Preparing for the Future with Scenarios

Our lives, personal and professional, have been disrupted in a way that many of us may have never imagined. As schools and businesses close, people find themselves isolated from colleagues, friends and family, and sometimes facing this challenge alone. Everything that we took for granted seems to be upside down and inside out. And there is no definitive end in sight.

How do we plan for a future with so many unknowns? Even though your boards and leaders may be seeking concrete solutions, it’s simply not possible; no one has a crystal ball. None of us can accurately foresee how the next months will unfold, and quite frankly, that is not our work right now. As futurist Amy Webb so pointedly observed, our “goal right now isn’t prediction. It’s preparation for what comes next.”

One thing we can do right now is to actively contribute to what comes next. That means collaborating to find new ways of working and new ways of connecting. To support your planning, we offer an exercise from our Designing Collaborative Workplaces program. It can help you and your colleagues identify and see possible futures, so that you can pull out plausible scenarios, categorize them, and help your team stretch their thinking to develop strategies and adapt to a new way of working.

With so many unknowns, what people need to see from their leaders right now, is that they have a good command of the here and now — even as it changes hourly— as well as the capacity to think about the medium and longer terms. The Shaping Possible Futures exercise below, is a low-tech way to help your teams think ahead, to carefully explore alternative scenarios, so that you can prepare for what might be coming next.

Young Workers and the Union Movement in Canada

Many young workers don’t feel connected to the labour movement. They see it as a relic from previous generations, something that may have helped their parents but isn’t helping them, and something that might even be preventing them from obtaining good jobs.  So what can unions do to win over young workers?

This question was discussed at a recent roundtable discussion on the future of unions in the private sector hosted by the Canadian HR Reporter, and sponsored by Queen’s IRC.

Todd Humber, the Canadian HR Reporter’s managing editor, moderated the roundtable discussion. He asked panelists how unions are perceived by the youth, and what unions will need to do to win over the hearts and minds of young workers.

Anna Goldfinch, the national executive representative for the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario, represents 300,000 students in the province of Ontario.  She said that what they are seeing is a job market that’s leaving young people behind.

“The youth unemployment rate is double that of the adult unemployment rate here in the province and we’re seeing a rise in precarious work and underemployment for youth.”

“We’re drowning in debt, because we can’t find jobs, and the jobs that we can find are non-unionized.”

Elaine Newman, an arbitrator and mediator, and instructor for Queen’s IRC, acknowledges the issue of youth underemployment. “They are out of school, with student debt, with nothing but energy and ambition, and they are shut out.”

“As unions reinvent themselves and re-examine the fundamental guiding historic principles like seniority, occasionally someone gets up the nerve to say, is seniority working now that we have this valuable resource that we can’t employ?”

Newman said the value of seniority as a guiding principle is eroded when the young people who can’t get into the system are the sons and daughters of a union’s most senior members.  “All of the sudden the conversation changes and shifts a little bit.  There’s much less conversation about selling out the older people in favor of the younger people, when it’s actually their own children who they’re anxious to see employed.”

Bill Murnighan, the director of Unifor’s research department, says that there’s all sorts of issues in front of the labour market and Canadian workers, including job creation and seniority.

“Seniority and other systems work wonderfully when you have a growing economy.  It’s very simple for people at the bottom to feel that they’re on a ladder that’s moving up.  You have decent pensions, people retire, they go out, and the machinery works.”

However, when you have a stalled or weak economy, these things become more problematic, Murnighan said. But that hasn’t stopped Unifor from trying to recruit more young people.

“We say, let’s keep a decent pension so that people can retire, so there’s actual job creation.  We also try to create employment by getting investment in our facilities.”

Unifor, which represents about 300,000 employees across 20 sectors, is also targeting workplaces with precarious jobs. “One other thing we see is a growing trend around precarious workers and two-tier work,” said Murnighan. “We will not embrace that – the idea that, you can work for $27 dollars an hour and the person beside you will work for $12, and that will be forever more.”

Murnighan said while Unifor wants to create opportunities for youth, they won’t do it by selling out with two-tier work.

What can unions do to attract young workers?

