HR in the Hot Seat: Sarah Beech, Accompass
At just 20 years old, Accompass has already built a solid reputation as one of Canada’s most trusted consulting firms with an expertise in benefits, investment, and compensation – but it’s also one of the country’s best employers.
Earlier this year, the organization was recognized as a Top 100 Employer for Small & Medium sized firms thanks to a range of initiatives such as maternity top-ups, flexible working arrangements and a minimum of three weeks paid vacation.
Here, president Sarah Beech – who is responsible for the overall management and operation of the firm – offers insight into what’s happening in the organization’s own HR department and reveals what she’d like to change about the industry if she had the chance.
If you could give your younger self, or someone entering HR for the first time, one piece of advice – what would it be?
Irrespective of your role in HR, I think the best advice that I can think of giving to young professionals is to keep sight of the broader business itself, and understand how human capital contributes to the organization’s success. This way of thinking will be beneficial at every stage of a career, because the ability to connect the HR function to the business will help to yield better decisions.
Is there anything exciting in the pipeline for your HR department?
This past year we have introduced a significant commitment to mental health, and wellness, featuring a flexible wellness spending account that employees can use towards fitness equipment, gym memberships, and other things to help them stay healthy. We share a monthly wellness and nutrition newsletter, and we also have discounts to healthy neighbourhood lunch options.
What’s the biggest professional obstacle you – or your team – have faced and how did you overcome it?
The biggest obstacles that we face at Accompass are related to our growth. We have an ambitious five-year growth strategy and with it, an increasing head count to keep up with our success. With any fast growth, there’s a period of cultural adjustment, and our philosophy is to ensure that we are very deliberate and patient about bringing the right people on board, who share our passion for creating memorable client interactions.
What’s your biggest industry worry or concern right now?
Increasing cost pressures on employee benefit plans and an evolving focus on wellness, mental health, and innovation, have created the potential for some senior HR leaders to be tempted to make decisions based on cost, as opposed to what their employees might need or value, and what’s in their organizations’ best interests for the long term.
If you could change anything about the HR industry, what would it be?
I’d love to see a stronger commitment to clear and focused employee communication. A lot of the time, so much work is put into building a great employee benefits package but then communicating it to employees comes as a bit of an afterthought. Communicating what’s available to your employees is important too, so I’d love to see more work being done around ensuring communications are clear and simple.
What is the proudest moment or achievement of your HR career so far?
Building a strong and growing organization at an ambitious pace, while continuing to build on a best-in-class client experience. I am so proud of what our team has accomplished at Accompass and I’m excited to see us continue to grow.
What the most rewarding thing about being in HR?
I like to remind myself of what it’s all about – people, not numbers on a page. Mothers, sons, marathon runners, musicians, travellers… every employee has a story, and we all exist to help them thrive in the workplace, but also make it easier for employees to pursue their career ambitions without giving up on what makes them human. Many people spend more time with their work family than their home family. I like knowing that I have an opportunity to help our clients shape and create a rewarding work experience that also gives employees a chance to enjoy their lives outside of their workplace.
How do you predict the industry will change, if at all, over the next five years?
You will hear many people talk about the impact of technology. While tech will absolutely play a massive role in making things easier, I believe that the biggest change in the HR industry will come in the form of substantial focus on employee engagement and culture: through improved communications, an investment in internal culture, and taking a stand against some of the traditional jargon and bureaucracy that often clouds good messaging. The real game changer is an employee-first strategy. Wellness, mental health, clear communications, and obviously, innovation, are potential outcomes of an approach that is as employee-centric as it is bottom-line-centric.
What would you like your HR legacy to be?
The most important thing that I would hope I can leave for future HR leaders is a sense of boldness. The courage for younger professionals to challenge traditional models in favour of programs and plan designs that are truly effective in fostering loyalty, commitment and successful employees.
Accompass strongly believes that HR teams deserve to be celebrated for creating strong workforces and the organization is a regular sponsor of the Canadian HR Award for HR Team of the Year (500 Employees or More in Canada).
Nominations for this year’s awards are already open and HR professionals are being encouraged to put their team forward if they feel they they’re among Canada’s best.
More information about the awards and nominations process can be found online.