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HR Unplugged: A conversation with Jodi Kovitz, the new leader of the HRPA

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May 18, 2023
By Todd Humber

This week, the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) held its 2023 HR Summit, Annual Meeting and Tradeshow at the Carlu in downtown Toronto.

It was a busy two days of professional development and networking, featuring engaging keynotes from the likes of Canadian music icon Jann Arden and Rumeet Billan, the CEO of Women of Influence+ who talked in-depth about Tall Poppy Syndrome in front of a sold-out room.

Talent Canada had the opportunity to sit down with Jodi Kovitz, the newly minted CEO and acting registrar of the HRPA, at the summit for a wide-ranging discussion on her role, what’s happening in workplaces and the future of the profession.

Below is an edited copy of our conversation, peppered with a few videos.


Question: What are some of the challenges facing HR professionals and the profession itself?

Jodi Kovitz: There has been lots of talk about the great resignation, and quiet quitting. And I think fundamentally, we have changed as humans, both in the personal context, but also in the work context.

People’s expectations of their employer, their demand for flexibility, and much more autonomy and how they structure their day has really changed employee expectations. I think that’s been a huge challenge for HR leaders to contend with, while also enabling their businesses to thrive in new and different ways.

I talked about it a lot this morning, in my opening keynote at the first HR summit in three years, that generative AI is here to stay. And it’s creating a revolutionary and seismic shift in the way that businesses are serving their customers, the way they’re serving their employees.

We all now have to come up with our generative AI strategies — we wouldn’t even have said those words three years ago. So that is a huge new challenge.

On the equity front, there have never been higher expectations — the world has changed for the better in this regard. Employees and customers are demanding so much more of their employers and of leadership teams and boards to really show up in the world, walking the walk of their equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility strategies, and also their ESG strategies.

That sort of purpose in in business has never been more at the forefront. Those are just a few of the challenges alongside, of course, many people are working at home still. How do we engage our hybrid workforce and really take it to the future being well prepared for any future pandemics or other related global crises and recessions?

You know, just a few things on the shoulders of our HR leaders today.

Video: Kovitz discusses the biggest challenges facing the profession

Question: Not every job can be done remotely. In fact, most jobs in Canada can’t be done offsite. What’s your advice to HR on what they can do to make their organizations more attractive as the world of work continues to evolve?

Jodi Kovitz: People want to be inspired to go to their place of work — whether they have to, whether they don’t have to.

People do not operate the way they once did, where to work we had to go to a place of work to do the job. I think one thing companies can do is think about what’s the employee value proposition? And how do I create one that is creative, interesting, compelling and inspires folks to want to come? And not just to come to work, but to stay part of the team and to feel pride and that they’re lucky to have that role?

That’s a really big challenge. I think CEOs across many sectors are facing that challenge. And I think folks have to get really creative and progressive in order to do that.

Just the other day, I said — in our own all team huddle — it’s my hope that we create an environment that inspires you to want to come. That’s on me, that’s my responsibility.

I think we all have to challenge ourselves as leaders to get a little creative.

What are some benefits that those folks might be excited by? Is it a different kind of vacation time? Is there a different set of group benefits that they can provide? What is the culture they’re building that draws people, that makes people want to stay? Is there some form of retention bonus — and on and on.

We could certainly ask lots of HRPA members for their advice on that as well.

Video: Kovitz discusses the changing nature of work

Question: What inspired you to take on this role and lead HRPA?

Jodi Kovitz: I’m driven by purpose. I’ve always been a purpose and impact driven leader.

I felt that this was a mission meets moment opportunity for the HRPA. The organization has been so valued by the HR profession, and so many companies in the Ontario and Canadian ecosystem.

There are intersecting moments in the world, between what’s happening in the global economy, the demands that folks are facing with the changes post-pandemic, in hybrid work. That, and the increasing proliferation of generative AI, has all called HR leaders to the head of the strategic table, partnering with their companies.

