HR in the Hot Seat: Penny English, Cementation Canada

HR specialist shares her insights into leadership, breaking down stereotypes, and helping employees grow

HR in the Hot Seat: Penny English, Cementation Canada
Cementation Canada’s HR solutions manager Penny English is passionate about learning and development, communication, and growing leaders within organizations.
Day to day, she helms Cementation’s HR strategy and execution, including the creation and rollout of its leadership development program which has helped dozens of staff on their paths to become stronger communicators and managers.
She is also a part-time professor at Canadore College, teaching various HR programs through the college’s Continuing Education Program.
English shares her views on leadership, breaking down HR stereotypes, and helping employees grow with HRD Canada.
If you could give your younger self, or someone entering HR for the first time, one piece of advice – what would it be?
Don’t be so indignant! HR is a service. It’s our job to educate, to inform and ultimately to try to influence. Our advice may not always be taken, and that’s okay. It’s not personal. Stay positive and keep on keeping on.
Is there anything exciting in the pipeline for your HR department?
Always! At Cementation, one of our core values is giving employees every opportunity to succeed. Currently we are focused on reviewing the organizational structure, as well as succession planning and recruitment and retention strategies. It’s going to be an exciting year for our employees.
What’s the biggest professional obstacle you – or your team – have faced and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge for me has been gaining credibility in an industry in which I did not have any experience. I came to Cementation over five years ago with no background whatsoever in mining or mine contracting. In terms of overcoming that challenge, it’s something I am always focused on.  My approach is that I have tried to learn as much as possible about the work we do. I’ve visited a number of our underground mine sites and talked to our people on the projects, and I go above and beyond in terms of providing service to all our employees.
What’s your biggest industry worry or concern right now?
The mining industry has been in a downturn over the last several years. Keeping employees engaged and motivated in tough economic times can be challenging for any company. By all accounts, the market is expected to start recovering in 2017-2018, and certainly we’ve already seen signs of that. We will keep a close eye on the market and hope that positive change is on the horizon.
If you could change anything about the HR industry, what would it be?
The negative stereotype that still exists in some organizations with regards to HR being more of a policing or administrative function, rather than a strategic business partner. Of course, in order to be a strategic partner, HR needs to fully understand the business.
What is the proudest moment or achievement of your HR career so far?
Well that’s an easy one – my team and I were responsible for developing and implementing a leadership development program here at Cementation Canada in 2013. Customized development plans are created for each employee in the program with multiple learning opportunities and a blend of instructional methods embedded into the program. To date, we have had approximately 50 employees participate. The benefits are significant. Many employees have commented that the program has helped them develop relationships with other employees in the company, become more effective in their current roles, and overall communicate better. Now that makes me proud!
What the most rewarding thing about being in HR?
For me, it’s definitely helping employees to grow and develop to their full potential. I am a huge proponent of learning and development. It gives me great satisfaction to see one of our employees develop their skills or achieve beyond what they thought was possible in terms of their own development.
How do you predict the industry will change, if at all, over the next five years?
I think we will see technology play an even greater role in HR in the next few years. It will be incumbent upon HR to embrace and leverage new technologies to create an even better employee experience.
What would you like your HR legacy to be?
That I was a great leader. It gives me great pride and satisfaction to share my knowledge with my team and ensure they have the opportunity to learn from my experience. The good, and the bad! I openly share my vulnerabilities, my challenges and my thought process in working through complex HR challenges, and I am very clear in terms of setting expectations, which is something I think all employees need. At the end of the day, we are a team, and I rely on each of them to help all of us succeed. In turn, I want to do everything possible to ensure everyone under my leadership is fully prepared for any future opportunities they may wish to pursue.

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