As the head of HR for one of Canada’s biggest retailers, Canadian Tire CHRO Doug Nathanson is working hard to ensure corporate employees are productive, but also happy. He tells HRD about recent company initiatives focused on boosting engagement and internal corporate branding.
HRD: Please, tell us about the culture at Canadian Tire Corporation (CTC).
We’ve been on a journey for a number of years to become a brand-led organization and, as a result, our employee culture and internal and external brand have never been stronger. We are an exciting, growing, innovative and dynamic company and it’s an incredible time to be a part of the organization. As a family of companies, one of our challenges is to unify our workforce while allowing each business unit to retain its own unique qualities and culture. HR has played an essential role in this process and this has been a pivotal year in terms of getting everyone across our various banners and across the country focused on the same goals. One way we accomplished this has been through our rallying cry – “Life in Canada depends on us” – the premise of which is that it depends on our employees, and everything they do every day, to help our customers create special moments for their families.
Another way we have reinvigorated our culture is through our four commitments: customers, innovation, results and communities. Our commitments speak to who we are as a company, what we care about and how we will compete to grow and win in the long term. They are what we ask our employees to drive forward in order for us all to be successful.
While there is still much work to do to maintain an engaged and committed team, we are very proud of what we have achieved in the past 18 months.
HRD: In 2013, Canadian Tire became an official sponsor of the Canadian Olympic Committee. How did you take advantage of that opportunity and bring that to life for employees?
Our partnership with the Canadian Olympic Committee has been a tremendous boost to employee pride and engagement and has allowed us to implement a number of programs tied directly to the Games. A few tactical examples include dedicated “viewing areas” on every floor of our home offices to encourage employees to stay connected to the events in Sochi; large-scale viewing parties where hundreds gathered to watch the medal rounds; Olympic Fridays, which are themed weekly participation events that create a true buzz for employees and allow teams to work collaboratively on entertaining projects; and sending four employees to Sochi to act as ‘reporters’ on the ground. The Power of Sport has been an extremely effective way to unify the family of companies across our banners and has enabled us to demonstrate our commitment to athletes at all levels.
From an HR perspective, as our external brand has evolved and strengthened, it was important to mirror that perception internally to remain aligned across the company. The Olympic partnership has been a great opportunity to connect with employees and to help drive a renewed passion and excitement for the company and the Canadian Tire brand.
HRD: How does Canadian Tire’s community involvement relate to employee engagement at your home office?
In addition to over 490 Canadian Tire stores across the country, we also have Mark’s, Sport Chek, Sports Experts and Pro Hockey Life, among others, putting us in the unique position of being able to contribute in a meaningful way to the communities in which we work and play. Our employees live in these communities and continually demonstrate our culture of giving and participating, just as our corporate stores, franchisees and Canadian Tire Dealers are also incredibly involved in the communities in which they operate.
Much of that work is done through Jumpstart, our national charity, which removes the financial barriers keeping many kids from participating in sports and physical activity, and has so far helped more than 700,000 children get in the game. ‘Community’ is one of our four commitments and our employees take that to heart. In 2013 alone, CTC employees donated more than 55,000 hours of their own time to Jumpstart, in addition to contributing remarkably generous funds through our annual Employee Giving Campaign and numerous other fundraising initiatives throughout the year.
HRD: How do you build career paths with employees so they feel they can have successful careers at Canadian Tire?
Careers today look very different than they did a decade or two ago. Employees have unique circumstances and aspirations and it’s our responsibility to provide our people with the tools and resources they need to make informed decisions that allow them to explore their own interests and see the full range of options available to them at CTC. We devote significant resources to retaining our talent through ongoing development, which includes opportunities to explore other areas of our vast business enterprise. To this end, our soon-to-belaunched online career portal will enable employees to conduct self-assessments, learn about alternative paths and profile various employees to let them share how they have achieved success.
HRD: What do you consider to be your biggest career achievement at CTC?
It has been amazing to work at CTC during a time of tremendous growth, change and success. I’m very proud of the work we did in securing our partnership with the 400-series highways to see Canadian Tire Gas+ installed at service centres across southern Ontario. As well, I was very fortunate to play a lead role in the acquisitions of FGL Sports (formerly Forzani Group) and Pro Hockey Life. These projects required a true team effort across every facet of our organization and allowed people to expand their horizons on new and exciting initiatives that will help shape the future of our enterprise. For me personally, it was also very gratifying that in each case I was able to contribute not just to the transactions themselves, but to the work that followed to ensure that the projects were implemented and integrated successfully.
HRD: Let’s switch directions a bit here. What initially drew you to an HR role?
I very much liked the idea of a role that impacts culture and experience while simultaneously having a seat at the executive table. I enjoy shaping the direction of the company and clearly people play a critical role in the company’s success; all of our strategies and plans depend greatly on having the talent to execute. This involves talent acquisition, development and retention, which are all key factors that help ensure our continued success in the years to come.
HRD: What does the future hold for HR professions?
HR has come a long way in the last 20 years. No longer simply a support function, HR now is viewed as a valuable business partner that is actively involved in the overall results of the company. Companies now recognize that people are the primary differentiator and that has meant looking at the ‘people perspective’ when it comes to making strategic decisions and providing an environment for employees to learn and interact in relevant ways in this social and digital world. HR needs to be responsive to the issues faced by our business partners and our employees, address their needs in practical and effective ways and provide an environment for employees to interact and contribute in a changing corporate and retail environment. At CTC, HR has worked hard to attain a privileged spot at the management table and maintaining this will be key for us to successfully deliver on our mandate.
HRD: What do you think it takes to succeed in HR?
Aside from the proper education and skills, it requires a true and deep understanding of the key business strategies at play in your organization. You need to have the ability to work with various partners across the company, translate business needs into action, respond with innovative solutions and, perhaps most importantly, anticipate needs to demonstrate the value HR brings to the business. I’m in the unique position of overseeing both HR and Corporate Strategy and that enables me to ensure that the programs we implement, from engagement to compensation and rewards, are tied directly back to Canadian Tire’s business objectives and long-term vision. In my opinion, the only means to bring our strategy to life is through our people.
This feature is from HRM Canada's July issue. Download the issue to read more.