Playing With the Big Kids: How HR has Grown Up in the Family (Part Two)

This is the second installment of a three-part series discussing the findings of a recent HR survey of the Profit 100: Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies. The purpose of the survey was to determine what successful organizations are currently doing within the HR realm and where they see themselves heading in the future.  Read Part One.

Part Two – Adolescence

By Lynda Zugec

Ahhh, the adolescent stage of life. If you have ever felt awkward, unmanaged, and/or confused while existing through a hazy state, or still do, you may be experiencing adolescence. This period is not restricted to age, nor, in the business world, any specific department. Consistent changes, an inevitable fact in life as well as in organizations, are sure to keep you on (or off!) your toes. The way in which you prepare and deal will be the determining factor of success.

According to the 2010 HR survey of the organizations listed on the Profit 100: Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies conducted by The Workforce Consultants, the HR department goes through such an “adolescent phase” during growth. At this time, organizational (or personal in the case of the family) development and change management skills become necessary armament.

Survey results reveal that this involves obtaining a solid understanding of where one stands within the grand scheme. If HR is going to grow up suitably in the family, it must know its role. On the whole, Canada’s fastest growing companies are well aware of this need as over 80 per cent of respondents reported having a “very good” or “excellent” “understanding of organizational goals while over 90 per cent indicated having a “very good” or “excellent” understanding of the organizational culture. More plainly, if, as an adolescent, I can determine what my family is like and comprehend the goals to which we strive and the changes we are going through, I am able to make a positive and effective contribution.

On the other hand, being an adolescent still means that much development is necessary as is evidenced by respondents reporting the need to increase and better adapt to learning and training needs. In the adolescent phase, organizations would do well to master the design, development, and delivery of learning and training initiatives. Growth and expansion without a solid training and learning foundation can result in wasted efforts and a less than stellar report card.

Rapidly growing organizations are most likely to falter on this end as indicated by the survey. Areas carrying much of the struggle include “the ability to facilitate self-directed learning” with 74 per cent of respondents rating this as “poor”, “fair”, or “good” – the lowest three ratings on the five point scale, along with “the ability to assess training outcomes” with 73 per cent rating below a three on the five point scale. A whopping 78 per cent of respondents rated “the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of the delivery of training” below the three mark.

Historically, the numbers make sense. As HR is well aware, self-directed learning is a rare find, especially as far as adolescence is concerned, and training has never been very amenable to certifiably objective quantitative methods or evaluative processes. But herein lies the tremendous advantages for organizations. Those who a) understand the training requirements, b) ensure that proper training is in alignment with real-time organizational needs and individual capabilities, and c) obtain evaluative feedback and coaching, will be well ahead of the curve. Adolescence indeed confirms the importance of, and need for, the identification of individual strengths and weaknesses coupled with an educational program duly suited for specific learning objectives. Evaluation and feedback from knowledgeable others then serves to bolster this iterative process.

Given the challenges HR faces with respect to adolescence, will adulthood ever be reached? As is the case with development, it depends on the influences of internal and external forces acting upon it. HR has to be internally prepared with the knowledge, tools, and wherewithal required to get through periods of uncertainty and confusion. Externally, if finance teaches HR the bottom line, marketing and sales help promote HR capabilities, IT introduces greater efficiency into HR, and administration provides an effective pathway for HR to follow, then yes, adulthood is possible.

But adulthood doesn’t come with any guarantees either. Just as major life changes can seemingly set one back from adulthood into adolescence, so too can organizational changes. If HR is downsized, outsourced, or re-managed as an adult, a step back into adolescence can become a real reality.  


Lynda Zugec is the Founder/Chairman of The Workforce Consultants, an international network of specialized consultants within the area of Human Resources.

About The Workforce Consultants: The Workforce Consultants is a network of specialized consultants within the area of HR. The consultants that comprise the network are at the forefront of research and practice. Professors and graduate students at universities worldwide collaborate with industry professionals to deliver organizational HR solutions. www.theworkforceconsultants.com

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