The Power of Leading by Example in HR

People People

March 21, 2023

Margaux Morgante

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5 min

Meet People Person Charlotte Collett, VP of Human Resources at NorthRiver Midstream

A photo of Charlotte Collett, Vice President of Human Resources at NorthRiver Midstream. Collett discusses the critical challenges facing HR teams in the near future, including the impact of the pandemic on work, and shares her thoughts on leading by example, workplace culture, and her recent values initiative.

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Charlotte Collett once received one of the best compliments of her career when a CEO expressed that he “didn't know what to do with her”. He went on to say that she was the first HR professional he had experienced whose leading value was her strategic business expertise and her HR skillset was an added bonus.

Growing up in Central Alberta and graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Calgary, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree in her family. "My dad was a successful small business owner," she shares. " I grew up looking at things through a business mindset." This early business grounding continues to serve Charlotte throughout her HR career.  

"I believe this is critical to how HR practitioners can truly support the business as a strategic partner," she explains. "It's what grants you license, in my view, to be at the table. If you don't understand your client’s core business needs, I'm not sure how you can influence it in the right way from an HR standpoint."

And while Charlotte believes that business acumen is what can help HR leaders sell big ideas internally with more success and credibility, she thinks sometimes it's better to think small.

"As HR practitioners, we sometimes can be quite ambitious in what we want to see for the organization," says Charlotte. "What I have come to value more is experimenting, trying something, and appreciating that although it might not be utopia, some progress is still progress. Often the real gift is in the small incremental wins, especially when it comes to impacting culture. People can downplay the accomplishment because they think progress is not as fast as it should be. When you're dealing with humans (versus numbers, or tools), things are more complex and nuanced."

Let's dive into our interview!


How did you build such a successful career in HR?

I architected my career with a blend of specialized expertise (compensation, talent development) and client facing business partner work. Having experiences both in a generalist and specialist domain has really informed my leadership brand as I easily understand what it's like to practice the profession on both sides.

Beyond that, I always strive for a higher level of performance and lead by example. HR practitioners are role models for the cultural behaviours that you're trying to instil and develop in the organization. We need to “eat our own dog food”, as I like to say. I won't ask someone in the business to do something I wouldn't do.  

I am constantly curious and learning each day about human behaviour and what drives people to operate the way they do. The reality is that in much of what HR does, we aren't always working with people at their best. HR practitioners are often called upon to be the voice of reason in the face of what can be very emotive situations. Be an observer of others and stay open to why people respond the way they do, considering what is driving their perspective. Really trying to stay in that space of curiosity around humans, what they do and why they do it.  

And lastly, mentorship. Mentors, in my view, are an invaluable resource. Having been a receiver of that gift, it's extremely important to me that I pay it forward with the people that are coming up in the profession.

How do you view workplace culture, and what role does HR play?

Influencing and impacting culture is one of the reasons why I have taken on the mandates that I have. People often think that putting a pool table in the staff room and giving people free pop is setting culture, and I don't necessarily agree. Those things are nice and have their purposes, but they are perks, not culture.

Culture is about aligning people's behaviour to what you want the organization to drive in terms of results and strategy. I believe leaders model the culture you want; that's my passion project – helping leaders be better leaders.

Tell us about your recent initiative of re-envisioning your organization's values.

I subscribe to the adage that culture is what people do when no one is looking.

Getting aligned about our collective values and communicating those clearly is key to increasing the chance that they do those right things. It was a great process to help align the leadership team around questions like, 'What do we want this organization to be able to do?' and 'How do we want people to behave?'  

The design process began by having the senior team get clear about their top five or six personal values. We wanted to acknowledge that employees and leaders don't come to work and park their personal values at the door. From there, we identified themes and commonalities and began building. For example, a consensus of people in the room identified family as a personal value. We explored how that concept might be applied to the workplace and landed on “We believe in looking out for one another”.

What you hope for in an organization is that the collective personal values of the majority of your employees align with what you aspire to as a culture – and that's called fit.  

And when there is an imbalance in that, or people are navigating the organization and bumping up against a personal value that might be outside the balance of what the company values, conflict can arise.  


What are the critical challenges to HR teams in the near future, and what's keeping you up at night?

We're coming out of a period in our world’s history that has had a material impact on work. It's impacted every demographic, with some older workers choosing to retire early taking valuable knowledge with them, and some early in career who have just spent three years working out of a basement on a Teams call who may now be struggling with how to navigate a return to office.

The nature of work and managing those varied impacts and expectations is going to continue to be a big challenge. I don't think it's going away.

I'm not a fan of working fully remote because I'm in the business of humans. I feel like there is a wonderful thing that happens when humans are sharing the same physical space and having organic impromptu conversations. These are situations you can't replicate through a phone line or a video screen.

Humans are social beings that need connectivity beyond a work-related topic – they need relationships. This is the glue that helps businesses be more efficient and strategic.

But I appreciate that people want balance. Living through the pandemic, we have proven that people can be productive at work and flexibly manage their lives. We can walk and chew gum at the same time.

The issue of mental health in the workplace is connected to that. I appreciate that there is a public conversation happening on this most important topic right now. As humans, most of us at some point or another will have likely struggled with mental health in some way – historically we may have kept it hidden in the shadows.  

While we're seeing progress, managing mental health remains very challenging organizationally, especially for leaders who don't always know how to navigate those waters. That's when they turn to HR professionals for support, and it's not always easy.

What are you most excited about?

HR practitioners continuing to add value as businesspeople. HR practitioners have access to more data and metrics than ever before and understanding what's behind the numbers and contextualizing that is an essential and valuable skill for any organization.  

I appreciate that not every organization can invest in large scale HRIS systems or flashy technology, and that's fair. But exploring creative ways to get to meaningful data will ground you in what's possible and the alternatives that make sense for your organization. Data mining and constructing a practical narrative around data is an important skill for HR practitioners and something I'm excited about.  

Thank you, Charlotte, for sitting down with us and sharing your experience and knowledge!

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