Q&A with the City of Toronto’s Hatem Belhi

The City of Toronto’s director of pensions, payroll and employee benefits discusses pension changes, data technology and being a soccer dad.

Q. What top challenges do you face in your role?

A. We’re going through a large transformation in the division and that impacts a lot of areas, so basically looking at the programs, the service delivery, focusing on customer service and on leveraging and enabling technology. We’ve got the transformation team on board right now and we’re starting pilots . . . that we’ll learn from to implement certain changes.

Q. What new programs or initiatives are you looking to implement?

A. We’re very paper-based today, so it’s making the leap toward [a more digital operation]. From the pension perspective, as we move the old pension plans [to the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System], it’s really focusing on our employees and how to help them retire better, [giving them] information right from when they join up to the time they retire.

Read: City of York pension plan merging with OMERS

Q. How do you judge the success of a program or initiative?

Career crib sheet

January 2018 — present

Director and division head, pensions, payroll and employee benefits, City of Toronto

April 2012 — January 2018

Director, pay and benefits support branch (shared services), Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services

June 2007 — March 2012

Director, integrated administration solutions, Manulife Financial Inc.

April 2002 — June 2007

Manager of change management/PeopleSoft senior business analyst, Hewlett-Packard Co.

A. One of the things I’m trying to introduce here is being more outcomes-focused. If we’re doing something and there’s not an outcome that we’re driving for, then we have to look harder and really build those outcomes. When you understand [an initiative’s] outcome is to keep the employee population healthy, how do you judge the population is healthy? Do you use disability numbers? Do you use [drug claims]? You’ve got to define those, and then that’s the performance measure of the program you need to implement.

Q. What program do you consider the most successful or that you’re most proud of?

A. One of the things we’re trying to change at the City is the employee services. We’re working on a pilot right now to implement an employee service centre where employees have one place to go for all their needs and are able to address them very quickly, very efficiently. We’re working on getting [the pilot] established, so there are components of technology and defining the services. The other piece is the pension program — moving those pension plans to OMERS. It’s really a big achievement for us as we go toward the conclusion of that transfer.

Q. What key human resources issues do you expect in the year ahead?

A. The challenge I see for human resources is looking at leveraging a lot of data technology that’s available, but also really focusing on the employee experience, so we’re adding value to the whole chain.

Read: Creating a thriving workplace with data, personalized employee benefits

Q. What do you like to do in your spare time? What are your hobbies?

A. I’m a big sports person. I play soccer, I coach soccer . . . and my kids play soccer as well, so most Sundays I’m coaching a team and then taking my kids to soccer games. Other than that, I try to connect and network with peers through a number of events, and I do a lot of mentorship for new professional Canadians. Being an immigrant myself, I try to give back.

Q. What’s your favourite employee benefit and why?

A. I really like programs that are focused on pushing the person and trying to get them to take charge of their own health. That’s what we’re trying to push for here, and looking at our benefits program and how to focus more on wellness. For me, it’s more proactive rather than reactive. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re trying to do.

Kelsey Rolfe is an associate editor at Benefits Canada.