Cermaq Canada’s people leader bridges her job with her passion
How the Atlantic salmon producer’s People and Culture Director was able to pursue her lifelong dream while keeping connected with her team.
In the cold, clear waters off the west coast of Canada, generations of salmon are being raised by some of the most dedicated farmers in the industry. These salmon are brought up in freshwater hatcheries on Vancouver Island, which mimic the creek beds where wild salmon spawn. Once they have matured, they are moved to seawater farm sites which are carefully selected to give the fish the best environment in which to grow. Through years of careful genetic tracking, and diligent care from hatching to harvesting, Cermaq Canada produces some of the best Atlantic salmon in the world.
Cermaq grows and ships over 20,000 tons of salmon a year from the waters of Vancouver Island. Cermaq’s head office is in Olso, Norway, and the company also has operations in Chile. The Canadian operation employs 280 people, most of which are permanent, full-time workers.
“They could be working anywhere from a farm site off the coast, to a hatchery, to a processing plant in Tofino. We have a diverse group of people that support things behind the scenes,” says Shannan Brown, Cermaq Canada’s People and Culture Director. “Everyone tells us we're like family. We really have a very warm and casual feel in the company, and people are passionate about what they do.”
And that passion lies in making the world a better place. Cermaq is very conscious of ethical, and environmentally sustainable practices. “We were the first company in the world to sign onto the United Nations Global Compact Action Platform for Sustainable Ocean Business,” Shannan says.
Bridging two worlds
Cermaq’s belief in social responsibility created a unique opportunity for Shannan. When she joined the company, she was happy to learn that she would not need to choose between her career and her passion.
Life changes are often brought about unexpectedly, and how we grow from these changes is in our own hands. Shannan was widowed 12 years ago, and it was then that she realized she had a life-long dream that had yet to be fulfilled – to travel to Africa.
On her first trip in 2008, Shannan volunteered in Tanzania, and was able to visit six other countries while there. “Africa gets into your heart, into your blood, and you can see the potential to make a difference,” Shannan explains.
When she came home from her trip, she already had a plan – to do her MBA and bring her learnings back to Africa. Despite what life had handed her with the loss of her husband, Shannan still felt very fortunate about her place in the world and wanted to share this with others. This kept her going through her studies at Royal Roads University on Vancouver Island. “When I had tough days, I would remember my goal to go back to Africa.”
When Shannan graduated from her MBA program in 2011, she found a posting for a fellowship in Tanzania – 90 kilometers from where she had lived on her first trip. She applied and was accepted immediately thanks to her previous experience in the area.
The project was initially run through Royal Roads University and gave rural women in Tanzania grants and training to start their own businesses. But when Shannan completed her work through the school’s program, she decided she wanted to keep this project alive, and continued to run things on her own. She modified the structure to include loans rather than grants and worked with the women to teach them about business plans, cash flow statements, and finance management.
“I gave it a name – the Bridge to Africa Project – and just stubbornly kept saying I was going to come back next year,” Shannan remembers. “I didn’t really know what would become of it, but my on-the-ground coordinator, Vicki, helped find more women to get involved, and we grew from there. We currently have five groups, with 42 women involved.”
The support the women receive from each other is critical, they are accountable to each other, and report their progress to the group in regular meetings. During Shannan’s visit each year, she checks in on the groups’ progress, and brings in guest speakers to teach the women different things about running their businesses. Shannan’s visit is also a celebration of their accomplishments throughout the year, and a time to plan for the year ahead.
“One of the best gifts they give me is that they sing. They love to sing and dance, they welcome me with it when I arrive, and say goodbye to me with it when I leave,” Shannan says.
The biggest change Shannan says she has seen in the women is their confidence. “I see the pride in the way they hold themselves. The fact that they'll look me in the eye now, they'll use their voice at a meeting to speak up. They'll tell you many times, ‘I own that now. I own property, I own animals,’” Shannan says. They own the progress they have made and take credit for it as they should.
A global village
Connecting people who are in remote locations is a challenge for any organization’s HR team – and especially for Shannan when she’s abroad balancing her passion project with her key role at Cermaq. That’s where the right tools can make a world of difference.
“I balance my time away between the project and the work that I do for Cermaq by logging in and staying connected,” Shannan says. “I can actually log into Dayforce while I'm gone. Sometimes I'll need a piece of information about an employee that someone's referring to because they want training done, or they'll want some consultation on performance management, and I'm able to go into Dayforce and get my history on this individual and reply with accurate data.”
She recounts a particularly time-sensitive matter: “I needed to be able to access an employee profile to make a decision about long-term education funding, and I really needed to speak intelligently about how long they have been with us, and what kind of commitment they had made to us in the past. I needed that kind of quality data in front of me, and with Dayforce, I'm just able to go in and find it all myself.”
Another obstacle Shannan faced from working halfway around the world, is the internet connectivity is not as reliable in Tanzania as in Canada. “I need to be able to do things quickly, so that when I can get a good connection, I spend my time online efficiently.”
Overall, being able to stay connected to her team and continue with her job while she is away puts Shannan’s mind at ease, “It just keeps my stress level lower. I'm not stressed when I get back, because I have been connected the whole time. The fact that our information has gone online means it's accessible 24/7, from anywhere, and my job can keep going when I'm away. To me this is normal, but other people are shocked I’m still connected in Tanzania.”
A single solution
Cermaq partnered with Dayforce in 2016, shortly after Shannan joined the company. “We couldn't do what we do today, and we couldn't do what we want to do in the future if we didn't have a solid tool to build our processes around,” Shannan says.
“Employees can access their information on the Dayforce mobile app, from anywhere. They can put in their time off requests, view their pay information, and set their goals,” Shannan explains. “We also do a lot of third-party certifications to show our transparency and build trust with those that we work with, whether it be politicians, or the public. We keep our training certificates in the document management system, and everything is in one place for both our employees and auditors. We've got over 13,000 documents stored in the system.”
Cermaq has also started using Performance Management, to track the goals and performance of employees consistently.
Shannan revealed that they’ve saved easily over 100 hours annually on time-off requests alone. “It now takes no more than five to 10 minutes for an employee to get their request processed, it's so efficient in comparison to how it was before,” Shannan says.
What the future may hold
At the heart of the Bridge to Africa project are three values: hope, hard work, and pulling together. “In Swahili, the women say: faraja, kazi sana, na harambee,” recounts Shannan. That’s a mindset that Shannan keeps close as she continues to grow the Bridge to Africa project and make big plans for Cermaq.
“We're hoping to expand our groups in Tanzania again next year, to add another,” she says. “At Cermaq, we’re also looking to implement the Recruiting and Onboarding modules next in Dayforce. Predictive analytics is also something we are excited to explore. As we grow and advance our human capital and our strategic initiatives in the company, I really need a powerful tool that will come along with me, wherever that may be.”