Transition: Accomplished

Renée Légaré left a senior vice president of human resources position at the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) for a similar role at the Ottawa Hospital, a bustling 1,100-bed acute-care teaching hospital. While it might seem like an unusual career move, she says the skills she developed at CATSA transferred to the hospital. “Working with 6,000 screening offices in 89 airports, I learned to consult, be transparent, and share ideas,” Légaré says. “That participative, collaborative management style has worked well here with management, the unions, physicians, and other stakeholders.” Here, Légaré shares how she tackled the first year of the transition.

Q1: Learn the culture on the front lines

  • “I received good advice that has served me well over the years,” Légaré says. “When you start a new job, always honour the past, build your credibility, and make changes—and do it in that order or you will fail.” She took that advice to heart when she joined the Ottawa Hospital.
  • “It’s a completely different world and I had to understand where they were coming from. In the airline industry, safety is rule number one—you put your oxygen mask on first. But in health care, employees are extremely caring—they will put their own lives at risk to save a patient.”
  • In the early days, Légaré spent time meeting with her direct reports to understand who they were, what they did, and the challenges they faced. She also met with colleagues outside of the department to learn their challenges and expectations—and to get a good grasp of their previous experiences with HR.
  • Considerable time was devoted to meeting the hospital staff. Légaré went from group to group getting to know people personally. “I invited myself to a lot of meetings,” she says. “At the time, operations was going through a big review of workloads and I asked to be involved. Participating in reviews like that helped me to better understand the culture and the business I was in and enabled me to ask the right questions, which in turn established my credibility.”

Q2: Focus on your department

  • Légaré turned her focus to the HR department. “I wasn’t sure they were well structured for the journey that our clients were expecting from us,” she says. “They were doing fantastic technical HR management but not providing added value to their clients. They needed a better understanding of their clients’ needs. We had to raise our standards.”
  • Légaré performed an HR review of the department to see how well the team was functioning. She also handed out copies of a book called Human Resource Champions by Dave Ulrich. Its provocative premise was that HR should be done through front-line management, with the HR department serving as consultants.

Q3: Build tools to create dialogue

  • Légaré realized she lacked information on which to base decisions. “I had no data on workforce demographics, no readily available numbers of grievances, attrition rate statistics, or an idea of how many people were in what unions,” she says. It was time to build an HR dashboard. She started with an Excel spreadsheet and manually added numbers at the corporate level. Today, the managers of each department have access to their own HR electronic dashboards.
  • “When we started, there was no positive and constructive feedback on performance—no dialogue on how to support an employee to do the right thing,” Légaré says. “We wanted to become an organization that provides useful feedback and proper support to its staff.”
  • The system is now set up so that everyone has an annual face-to-face and written performance review each year. “We succeeded and I am quite proud of it,” Légaré says.

Q4: Develop a long-term strategy

  • After nine months, it was time to develop an HR strategy. Légaré wanted people to understand her observations and what she thought needed to be done. “In developing a strategy, I consulted with my direct reports and used their excellent feedback,” she says.
  • Légaré and her team talked to colleagues in operations and in non-clinical areas in order to understand their expectations and frustrations.
  • A five-year plan was developed and the team’s strategy was presented to the board. “We built an HR strategy that makes sure that the basics are done right while we provide the value-added that our clients are looking for,” she says.

“In the airline industry, safety is rule number one—you put your oxygen mask on first. But in health care, employees are extremely caring—they will put their own lives at risk to save a patient.”

Year Two and Beyond

Légaré’s responsibilities include everything from overseeing talent acquisition, management, development, and scheduling, to occupational health and wellness, corporate safety and security, and parking services. She describes her role as being not only a strategic partner to the organization and a change agent but also as an administrative expert to support employees and stakeholders.

Her long-term goals are to remind her colleagues why they chose the health-care sector, to create a healthy workforce and environment, and to develop and sustain the right behaviours. “We want people to be accountable for their mistakes and learn from them,” Légaré says. Both patient and employee safety are important.” Additional goals include recruiting and employing the right talent and fostering leadership excellence. “I want patients to receive compassionate, world-class care. But I also want employees to have this be their workplace of choice.”