HR Influencers
Pin It

When Doug Bowman was a young musician, he never suspected he’d go on to enjoy a 40-year career in human resources.

Like many people in the industry, he fell into the profession – but it didn’t take him long to realize its exciting potential.

Today, Bowman is the director of human resources for the Peel Regional Police, the province’s second-largest municipal policing service. Established in 1974, the organization serves 1.4 million residents in Brampton, Mississauga, and Toronto Pearson International Airport.

Bowman and his 41-member team have responsibility for the HR function as it relates to 3,000 fully unionized members of the police service, including almost 2,000 sworn officers and close to 1,000 civilians.

While he continues to play recreationally in a big band as well as his own quartet, Bowman has never regretted his decision to concentrate his career on labour and employee relations.

HR Professional asked him to hit the high notes in a discussion about his diverse, challenging career where no two days are ever the same.


When did you decide you wanted a career in human resources?

Doug Bowman: I’d been crisscrossing Canada as a road musician since finishing my undergrad in music and was looking to make a change. My father had recently started his own labour relations consulting firm; he offered me a position managing the office. Overhearing the consultants discuss arbitration cases and labour negotiations, I was fascinated by the legal arguments, the strategies and tactics of bargaining, and the craft of drafting contract language. I knew pretty quickly this was a field I wanted to work in.


What was your first HR job?

DB: My position in the firm evolved into my first HR job. That was in 1979, and very little formal HR training was available. I started taking courses through what was then the Personnel Association of Toronto and by reading the entire set of Labour Arbitration Cases. I began doing case law research for the consultants’ cases and accompanying them to hearings. Then, I began representing client firms before the Ontario Labour Relations Board. Ultimately, I was presenting arbitration cases and speaking for a range of private and public firms. It was such an incredible learning experience.


Tell me about your current job. What are your main areas of responsibility?

DB: During my 20-plus-year career with Peel Regional Police, my responsibilities have varied with organizational and leadership changes. Those responsibilities have included labour and employee relations, total rewards, performance management, human resource management systems, talent management, organizational wellness and occupational health and safety.


What do you love about your job?

DB: First, no two days are ever the same. One day, I may be leading a committee to develop a broad new policy initiative; the next, I’m meeting with the Association about a labour issue, or talking about performance management or making a presentation to the organization’s senior officers. It really is everything from “soup to nuts,” often in the same day. Second, I love interacting with sworn and civilian staff at every level of the organization, including my HR team. I feel very fortunate to lead a skilled, knowledgeable and dedicated team of HR professionals whose contribution is invaluable to achieving HR’s mandate.


What are the challenges you experience in your job?

DB: Internally, it’s really the flip side to the idea that no two days are the same. Often, I must balance competing priorities, or react to changing priorities, and how they impact time, staff resources and available funding – all of which are limited. From an external perspective, responding to legislative change can be challenging. As examples, the recent post-traumatic stress disorder legislation for first responders and the legalization of cannabis have had a significant impact upon the policing sector generally, and upon HR in particular.


What’s key to leading HR during a difficult time for a client organization?

DB: For me, HR leadership is something you have to demonstrate every day. It’s in the example you set in every workplace interaction. The test of how well you demonstrate it is if people feel they can turn to HR in difficult times, knowing they can rely upon that same leadership when the going gets tough. Consistency of execution and building strong, resilient relationships are both key.


What are the necessary competencies for success in HR and how do you think those have changed throughout your career?

DB: I don’t think the essential competencies have changed that dramatically. Well-developed communication and interpersonal skills, strong analytical and problem-solving skills, and the ability to change focus rapidly remain as critical today as they’ve always been. But today, there are a number of well-regarded college and university programs available to HR practitioners; and the certification programs available through HRPA and other organizations have significantly enhanced the knowledge and competency base. I think generalists can now develop particular competencies through specialization in any one of the various HR functions.


What tips do you have for new grads or those in entry-level HR jobs who want to move up the ladder?

DB: I’ve always been a strong proponent of the life-long learning model. That includes on-going, formalized training as well as experiential learning. The personal attributes you bring to your job are just as essential to longevity and success in HR. Developing and adhering to a strong set of personal core values to guide your decision-making is important, as is being prepared to stick your neck out in defense of those values. Be patient and persistent. Some of the best ideas or solutions will be rejected because they are simply before their time and change may have to occur elsewhere before your idea can gain traction. If it is worth pursing, be prepared to seize the opportunity when it arises. Lastly, always take the long view and the high road. Professional and personal integrity are simply too critical to risk being compromised for the sake of expediency.


The HR field has been evolving. What changes excite you the most?

DB: To me, it’s the way HR’s role continues to evolve. We’ve come such an incredibly long way from the department that processed paycheques and benefits. Executives now understand that HR plays an essential role in the execution of the people component of the business plan. HR is becoming the change agent that supports the CEO and the organization. Also, HR is increasingly being asked to act as the organization’s “conscience,” assisting the C-suite to assess various strategies against corporate culture and values. It’s really a very exciting time to be in this field.


What’s the future of HR?

DB: When I first worked in an office environment, correspondence was transcribed from Dictaphone tapes on an electric typewriter and the only phones were land lines. So, advances in technology have definitely had a significant impact on the HR function. Those advances have changed the way we communicate and the use of business analytics has increased the effectiveness and depth of our organizational understanding. At the end of the day, we have a greater number of tools to acquire information as a basis for decision-making – but they will never replace the judgment of a skilled HR practitioner. So, I think the future of HR is very bright indeed. And for recent entrants to the HR field who are committed to continuous learning, they can be assured of a challenging and rewarding future. n



First paid job: At 13, I was “promoted” from volunteer Sunday school piano accompanist in the church basement to full-time paid organist and choir director. I kept the job right through high school.


Childhood ambition: I wanted to be a locomotive engineer. The fascination with trains and train travel has never left me.


Best boss and why: Two stand out, both of whom I very much respected and genuinely liked. What they had in common was how freely they shared their experience, which really taught me about sharing knowledge to everyone’s benefit.


Current source of inspiration: I’m a member of the Advisory Board to the Public Sector Human Resources Council, a branch of the Conference Board of Canada. It gives me an opportunity to see the Conference Board’s latest research and to help prepare the Council’s programs for my peers working at the regional, provincial and federal levels of the public sector. I’m frequently inspired by those meetings to see how I can apply new concepts within the policing sector or my own organization.


Best piece of advice ever received: Always take the high road. This came from one of my “best bosses,” when I was considering a shortcut to improve the bottom line results. It impressed on me the importance of taking the long-term view and the importance of building and maintaining strong partnerships and working relationships.


Favourite music: I listen almost exclusively to jazz these days. I’m particularly fond of the bebop era, but I enjoy everything from early ragtime and stride piano to free-form.


Last book read: A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey. Whether or not you accept his defense of blowing up Hillary Clinton in the days immediately before the U.S. election, there are some excellent anecdotal stories on leadership that resonated with me.




Pin It