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Exclusive Interview with HRD’s Who’s Hot for 2016

April 1, 2016

Last month HRD released its Who’s Hot List for 2016, the who’s who of 32 of Canada’s senior HR professionals who impact business outcomes and achieve overall excellence in all aspects of HR. Among the winners was one of my clients and friends, Elaine Cruise Smith, Chief Talent and Culture Leader, Worldlynx Wireless.  Not only is Elaine a superstar in her career, she is a mother to a six-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son.

In this month’s Unlimited Newsletter, I took the opportunity to sit down with Elaine and talk to her about what it takes to be at the top of  her game, strategies that have helped her and if she has been able to achieve balance in the midst of it all.

C.O: What was your first real job? 

ECS: My answer will date me, but I worked in sales for a VHS movie distribution company.

C.O.: When you started out in your career, what were your career aspirations?

ECS: I thought I had my life figured out and I had a plan. I went to university and majored in political science. The goal at that time was to go to law school to become a lawyer and eventually, a politician.  But life’s events have a way of changing things. One summer, I worked at that VHS company and a full-time job came available there, so I went for it.

Then after some time, I switched companies and went over to Hudson’s Bay.  I was in their management program that was quite comprehensive. They had a section within it about Human Resources. I loved that area.  A position became available shortly after for a Human Resources Manager so I applied for it and got it.

CO: In your career, what are you most proud of?

ECS: I am a fixer. I seem to be attracted to organizations that either need some sort of change or else lack structure or need better ways of doing things. I love going into organizations, introducing new ideas, and shifting the culture. I also like that I’m seen as a bit unconventional, “not your typical HR person”, which comes from getting immersed in the business, having open and at times, brutally honest conversations, and just “keeping it real.”

CO: As Chief Talent and Culture Leader, you really have climbed to the top.  How did you make it there?

ECS: I am the person who likes to prove others wrong. If someone says it can’t be done, that just fuels me on, especially if it’s something I’ve not done before.   I work hard. But, I also like to have fun.  I like to try new things and play in the grey zones.  I think it is important to have a good educational base and experience.  But for me, connecting with people has been so important. Not just my peers, leader or direct supports, but people at all levels of the organization and the customers, too.  I have found the best way to really connect with people is to be authentic and listen.

CO: I know you have a busy job and you are a mom and wife, do you have “balance” in your life?

ECS: Yes, I think I have a good balance.  I am not saying that life is not without sacrifices, but you are responsible for your own choices in how you spend your time. For instance, this past January I realized that I was having a tough time with transitions. Like when I was driving home from work, my mind didn’t want to let go of my day. I wanted to jump on the hands free phone and do business all the way home and beyond. And then, I would check email way too much on evenings and weekends. But I have really worked on this. To consciously let go of my day during those transition times so I can be more present for my family and myself. That isn’t to say that when there is a time-sensitive issue that I’m not on top of it, and working hard to meet deadlines. I think having good balance also means understanding sometimes you have to give more to one area than the other – it’s about priorities, having focus and being present where you need to be.

Something that has helped me is that I made the commitment at the start of 2016 to exercise every day. I even signed up with a fitness coach for 21 days, as that is the number of days research shows it takes to make a new habit.  I am proud to say that I have still continued on with my exercise regiment and clean eating regimen, and have even taken up healthy living coaching as a hobby. The physical transformation actually has become the side benefit, I feel much more focused and stronger even mentally.  Definitely taking this time out for me each day continues to be worth it!

My husband works in sales and has a lot of U.S. clients so he does travel quite a bit. This requires planning and juggling, but we make it work. Earlier on in our marriage, I was more junior in my roles compared to my husband so I would do the majority of the childcare and household duties like daycare pickups. But now he has been established in his career for some time and my role is demanding, so he has taken on a lot more of the family responsibilities. We have a relationship that just makes all of this work.

CO: What are your passions?

ECS: Food and wine, which makes the exercise necessary!  We have a family cottage that we love spending time at on weekends all year-long. There is something so special to me about enjoying a great meal and sitting around with loved ones, laughing and sharing stories.

CO: Do you believe women can really have it all?

ECS: This is a great question for men and women, and I think it really comes down to how you define success.  I wouldn’t be prepared to sell my soul to work every hour of every day and have no family life.  But, I have found I can manage a high level role with spending time with my family. It really comes down to quality moments on all fronts.

CO: If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently? 

ECS: I’ve thought about this question many times throughout my life, and always seem to come up with the same answer – if I had done anything different would I be where I am today?  Would I be the person I am today?  I’ve had both good and bad experiences and I think that they’ve all cumulatively made me a stronger person.  Life is about choices and I’m happy with the choices I’ve made.

CO: Thank you so much for your time today. I am going to leave you with one final question. You have achieved so many great things in your career and life, so what is next for you?

ECS: I want to continue to face new challenges and opportunities, and continue to make an impact every day. I want to play and do cool things, both in my personal and professional life and mentor others to do the same.

Elaine is a fabulous, authentic senior leader. I invite you to:

Follow Elaine on Twitter @champagne4ecs
or Connect with her on Linked In and mention this blog.

Special note: Elaine’s photo was taken by Steve Baldassi Photography

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