Young workers don’t see themselves fitting into union culture because it doesn’t reflect the lifestyle and the work that they participate in, Goldfinch commented.

“Messaging that comes from unions like ‘the folks that brought you the weekend’ is incredibly effective for those who have weekends. Increasingly, young people don’t actually have weekends – their weekends might be a Monday and every second Thursday,” said Goldfinch.

“They see unions as organizations that represented people like their parents, people who were in Monday to Friday 9 to 5 type of employment, and that’s not for them.

“I think if unions are going to make themselves relevant to youth and to students, they need to start communicating that they are applicable in any work force. The benefits that our parents enjoyed when they were working in a unionized environment are available to young people.”  She said that unions will reflect the priorities of young people as more youth start to participate in them.

Goldfinch said that this very educated, but indebted generation, is in trouble. “I think we need to widen in the conversation to, why are youth and students in precarious jobs? Why aren’t they starting businesses more? Why aren’t they finding jobs in their field or at least good entry-level jobs that have on-the-job training where companies are investing in them as employees? We don’t see that happening.”

Ted Mallett, Vice-President and Chief Economist for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said a better future for young workers will come from being entrepreneurial and self-reliant.

He said they see lots of students starting businesses and hitting the ground running. “That’s a positive thing. The Youth Business Foundation is strong and vibrant. It’s creating this kind of mentorship in the universities that has been very positive. The idea that young people are only starting their own firms because they can’t find a job for a big unionized company, that’s not true at all.”

“The rule of thumb is that for every one person that starts a business because they find no other options, there were two or three others who started businesses because they have the confidence to do something,” said Mallett.

“Even with the decline in private sector unions we’ve seen an increase in the standard of living. There have been bumps and scrapes along the way because of the business cycle, but on balance we’re seeing a much stronger self-reliant economy than we’ve ever seen before in Canada.”

Jamie Knight, a partner at labour and employment law firm Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti in Toronto, said we need to work towards a cooperative workforce. He said there’s a need to discuss and reexamine the defined benefit pensions, which are the cornerstone of the trade union movement.  And, he suggested that there’s alternatives to the two-tier system, which impact young workers the most.

“There’s graduated wage systems where there’s an expanded wage grid, where it may take you many, many years to catch up, but there’s eventually a catch up.  That’s quite different from, as Bill described it, a forever two-tier system.”

The outlook for young workers

Anna Goldfinch paints a grim picture of life for young workers. “Tuition fees have rapidly outpaced everything including inflation, food, rent, transportation. Debt is skyrocketing – we’ve hit 19 billion dollars of just federal student loans in this country.”

She said it’s taking longer for students to get jobs, and even longer to get good jobs. “Everything in our lives is being prolonged. It’s harder to get the first job, it’s harder to then get the second job, and it’s harder to start a career. You’re getting your house and your mortgage and starting your family later. We’re seeing lives prolonged, lives put on pause because we haven’t figured out how to invest in youth like we used to. We haven’t figured out how to include them, whether it be by providing them with education, investing in their skills and training, both in the public sector and the private sector.”

But Peter Edwards, Vice-President of human resources and labour relations for Canadian Pacific, and a speaker with Queen’s IRC, disagrees.  He said that the issues that today’s youth are facing are very similar to the youth of previous generations.

“When I graduated, it was hard to get a job, and the first job is the hardest.  And then I disappeared into a vacuum for about five years, and then employers everywhere discovered us and wanted us.”

“Were there hard times before for youth unemployment? Yes. And there will be again.”

He reassured the youth that the delayed onset of getting to those stages of having a home, a mortgage, and a family – they will all come.

“We’re going to have all these challenges and all these problems, and the path forward will always be unclear. I think that everybody’s got a little bit of the solution, but there is no monolithic solution or problem.”

Edwards said it’s all about how we adapt, and speed with which we adapt to the changes. “I think society now asks us to adapt faster, whether or not we want that, we’re not given that choice anymore.”

Watch the Canadian HR Reporter’s full 16-minute video on Youth and the union movement in Canada:

Read our first article from the Canadian HR Reporter Roundtable on the future of unions in the private sector:
The Future of Unions in Canada’s Private Sector: How Can Unions Overcome their PR Problem?