This calls on the HRPA to really change and become more progressive and be one step ahead so that we can really support and enable those leaders for this opportunity meets mission moment. Taking with us all the best that the HRPA has to offer is what really excited me about this opportunity.

Video: Kovitz discussions her vision for the association

Question: What do you love about the HR profession?

Jodi Kovitz: I’m all about people. And I love connecting people, getting to know people, listening to people. And so I love that the role of the HR leader, or HR professional, is centered around people: people as humans, understanding what motivates them and what drives them.

What I’ve seen, and what I deeply admire in lots of HR leaders that I’ve had the opportunity to meet, is a very profound resiliency and ability to evolve and reinvent.

The world is calling for so much reinvention, over and over again, and it requires a real fortitude and strength and grit to keep going, even when it gets tough.

I deeply admire that resiliency.

The other piece is around flexibility. Myself, you know, even as CEO — I am a lawyer by training, and I used to love going to the office, and I still do love going to the office. But I love going three days a week, and I love modeling. And it’s acceptable, and welcome, to work from home two days a week so that you can fulfil your life responsibilities.

But I used to be a pretty hardcore office person and go to the office, and work in the office — even on weekends. I’ve learned from some great HR leaders around me that, in fact, being willing to be progressive and open to flexibility is what it takes to inspire your team to feel that they can also share in that flexibility, which everybody wants these days.

It really is a retention driver, as well. A willingness to change, and to adapt, is absolutely going to be critical and those who can and who get with that, and stay in that, are going to be successful in the profession.

Question: Modelling behaviour is a good point. Workers may be unwilling to take advantage of HR priorities, like flexibility, if the leadership teams are staying in their offices late into the night. How can the C-suite convey the message that it’s OK to go home on time and take advantage of flexibility?

Jodi Kovitz: It’s been a practice and discipline of mine for a number of years. Bringing mindfulness principles into leadership is absolutely critical.

People will do as I do, not as I say. I can only speak for myself, but I believe I have to model the kind of behavior that I want my team to model as well.

There are moments where we have to flow and do super hard work. For example, preparing for a summit and we have an AGM that’s happening tomorrow. Lots of my colleagues have been working many, many hours to make sure that we can amaze and delight our members and put magic into the summit.

But we also just launched our summer hours program that the office will shut at 1 p.m. and we also announced just recently a “blue whale” program where there’s no meetings for one half morning a week to give people a chance to go deep into the work that they need to do and concentrate.

I was recently under the weather, and I took sick days.

That was hard for me as a CEO, I like to work even when I’m sick. But that’s not modeling good behavior for my team.

And so being really mindful around being relatable and a human and modeling the kinds of behavior — that I give folks permission to do what they need to deal with in their lives, not just in their work.

Question: What is the future of the HR profession? Where is it going?

Jodi Kovitz: It’s a really interesting question, where is the future of HR going?

It’s absolutely critical, as I’ve sort of talked about today, for HR leaders to focus on their resiliency and their adaptability. And, simultaneously, I think there’s never been a more important time to focus on principles of equity, integrity than ethics.

There’s a very high standard and expectation in terms of people leaders, showing up with full integrity and also being action oriented.

It’s not enough to just sit and watch any kind of behavior go by, or not take action, specifically around racism, being strong advocates, creating brave spaces, and really having actionable strategies that folks can be measured on and accountable for.

At HRPA, we’re certainly trying to support our members in terms of our new code of ethics, and really giving a bit of a guiding light and guideposts for folks to follow as they are practicing their craft of HR, through the lens of ethics and integrity.

And I think, also, back to the notion of flexibility, being prepared to roll with it and change and respond to market conditions which seem to be evolving and changing faster than ever before, putting so much demand on our HR leaders.

This is hugely important because of technology, and of course, the proliferation of social media. And of course, the advances in AI. It’s almost like tech is moving faster than we can keep up with. But it’s really on the people leaders to make sure that they’re one step ahead.

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