As the chief people officer at software giant Ceridian, Lisa Sterling oversees the firm’s global HR approach while also heading up the strategy for its Dayforce Talent Management product – incredibly, she only made the switch to HR a few short years ago.
Prior to her top HR position, Sterling spent much of her career in the talent management technologies field, largely responsible for product management and marketing, and solutions consulting and sales – however, she’s already made a huge impact on the HR industry.
Since starting the role in 2016, Sterling has redesigned Ceridian’s people development strategies, scrapped performance reviews and significantly improved employee engagement – not to mention the three coveted industry awards she’s picked up in the last six months alone, including the HRO HR Superstar Award and the HR Executive of the Year Award.
Here, she spoke to HRM about future plans, proud moments, and reevaluating her own opinion of HR.
If you could give your younger self, or someone entering HR for the first time, one piece of advice – what would it be?
Know your business. Not just the industry you are in but all the moving parts of the organization. The very best People leaders I know didn’t grow up in HR. They grew up in the business. They understand how the other functional areas work. They understand what they need to be successful and the challenges they face. I would tell someone just entering this field that they should spend time in each area of the business. The more they know about how the company operates, who their customers are, how they make money, their employee demographics, etc. the better prepared they’ll be to lead the People/HR function within the organization. In HR, you truly are a business partner and if you want a “seat at the table” it is advantageous to have a clear understanding of how you will make an impact.
Is there anything exciting in the pipeline for your HR department?
The Ceridian People team is working on a number of exciting programs. For starters, we are continuing to further enhance and expand our Parental Leave program. We’ve made significant enhancements to this program already by extending the amount of time a primary caregiver can take off with full pay, and we will be looking to expand this program again in 2018. We also recently launched our Take 2 program which provides further flexibility for all workers, allowing them to take up to 2 hours off work at any time for any reason. And, we are going to be expanding our Student Loan Forgiveness program in the coming months. This is part of our newest program “Live Well. Work Well.” which is focused on the five pillars of wellness - physical, financial, career and emotional - and which is getting ready to be rolled out, globally.
What’s the biggest professional obstacle you – or your team – have faced and how did you overcome it?
I feel very fortunate that our CEO David Ossip and other peers of mine are supportive of our strategy and approach to redefining the HR function. If I had to identify a challenge I would say it’s the differences in tenure and generations at Ceridian. We are lucky to have a tenured workforce in many areas of the organization who have been with us for a long time. In other areas we have a very young workforce both in terms of tenure and generation. As such, we have had to be very creative and flexible in how we develop and implement new innovative programs. We don’t want to ever disengage one segment of the workforce to engage another and have addressed this by creating global programs that allow for personalization at the functional and local level, and by partnering very closely with the functional leaders to understand the uniqueness of their respective areas. We also conduct pilot programs within functions before global, organizational rollouts. This has allowed us to successfully implement many new programs that appeal to all people within Ceridian.
What’s your biggest industry worry or concern right now?
My biggest industry concern is the overall decline in engagement in organizations. There are many research studies that have showcased the continued downward trend in engagement across the globe. This is worrisome to me as decreases in engagement typically lead to other issues such as fatigued and stressed employees. Organizations have seen a rise in short-term disability claims, stress related illnesses and even mental illness. We are fortunate at Ceridian that we continue to maintain high levels of engagement and haven’t seen the impacts witnessed by other organizations first hand. That said, it is very concerning to me and something we continuously monitor as the health and wellness of our people is my number one concern.
If you could change anything about the HR industry, what would it be?
I would change the perception that many people have about HR departments. I hate to admit it now, but I was one of those people earlier in my career. I looked at HR as the “compliance police” of the organization. They were focused on keeping us out of litigation, provided us with benefits and were the “policy” creators and enforcers. The traditional HR organization has been seen as a cost centre, lacking in innovation and creativity. I think a lot of that comes down to how HR departments have been structured in the past and the people within the function. The relationship between the CEO and the Chief People Officer also has a lot to do with the perception. Does the CEO see the HR function as being strategic, and the CPO leader as a trusted advisor? My hope is that as times change and organizations gain a better understanding of the importance of the employee experience, the perception of HR will fundamentally change as well.
What is the proudest moment or achievement of your HR career so far?
My pride comes from watching Ceridian and our people be successful. The awards Ceridian has won for being a great place work and an outstanding organization with a great culture makes me proud. I am honoured to be surrounded by an amazing team who shares my passion for people. The programs and experiences they are creating are helping drive the transformation that is taking place today. I am thankful I get to work with this team each and every day.
What the most rewarding thing about being in HR?
Without a doubt it is the people I get to work with and the opportunity to have a profound impact not only on them but on their families. The whole reason I got into the People Organization here at Ceridian was to be part of a transformation taking place. More specifically, to drive change, innovation and push people out of their comfort zone in the way they think about people, experiences and initiatives. People are the heart of our business and it’s my goal to ensure every single person brings the most extraordinary version of themselves to work every day. The thought of making that possible is so incredibly rewarding. It is what gets me up and ready to take on the world every morning.
How do you predict the industry will change, if at all, over the next five years?
You never know where things will land, but if I had to say how I think HR/People organizations will change, I believe there will be a resurgence of restructuring in HR/People functions and teams. A lot of organizations will start to re-think how their teams are aligned, their focus, and work to create a more collaborative Centre of Excellence. I believe you will see functions that have not traditionally been part of the HR/People team become part of the organization. As people and employees expect to have the same experiences at work as they do outside of work it will be imperative to innovatively think about how to most effectively create that environment. I also believe you will see a shift in the strengths and skill makeup of not just senior HR/People leaders but in all areas of the function. There isn’t going to be such a focus on people who “grew up in HR” but more so on people who have acquired greater exposure to the business.
What would you like your HR legacy to be?
I want my legacy to be all about my passion for people. It doesn’t matter what cool new programs and perks we implemented. Or that we got rid of outdated policies and procedures that hindered people’s success. I want to be remembered for caring about every person and their family at Ceridian. For empowering people, at all levels, to make choices that make theirs’ and others’ work lives better. That we lived by our motto of #WhateverItTakes. I want to be known for being a change agent and part of a cultural transformation unlike no other in the HCM Technology space.