Victoria MacDonald, Chief People Officer
Victoria MacDonald’s story of how she came to WE includes an epiphany and an emotional phone call. One half of a consulting firm with her husband that specialized in Interim HR support, she originally joined WE on a six-month part-time contract. She thought WE would be just another client. But halfway through her contract she was hooked.
“I was standing in the parking lot and I called the executive who’d brought me on. I was actually quite emotional because it was such an epiphany. I told him that I wanted to stay at WE and be part of this amazing movement. I was grateful when he said ‘yes.’ I am so happy I made that phone call.
“It meant stepping away from the consulting role but my husband knew that I was hooked on WE.”
Before arriving at WE, Victoria spent a decade working with industry-leading multinational pharmaceutical companies, AstraZeneca Canada and Takeda Canada. These organizations earned recognition for their workplace culture and employee engagement. Later, she joined smaller, Canadian-technology based entrepreneurial firms—Marketwired/Sysomos, and Flight Network—to develop their foundational people management strategies to allow these organization to see tremendous growth.
Question and Answer
Now that you’re here full-time, what do you observe about the organization?
There is a spirit here, and energy that I’ve never seen. All employees are working here because it is a purpose-driven organization. There is a sense that we’re all in this together: Making doing good, doable. That’s our tagline and it’s so true. It’s woven into everything. You are surrounded by people who are in the business of doing good.
What are your goals at WE?
I am focused on driving the employee experience. This means designing our people programs and processes and ensuring all employees have a line of sight to our Vision, Mission and Values. This is a challenging role for the people operations team because this is an organization of social entrepreneurs who have been forging our own path. While it achieves remarkable innovations it sometimes causes challenges, because there isn’t a clear road map for employees. My team is focused on putting more processes in place and enough infrastructure to help people succeed without making it a corporate environment. We never want our employees to lose their entrepreneurial spirit.
WE has evolved from a mission-based, volunteer-run organization to one with a management structure and supporting infrastructure. Right now I’m focused on talent management, training our managers to have coaching conversations, success, and growth plans and leadership skills.
Why is WE a top employer of young people?
WE gives millions of young people the tools to take action on local and global issues. We also give them the opportunity to change the world through employment. As an employer WE gives young people—both in age and spirit—endless opportunities. We are a team with a can-do attitude.
For our millennials, we offer them an opportunity to work hard, but we’re also offering them an opportunity to punch above their weight. Typically, employees in their first jobs perform very routine tasks and have no opportunity to take the lead. At WE our entry-level roles have depth and breadth.
We also practice something called work-life integration, which differs from work-life balance. It means you can live your values at work. That’s important and rare.
We make it very clear to new employees that we are a nonprofit and the pay and benefits reflect that. But we have lots of perks, from staff trips to traveling to WE Day to our inclusive culture. We have a holiday shutdown to ensure our team gets to re-enegerize and spend time with family and friends. When people leave here, they are often ready for much bigger roles because of the skills and experiences they got at WE.
We don’t limit our hiring strictly to millennials. We’ve brought in mid-career professionals—from Coca-Cola, Fossil, Chapters/Indigo, RBC, Aimia, sports management and media, among many others—who are shaping and leading our programs and projects. These seasoned professionals are acting as mentors for our millennials. We provide a great place for successful professionals who want to use their skills to make a positive change.
When you put senior people together with new professionals, magic can happen—I see it here every day.
What is your philosophy to build talent?
At WE, we like to use data and metrics to measure our results. It is no different for human resources. On an annual basis we survey our employees and ask them how we’re doing. This year we partnered with an employee-engagement firm called TemboStatus. We asked our employees how we were doing across six different buckets: senior leadership, management, co-workers, recognition, career and empowerment. Our results we very positive. Over 85 percent of our population self declared they were either engaged or highly engaged.
The results showed that employees feel connected to the vision, mission and values of the organization and they feel that they are striving every day to move the organization forward. When asked how much effort an employee gives everyday on the job—our score was close to 100 percent, saying that employees are going above and beyond to achieve our mission; 91 percent say they are proud of the work they are doing and feel a sense of accomplishment; 93 percent say their direct manager is competent and capable.
As a result of feedback on the survey, we have three main things we are addressing through both organization-wide and functional plans. The first is ensuring that employees have all the information possible to do their job. Our organization is large and we are moving so fast we have to take the time to communicate. We have instituted a number of initiatives, like monthly all-staff meetings to improve communications. Secondly, we are also continuing to invest in our people managers to ensure they have the skills needed to lead their teams. Thirdly, we are doing more professional development or training because our employees have told us that’s what they want.
The actions we’ve taken after the survey show we are committed to asking for feedback and acting to address any gaps in our employee experience. This is something that makes me proud to work at WE. Because we do this survey annually we have been able to track our progress year-over-year.
If you give people the tools and space they can soar and do their best work.
Here is a tough question: What is your attrition rate and why?
Employers in North America are challenged by attrition when they employ a largely millennial employee base. WE is no different. Our attrition rate for coordinators in their first two years hovers around 30 percent. In many cases, this is an employee’s first role and they join, work hard and after one and a half to two years they move on. We see our highest rates of attrition at the coordinator or specialist level. The senior leadership team at WE is looking to change this pattern to help employees stay at WE by identifying career paths and learning programs. This would allow people to look at their next role within WE. Beyond the coordinator level, we have many employees who stay for five to 15 years and are following a fulfilling career path.