Karen Mann: 30 Years of HR Excellence

Author(s): Karen Mann

Karen Mann is the vice president of HR Research, Learning & Advisory Services at McLean & Company. Though her initial discovery of HR as an organizational function was a surprise, it is no accident that Karen finds herself in her position with the global HR research and advisory firm.

After her mother recovered from ovarian cancer, Karen quit her job to travel the world and pursue her MSc in International HR & Industrial Relations at Manchester Business School in the UK. She later chose to pursue her love of learning and HR in the corporate world with McLean & Company. The rest, as they say, is history.

Read on for a deeper dive into Karen Mann – a seasoned HR professional celebrating 30 years of service in HR, a dedicated career mentor, and a passionate “forever student” committed to growth and learning in the ever-evolving world of HR.

Karen Mann

How did you get started in HR?

I stumbled onto HR as a fluke. My original plan was to go to university to become an accountant, but I ended up taking HR and labor studies courses in the first year of my commerce program at McMaster University and was immediately hooked. There was no question about it – HR was the path for me!

The year I graduated, there was a recession. I mailed – yes, physically mailed with stamps and envelopes because there was no email back then – 250 job applications during my final year at university. No luck. I accepted a job as a flight attendant with the hope of returning to HR someday.

Then Bell Canada offered me a four-month contract in HR at their new IT subsidiary, Bell Sygma. I jumped at the chance, and before I knew it, my four-month contract turned into four and a half years! While there, I supported collective bargaining, was an HR generalist for several IT departments, and had my first people management opportunity.

I still owe Pam Rowlands, my boss at Bell Sygma, a debt of gratitude. She took a chance on a shy new graduate just starting out when it felt like no one else would. I hope she knows just how much I value her mentorship and friendship over the years.

Why did you choose McLean & Company? What do you enjoy most about your career journey and current role?

I was planning on pursuing my PhD and had just been accepted into the program when I got in touch with a former CIO client from a previous company. He was working at Info-Tech Research Group, one of the world’s leading IT research and advisory firms, as an executive advisor and told me about an exciting new division focused on HR research and advisory services: McLean & Company.

What an incredible opportunity to put my love of continuous learning and HR into practice every day! The products and services we offer are high quality, practical, and make a genuine impact on not only our member organizations, but on ourselves.

I always say that working with McLean & Company is like getting paid to get a PhD because the opportunities for continuous learning are limitless. There is immense joy to be found in witnessing both our own and our members’ teams develop, grow, and apply their skills.

The opportunities to truly make a difference are endless as well. For a long time, the proposed model of HR seemed to lead to a focus on the business rather than employees, but we are now seeing the balance being corrected. Research about the employee experience, approaches to improve engagement and productivity, and the role organizations need to play in creating safe and welcoming work environments is becoming more accessible and frequently relied upon by organizations across every industry. The way we work has changed, and businesses have no option but to follow suit.

McLean & Company is uniquely positioned to provide cutting-edge research to its members and help them to achieve a more strategic partnership between organizations and their HR functions.

After 30 years in HR, what are you still learning and trying to improve upon? What are you most looking forward to achieving next?

At the risk of sounding too broad, the answer truly is everything. There is still so much to learn, whether regarding the latest technology or the continuous journey of learning and unlearning when it comes to inclusivity, belonging, and creating a workplace where everyone thrives.

As a B2B company, we want to ensure that as we continue to scale, we also continue to center people in our service design with a human-first approach. There is one guiding principle in our mission statement that can be applied to all that we do at McLean & Company:

“To help shape workplaces where everyone thrives.”

That is my focus, for both my team and for our members. It does a fantastic job of encapsulating all the areas of both people management and HR that I love and am grateful to get to practice every day.

I can’t wait to continue doing this meaningful work to see what both McLean & Company and our members can achieve. There is a bright future ahead for HR as it continues to evolve, and I look forward to being part of it!

What advice do you have for someone who is a new HR leader?

I could talk about this forever, because there is always more to learn, more to know, and more to absorb. But I’ll try to pare it down:

  • Relationships are critical. Build them with your immediate team, your HR colleagues, finance, your support teams, and your clients.
  • Treat people as people first, employees second. Remember to lead with a human-first approach, because while we’re all working together to achieve business goals, we’re still people first.
  • Collaboration is key. A collaborative work environment makes for a much better experience for everyone and achieves stronger results than a competitive one.
  • You’ll never know everything. Be open to learning, forever, all the time. You will learn so much as you move through your career, but there will always be someone who can teach you something.

How do you see HR evolving in the next ten years?

As the future of work keeps trending toward remote and hybrid offerings, HR will continue to play an imperative and strategic role in the broader organizational function. We have already seen immense change in the three years since the pandemic was announced, so to imagine what the world of work will look like in ten years is somewhat staggering!

There are external factors to consider, such as pandemics, political instability, social justice movements, recessions, and talent shortages. Then there are the internal elements, like digital transformation, evolving employee expectations, talent gaps, and more. This is by no means an exhaustive list but serves to highlight just how many things both HR and organizational leaders need to consider when preparing for the future.

The only certain thing about the future is its uncertainty. I think the key thing to note here is that there is no concrete way to predict the future of HR, so instead, we can only do our best to prepare for the unknown.

To learn more about how McLean & Company can partner with you to build out meaningful and executable strategies for your HR priorities, please contact Jon Campbell at jcampbell@mcleanco.com.

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