As an HR executive, Katya Laviolette is multifunctional in her skill set but single-mindedly driven to achieve. Having worked in a range of sectors—transportation, aerospace, publishing, and media—she applies the sum of her experiences to her current position as chief HR officer for TC Transcontinental.
Now on her second term with the marketing giant, Laviolette leads the HR function in effecting organizational change within an indubitably fast-paced biz. Here, she comments on culture, values, and change.
Advantage: What were your early years like, before your career was even on your mind?
Katya Laviolette: I was born in Montréal. My mother was British, and my father was French-Canadian. My parents got divorced at a young age. My mother returned to England, with my brother and myself, to get her nursing degree, and then we returned to Canada and settled in Edmonton. I believe my childhood years were very formative. It was not easy to be a single mother raising two children in the ’70s—my mother was extremely resilient, and I believe that has had a significant impact on my career.
Growing up outside Québec, how did you pick up French?
In Edmonton, my mother insisted we register to French immersion and attend a school far away from where we lived. As such, I took French immersion until I was 14. When I moved back to Montréal to start my career in 1994, it was a 360. I challenged myself to take jobs where I could really learn my French. I put myself in situations where I would have to speak it and learn the culture.
How has bilingualism benefited your work?
I’m an Anglophone who speaks French, and being fully bilingual has certainly helped me. We have clients and operations throughout Canada and a small group in the United States. Being bicultural—and having exposure to different cultures—has helped me establish solid business relationships.
You lead a large function at TC Transcontinental, balancing both relationships and responsibilities. How do you stay on top of things?
We have approximately 125 people in the HR community. I have seven direct reports who all have staff below them. I believe in giving broad direction and delegating responsibilities across the team, as well as providing the necessary support and coaching required. I give a lot of space. I’ve got high expectations and like to make sure we deliver as a team.
Also, I like to be close to operations. I get out to visit the plants. Sometimes I’ll pop into an operational review or finance meeting. I’m involved in the [planning] process for the company as a whole. As an HR professional, it’s important to push to be in those things. Then you can begin to translate what the org needs. In the short of it, it’s about being close to the business.
What is different your second time around at the organization?
When I returned, TC Transcontinental had begun its shift from a traditional publisher/printer to a marketing-services organization. The publishing piece has become much more challenging as platforms are changing dramatically in the digital era. It’s about reinforcing our brands and building quality content and adding value for our customers. Today it’s about integrating social media, Internet, and mobile. The digital component is hitting organizations in every which way.
How is TC Transcontinental navigating the new digital frontier?
We are the largest printer in Canada and a leading publisher of consumer magazines. To maintain these levels, the pressure is enormous. There is a lot of new competition—very small players who have nimble cost structures. If we used to offer, say, one or two services to our customers, we can now offer multiple services. There is still a significant need for print publishing—a lot of retailers rely heavily on print for their marketing campaigns. But what retailers and customers are saying is, what kind of additional tools do you offer in the interactive space—web, mobile, e-mail? For us, it’s about how we make that shift to the marketing services space.
From an HR perspective, how is the company managing the evolution?
We’re reskilling the workplace and dealing with cultural change. Then there’s org design, having the right structure to be able to execute and deliver your business plan in the future market.
We’re focusing on development—ensuring we have talent in place so when jobs open up we can fill them with the right leadership style and competencies. (We have a lot of success with internal hires and promotions.) If you don’t have the right people at the top, you can see very quickly how the business can cease to be effective.
Changing operationally is a challenge, but changing a culture is exponentially more complex. How is TC Transcontinental faring?
That’s a foundational piece. We’ve rebranded the corporation to give it a new, fresh look—to show customers we’re a marketing-services company. At the same time, we’re refreshing our values, changing internally and externally how we’re perceived.
We’re moving from an entrepreneurial to an innovative culture, and from a collegial workforce to a teamwork-driven one. We worked for over a year to develop and implement these new values and are now tying them to our performance management system, to measure and ensure the right behaviours are in place as we move through our transformation.