Melina Gillies: Driving Transformation at the Intersection of HR, Customer Experience, and Marketing

For Melina Gillies, Chief People and Experience Officer at FlexNetworks, data is critical to tell a business story, but whether talking about customers or employees, that story should always be about people. With over two decades of experience in Human Resources, Marketing and Customer Experience, Melina blends these verticals to drive growth and efficiency, which equals an unconventional, yet potent formula, for success.

When Melina started working full-time in the late 90s, HR was often seen as equal parts rule-maker and note-taker, meaning they were there as an administrative cost center and solely focused on compliance. She envisioned a world where people felt seen, heard, valued, and could flourish. She saw HR as the chance to build cultures of empathy, inclusivity, and resilience.

As a Certified Human Resources Leader, Melina works diligently to nurture and cultivate positive cultures that prioritize the well-being of individuals. She has successfully introduced strategies that empower teams, encourage teamwork, and harmonize personal development with corporate objectives. The outcomes speak for themselves: reduced turnover rates, heightened engagement levels, and an overall upswing in productivity.

The Company

FlexNetworks, since its inception, has consistently led the way in its industry. As a facilities-based internet services provider, the company distinguishes itself by offering exceptional fibre-optic network solutions and a deep commitment to its customers. The commitment revolves around advancing fibre-optic infrastructure and fostering economic growth in the areas served—presently, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and across Saskatchewan. Amid a sea of competitors, their secret sauce lies in listening closely to their customers, and providing innovative, scalable solutions that pave the path for progress.

A core facet of the mission is to bring high-speed fibre internet access to underserved communities in Saskatchewan, a cause that fills the team with immense pride.

Says Melina, “When we tap into the purpose behind our work, it’s transformative. It not only fuels our passion but directly drives performance. When you understand your ‘why’, you can actively watch how it elevates every action and outcome in an organization.”

Amidst an industry marked by swift evolution, the organization recognizes that its competitive edge stems from a customer-centric approach. There is a firm belief in listening intently to customers, comprehending their requirements, and offering tailor-made, scalable solutions that drive success. This approach has propelled the evolution of Customer Experience into a central objective.

In a crowded market, the strategy for maintaining relevance is clear-cut: a steadfast focus on customers, innovative solutions, and an unwavering dedication to progress.

Guiding Principles of Effective HR Strategy

When asked how she has managed to effect change in the HR industry, Melina is quick to emphasize that reshaping perceptions of HR is a collective effort, much larger than any single individual, and a testament to years of relentless advocacy from within the profession itself. Yet, at the heart of her philosophy lie three pillars: effective management, empathy, and purposeful communication. Gallup’s research lends weight to her approach, revealing that managers can shape up to 70% of the variance in employee engagement. Melina’s persistent championing of enhanced leadership capabilities has consistently fostered greater engagement, bearing tangible results.

Broadening the canvas to embrace open communication not only fosters an atmosphere of transparency and inclusivity but also results in remarkably low attrition rates and bolsters innovation, enhancing decision-making process by a notable 16%.

In the multifaceted realm of HR, the bedrock of achievement is rooted in clarifying the motivation behind each strategy. It’s crucial for every team member to recognize how their role fits into the broader organization’s objectives. When this understanding is married to a culture of trust and profound empathy, it emerges as an unparalleled strategic powerhouse. While the premise might appear straightforward, its real-world execution is intricately layered and demands astute leadership and commitment at all levels of an organization.

Evolution of FlexNetworks’ Transparent and Intentionally Remote Culture

For FlexNetworks, the journey begins with a commitment to transparent communication and making the customer experience the focal point. By fostering an environment where all voices can freely and honestly contribute ideas, a culture of innovation takes root. This ethos extends even to the remote work arrangement in place. A well-defined framework has been established, outlining the company’s work methodologies and spotlighting the digital tools instrumental in maintaining connectivity and a seamless exchange of ideas. When discussing the concept of being “intentionally remote”, Melina states, “In a world where remote work is becoming the norm, impeccable communication and seamless handoffs are more essential than ever. The ‘Ways We Work System’ at FlexNetworks isn’t just a methodology; it’s our response to this challenge. By defining roles and mapping out clear expectations, it becomes our assurance that every team member understands their role’s intricacies and the standards of excellence. It’s not just about getting the job done; it’s about ensuring that every piece of the puzzle fits perfectly, even when we’re miles apart.”

