision for the company, now and for the future. It works really well that I work as a human resources generalist because I’ve been able to think ahead to what the business needs are, in both the short and long term.”
Bettencourt posits that an HR generalist who has the breadth but not the depth would struggle to put many of the rapid changes in place. A lot of the elements that Bettencourt has introduced are program-specific and focus on supporting business growth—a specialty of Bettencourt’s—over pure HR principles.
When Bettencourt joined in 2011, the human resources team consisted of just four people. Today, a mixture of 18 specialists and generalists help alleviate company pressures through talent management, total comp, performance management, and cultivating and retaining company culture—one of the main aspects setting PointClickCare apart. “There’s a vibe here that I have never seen before,” Bettencourt says. “I couldn’t put into words, but it’s a sense of camaraderie and friendship [while] still hardworking. We hire the best, we treat them the best, and they in turn bring their best to their work. That is our differentiator. Employees are visible, their work has a meaning, and their impact is not anonymous.”
“One of our values here is ‘work shouldn’t always suck.’ As much as we push people, we maintain the flexibility to innovate without limitations. There’’s an understanding that life goes on.”
In 2012, Bettencourt and her team designed an employee-engagement survey to gain a deeper understanding of where HR improvements were necessary in order to support the company’s growth while retaining its culture. Employee engagement was measured using a Net Promoter Score (NPS), a metric used to gauge customer relationships and satisfaction. Bettencourt wanted to create an engagement survey that met her company’s business needs, so she had her team develop an abnormally long 70-question survey in-house. The purpose was to get to the heart of what PointClickCare needed to do better.
In the end, employees and managers received 95 percent participation. (The industry standard is only 70 percent.) Additionally, PointClickCare’s NPS was 70. (An NPS of 50 is the threshold to be considered “Excellent.”) But not content with the high score, Bettencourt and her team broke down the questions by department and determined which areas needed more focus.
“We’re constantly evolving,” Bettencourt says. “Up until now, a lot of the culture aspects just fell into place. What do we need to do different to maintain our culture while continuously supporting organizational growth and achievement of strategic results?” That’s the question guiding Bettencourt’s future at PointClickCare, a future that, while uncertain, is a far cry from the uncertainty she felt when she left the legal world. If anything, Bettencourt has proven that when it comes to uncertainty, she can handle it.