The Future of Unions in Canada’s Private Sector: How Can Unions Overcome their PR Problem?

Unions face many negative perceptions, such as the notion that union workers are lazy, under worked, have job security for life, and enjoy gold-plated benefits and pension packages that others can only dream about. In light of this, how can unions overcome their PR problem?

This question was one of many that was put to a panel of labour relations practitioners and experts recently, at a roundtable discussion sponsored by Queen’s IRC, and hosted by the Canadian HR Reporter. Todd Humber, the Canadian HR Reporter’s managing editor, moderated the roundtable discussion.

In the first of three videos to be released by the Canadian HR Reporter, panelists weighed in on the future of unions in the private sector, discussed the PR problem unions may or may not have, made suggestions about what can be done to overcome it, and looked to the future for Canadian unions.

In this article, I have summarized some of the main thoughts and quotes from the panelists. You can view the full 12-minute video here:

Peter Edwards, Vice-President, Human Resources and Labour Relations, Canadian Pacific, and guest speaker with Queen’s IRC

Peter Edwards identified the stereotype of who is a union member, and offered some advice for union leadership for the future.

“When you ask young people, when you ask anybody that is even remotely connected to the world, they understand the role of unions in providing what we have today. They are a key driver for the creation of the middle class, for the reduction of work hours, the paid vacation, all sorts of benefits that we all enjoy. I think we can all agree on that.

“People say, ‘that was great, but what does the future hold for me?'”

Peter said that regardless of whether you call it a PR war or an advertising campaign, unions need to look to the future. “How do you create a vision for people? How do you put the leadership behind it? And how do you execute against that offering and attract people to what you do?

“There is a certain image that [union members] are predominantly blue collar or they’re government workers. And gee, I’m neither of those, so where do I fit in? What’s the message? Where are the people that are like me? And what can you offer me in the future?”

Peter offered an example of one way that union members may not feel like a cohesive group. “We tend to split up our benefits packages so you get exactly this, you get exactly that, and we can tailor it to your individual needs, but we don’t think of the broader need. I think that’s kind of led to the attitude that we are all on our own.”

Peter offered some advice to unions. “If the unions are going to make progress, they’ve got to make it compelling for people to belong to that group that has an affiliation and an image for them, that they can aspire to and be part of.”

Elaine Newman, mediator, arbitrator, and facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Strategic Grievance Handling program

Elaine Newman said that part of the challenge that unions may face is the attitudes about the history of unions, and young people’s attitudes towards unions.

“There are very real demographic shifts, but there’s also, I suggest, a very negative campaign that the union has to address as well.” She said there are negative and inaccurate perceptions about how unions arose, what significance they have, what value they have in maintaining a strong middle class and creating a stable workforce that can withstand economic fluctuation.

“The best possible tool, the best possible weapon that the unions have is education. The process of addressing the PR problem is one of education.” She said that people want to know: “What have the unions done, and more importantly what have they done for me lately?”

Bill Murnighan, Director of the Research Department at UNIFOR

Bill Murnighan began by debunking the stereotype that union workers ‘have it easy’.

“The private sector is going through tremendous job loss, stagnating wages and reductions in their incomes in a variety of ways, so the idea of jobs for life, and gold-plated working conditions is not the reality.”

Bill admitted that there are some highly-paid unionized workers. “But there are all sorts organized workers in hotels, in long-term care facilities, in grocery stores and elsewhere, who are far from having great security or wonderful conditions.

“I think one of the key messages we’ve heard over the last several years, is the changing dynamic that people are not resenting people from working-class—the middle-class Canadians who have good jobs—and rather turning their attention to the idea that ‘I should have those things too. Why can I not achieve a good standard of living or security in the workplace rather than trying to focus on taking away from those who already have it?'”

Bill said it’s important to focus on good PR and maintaining a positive image of the union in the community. “We continue to do our job on the ground with our membership in the communities, but also ensuring that we are seen as a voice for workers who are excluded, who are marginalized, or who are on the outside the labour market.

“I think we have to be very careful and clear that that we’re not resented by whole parts of working Canadians and that’s a fundamental challenge.”

