HR Passion Series  #6: Featuring Jane Watson – Head of People & Operations at

HR Passion Series #6: Featuring Jane Watson – Head of People & Operations at

July 30, 2018 | Rob Catalano

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This is week #6 of the HR Passion Series, where we’ve reached out to HR leaders, and they’ve graciously shared some of their experiences, advice, and insights.

We’ve been asking each of these highly esteemed professionals carefully chosen questions that we find deeply riveting and engaging, including tips and tactics, personal experiences, and more.

We hope you enjoy reading this as much as we enjoyed creating it.

Please welcome our sixth guest: Head of People & Operations at–Jane Watson




The Interview

1. What was your journey coming up to your current HR role? Any milestone moments in your career?

I’ve been HR for 15 years, mostly in the private sector, but with stints in non-profit and the public sector. I’d been at the Ontario Securities Commission for about 4 years when, in late 2016, I decided to shake things up and joined Actionable, a small start-up. I’d met Chris (Taylor, Founder of Actionable) years earlier when I was a customer, and really thought that he was onto something with focusing on habit change as the missing link between learning content and skill and business outcomes. I’ve been with the company for a year and half now, and it’s flown by. I’m learning a ton and we have an incredible team.


2. As an HR leader, what keeps you up at night, rounding out 2018 and looking forward to the next year?

Finding and retaining great people. Every organization has to arrive at the right combination of challenge, belonging, rewards, and learning for the people they want to attract and retain. But things aren’t static; conditions are constantly in flux inside and outside the organization, and people’s needs and priorities are always shifting and moving too. It’s less like a formula and more like trying to find, and re-find, a state of homeostasis.


3. What are some elements of focus for your HR strategy in the coming 12 months?

As a team, we’re all highly attuned to the needs and opportunities of our Actionable Consulting Partners (the ~200 expert consultants that use our platform to cultivate the behavior change that is a necessary part of effective learning and change initiatives they deliver to their client organizations). We’re a small company, so we all wear a few hats and adjust which one we’re wearing most to best support our ACPs. That means shifting accountabilities, leveraging team members’ strengths differently, and clear communication about evolving priorities.


4. What advice would you give someone going into an HR leadership position for the first time?

Stay curious. About your organization, and how you approach HR. I think we’re reaching a point in our profession where HR leaders cannot simply adopt a ‘best practice’ from another organization or the latest HBR article and expect that it’ll work similarly in a totally different context (their organization). We have to be much more critical thinkers, and do a better job of both considering the evidence for the latest HR trend, and seeking to adapt and test how it might work in our organization before jumping on the bandwagon. This is a challenge because it’s not the way our profession has historically done HR, so you have to be ready to swim against the current a little.


5. Is there anything in your career you’re incredibly proud of?

I’m working on a side project right now ( that is intended to be a resource for HRprofessionals and teams who are ready to take a more proactive approach to workplace sexual harassment and toxic organizational culture. As a profession, we typically view this issue as one of legal compliance and risk mitigation. But that’s like telling our employees that we don’t care unless something crosses the line into illegality. We have to see harassment and discrimination as the natural outcomes of not addressing toxic elements in our organization’s culture sooner.


6. Is there anything you failed at? Any lessons learned?

Oh lots, of course. Earlier in my career I was overly focused on having the ‘one right answer’ rather than recognizing it was much more valuable when I worked collaboratively with managers and employees to figure out the best thing to do given the situation. I also think about a few large projects I led or worked on which should have started much smaller and simpler, as experiments or pilots, rather than big programs. Clearly, it’s much easier to iron out any problems before you scale something, and I think it’s rare that a program developed for the entire org is sufficiently flexible to meet the varied needs of different groups and individuals.


7. Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as an HR leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you?

I’ve had a lot of wonderful people share their knowledge and guidance with me throughout my career, and I’m still meeting new people who do this all the time. I will say that working with Lisa Wilkins (CHRO) and Kate Allingham (Manager, HR Services) and the whole HR team at the OSC had a major positive impact on me as a professional. I’ve also learned a ton from my current boss Chris Taylor at Actionable. And Danielle Mandell at Canadian Feed the Children has been a great mentor (formal and informal) for years.


8. What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as an HR leader? any resources you’d recommend to HR colleagues?

There are some great blogs and events I learn from, Twitter can be awesome to build a network of HR people to exchange ideas with, and I read widely. Science for Work and the Center for EvidenceBased Management are great resources that I often recommend. And I’d recommend deliberately looking outside of “HR” resources. A lot of things that are not explicitly about HR can help you see people and organizations through a different, more useful lens.


9. When you win HR Executive of the year soon, what song do you want playing when you walk up to the stage?

‘Help I’m Alive’ by Metric


10. Finally, give us three words that you would use to describe the HR profession.

Evolving unevenly. Fascinating.

A big thank you to Jane, and stay tuned for our next HR Passion Series guest!



Rob Catalano

Rob Catalano

Rob Catalano is WorkTango’s Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer. Rob has spent the last 17 years building HR Technology companies.