What’s Your Story?

Figuring out who we are in terms of our career identity is something that everyone engages in at some point in their work life. Most of the time this begins as a challenge – feeling stuck in the “old me” (the present career identity). What we must do is get unstuck – imagine the “new me” (the career identity we’re growing into). At the heart of this practice of narrative career coaching is the need to confront our limiting story and taken for granted beliefs – our “problem story.” The narrative career coach serves as a helper – helping one let go of the old story and get unstuck; and, ultimately transform the problem story. Finding a new story and living into that story is the full-circle of narrative career coaching.

The following case offers an example of how the narrative frameworks of rescription and re-membering were used in a community college career coaching context – affording students the opportunity to practice with story-based approaches to career transition and change. In the broader perspective, the case offers a view into the human resource development practice of narrative career coaching – helping the next generation workforce imagine their career identities.

Download PDF: What’s Your Story?

Global HR Trends: Is HR Ready to Respond?

The focus of the human resources department has evolved over the last century, from its roots in administration, to a focus on building functional practices, to an emphasis on being a strategic business partner and “sitting at the table”. The HR leader needs to continue to advance to not only be aligned with the business but become a strategic partner that looks outside of the business to help it grow, compete and win in the market. HR departments must become attune to changes in the business and talent landscapes and help organizations navigate the changes in pursuit of their goals. While some HR departments have re-focused or re-structured to align more closely with the business and drive business results, research indicates that many HR departments have a long way to go. In Deloitte’s recent global human resources trends research study, the reskilling of HR was identified as the third most urgent issue for 2014 (Global Human Capital Trends 2014, p. 8).

This article is written for HR leaders and explores the global human resources trends, the human resources function’s readiness to respond, and the associated implications for the HR leader. It draws upon insights from Deloitte’s 2014 Global Human Capital Trends report and the Corporate Education Board’s Global Workforce Insights Q3 2014 report and relates the trends identified to the evolution of the human resources field.

Download PDF: Global HR Trends: Is HR Ready to Respond?

The Head-Down Theory: How Unfairness Affects Employee Engagement

Modern HR practice suggests that the difference between successful and struggling companies can be found in employee engagement. Those companies who engage employees to actively participate in the success of an organization report greater productivity, morale, innovation and health. Most companies offer rewards as a way of promoting employee engagement. Yet very few have analyzed the reasons why employees are not engaged. Our research at the Workplace Fairness Institute has led to a conclusion about the real reasons for lack of employee engagement – it’s all about fairness.

What is Workplace Fairness?

Drawing from the works of John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin, we define workplace fairness as “equity of concern and respect for each workplace participant regardless of his/her position in the organization.”

We define “equity of concern and respect” in the following manner:

  • “Equity” does not mean “exactly the same”; rather that on balance individuals and groups will be accorded the same level of respect regardless of their position.
  • “Concern” means that one person’s views on a particular conflict should be given as much consideration as another’s.
  • “Respect” means that all individuals should be accorded the same level of dignity in the way decisions are made regardless of their position in the organization.

The Head-Down Theory: How Unfairness Affects Employee Engagement

Inside HR at the Ontario Public Service

In April 2014, as Lori Aselstine began her retirement from the Government of Ontario, she sat down with Queen’s IRC to talk about her career, the HR profession and practising HR in an environment that is 85% unionized.

Lori talks candidly about her experience rising through the ranks in the Government of Ontario, as well as the challenges and opportunities that come from working in labour relations for the government, which often plays the role of the employer and legislator. Lori shares which skills and knowledge she wishes she had acquired earlier in her career, and her thoughts on how HR can play an integral role in the development of corporate strategy and performance. Lori notes that in the next decade, we are going to see a push towards alternate work strategies, and this will present a host of challenges and questions, particularly with a unionized workforce.

Lori has over 33 years of experience with the Government of Ontario, most of which was in the human resources field. She has held positions such as director of Ontario Public Service labour relations, director of Broader Public Sector labour relations and director of strategic human resources business.