Bill went on to refute the point that today’s workers are ‘content as is’ and don’t want to be part of a union.

“We hear regularly from our members, from people in the community, from youth, that they have significant concerns about what is evolving in the workplace and they’re looking for some way to improve that.

“I think a lot of people are concerned about their security, a lot of people are concerned about the future. They’re concerned also about their kids, and their kids’ future, and about what quality of jobs there are.

“There are different studies out there that say people actually do want to join unions, and that people are pleased to be in union. They support their organizations. The statistics show somewhere around 50,000 people a year join a union for the first time in Canada across the country.”

Bill said he doesn’t see the fundamental issue being unions. “I think the questions are about, what do Canadians want in the workplace and from their jobs? I think it’s a much broader question than about whether unions are there or not.”

Ted Mallett, Vice-President and Chief Economist with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business

Ted Mallett does not agree with Bill Murnighan about Canadians being unhappy with their jobs He said that generally most people are very satisfied with their jobs.

“We’re not talking about a PR problem, we’re talking about the general public having a fundamentally different perspective on the workplace than unions.

“The fact is, job satisfaction is driven by factors around communication, the quality of the decision-making, and your involvement in running the business. The workplace is evolving. We’re seeing higher-educated people, we’re seeing people who are more discerning with information, and they’re choosing—all surveys show—that they’d much rather work in non-unionized workplaces than a unionized ones. There are also a portion of unionized workers who would rather not be unionized.”

Ted said these kinds of shifts are important to note, and to make sure that we have the appropriate public policies to ensure that it is not a union-centered or employer-centered perspective.

Jamie Knight, Partner, Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti

Labour lawyer Jamie Knight predicts a PR problem that unions will be facing in the next few years.

“The elephant in the room is the sweeping change in legislation in the United States where there are more and more right-to-work states.

“There has been significant legislative changes in Saskatchewan. We have a major political party in Ontario, in a minority government situation, that has a white paper that clearly spells out its intention to bring forward legislation to transform Ontario’s Labour Relations Act, and move towards a system whereby there is no dues deduction automatically enforced, when a trade union secures the right to represent workers in workplace.

“That’s the PR campaign that is going to play out, and it’s going to play out in the next Ontario election. There’s a very real possibility that the next government will be formed by a party that proposes to follow the recent example of Michigan, which is a primary competitor for Ontario jobs. That’s the campaign that I think is going to be the interesting one.

“The issue—and it’s not my issue, it’s the political issue on the table—is whether or not the Rand formula is going to be done away with in the province of Ontario. And if the Rand formula, which provides for automatic dues deduction in a unionized environment is done away with, how does the trade union respond to that, in a scenario where dues essentially become voluntary as opposed to imposed.”

Encouraging Collaboration in the Workplace: Lessons from the Government of Alberta

In 2009, the Alberta government's Connie Scott was a trailblazer, a forerunner in a new learning program that would change the way she and her community would look at their work.

Scott, now a manager of HR Strategies in Enterprise and Advanced Education, was in the first cohort of Queen's IRC HR Business Partner Certificate Program, a curriculum custom-designed for the Alberta government.

Scott was one of 25 students from three pilot ministries, and she was immediately struck by the tenor of the facilitators, their expertise and ideas, and their energy in the classroom.

"The instruction was fabulous. Françoise (Morissette) and Gary (Furlong) were amazing. The knowledge and experience they had was so obvious, they were just clearly highly experienced. Françoise was so exuberant, I'll always remember that," Scott said.

"And I loved that we were part of a cohort of people. I loved that I had this brand new network, and it's a network that I still keep in touch with."

Soon after she completed the program, Scott transitioned from Manager , HR Consulting to Manager, HR Strategies. She was able to apply what she learned from the IRC right away.

"It allowed you to think more strategically. You'd ask yourself: how will this or that impact another part of the organization? If you're implementing a workforce plan or a leadership framework or coaching services, you start to think about the business and how it will be accepted and who it will really impact and what's the best way to get it out so it will cut through the clutter," she said.

