Introducing Stacey Shepherd, Executive Counselor at McLean & Company

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In this Q&A, Stacey Shepherd talks about her career, what drew her to this role, and what challenges are top of mind for HR leaders.

How did you get your start in HR?

As I approached my final year in university, I worked in the “Personnel” department for a financial services firm over the summer and found myself really intrigued by the work being done in this area.

After graduating, I can distinctly remember looking through the career section of the Toronto Star newspaper (back when there were still full-page job advertisements!) and seeing an ad for an HR receptionist for a large newspaper and magazine publishing organization. Fortunately, I was the successful candidate, and that kicked off a 30+ year career in HR.

I have had the opportunity now to work across many diverse industries, including publishing, financial services, law enforcement, and municipal government, where I’ve built a personal brand as a strategic partner and coach to business leaders, providing guidance in the successful execution of their demanding roles, operating with integrity, authenticity, and a sense of humor.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born and raised in Toronto, and I currently live in the west end of the city with my beloved dog, Lexie. Although a fiercely proud Torontonian, I am ready for a geographical change and am preparing to relocate a few hours north of the city to be closer to family and be surrounded by water and trees. When I was younger, I was a competitive equestrian rider and am considering getting back into this as a part-time activity.

Professionally, leading teams and helping others develop has been the greatest privilege of my career, and I now count many of my former team members as friends.

What does your role as Executive Counselor involve? What drew you to it?

As an Executive Counselor, I partner with senior HR leaders and executives in the successful delivery of their strategic objectives. This partnership can take many forms depending on what is important and relevant to each of our Counselor members. It could involve working through a complex business issue, strategizing on team structure and development outcomes, or helping to navigate executive team dynamics. Asking the right questions allows me to get to the heart of an issue, identifying opportunities where McLean & Company solutions and resources can accelerate execution of critical HR priorities.

Joining the team as an Executive Counselor after a 30-year career helping leaders and businesses achieve their people priorities felt like a natural progression of my career. Working through a business problem with leaders has always been the most rewarding part of my roles – naturally curious and solution-oriented, the Executive Counselor position felt like a great fit with my natural leadership style which has been described as thought provoking, strategic, a person people want at the table.

It has also never been more critical in today’s business climate for an HR executive to have access to an experienced, trusted advisor as they guide their organizations through incredibly challenging times.

What do you do to take care of yourself?

Like many others, I have placed a renewed focus on taking care of myself after the past few years of managing life in a pandemic. Recognizing (and prioritizing) what gives me energy and peace has been a priority for me – walks on the waterfront with my dog, sitting on the dock with a cup of coffee in the early morning, reading a terrific book.

Over the past several years, I have taken up mindfulness and meditation, which has become a key part of my daily routine. On the physical side, I recently started working with a personal trainer who not only puts me through my paces several times a week but also acts as an accountability partner for those days that I need that extra push.

And of course, there’s always the guilty pleasure of occasionally binge-watching a great new series on Netflix!

What is top of mind for CHROs right now? What challenges are they facing?

The role of HR has transformed dramatically over a brief period of time, gaining new strategic influence in organizations and broadening its scope from an already heavy portfolio of responsibilities. CHROs are increasingly at the center of the biggest organizational challenges – hybrid work culture and the employee experience, organizational health, DEI, and the future of work.

Creating a unique workplace experience – the events of the past few years have changed the workplace indefinitely, and the ball is in the employees’ court when it comes to corporate culture and creating a positive, purposeful employee experience. Flexibility is key for employees to have personalized work experiences that make them feel valued and for business leaders to observe the most productivity from their teams.

Recruitment and retention – these were big issues before the pandemic, but they have since become exceptionally challenging feats for organizations as employers rally to refresh and customize their approach to talent acquisition and engagement.

Progressing diversity, equity & inclusion – there is increasing pressure for a more deliberate and outcomes-based approach to improving equity and inclusion within organizations, specifically demonstrating progress in diversifying leadership.

The HR organization for HR to effectively drive and facilitate these workforce initiatives, HR must first look within itself to assess if the required capability and capacity is in place. Talent has been consistently ranked as a top-three priority for CEOs, yet many lack confidence in HR’s ability to deliver, as the HR function is often overburdened with transactional work and not well equipped to create value for the business.

What advice do you have for someone starting out as an HR leader?

I often say that I’m a businessperson who has chosen to work in the field of HR. For HR to be a fully integrated partner, it is critical that HR practitioners bring a keen business perspective to their roles. Understanding the KPIs of the business and being able to translate data into actionable strategies is a key requirement for any HR leader.

Early on in my career, I developed relationships with business mentors to support me as I grew my knowledge of the business, but also to function as an advocate for HR programs and initiatives. Many of these mentors are still a part of my virtual board of directors and provide invaluable guidance and direction.

Look for an assignment or role outside of HR to fully immerse yourself in the operations. I spent two years leading the strategy function for one of my employers, which enabled me to be an even stronger HR leader when I returned to my home role.

Being an HR leader – especially in today’s business climate – is hard work, without question. It takes grit and resilience to make your voice heard and to push back on the issues that matter, while still building trusted relationships. Being a custodian of culture and corporate values is a significant responsibility, so it’s important to ensure you have a strong network of support – both personally and professionally. Keep current and relevant on emerging trends so that you are prepared to lead any shifts in your human capital strategy.

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