Download PDF: Inside HR at the Ontario Public Service

What does ‘professionalism’ mean for HR professionals?

The desire for HR professionals to be accorded the respect and status of being true professionals is a theme that goes back many decades; and there is no evidence to suggest that this desire has waned over the years. In 2013, the Human Resources Professionals Association asked the following question on its annual member survey: “Do you agree that the professionalization of HR is, or should be, an important issue for the profession?”—89.4% of respondents agreed with the statement. This represents as much agreement as one is ever likely to find on any question. (Human Resources Professionals Association, 2013).

But there is an interesting contradiction here. The contradiction lies in that for something that is seemingly so important to HR professionals; the topic of “professionalism” rarely appears in HR publications or HR conferences. When the topic of professionalism comes up in HR circles, there are two responses which are often heard. The first is a response that goes something like “I always behave in a professional manner, and my clients and colleagues think of me as such.” The other response goes something like “I am always professional in what I do, but there are others in our profession that give the rest of us a bad reputation.” And yet, in a 2011 survey conducted by the Queen’s University Industrial Relations Center on the State of HR in Canada (Juniper & Hill, 2011), the authors noted that those HR professionals who reported that they are “pessimistic” or “not sure” about the future of HR were, in general, concerned about the lack of professionalism in the profession and the credentials that are required in order to obtain the CHRP designation.

By way of contrast, some of the established professions do not seem to take “professionalism” for granted and certainly do not think that the topic is an “undiscussable.” A bit more than a decade ago, in response to concerns that had been expressed about a decline in professionalism among lawyers, the Chief Justice of Ontario struck an Advisory Committee on Professionalism. The document Elements of Professionalism was authored by the Committee’s Working Group on the Definition of Professionalism. (2001)

Download PDF: What does ‘professionalism’ mean for HR professionals?

Enhancing Your Strategic Value as a Human Resources Professional: Playing to Win in HR

The notion that Human Resource (HR) professionals need to be strategic and aligned with their organization’s strategy is not by any means new.  In their book The HR Scorecard published almost fifteen years ago, Professors Becker, Huselid and Ulrich noted that “traditional HR skills have not diminished in value, but simply are no longer adequate to satisfy the wider strategic demands of the HR function” (Becker, Huselid and Ulrich, 2001).  Since then strategy frameworks and the language of strategic management have evolved.  The question is has HR kept up with these, especially in the past year or so?

This article is written for HR leaders and explores the HR-related implications of strategy work drawn from a variety of sources but in particular work that grew out of the strategy practice at Monitor Company and subsequently further developed by Roger Martin, former Dean of the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto, and A. G. Lafley, former Chairman, President and CEO of Proctor & Gamble.  Their work Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works (2013) was recently published by Harvard Business Review Press and won the prestigious Thinkers50 Best Book Award (Thinkers50 website, 2014).  “Playing to Win” is a down-to-earth, simplified approach to thinking about strategy that is resonating very well with many business leaders. The “Playing to Win” framework is practical, effective and efficient.

Download PDF: Enhancing Your Strategic Value as a Human Resources Professional: Playing to Win in HR

The Professionalization of Human Resources

On its annual member survey, the Human Resources Professionals Association asks the following question: “Do you agree that the professionalization of HR is, or should be, an important issue for the profession?”  In 2013, 89.4% of respondents either ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ with this statement—this represents as much agreement as one is likely to find on any question.  Clearly, the professionalization of HR is an issue that is important to HR professionals—but what does it mean to professionalize HR?  Where do we currently stand?  And what are the next steps or challenges ahead?

Millerson (1964) defined professionalization as the process by which an occupation undergoes transformation to become a profession.  More recently, Hodson and Sullivan (2012) stated that professionalization can be understood as the effort by an occupational group to raise its collective standing by taking on the characteristics of a profession.  Borrowing from these definitions, we can define the professionalization of Human Resources as the process by which Human Resource professionals collectively strive to achieve the recognition and status that is accorded to the established professions by emulating or adopting the defining characteristics of the established professions.

