Introducing Tamara Heimonen, an Executive Advisor at McLean & Company

Author(s): Tamara Heimonen

Tamara Heimonen

Tamara Heimonen took on the role of Executive Advisor in 2020.

What do you do in your current role? What drew you to it?

As an Executive Advisor, I support HR leaders in creating a strategic path forward. What drew me to this role was really the opportunity to have integrated strategic conversations with HR leaders across all the talent programs and initiatives that fall under Human Resources today, leveraging my own experience in building leadership, learning, culture, and engagement programs in complex organizations. It all starts with building trust and listening to our leadership members to gain an understanding of organizational goals and critical strategic initiatives and uncovering the real pain points when it comes to the organization’s talent. Then I develop and recommend a custom key initiative plan, which outlines a cadence of initiatives aligned to organizational and talent goals, with details on how McLean & Company can support them along the way.

What fuels you?

Getting to know an organization’s strategy and goals and then determining how to achieve those by mobilizing and aligning talent. That’s why the Executive Advisor role is such a good fit for me!

What is top of mind for HR leaders right now? What challenges do you see for them in this moment?

Based on conversations with my HR leadership clients, there are a few consistent challenges:

  • The degree of change within organizations: HR must consider how they can help move change forward while supporting leaders and employees who are impacted by the change and also how the change will impact the HR team itself.
  • Leadership: Many organizations don’t yet feel wholly comfortable with the capability of their leadership teams, especially given the impact of change and the requirement for new skills and behaviors to execute on the strategy.
  • Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI): Most organizations are just scratching the surface on DEI, and while there is some recognition of the issues, it is critical to have an actual DEI strategy in place before you can expect to shift the culture and gain traction to see the impact of your initiatives.
  • Employee experience: The pendulum is starting to shift to a more balanced approach between employer and employee needs, but many organizations have not yet figured out how to apply that balance. HR’s challenge is to paint a picture for leadership that employee experience is the other side of the coin of business objectives: your employees play a critical role in executing the business strategy. If the organization isn’t offering a positive employee experience, it is going to hit barriers in meeting business objectives.

How did you get your start in HR?

I have a degree in Sociology and spent a year after undergrad figuring out what would come next for me. I wanted to be able to apply my undergrad studies, which focused on population and people trends, with a business lens. For me, HR was the most natural and impactful way of doing this. So I applied to a post-graduate program in HR and there was no looking back.

For more than 20 years before joining McLean & Company, I was an HR practitioner in HR business partner roles. Eventually I shifted to a leadership & learning center of excellence, where I focused on optimizing performance management and employee development to support the shift to a performance-oriented culture. In my first five years at McLean, I was a director in the HR Research & Advisory practice. Based on the research I led, it was clear culture and leadership are two of the biggest levers that apply to almost any talent priority in an organization, which really ties together all my prior experience in this current role as an EA.

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

The best lessons I ever learned were from the business. Build relationships with leaders as early as possible. It is hard to have an impact without first understanding the business and having a partnership with the leadership team. There is such a huge element of trust. They need to see you as a partner before they’ll let you in on strategy discussions.

What worked for me was sitting in on P&L meetings, taking an interest in what my clients were measured on and what they were trying to accomplish, then stepping back and determining related talent needs as well as any potential barriers that we needed to address. Sometimes those barriers are internal to the leadership team itself; shining a light on these issues takes a nuanced approach, anchored in the trust and credibility you have established.

What do you do to take care of yourself?

I intentionally focus on my family, making sure I have a solid balance between my work and my life outside of work.

I also read a lot! While I am usually a voracious reader of business books and articles, since the pandemic I’ve shifted back toward fiction. I find it gives my brain a break and refocuses my attention on the things that matter outside of work, like investing in my relationships with my friends and family and educating myself about social justice issues. This past year two of my favorite books were The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, about the power that Hollywood studios had over their contract actresses in the 1950s, and Educated, a memoir by Tara Westover about her life growing up in a survivalist Mormon family and the role her own pursuit of education played in changing her life. Right now I’m reading The Escape Room by Megan Goldin. It is a fluffy thriller set in the New York City finance scene, not something I would normally pick up, but it is interesting to see the corporate culture and the negative impacts an excess of power and money can have.

I also do a lot of walking while listening to podcasts. I highly recommend the CBC series Finding Cleo and Thunder Bay, if you like true crime and have an interest in understanding the continued systemic racism that exists for Indigenous people in Canada. I also love Rave & Drool, a podcast about Canadian music, and highly recommend Dolly Parton’s America, which is about so much more than just her music, exploring the history and roots of the Appalachian Mountains region where she grew up and the impact those early sounds had on the popular music we listen to today. I love music and could talk about that all day! I’ve gone back to old favorites from my favorite genre, the UK new wave and BritPop explosion in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I created a massive Spotify playlist called “Those Were the Days” that I am happy to share here!

To learn more about our Executive Services and how McLean & Company will partner with you to accelerate completion of targeted HR priorities that ultimately drive your organization’s critical business objectives forward, please visit us at McLean Executive Services or contact Jon Campbell at