Canadian HR Awards – winner profile: David Heather

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In September, the Canadian HR Awards celebrated the successes, and the successful, of our industry in a widely acclaimed gala held at Toronto’s Liberty Grand – but have you ever wondered just what the winners did to deserve their accolade?

Here, HRM Online offers insight into what each winner has achieved and why the judges deemed them the best of the best.

Award: Canadian HR Leader of the Year

Winner: David Heather

Position: HR Business Partner

Company: Cisco

Cisco’s David Heather has almost 25 years’ experience spanning both sides of the Atlantic – he began his career in the deep coal mining industry but continuously moved with the times and now works with the worldwide leader in networking. Here, he discusses everything that’s important to an HR leader.


In the business world things can become cloudy and needlessly complex – strong leaders must strive for clarity, says Heather: “The ability to distil vision and strategy for your teams is key to leadership.”

“My aim is to keep things simple,” he reveals. “Highlight the role that the employee will fulfil, describe what success looks like and how they can contribute. Listen to the employee’s viewpoint, build upon their ideas have a clear and concise dialogue.”

Heather readily acknowledges that hierarchy has an important role to play in organizations but says his approach is much more inclusive; “[I] look to engage the broader organisation, help employees have a platform to articulate their views and offer ways to increase value.”


“We are leveraging development in a different and innovative way,” assets Heather. “We take a different approach to assessing capability and then by using big data analytics, overlay key performance metrics to correlate which capabilities have the strongest correlation to drive business performance.”
“From this analysis we have been able to design a bespoke development curriculum that truly drives value in the business.”

“We use our own technology to foster a culture of flexibility and empowerment,” says Heather. “We develop our employees and insist on them being accountable for their learning [and] we use real time metrics to enable managers to measure performance and reward accordingly. This is broader than an HR strategy it is how Cisco conducts its business.”

“As a standalone HR strategy this approach may have resulted is some short-term success, however by making it part of the fabric of how we operate as a business this approach has truly made a difference to the top and bottom lines of Cisco Canada’s business.”


“Internal and external stakeholders require the same fundamental approach,” says Heather. ”You want them to be active partners with you and feel shared accountability for the success of the initiative and program.”

“Take the time to outline the goals and objectives, describe what success looks and feels like. Be clear at the outset of the key metrics, be honest and candid about challenges, and look for the stakeholder to contribute more than you to the initiative’s success – remember you are partnering with them because they have an expertise and valuable insight.”


“Challenge the status quo, push on preconceptions, and provoke debate and dialogue,” insists Heather. “HR has a key role to play in the culture of a company and we can, on occasion, ‘hold the mirror’ to our leadership and management teams and ask them the tough questions.”

“Having situational courage, being able to clarify what appears a complex situation, bringing perspective and focus to environments are all elements of enabling a strong culture. Listen, acknowledge mistakes, aspire to have true diversity of thought, include employees to help define the opportunity and then develop solutions that help the company be more successful.”

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