While Scott's first cohort only included three Alberta ministry HR department's, the new partnership between Alberta Corporate HR and Queen's IRC now enrolls participants from many of the Alberta government's 20-plus HR teams.

The leading-edge curriculum has five interrelated workshops designed to expand HR professionals' capacity to be internal business partners: Foundations for Internal Consulting, Change Management, Building Relationships and Strategic Partnerships, Coaching Skills, and Organizational Design. Other facilitators include former Queen's IRC director Carol Beatty, Sharon Parker, and Brenda Barker Scott.

The goal of the HR Business Partner Certificate program is to enhance the capacity of HR professionals to work as business partners; to develop them into trusted advisors who use the knowledge of business needs, organizational context and HR policy and practices to generate insight and influence decisions.

Barker Scott said she loves to hear stories like Connie Scott's, of HR professionals for whom the IRC training is the basis for a career-long shift in thinking.

"By the time people have been through the program, they've reflected on how they can use the tools, they've experimented, they've practiced," Barker Scott said.

"We've provided a base and a community. But it doesn't stop. We're planting seeds for them. We're tapping into what's already there. And then they return to their bigger HR community and use it. That's what's so gratifying."

Current Queen's IRC Director, Paul Juniper, said that balance of theory and practice, the hands-on experience, are aspects that help set IRC training apart in the world of HR professional development.

"Time and again, the evaluative feedback we receive from our participants is overwhelmingly positive," Juniper said.

"The IRC experience is about learning new ideas, reframing thinking, and acquiring tools and resources to be more effective and efficient in the workplace. Our advanced-level programming challenges participants to thinking critically and more deeply explore ideas and workplace challenges."

Connie Scott said another, subtler advantage of the IRC program is that it encourages collaboration, a central and oft-repeated focus of the Alberta government.

"Participants from my cohort still call me and ask: 'What would do you if…? And that's important, because collaboration is tough. Are you sharing information? Are you talking to one another? Are you literally sharing your resources? Programs like this help us to be a more collaborative organization," she said.

Connie Scott's favourite module was Building Relationships and Strategic Partnerships.

"Even if that's all you took, you'd have the tools to build your network, to consider how people interrelate, how to manage conflict, how people communicate," she said.

"Even how we 'sell' our service has changed in part because of this training. We're more diligent in how we develop our community. We now have HR consultants at leadership meetings. And they're not just there for the sake of being there; they're engaged, they're adding value."

Changing the HR Mindset from Transactional to Strategic: Lessons from the Government of Alberta

 Lessons from the Government of Alberta

For the Alberta government's Pauline Melnyk, the Queen's IRC HR Business Partner Certificate Program couldn't have come at a better time.

Melnyk was helping design a cumulative effects management system (CEMS) for her department, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. As part of the system, which designs programs and processes based on the cumulative effects of development on the environment, the department itself needed to review its organizational design.

Melynk enrolled in the inaugural program hosted by the departments of Environment, Energy, and Advanced Education and Technology, and immediately saw how she could apply what she learned to the CEMS project.

"It was so timely," said Melnyk, an organizational learning and effectiveness consultant. "When we were learning about the IRC's Blueprint for Organizational Effectiveness that very much came to the forefront in my learning about what the CEMS system looks like.

"Because of the IRC program, I was able to ask more poignant questions, and dig deeper."

Melynk began working more deeply with a program called Partners in Resource Excellence, a novel approach for working with industry and building relationships with stakeholders to achieve better and more meaningful compliance with standards without resorting to regulatory tools.

"I specifically developed that project as a partnership model, delved deep into what we were learning in that area, and how we could transmit it across the organization," Melnyk said.

"And the IRC course helped cement that. It gave me legitimacy to test the models, and to challenge the process."

Participants in these IRC custom programs come from many of the Alberta government's 20-plus ministry HR departments.

The leading-edge curriculum has five interrelated workshops designed to expand HR professionals' capacity to be internal business partners: Foundations for Internal Consulting, Change Management, Building Relationships and Strategic Partnerships, Coaching Skills, and Organizational Design. Facilitators include former Queen's IRC director Carol Beatty, Sharon Parker, Gary Furlong, Francoise Morissette, and Brenda Barker Scott.

