Soon after joining Hydro Ottawa in 2006, Lyne Parent-Garvey faced her first test as chief HR officer. “I was asked to lead the negotiations of a collective agreement with the union,” she recalls. In essence, she was being called upon to avoid labour conflict, such as a company-wide strike that took place in 2004. “We wanted to negotiate in a manner that would maintain positive management union relations,” she explains. “A successful collective agreement balances what the union wants with what the businesses needs to achieve.” In finding this ideal middle ground, she reached an agreement between union and management while preserving and strengthening relations.
Soon after earning her master’s degree in industrial relations from Queens University, Parent-Garvey launched her career in labour relations in municipal government. Successive positions as a high-level HR administrator within the public and not-for-profit sectors enabled her to fine-tune skills in employee recruitment, training, development, benefits and compensation, and health and safety.
Then came the call from Hydro Ottawa’s previous CEO, six years ago, to assume a leadership position with the company. “As it turns out, it has been a great fit both for myself and Hydro Ottawa,” Parent-Garvey says.
Hydro Ottawa is one of Ontario’s major distributors of electricity, a generator of green power, and a provider of energy conservation and management services. It delivers safe, reliable electricity to more than 300,000 residential and business customers in the city of Ottawa and the village of Casselman, Ontario. Along with HR protocols, Parent-Garvey also manages Hydro Ottawa’s health, safety, and environmental portfolio.
Among the key attributes of her job, Parent-Garvey points to Hydro Ottawa’s workforce size. “I was used to being part of much larger organizations ranging from 4,000 to 10,000 employees,” she says. “Meanwhile, Hydro Ottawa has a staff of 625. Consequently, we have a much tighter, close-knit working culture here.”
Indeed, Parent-Garvey acknowledges that “at Hydro Ottawa, we’re like family.” As an example, she points to many employees who have spent their entire careers with the utility company. “There is strong pride here—people sincerely care about their quality of work,” she says. “They want to do their best for our customers and for the community.”
It’s an environment that has advanced Parent-Garvey’s own goals for the company. “Whenever we launch programs related to talent management—such as workforce planning or training and development initiatives—we can measure our effectiveness almost instantaneously,” she says.
Such manageability has allowed Parent-Garvey to deal effectively with a major Hydro Ottawa staffing concern: compensating for the loss of an aging workforce. “Within the next 10 years, some 7,200 years of vital experience will exit the company with the departure of retiring workers,” she says. “We have to be proactive to manage this type of loss.”
In response, Parent-Garvey has launched an ambitious initiative to “renew [the] workforce at all levels.” Much of this effort is being dedicated to the training and promotion of staff throughout the entire company. “We’re preparing apprentices to become journeypersons and journeypersons to become supervisors,” she says. In addition, employees nearing retirement are serving as mentors to younger workers, effectively imparting their life experience within the company to the next generation of leaders.
As to what she would still like to achieve with Hydro Ottawa, Parent-Garvey continues to focus on strengthening existing methods, as well as developing new innovations, to enhance what she calls employee engagement. “In this way, we can move our company from a good company to a great one,” she says.
“Whether it is through training, performance rewards, or recognition, we constantly seek ways for our employees to be fully engaged with Hydro Ottawa,” Parent-Garvey says. “To me, there is nothing quite as satisfying as an employee who realizes their full potential.”