The process of professionalization is complex—it also doesn’t help that there is a lack of consensus as to the meaning of the term ‘professionalization’, or the term ‘professionalism’ for that matter (Evans, 2008; Hargreaves and Goodson, 1996).  Most of the literature on professionalization stems from the field of sociology.  When sociologists think of ‘professionalism’ they usually focus on the institutional aspects such as the existence of a regulatory body, legal recognition as a profession, formal training programs, and the existence of codes of ethics.  This is different than what most non-sociologists have in mind when they think of ‘professionalism’ (see for instance, the document entitled ‘Elements of professionalism’ authored by the Chief Justice of Ontario Advisory Committee on Professionalism, 2001).  Here the focus is often on individual aspects such as the behaviours, attitudes, and values characteristic of the members of a professional group.  But even the sociological literature has begun to give more attention to those individual aspects of professionalism (Evans, 2008).  Indeed, the term ‘professionality,’ introduced by Hoyle (1974), has begun to be used to refer to the individual aspects such as the behaviours, attitudes, and values characteristic of members of a professional group.

Although the distinction between ‘professionalism’ and ‘professionality’ has certainly not made its way into common usage, the distinction between the institutional aspects and the individual aspects of professionalism and professionalization is useful and particularly germane to the profession of HR at this point in time.

Download PDF: The Professionalization of Human Resources

Recruiting Talent Using Applicant Tracking Systems

As demographics, technology and social media change, so must approaches to recruiting talent.Companies who establish innovative recruiting practices will have a competitive advantage for attracting quality candidates. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are a key component of this. Their ability to provide an improved candidate experience leads to a greater talent pool from which to draw and, by automating routine recruiting activities, also provides Human Resource (HR) professionals and hiring managers time to focus on other aspects of recruiting. This article explores the benefits of Applicant Tracking Systems and considerations for choosing the right product for your organization.

What are Applicant Tracking Systems?

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) help companies with the first stage of talent management—recruiting the right candidates. ATSs support recruiting by simplifying the candidate application process and storing the information collected in a database. Robust reporting, electronic candidate screening, automated ‘approval to hire’, candidate tracking, and onboarding processes are all typical features.

Benefits of Applicant Tracking Systems

Why invest the time and money to implement an ATS when organizations have recruited for many years without one?

  • Simple application process: When competing for scarce talent, it’s beneficial to have a simple candidate application process. Most systems allow candidates to upload resumes or LinkedIn profiles reducing the time required to apply. Profiles can be re-used making it easier for candidates to apply for other jobs. ATS social media tools allow job hunters to forward postings to their network broadening the reach of the search.
  • Searchable database: Applications reside in a searchable database eliminating the need for electronic or paper folders to store candidate information. Although ATSs cannot fully screen resumes, the level of automation narrows the candidate pool with standard screening questions, reducing the time needed to short list applications.
  • Automated processes: Most systems provide the capability to automate the approval to hire and onboarding processes saving the HR and hiring manager time required to complete these activities.Candidate tracking assists with record keeping and supports effective communication between HR and hiring managers.
  • Meeting expectations: As the use of ATSs increases, candidates expect a seamless application process. Relying on out-dated email or paper based applications will put the organization at a disadvantage and potentially reduce the applicant pool.

Determining your Needs—What can an ATS do for you?

Before implementing an ATS, you first need to determine what objectives you need it to fulfill, what processes and resources it will affect, and assess stakeholder needs. Here are some steps you can take.