The goal of the HR Business Partner Certificate program is to enhance the capacity of HR professionals to work as business partners; to develop them into trusted advisors who use the knowledge of business needs, organizational context and HR policy and practices to generate insight and influence decisions.

Stephanie Noel, Business Development Manager at Queen's IRC, said leading edge organizations now receive the added value of HR operating at a strategic level.

"The Queen's IRC certificate series has been designed and developed to help prepare and transition HR professionals to become true internal business consultants," she said.

Current Queen's IRC Director Paul Juniper said senior leaders in organizations are increasingly calling on HR professionals to provide advice on organizational strategy.

"When the HR function is deeply embedded in an organization, HR professionals require not only a high level of technical skills and knowledge, but also business acumen and an in-depth understanding of their corporate strategy and design," he said.

"HR business partners, then, have the necessary skill sets to align HR strategy with organizational strategy, to think holistically and systemically, and to leverage the organization's human capital to maximize productivity and profitability."

Beyond the big-picture benefits, Melnyk said she loved the IRC facilitators' approach in the classroom.

"The beauty of it all is the experiential way of learning. I'll always remember that (the facilitators) used a blind square exercise, and the tool was to show that without information and without communication, you can't reach the other side of the square. You have to go back and then someone else has to try," Melnyk said.

"That was really valuable, but there were so many other neat components. We used clay, mind-mapping, story-weaving. It was so, so engaging. The days were long and challenging, no question, but they were chunked out in the right way."

Furlong, a long-time IRC facilitator, said the goal of the Building Relationships and Strategic Partnerships module was to give all participants a roadmap, a model for creating and sustaining effective partnerships and relationships.

"The course is a step-by-step field guide to putting an effective structure in place, one that will support people working effectively together for a long time."

Furlong said that when most people engage with other groups, they use a "Hope for" approach – they "Hope for" a good group of people who work well together. "Sometimes this happens, many times it doesn't. This workshop gives anyone tasked with making relationships work effectively a clear roadmap for delivering that."

Melnyk said she's encouraged that the Alberta government's HR community has invested in the IRC certificate program series.

"It says to me that they're headed in the right direction. It's such a solid set of tools for folks to use in the emerging world, and from changing the HR mindset from transactional to strategic," she said.

"We can complain that our partners aren't ready for us, but they need our guidance and our advice. And you need to approach it in a way that helps your partners feel strong. Regular practices don't help you have that conversation in that way. That's one key in this course; it changes the conversation."

"I saw a lot of my colleagues in the program grow. I think it gave them confidence. It sure gave me confidence to do it all."

Becoming a Trusted Strategic Business Partner: Lessons from the Government of Alberta

In 2008, when Mary Jefferies first consulted with Queen’s IRC to build a new program that would enhance the Alberta government HR professionals’ ability to be true business partners, she was not motivated by an industry trend, or faddishness.

The changing business of the Alberta government and of her department — then called Alberta Environment — demanded it.

“Our work was increasingly being seen on the international stage, whether it was in oilsands or in conservation. And we were being challenged to work in a more collaborative, more networked, more interactive way,” said Jefferies, now an organizational culture expert in the Alberta government’s Environment and Sustainable Resource Development department.

“We needed to give people capacity for systems thinking, facilitation, learning, and organizational development. We needed to respond to changes in the business, and in the expectations of senior leaders. We needed to think about emerging competencies in the workforce, talent management, and leadership development.

“And so we asked: What are the capabilities we need to be trusted strategic business partners? How do we get there?”

Jefferies knew precisely where to turn for the answers: to Queen’s IRC and to Brenda Barker Scott, with whom Jefferies had previously worked on an organization design project.

The Queen’s IRC team, including Barker Scott and Stephanie Noel, the IRC’s business development manager, were up for the challenge to develop an HR Business Partner program, first for Jefferies’ department and collaborating departments of Energy and Advanced Education and Technology, and then for the Alberta government’s HR community as a whole. Participants now come from many of the Alberta government’s 18-plus ministry HR departments.

