Shannon Bowen-Smed, president and CEO of BOWEN, didn’t exactly get off to an auspicious start in the family business. She was kicked out of the University of Calgary after her GPA plummeted. “My mom, Laverne Bowen-Kruger, who founded BOWEN, looked at me and said, ‘I have no idea what organization will hire a 19-year-old university dropout, so I guess I must,’ ” says Bowen-Smed. “The initial plan was to find me a one-year contract with one of our clients until, in her words, I got my head screwed on straight and could then return to university.”
But much to everyone’s surprise, just weeks into her new role, she “fell in love” with helping individuals find employment. In May 2019, Bowen-Smed will celebrate 35 years with the Calgary-based recruitment firm. “Some people run to their career, but I fell into mine, and I’ve been blessed every day since,” she says.
Bowen-Smed’s start in the business was a fluke, but she’s learned that success in the often cutthroat world of employment services requires focused intent. To that end, as she worked her way up through the company’s ranks, she made setting and executing strategy a company-wide, entirely inclusive enterprise.
How does it work? The company starts with a 10-year plan, which eventually gets whittled down to one-year actions, tactics and divisional budgets. From that annual blueprint, BOWEN leaders create a corporate scorecard that measures finances, client and candidate intimacy (evaluated through survey results), innovation, technology and process improvement. From there, each business leader breaks down what he or she wants to achieve within their portfolio, then each team member adds specific activities they can perform to contribute.
The corporate scorecard is measured monthly, and everyone in the company receives a partial quarterly bonus—or not—based on the results. “I really believe that you can only manage what you measure,” says Bowen-Smed. “I think it’s critical that everyone in the organization understands how their roles impact that scorecard. It gives us the opportunity to be completely transparent about what we hope to achieve and how we can do it together.”
Bowen-Smed says this approach keeps people accountable and aligned—particularly key as the company has been forced to diversify in response to Alberta’s changing economic fortunes. In recent years, BOWEN has gone from having four major contracts exclusively in Alberta’s energy sector to 24 major contracts in nine provinces, representing industries as diverse as education, finance and technology.
For Bowen-Smed, inclusive strategy setting and execution creates an increasingly transparent workplace with clear paths to success. She wants her employees to understand exactly how and why those bonuses appear on their paycheques. “People want to be recognized,” she says. “They want to believe their jobs matter and that what they do every day contributes to the success of the organization.”