  • Examine current recruiting practices. A complete understanding of the current process is needed to assess and select vendors.Document the process, list who is involved, time required and typical number of searches conducted per year. This highlights inefficiencies that may be addressed by an ATS, which is key to building a business case for investing in a system.
  • Define the outcome. What will be different about the recruiting process after implementation? This may include an improved candidate experience or reduced costs. Key stakeholders should help define and prioritize the benefits that are most important to the organization.
  • See a demonstration. Product demonstrations provide an overview of ATS capabilities to help compare the features most important to improving the recruiting process.
  • Identify Stakeholders. Make a list of stakeholders who will be impacted by implementing an ATS. The success of implementation depends on stakeholders’ ability to support the changes an ATS will bring to recruiting. Analyzing the impact to the stakeholders, and finding ways to involve them in the selection and implementation will facilitate this process.
  • Develop decision criteria. Before assessing vendors, list criteria for selecting the best product. This will include cost, implementation requirements, and the features most important to improving the recruiting process.
  • Assess HR support. ATSs have several features to support the recruiting process. Assess the time and expertise HR staff will need to take advantage of the system’s features and support hiring managers. ATSs have powerful reporting capabilities. Consider who will analyse reports and decide what to do with the data. Determine who will have accountability to maintain the system beyond day to day recruiting support.
  • Assess the return on investment. Cost structures for ATSs vary—some are based on the number of hires per year or number of recruiters. Determine if this is a worthwhile investment based on the number of searches conducted annually. There may be other recruiting investments such as changing the staff compliment or new approaches to sourcing candidates that would have a greater impact on recruiting outcomes.

5 Questions to ask Vendors

With the variety of options available, there are several considerations for selecting the right product for the organization.

  1. What resources are required to implement an ATS? Some vendors fully support product implementation. Other systems require assistance from in house Information Technology staff or external consultants with previous experience implementing the product. Depending on the size of the organization and budget for the project, this may narrow the list of ATSs for consideration.
  2. Who is the first point of contact for job candidates or internal users with questions about the system? There are a variety of approaches to post implementation, from full vendor support to internal super-users who manage enquiries. Another aspect of ongoing support includes changes to security access and support for software upgrades. It’s important to understand the support model, internal resources required and associated costs.
  3. Does the ATS need to link to the Human Resource Information System (HRIS) or Talent Management software? If linkages are required, explore vendors’ past experience with implementing links between systems in other organizations.
  4. Where is candidate information stored? Options include vendor provided web based storage or company provided servers. If the database is maintained by the vendor, ask about back-up systems, server location and applicable access to information and privacy laws. If the organization must store the database, assess the system and staffing impact of doing so.
  5. What other organizations use this product? Check references by networking with other organizations using the systems you are considering. They will have insight into how the ATS functions on a daily basis, along with suggestions for implementation and pitfalls to avoid.

Conclusion

There are many Applicant Tracking Systems on the market. Selecting the best product requires knowledge of internal processes, stakeholders and a thorough analysis of features and vendor support. As with any technology it will never completely replace the people in place that support the system but, when implemented correctly, an ATS can provide a better experience for applicants and wider pool of talent for the organization to consider.

 

About the Author

Lori Stewart

Lori Stewart is the Manager of Organizational Development and Learning at Queen’s Human Resources, where she supports university departments with organization design, organizational assessments, process reviews, and facilitation services. Lori teaches in the Queen’s School of Policy Studies, Master of Industrial Relations Program and consults as a Team Performance Coach with MBA programs at the Queen’s School of Business. Lori holds a Master of Industrial Relations from Queen’s University and a Bachelor of Business Administration from Acadia University.

The Relevant HR Professional: Five Strategies to Better Engage with Senior Business Leaders

I’m always stunned when I hear a senior business leader say that their head of HR isn’t one of their key advisors; that the head of HR is often not at the senior executive table when major strategic or market initiatives are being discussed.

And yet, in most organizations, human resources are both the largest expense line in the profit and loss statement and the most mission-critical resource: it is only with good people that ANYTHING of business value gets done. For this reason alone, there should be a senior HR professional at the table for every strategic discussion.

