The Government of Alberta’s Organizational Design Journey

In early 2013, the Government of Alberta (GoA) Ministry of Innovation and Advanced Education’s review of their organizational structure began. This was part of an overall GoA-wide commitment to reviewing ministry structures. The intent was to ensure that the roles within the organization and branch/divisional structures, aligned with the current and future business needs. The executive team supported this approach and agreed that the Queen’s IRC’s model of organizational design, or the 4-D’s, was the process the department would use to complete the reviews.

The Ministry of Innovation and Advanced Education’s Human Resource (HR) department was tasked with taking a lead role. Our Executive Director of HR was very proactive and supportive by ensuring that as many HR consultants and managers as possible had taken the Queen’s IRC Organizational Design course. The HR department temporarily structured themselves in a way that would allow for the focus of this work. We created a team of eight HR consultants and managers whose primary role for 6-8 months would be working with divisions and branches, using the model and implementing the design down to the employee level. This opportunity was a new way of working for HR, and the approach was also new for our clients. Our goal was to have all divisions complete their review by March of 2014.  Putting the 4-D’s into operation across six divisions, and multiple branches was going to be a large challenge in such a short period.  Human Resource consultants and managers were the key facilitators. Previous branches within the Ministry of Innovation and Advanced Education had completed design work using the 4-D’s, so we knew the process worked well.

As we started the work, we also began drafting a guide which all of us could draw from for each group we were working with.  We created ‘design teams’ which consisted of employees at all levels and who could best represent the work across a division or branch. We used the recently updated competencies of the GoA, including systems thinking, innovation, and creativity as examples of criteria for choosing the design team members. We agreed that as part of our continuous learning, HR would meet as a group every Monday morning for 45 minutes to review lessons learned, share experiences, and update each other on progress.

We began the work with senior leader discussions on the model, and an orientation with our design teams. We reinforced the process, and started the conversations by completing 2-day kickoff sessions. Following the 2-day kickoff, we met approximately one day per week for about 2-3 months.  Each session informed the next, and we trusted the process to get us where we needed to be.  We ensured senior leaders were part of the discussions as needed, and kept them in the loop regarding progress.  The responsibility of communicating to the organization was given to the design team members so they were actively engaged in the change conversations.

After multiple sessions were completed, we developed design prototypes which were conceptual in nature and included narratives to provide context. Each division or branch worked on more than one prototype.  To ensure buy in, and that all employees had input, we invited divisional staff to ‘town halls’ which provided an opportunity for every employee to give feedback on the designs. The town halls became an opportunity to engage with all staff as well as get their feedback.

The final stage, after revising our prototypes from all employee input, was final approval by the Assistant Deputy Ministers and their senior leaders. Once approved, we moved into implementation. Implementation required HR consultants and managers to work closely with branches and units to determine work that would change, and potential new roles.

Overall, this work has transformed our HR department, as our work has now extended beyond the traditional core functions of human resources and our clients have seen the value of the human resources role in this work.

The design process is built on shared understanding and dialogue. It takes time to complete the process and implement it.  But through this process, we learned that using the collective wisdom of the employees across an organization is very powerful.  Many senior leaders have said it was unlikely they would have come up with the designs that their teams did on their own.

However, our story is not complete.  We made tremendous progress this year, but the work continues.  We built an evaluation framework to assess the processes we used during the design and implementation.  It will also evaluate the outcomes from the new designs one year from now. Hopefully, we will see that the designs have contributed to meeting the future business needs of the GoA.

As one HR employee noted “if you want to change a culture of both the ministry or a work unit, go through a design process with them.”

 

About the Authors

Dianna Wilk is the Executive Director of Human Resources with the Ministry of Innovation & Advanced Education & Job Skills Training and Labour, for the Government of Alberta.

Judi Carmichael is the Director of Human Resource Consulting, with the Ministry of Innovation & Advanced Education & Job Skills Training and Labour, for the Government of Alberta.

Marina Christopherson is the Director of Human Resource Strategies, with the Ministry of Innovation & Advanced Education & Job Skills Training and Labour, for the Government of Alberta.

 

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

 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.”

Queen’s IRC Announces Partnership with Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business

Queen’s University IRC is pleased to announce a collaborative partnership with the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business in Trinidad.  This agreement will allow us to bring existing programming to a different audience and to develop exciting learning opportunities with a new partner.

We have been working with the Cave Hill School of Business at the University of the West Indies in Barbados for a number of years, and we are excited to continue to expand our partnerships in the Caribbean.  Both Queen’s IRC and the Arthur Lok Jack GSB have the goals of creating a better working environment for labour relations and human resources practitioners. We have similar teaching styles, using adult learning principles such as engagement and experiential techniques.

The Arthur Lok Jack GSB was established in 1989 as a joint venture between the University of the West Indies and the private sector of Trinidad and Tobago to provide postgraduate education in business and management. It is recognized as the premier institution for the provision of business and management education, training and consultancy services in Trinidad and Tobago, and it extends its reach to the wider Caribbean region.

We welcome this collaboration and look forward to a mutually advantageous relationship as we support the continuing growth and development of business in the Caribbean.

 

 

 

Creating a Strategy for Workplace Investigations

 DynaLIFEDx’s experience mastering the fact-finding and investigation process Workplace investigations – where to begin? Like many organizations DynaLIFEDx conducts internal investigations for a variety of different reasons.

In 2011, new to the world of Human Resources and Employee Relations, I was challenged to evaluate our internal processes for workplace investigations, identify risks and opportunities, and make recommendations on a move forward strategy. What clearly became evident was a strong desire to do the right thing, but a lack of consistency and clarity in how workplace investigations were handled. This lack of consistency and clarity did have the potential to lead to inaccurate findings and create at times, a lack of confidence in the process.

Where to start? Past experience with Queen’s University IRC led me straight to their door. In the fall of 2011 they held a Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation course. As with other training programs I had attended at Queen’s IRC, they put you to work – creating an environment of learning that includes robust discussions, role-playing, knowledgeable and engaging facilitators, and numerous resources to provide guidance.

Led by Anne Grant, an experienced mediator and conflict resolution professional, I began the journey of learning key principles, stages, legal framework, key procedural aspects, principles of fairness and effectively using organizational policy in formal fact-finding investigations – and that was just the beginning. When I left at the end of the week, my mind was filled with potential infrastructure for our organization, and my hands were filled with templates, guides and best practices.

Personal learning aside, my mandate was to bring to the organization a consistent and fair framework for managing complaints and concerns moving forward. Fast forward two years, through trial and error, and our organization has successfully incorporated the numerous learning’s from the Queen’s IRC program, into a process that has become widely respected and trusted, not only by leaders but by employees as well.

Key infrastructure that has been built includes:

  1. Pre Screening Complaints: Options, when to investigate and when not to, understanding your mandate.
  2. Preparing a Plan: Notification processes for complainants, respondents, union and witnesses; planning the investigation.
  3. Gathering and Documenting Evidence: Rules of evidence, sifting through the evidence, accurate documentation.
  4. Interviewing: Planning the Interview, documentation, skill building in interviewing, and roles of all parties.
  5. Reporting Findings: Robust reporting of findings that includes clearly outlined mandates, relevant facts, facts in dispute and facts not in dispute.
  6. