Back in high school and college, Travis Windling recalls tinkering around with technology projects and learning how to code. But despite his love for technology, he knew majoring in software engineering wasn’t the right path for him because he was looking for a nice blend of working with people and policy.
Instead, he has found a way to leverage this interest with his passion for technology in HR, serving as director and head of TA strategy, talent intelligence and sourcing for Manulife, a financial services group.
“I always joke around with people that talent sourcing is probably the most technical of the HR disciplines. You’re always doing Boolean searches, which is really like data retrieval from a technology perspective, so that kind of got me back into the tech-savvy side of things,” says Windling, in reference to his early attraction to tech and the work he did at Manulife. [Windling recently joined Royal Bank of Canada as director of talent acquisition strategy and insights]
When he was head of Manulife’s talent strategy, he was responsible for modernizing technology and analytics to create data-driven functions. That includes implementing people analytics platforms to global career frameworks, as well as specializing in reporting the metrics around outcomes and creating a business case for TA changes.
It’s a role Windling held for over a year at Manulife, where he has worked for nearly 11 years before joining RBC last month. During his Manulife tenure, he moved from his initial position as talent sourcing lead and executive recruiter to the HR analytics side of the house where he has risen up the ranks over the past eight years. Prior to Manulife, Windling worked at talent acquisition agency Dean Group, where he worked with a number of tech companies to help them build out their teams.
At Manulife, Windling’s HR technology work yielded impactful results for the organization, making him one of Human Resource Executive‘s five HR’s Rising Stars for 2023.
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Big wins for Travis Windling and Manulife
Within the last 18 months, Windling and his team undertook several projects that have had an impact on the company’s results.
One project involved creating Manulife University to expand the number of software engineers at the organization by training internal talent who had some technical skills.
Manulife partnered with a third party talent assessment platform vendor, with Windling’s team helping to devise a job matching survey and creating a streamlined job architecture and career frameworks. The results?
Manulife University participants who scored a 70% or higher job fit match were three times more likely to stay at the company for at least a year after graduation and 36% more likely to be high performers. The organization also realized a net $60 million benefit from upskilling employees and putting them in a position to do work that aligned with their capabilities and innate talents, according to Caitlin MacGregor, CEO of Plum, a Manulife partner, and Nadar Deif, global head of TA operations at Manulife, in nominating Windling for HRE’s HR Rising Stars contest.
He also built a model in a month’s time that automated Manulife’s key performance indicators (KPIs). That automated model saved the company’s consultants over 120 hours per month in preparing reports.
One of the HR Rising Star judges pointed to Windling’s ability to drive business outcomes through innovative use of data, analytics and technology, in selecting Windling as a contest winner.
“His drive to upskill and leverage internal internal labor pools for high-demand roles as well as his ability to automate away manual work made his contributions very impactful,” says John Klein, a Rising Stars judge and former winner, and a people and operations leader for a stealth start-up.
Using technology to advance his HR career
Windling does indeed have drive. When he moved from his talent sourcing role at Manulife to an HR analytics role, he worked with several departments across the company and found he needed to pick up additional coding skills. As a result, he began watching YouTube videos, online courses and talking to co-workers in the IT department to bolster his abilities.
He also worked for a leader at the company who gave him encouragement and the space he needed to figure out processes to help transition the company from merely reporting statistics and results to conducting analysis.
Facing and overcoming challenges
For Windling, mapping and consolidating 1,700 job titles into 40 manageable ones for the company’s IT career framework was one of the most challenging tasks thus far at Manulife but also one that he is recognized for achieving.
As part of this challenging project to create an IT career framework, Windling and his team moved away from the traditional practice of having a job description and related responsibilities to one where the company looked at different job levels by skill sets. To accomplish this, it required meeting with company leaders and managers from a variety of departments to confirm the definition they were using for the job title was correct. The project resulted in 95% accuracy in the way it was mapped, say MacGregor and Deif.
ChatGPT, generative AI hold the future of TA
Candidate assessment solutions that use ChatGPT and generative AI are likely to be the future of talent acquisition, Windling says. And for this HR’s Rising Star, putting the finishing touches on Manulife’s assessment solution marked a highlight in his career and one of his greater accomplishments.
In addition to bringing a new candidate assessment tool to Manulife, another accomplishment Windling is proud of is how he structured his week to help drive innovation. One strategy Windling uses to fuel his accomplishments is reserving his Friday afternoons for external networking to have conversations with others to share ideas and concepts or further his knowledge and understanding of areas he’s interested in.
“Having that focused time to discuss innovation is super, super important,” Windling says.