So how can it be that in so many companies, the senior HR professionals get relegated to the kids’ table when the main meal is being prepared and served? Why are HR issues too frequently an afterthought? The reason for this comes from both sides; business line executives often feel HR professionals spend too much time on process and analysis and not enough on understanding and creating strategic impact; and HR professionals historically have not been trained or encouraged to find the necessary business skills to identify that impact and talk about it in language that excites and engages business leaders.

We have to earn our way to the table. Yes, it is critical for our own careers, but more importantly it is imperative for the business.  Outlined here are five strategies that any HR professional can employ to make themselves so relevant to the business and so engaged in its success that senior executives will demand that they are invited to join the senior executive team.

1. Understand your customer’s customer

To connect our value to what is most important to our customers – the senior executive team in our organization – we need to deeply understand our customer’s customer. What is happening in their market? What pressures are they under to differentiate themselves from the competition in their customer’s eyes?  What kind of skills will they need to achieve that differentiation? Dave Ulrich, in his excellent book HR From the Outside In: Six Competencies for the Future of Human Resources, talks about the need for HR professionals to reverse the way they view the world, to go outside and understand the motivations of customers, regulators, industry groups and competitors. (As a note, Ulrich’s book HR From the Outside In: Six Competencies for the Future of Human Resources forms the heart of the Queen’s IRC Advanced HR program.)

By going outside the business and looking back in from the customer’s point-of-view, we can directly connect to the challenges our business line executives are facing in forming and executing a winning strategy. With this knowledge we can then shape and focus the value we deliver to help our customers differentiate their offerings and capture and retain their customers. By doing this we earn the right to engage in the strategic discussions that take place at the senior table.

2. Learn how to “sell” your value

The challenge for any executive in today’s business environment – this applies to CIO’s, marketing directors, compliance and risk officers, product heads and CFO’s in addition to HR professionals – is that there are more good projects to consider for investment than there are budget dollars to fund them. To be relevant, we need to be able to show how any initiative we propose will directly improve the business. We need to “sell” our ideas, and to sell them we must connect them directly to one or more of three key business drivers.

  1. How can this investment help to grow revenue?
  2. How can this investment reduce or help to better manage our costs?
  3. How can this investment help to better manage our risks?

Revenue. Cost. Risk. To be relevant, to be invited to the senior table, we need to ensure that any idea we propose connects directly to one or more of these areas. To do this, we need to understand how money is generated, how it is spent and what risks are involved in creating a profitable, competitive company.

3. Answer First

In discussing or presenting an initiative, start by showing the answer. Get to the point – immediately! And then backfill information as it is needed or requested. There is a story that when Jamie Dimon, current CEO of JPMorgan Chase, went to Bank One to be their new CEO, the weekly management meetings went on for hours and hours (8 hours was the number I heard when the story was relayed to me). Mr. Dimon is a driver, confident in his own knowledge and comfortable making decisions; these meetings drove him crazy.

So he implemented a rule that was called “Answer First”. Any executive making a presentation had to summarize his or her presentation on one cover page, including the relevant numbers. If the one page story was enough, the executive team made their decision and moved on. If they needed more information, the presenting executive was asked to present more. The meetings went from 8 hours to 2 hours. The point is that senior executives can process information very quickly – they “get” it – without needing extensive details. Remember, they aren’t buying a 40 page PowerPoint deck or 100 pages of detailed research – they are buying a compelling business argument backed by realistic financials. Make the concise argument. Back up your argument with relevant research and realistic financial numbers. Do the research and analysis and have your backup material ready, but don’t turn the telling of the story into a painful, mind numbing experience.

4. How do we get from here to money?

In most HR change initiatives, we are asking senior executives to invest in a change that will bring strategic benefit to their business. To earn this investment, we must be able to show the key decision makers how the organization or department will get from here to the point in time when their investment reaps the predicted returns. How do we get from here to money? This is an act of imagination – and it is an act we can’t assume our executives will make or will make well enough to see the full benefits and green light our project. We have to show them – succinctly – how the change will take place, when the investment will be required, when they can expect a return on that investment and how the risks of implementation will be managed.

