7 minute read 1 Apr. 2019
coworkers working together

Cynthia Currie: enabling workforce of tomorrow

By EY Canada

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

7 minute read 1 Apr. 2019
Related topics Alumni Workforce Technology

IGM Financial’s Cynthia Currie talks about the importance of leveraging technology to enable the workplace and employees of tomorrow.

Advances in technology, such as artificial intelligence and automation of more routine work tasks, are fundamentally shifting the way organizations operate, including how they recruit, hire and train talent. With these transformative changes at play, it’s important for companies to provide employees with the tools and resources they need to thrive in a constantly evolving, digital-first environment.

And this rethinking of the workplace begins with the tone at the top — that is, the leaders in an organization. Leaders must embrace an agile and forward-thinking approach to the business, from how and where people work to how they source talent and empower existing staff.

Cynthia Currie is intimately familiar with these shifting workplace dynamics. As the Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) at IGM Financial Inc., one of Canada's premier personal financial services companies, she brings broad financial services and human resources (HR) expertise to the workplace.

In her role, Cynthia’s responsible for developing and executing IGM Financial’s HR strategy, ensuring it aligns with the strategic direction of the organization, specifically as it relates to hiring, supporting and retaining talent while fostering a diverse, inclusive work culture. She shares her insights on how organizations can effectively position their business and employees for the workplace of tomorrow.
 

Please tell us a bit about your current role with IGM Financial Inc. and what propelled you to join the organization.

I joined IGM in September 2018 and was recruited for this role through an executive search firm. I met with IGM's President and CEO, Jeffrey Carney, who I worked with many years prior at another financial services organization. Because we worked together previously, I knew about Jeffrey's leadership style — he's a change agent, and has an innate ability to think more long-term with respect to future opportunities and workplace trends. This is very much in line with my own approach and work ethic, so I knew we would be a good team, and this role would allow me to look at the big picture, take disparate, complex elements, pull it all together and simplify it to create a unique value proposition and purpose that people are proud of and compelled by. In fact, I believe that's the biggest challenge for executives and HR leaders – how do you operationalize that purpose, and get everyone on board? I welcome that challenge, and am passionate about taking complex strategy and distilling it down into something more tangible. This role allows me to do just that, and enables me to be more of a strategic operator than an HR executive per se.
 

When it comes to the future of work, how can organizations lead effectively?

It boils down to courage. When you think about different workplace demographics, every demographic wants similar things but millennials are the first generation to have the courage to ask for it. I think we all need to start embracing that mentality and exercising that courage. Our world is changing rapidly with respect to technology and that should alter the way we work as well. For instance, many employees are seeking flexible work conditions, such as remote work, increased work-life balance, and roles with a greater social purpose. To truly lead effectively, organizations must embrace change and disruption, and have the courage to re-evaluate the way their teams work and thrive. I’m a firm believer that leaders should be personable, welcome diverse viewpoints and treat everyone fairly to foster an inclusive workplace that will effectively handle the challenges of today and tomorrow.
 

What is IGM Financial’s approach to recruiting, retaining and upskilling talent in the Digital Age?

Most employees will come to an organization because of the brand, but they stay for the employee experience, so this is a key area of focus for our organization. This means being more proactive when it comes to the way we recruit talent — leveraging technology is one part of the process, but it also requires a fundamental shift in how you look at the marketplace and your potential candidates. And embracing diversity and inclusivity in the workplace is a critical part of that process.

Gender parity is of particular importance at IGM, and we recently signed onto the United Nations Women's Empowerment Principles (WEPs), institutionalizing their seven guiding principles as a key step in transforming our workplace and achieving gender equality. Social economics is another area that isn’t discussed enough, and companies should be making concerted efforts to recruit and retain talent from all backgrounds and walks of life to have the most inclusive workplace possible.

And, of course, ongoing learning and education in the workplace is important in the Digital Age to ensure existing staff have the right digital tools and resources at their disposal to thrive in their roles.

Some employees may be concerned that the rise in intelligent automation will diminish or replace their roles. How can companies address those concerns, while adequately preparing employees for an increasingly digitally-enabled workplace?

Roles will evolve and we won't be doing the same thing all of the time, but leveraging automation will actually create more opportunities for higher value-added work (with potential for greater pay). Leaders need to articulate these benefits to employees, while empowering them with the necessary tools to do their jobs effectively.

Digital transformation must also reshape how we interact with each other at work, which boils down to three key things. First, it's necessary to move from a "me" to a "we" mentality. Flexibility is second – that is, providing employees with the right resources to be nimble and operationalize their responsibilities. This should involve training leaders and employees to adapt to changing work environments, ensuring they have the tools to collaborate even when working from different locations and at different times. And it's equally important to find ways to make sure employees who work remotely don't feel isolated but feel a part of a team. Third is fostering a culture that employees can take pride in. This includes re-examining the way feedback is given, moving from more critical or even constructive feedback to positive reinforcement, for example. These are all incremental steps organizations must take if they want their employees to thrive in the digital workplace.

In your role, you’re also responsible for cultivating a diverse work culture. Can you share some insights into your approach?

It's so important to have diversity of backgrounds, skills and points-of-view in any organization. It fosters greater teamwork, new ideas and better solutions to business challenges. However, this does require a new level of effort from business leaders and thinking outside of the box. I help leaders understand that the incremental effort is worth it because, at the end of the day, it results in more unique, diverse and collaborative teams, and will also have a positive impact on the bottom line.
 

You spent several years at EY, working on HR and Partner matters, including integrating the Bahamas, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands (BBC) office operations into the US Financial Service Office (FSO). Can you tell us a bit about that experience?

It was a great experience with a great team. I had the opportunity to work closely with various regional managers with unique views into the local markets in which they operated. They were all incredibly dedicated to the firm, had great insights and we worked well as one unified team. The culture was a positive, collaborative one. I learned from their unique perspectives gleaned from years working at the BBC offices, while sharing my insights into North American operations and showcasing the benefits of integration (such as the ability to engage quickly and more efficiently across offices), resulting in the successful integration of the BBC office operations into the US FSO. Also, given the nature of these three countries having small populations to serve a large financial sector, we relied heavily on recruiting our professional staff from abroad. We actively recruited from approximately 25 countries. The diversity was wonderful, and these practices remain some of EY's most profitable practices globally. I'm still in touch with a lot of the people I worked with and continue to value our long-term relationships.
 

How did your time at EY impact your future career choices, and how did it influence your approach to human resources and the future of work?

I learned a lot during my time with EY and worked with a great group of people with a diverse range of skills and experiences. I was also the first expat to run an HR function in Bermuda, which was an exciting challenge for me. Integrating the financial services offices was no easy feat, and there was certainly an element of risk associated with me taking on the task, but I'm so glad that I did and proud of what I accomplished. My experience at EY gave me the confidence to go for it, embrace transformation and take on increasingly complex and challenging roles, and that's influenced my work ethos to this day.

Summary

Advances in technology, such as artificial intelligence and automation of more routine work tasks, are fundamentally shifting the way organizations operate, including how they recruit, hire and train talent. Cynthia Currie shares her insights on how organizations can effectively position their business and employees for the workplace of tomorrow.

About this article

By EY Canada

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

Related topics Alumni Workforce Technology