Regular efforts are made to gather insights into the employee experience, with a strong commitment to incorporating novel ideas wherever feasible. The goal is to simplify interactions with FlexNetworks, making the process of engaging with the company more efficient.

Forging Leadership Through Challenges

At just 20, Melina plunged into the demanding arena of retail management, overseeing 14 stores and leading a formidable team of nearly 70. It was in this crucible of both challenges and victories where she honed a dynamic leadership quality that even seasoned leaders yearn for: the agility to pivot and adjust strategies with dexterity. Every hurdle and triumph sharpened her innate knack for adaptability, proving that resilience is often forged in the fire of experience.

Reflecting on her journey, Melina shares, “The true measure of my impact as a leader isn’t in metrics or figures, but in the heartfelt notes I’ve received over the years. These cards, some of which I’ve treasured for over two decades, are from team members past and present. They serve as a poignant reminder that leadership’s true essence lies in the lasting impressions we make on individuals. Every note is a testament to the profound connections we forge and the indelible marks we leave.”

Power of Human-Centric Leadership Across HR

In her executive capacity, Melina oversees a unique blend of Human Resources, Marketing, and Customer Experience – domains that, though diverse, intersect strategically at multiple touchpoints. Central to her approach is the understanding that every organizational decision, marketing strategy, and customer engagement revolves around the human element. By synthesizing data analytics with a deep insight into human behavior, Melina offers a comprehensive perspective that enriches decision-making, risk mitigation, and forward-looking strategy. Such an integrated approach is invaluable for steering the organization towards its overarching objectives.

Harmonizing Work and Life

Melina emphasizes the importance of ‘work-life harmony’ over the traditional notion of ‘work-life balance.’ Recognizing the intrinsic relationship between our personal and professional lives, especially in a remote or hybrid setting, she offers insightful strategies: embracing a ‘manufactured commute’ to create a clear transition between work and home, congregating ‘in-person for moments that matter,’ and adopting the principle of ‘resting to stay charged’ rather than just resting to recharge. This perspective champions proactive well-being rather than reactive recuperation. Melina believes everyone has a responsibility to shape environments that prioritize this harmony.

“EAPs are a foundational tool in our wellness toolkit, but their efficacy isn’t automatic. As HR leaders, we must not adopt a ‘set it and forget it’ mindset. Instead, we should be proactive, drawing our teams towards these resources, while also implementing broad wellness initiatives like psychological safety, clear feedback loops and direct manager support systems. Our role is to consistently make wellness accessible and top-of-mind for every employee.”

Vision for Future

FlexNetworks blazes hyper-growth with reliable fibre-internet, powered by a team that embodies flexibility and personalized service. Strengthening its customer-focused market approach is key to sustaining value in competition.

As an HR leader, Melina aims for global recognition of HR as a strategic partner, not just an administrative cost center. Her role bridges business gaps, infusing people-centricity into strategies, and reshaping the perception of HR as a strategic player.

Path to Success

Melina believes that real success comes from being true to yourself, and having the ability to create what she calls the “follow-me factor.”

This “follow-me factor” is like a special quality that you notice in people’s eyes when they say, “I trust you. I believe in your plan. Lead the way, and I’ll support you.” It’s not about having impressive qualifications or being really good at strategy, for you can have all of that and still fail. It comes from leaders who are genuine and can show how everyday tasks connect to a bigger purpose.

For leaders in Human Resources (HR), achieving success means being able to guide and influence even without having formal authority. Melina asserts, “Our success involves a delicate balancing act – we have to manage risks for the organization, make smart choices based on data, and also make sure our employees’ needs are taken care of. It’s like doing a careful dance, where we act as both protectors and advocates. We stand up for our people while also making sure our organization stays healthy and keeps growing. Being able to influence without authority is the secret to that success.”

Insights for Aspiring HR Leaders
From Melina’s perspective, the paramount lesson she imparts to aspiring HR leaders revolves around mastering the art of “speaking the language of the Board.” She underscores the importance of wielding data as a tool to illustrate outcomes and guide decisions. Melina advocates for championing the needs of employees by leveraging the potency of evidence, effectively voicing their interests, and advocating for their well-being in a manner comprehensible to the C-suite. “It’s not just about presenting data but using it as a compelling narrative that emphasizes outcomes and directs decisions. By transforming evidence into a potent voice, we ensure that the interests and well-being of our teams resonate clearly and persuasively in the C-suite.”