5. Change the Conversation

To look at HR value through a business lens requires a mindset shift. To achieve this shift we need to change the way we think and talk about our work – we need to change the conversation. And the first conversation we need to change is the one in our heads. We need to think about what we do in terms of ultimate value to the business and – wherever realistically possible – translate that value into hard dollar financial terms.  This conversation must be the start of our approach to any problem or project: What is the business problem? What financial measure or risk mitigation practice am I working to improve? How can I plan and implement this change that gets us from here to money with the greatest speed and the least risk?

Secondly, we need to change the conversation with our teams. When we are discussing, researching, defining and preparing our arguments we need to challenge each other to define the business impact and to express it – Answer First! –  in succinct business terms and financial numbers.

And finally, we need to change the conversation with our senior executives. Even if we don’t have strong numbers, we need to be willing to talk about the numbers, about business impact, about their stakeholders, about how their strategy can be strengthened and the implementation times shortened. We need to change the conversation – in our head, with our team, and with our customers.

Companies and organizations of all sizes and shapes need senior HR professionals at the senior executive table. With the coming shifts in demographics and the endlessly accelerating need for better technical and business acumen and skills, there is a chair waiting at that table to be filled. Take the challenge – make yourself relevant and engaging; execute these strategies to show the full impact that you and HR can have on your business.

About the Author

Jim Harrison, Queen's IRC Facilitator

Jim Harrison is an international consultant focused on strategy, sales and talent management for mid-sized to large organizations.  He started his career in financial services, working as a money trader for RBC/Dominion Securities.  He has over 27 years’ experience in consulting, training, and executive coaching. Jim is a facilitator on the Queen’s IRC Linking HR Strategy to Business Strategy program.  He also works with clients in North & South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia, and regularly facilitates strategy and training sessions for such well-known companies as IBM, Accenture, PwC, KPMG, Fuji, AGFA, the Toronto Dominion Bank, Deutsche Bank, and HSBC. He received his B.Sc. degree in Finance from Florida State University and a Master’s Degree in English from the University of California, Irvine.

 

References

Ulrich, D., Younger, J., Brockbank, W. & Ulrich, M. (2012). HR from the Outside In: Six Competencies for the Future of Human Resources. New York: McGraw-Hill

Understanding Generational Differences in the Workplace: Findings and Conclusions

The study of generational differences has garnered increasing interest among organizations, practitioners and researchers in recent years. There are many reasons for this keen interest, including the need to manage people from several different generations, to better adapt the workplace to a multigenerational workforce, to attract and retain new talent, and to identify the working conditions that will lead to positive attitudes and behaviours among younger workers.

Since workers from different generations have always worked together, why does this situation currently appear to be raising challenges for human resource management? Three reasons are put forward. First, the different generations are said to have different values and expectations regarding work which are not easily compatible. Second, people from different generations are working together for longer periods now than they did in the past. Workers are less likely to follow the clear cut studies-work-retirement path that was formerly standard. People leave their jobs, upgrade their skills, look for new jobs, change careers, retire and then, increasingly, re-enter the labour market. Third and lastly, the difficulties stemming from this situation are brought about by discrepancies in the management practices of companies themselves. Stable, high-quality jobs are becoming scarce. Employees are no longer accumulating the funds needed to ensure financial security during retirement and find themselves having to work longer. Those who have invested in enhancing their skills and who have had unstable careers are staying in the workforce longer or taking advantage of bridge employment opportunities which delay their exit from the labour market.

In this research report, we will show that generational differences are a myth and have very little empirical support. Following a contextual overview, we will discuss the theoretical and analytical frameworks that have been used to explain the differences between the generations. We will end with some conclusions.

Download PDF: Understanding Generational Differences in the Workplace: Findings and Conclusions

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