HR in the Hot Seat: Cheryl Stargratt, Tangerine

As chief people and operations officer at Tangerine, Cheryl Stargratt oversees the bank’s executive and leadership development, organizational design and effectiveness, talent management and employee engagement

HR in the Hot Seat: Cheryl Stargratt, Tangerine

As chief people and operations officer at Tangerine, Cheryl Stargratt oversees the bank’s executive and leadership development, organizational design and effectiveness, talent management and employee engagement.

Stargratt, whose impressive career spans retail, sporting and telco giants, also heads Tangerine’s operations and corporate affairs teams, and leads its transformational change agenda.

She shares why HR professionals should be ready to take risks, the key to successful business transformation, and why Tangerine has created its own Talent Academy.

If you could give your younger self, or someone entering HR for the first time, one piece of advice what would it be?

I would say, think about what brings you joy and the kind of impact you want to have in your career. I’d encourage my younger self, and practitioners starting out, to find their core purpose and to work tirelessly towards it by taking risks, believing in yourself and never doubting your ability to learn new things. 

Is there anything exciting in the pipeline for your HR department?
Our CEO, Brenda Rideout, is rolling out a new strategy that emphasizes growth while maximizing investments we’ve already made in the business. Our people are absolutely one of our most important resources and our HR team is focused on how we can add value through clearly defined ‘people priorities’ and help deliver against Tangerine’s objectives.

This is coming to life in a number of ways: We have a new HR strategy that lines up to the needs of our diversifying business; we’re adamant about the importance of our culture; we’ve put a renewed focus on talent management and rolled out enhanced talent acquisition programs; and, we’ve created a new Talent Academy that equips leaders at all levels with the experiences and frameworks to help them lead with purpose.

There isn’t just ‘one’ thing that’s exciting right now. There are many exciting opportunities for HR to partner with the business across the organization.

What’s the biggest professional obstacle you – or your team – have faced and how did you overcome it?
I wouldn’t say this was an obstacle, but a challenge, really. In a very short timeframe, Tangerine went from a being primarily a savings bank that offered deposit services to an “everyday bank” with all the products and services Canadians need, including a chequing product, a credit card, deposits, mortgages and investments.

That type of transformation is not for the faint of heart. To successfully support the strategy, we had to fundamentally look at our processes, how we operated, and at our individual and organizational capabilities. But, like other industries, change is the new normal and we had to adapt or risk falling behind.

HR played a key role in the transformation and while we had several significant drivers of change at the same time, we were adamant that we had to transition in a way that reflected our culture. It’s our culture that helped propel our earlier success and we wanted to build on it to help move us to a different future state.

What’s your biggest industry worry or concern right now? 

First thing that pops to mind is “VUCA” – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. The banking industry, like others, is facing it every day. We have operational pressures internally, a volley of traditional and non-traditional disruptors in the marketplace, and rapidly changing customer expectations.

Clients want a seamless experience with their financial institution. I understand that, I do too. At Tangerine, our model has always been low-cost, scalable and nimble but there is tremendous pressure to embrace disruption and stay ahead of competition while improving cost efficiency and back-office operations.

As client expectations evolve, so do our employees’ expectations. Often organizations are focused on the forefront and the internal investment lags. The larger that gap becomes, the more impact it will have on the success of an organization to attract those that are the best fit for the culture and organizational values. 

If you could change anything about the HR industry, what would it be?

I think we need to continue to elevate our game as a strategic business partner.

If we looked at what HR focused on in the past, it was often primarily people. But, we also need to focus on the organizational as a whole. That doesn’t mean not thinking about people; it’s about understanding and helping to drive business performance through an integrated HR strategy.

The most successful HR professionals see themselves as business leaders that happen to have an expertise in HR. We have to understand how we’re contributing to the business across all its strategic pillars.

What is the proudest moment or achievement of your HR career so far?

I take a lot of pride in seeing individuals and teams that I’ve led, or have been a part of, advance their careers and go on to take broader leadership roles. Coaching others to help them get to where they want to go is something that gives me joy.

What’s the most rewarding thing about being in HR?

Playing a strategic role in enabling an organization to be an employer of choice. That’s key to building a brand and ensuring the sustainability of providing employees with a positive long-term experience.

Fostering a unique, positive internal brand is every bit as important as the external brand. Culture plays a large part of being an employer of choice and HR is an important steward of culture. At Tangerine, our purpose is to help Canadians live better lives by empowering them to make smarter decisions with their money. This purpose is deeply engrained in our DNA and we reinforce it through our corporate promises (We Care, We Share, We Dare, We Deliver) and our sponsorship and community investment program #BrightWayForward, which supports organizations across the country that empower Canadians.

How do you predict the industry will change, if at all, over the next five years?

Flexible organizations need people who can manage through complexity and increasingly agile environments require us to communicate differently.

As a consumer, I expect to access updates to my banking account, online shopping order or current events instantly. Employees have the same expectations but not many organizations have invested in omni-channel communications tools. It’s a complex challenge for organizations that have varying degrees of front-line and back-office staff and, for many, defined hierarchies that dictate how information is shared.

At Tangerine, we’re a high-touch organization and a lot of our communication is a direct cascade from leaders but we’re making an effort to improve our digital tools, including a new employee app that has potential to customize content by community and address department specific change initiatives.

What would you like your HR legacy to be?

Did I contribute to the organization’s purpose? Did my team contribute to a sustainable business that serves its community? Did I help others understand their value to clients and to employees? Did I help drive the business forward? Did I help people reach their goals? I want to be able to answer ‘yes’ to those questions.

Related stories:
Why HR must lead ‘the people side of change’
How to prepare leaders for a VUCA world

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