The leading-edge curriculum has five interrelated workshops designed to expand HR professionals’ capacity to be internal business partners: Foundations for Internal Consulting, Change Management, Building Relationships and Strategic Partnerships, Coaching Skills, and Organizational Design. Other facilitators include former Queen’s IRC director Carol Beatty, Sharon Parker, Gary Furlong, and Francoise Morissette.

The goal of the HR Business Partner Certificate program is to enhance the capacity of HR professionals to work as business partners; to develop them into trusted advisors who use the knowledge of business needs, organizational context and HR policy and practices to generate insight and influence decisions. For example, the internal consulting workshop — about which Jefferies still raves — teaches a skills process, which shows participants how to diagnose challenges, collect and analyze data, design options and implement solutions.

For her part, Barker Scott credits the Alberta HR community for its foresight, and for recognizing that HR professionals need to bring thoughtfulness and a strategic perspective to their work.

“A true business partner is someone who brings strong depth and skills so they can facilitate change, so they can get good results from their knowledge of the business, so they can get really good energy and participation from their partners,” Barker Scott said.

Current Queen’s IRC Director, Paul Juniper, said his Centre custom-designs programs for clients like the Alberta government, a key differentiator in a crowded marketplace of HR professional development.

“The IRC’s programming is unique. Programs are designed specially for practitioners, adhering to adult learning principles and practices. Our facilitators are subject matter experts who draw on their own professional experiences, while weaving academic theory and key concepts into the program content. Each program incorporates a variety of learning strategies, including exercises that allow time to reflect on and apply the concepts learned in the classroom,” said Juniper.

“This experiential learning is a fundamental component of the IRC’s programming; it ensures opportunities for dialogue, discussion, and debate, so that participants can network with and learn from each other. The IRC has a long tradition of excellence and strives to ensure that our programs are relevant, practical, and provide the kind of learning that participants need to address their own workplace challenges.”

The result of that learning, Jefferies said, is clear: HR professionals who can better navigate increasingly complex situations.

The change Jefferies has seen in participants conjures to her a favourite quote — “A mind once stretched never returns to its original dimensions” — and a familiar acronym: VUCA.

“If you think about VUCA — about volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity — what we need in the HR world is the vision in the volatility, the understanding we can shape in the uncertainty, the clarity in the complexity, and the actions we can take in the ambiguity,” Jefferies said.

“To me, that is how you add value.”

For Juniper, the HR Business Partner program is about showing HR practitioners how to move beyond the traditional HR roles, and enlarge their perspectives on what the work is, and what it can be.

“HR professionals have become an integral part of HR management strategy. The IRC is proud to help HR practitioners gain the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in their roles.”

Managing Unionized Environments: The Fort McMurray Experience

It is an exciting time at the IRC. Not only are we continuing to expand our programming options, we are also exploring new locations to hold our programs. Most recently, the IRC’s program team headed to Fort McMurray, delivering our Managing Unionized Environments program in October. As the IRC evolves our programming options to best meet the needs of HR, LR, and OD professionals, we also aim to offer programs in locations that are convenient for our participants and their sponsor organizations. The resounding success of the October Managing Unionized Environments has encouraged the IRC to consider offering additional programming options in Fort McMurray during our 2012-2013 program season. Having grown up in Sudbury, Ontario, a mining town, I felt very much at home in Fort McMurray. Conversations that I had with participants during the program were positive; it seems that Fort McMurray is a desirable location for IRC programs moving forward.

The IRC’s Managing Unionized Environments is a unique program because it is not tied to any of our other programming options or certificate series. It brings together supervisors, managers, and union representatives in a three-day program. The program enables opportunities for networking, discussion, and role-play. In addition, practical and relevant materials are provided, including case studies and concrete examples, based on the experiences of subject matter experts, to illustrate the theories presented throughout the program.

While the title of the program is Managing Unionized Environments, the program is not solely restricted to unionized environments; it applies to managers in all sectors and industries, as it focuses on developing a broad range of skills. Performance management is, for example, one of the topics addressed in the program. How do you, as a manager, effectively measure your employees’ performance? Setting measurable learning objectives and outcomes, providing feedback to employees, communicating change, and disciplinary actions are themes covered throughout the program.

 

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