When it comes to understanding and leading people, Assent’s Chief People Officer (CPO) Keira Torkko isn’t your typical human resources (HR) manager. Recently promoted, and a 2021 Canadian HR Awards finalist, Keira has been instrumental in establishing Assent’s culture of growth and inquiry.
Her background is deeply rooted in learning and listening. She’s the former Chief Operating Officer of the Coaching Association of Canada, the former Director General of Business Management Support at the National Research Council of Canada, as well as a Certified Public Accountant, and board member of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. This diverse background in business, technology, and coaching gives Keira a unique perspective on leading people.
“We see business puzzles through the lens of people.”— Keira Torkko
At Assent, she is known for her hands-on mentorship and commitment to the success of every team member, including active involvement with Assent’s global offices in the EU and Kenya. She’s dedicated to solving puzzles collaboratively, advocating for employees at all times, and inspiring change through accessible leadership.
The Journey to Chief People Officer
Keira’s recent promotion to CPO is a well-earned reflection of her contributions to the company over the past three years. As Vice President of Employee Experience, Keira guided Assent through explosive growth and launched new HR pilot programs that helped establish Assent as one of Canada’s top employers.
She quickly demonstrated how empathetic leadership, combined with creativity and fun, are the vital ingredients in building a world-class business — overseeing recruitment and training programs that doubled the size of the Assent team. In addition, Keira leads the corporate-wide Learning and Development team, provides training to the entire global Assent team, and co-chairs Assent’s Corporate Social Responsibility committee under Assent’s United Nations Global Compact membership.
“Keira’s promotion is an acknowledgement of the immense strategic responsibility of this role… it further recognizes her tactical and cultural contributions, and capability to impact every aspect of Assent… at the same time acknowledging her compassionate nature, and strong leadership.”— Andrew Waitman, Assent’s Chief Executive Officer
National Recognition in Human Resources Excellence
Keira has been named a finalist in the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA)’s 2021 Canadian HR Awards. She is nominated for the HRPA Award for Woman of Distinction, which recognizes “astounding personal and professional achievements” in HR leadership. The Assent HR team is also a finalist for the Canadian HR Team of the Year award, recognizing their amazing work leading employee and client education and development. The awards, taking place virtually on September 15, celebrate HR professionals of all types who have raised the bar in people management.
Interview With Keira Torkko
We connected with Keira to chat about her new role as CPO and her Canadian HR Awards nomination.
Congratulations on your promotion! What does this new role mean for Assent?
Keira Torkko: It’s recognizing the key role that people, their progression, and their development play in our strategic direction. This new role elevates the investment that Assent makes in our people practices globally, and across all roles.
Since day one, people have been crucial to Assent’s success, so the new role is about making sure that our people strategy aligns closely with our business growth strategy. I make sure we’re fluid and adapting to change, so we can optimize performance, potential, and engagement across people programs, data systems, and practices.
After more than two decades leading people, can you please share your leadership philosophy?
Keira Torkko: I come from a business background, with the lens of “How am I supporting our people to make sure that they’re feeling engaged and aligned?” Because if we’re not thinking about people and their contributions to the business, we’re not thinking about them in the right way. On our team, we see business puzzles through the lens of people. I use the word puzzle rather than problem deliberately, because puzzles are meant to be solved.
Over the past 25 years, how we all work has changed. We need to be respectful of what that change looks like and how people are experiencing work, and it has to align with our growing mission and values. We need to optimize what we’ve learned from this COVID experience, but also bring us back together so we can collaborate and innovate. We’re productive in different ways when we’re together in person.
What drew you to Assent?
Keira Torkko: When I had a chance to meet with Assent leadership for the first time, it really opened my eyes to the impact it was going to have on businesses globally and the significant market opportunity it presented. I was inspired by Assent’s story, our mission for supply chain sustainability, and the vision that was shared with me. And I continue to be inspired by that vision and what we’re able to achieve.
How would you describe Assent’s culture?
Keira Torkko: Assent is purposeful in cultivating our culture. We are optimistic, we see opportunity, and we find ways to leverage it. We are incredibly helpful. Our teams want to help clients, help suppliers, help each other, and help create solid supply chains. Our people are really curious; we want to know more, dive deeper, and understand more. Those three bedrock values continue to shape us.
We have a highly inclusive and diverse work environment. We must take into account all those different perspectives. Diversity isn’t a goal; it’s an expectation. We also make sure we’re living the value of transparency in our organization, just like we promote transparency in supply chains.
What makes Assent’s HR and employee experience different from other companies?
Keira Torkko: The HR team here is curious, which means we’re creative. We strive to work with people and leverage their experiences in as many different ways as we can. If we did things the same way as everyone else, we’d grow at the same speed as everyone else. So we have to be innovative and creative. We just think about HR differently.
For example, we are true partners with all the different departments at Assent. We sit at the table
directly with the other teams and place an emphasis on understanding their business goals. By getting to know their puzzles, we’re able to understand what kind of talent they need and what kind of support that talent needs. The Assent HR team also leads training for our customers and customers’ suppliers, giving us an innate understanding of customer and supplier needs and goals. Our team truly has a people-meets-business philosophy, which is why we’re up for the 2021 Canadian HR Team of the Year award.
You come from a coaching and team sports background. How has that informed your leadership style?
Keira Torkko: I’ve been fortunate to have had great coaches, and to have been a coach in multiple sports, and a leader in Canada’s national sport coaching system. Oftentimes, it wasn’t about the sport, but about figuring out how to optimize performance and creating connected teams. That’s relevant to work, sport, and personal life.
When I ask people about coaches that made a difference in their lives, the answer is almost always the coach who helped them realize what their potential was, and gave them the opportunity to learn something they didn’t think they had the capability to learn. I love that coaching isn’t just about what you coach, but how. They say people won’t remember what you say, but rather how you make them feel, and that’s the perfect quote to describe the role of a coach and leader at Assent.
In addition to coaching, you’re also passionate about volunteering and sustainability. How do you see those shaping your leadership at Assent?
Keira Torkko: Passion and purpose. It is so important to do what you are passionate about and to see and feel that purpose. Where you choose to volunteer and find purpose has a lot of similarity to where you choose to work. People today have a lot of choice in where they work and how they work, so it’s my role to make sure that people here feel that passion and see the purpose in what they’re doing.
“It’s A People Meets Business Philosophy on Our Team”
For Keira and the Assent HR team, the future is full of exciting opportunities. As Assent’s business continues to grow, our people programs are evolving just as dynamically to meet those business goals. According to Keira, that’s what makes Assent such an exciting workplace: “Finding ways to make sure everyone is engaged and having fun as you grow and scale globally is a rewarding puzzle for me to solve.”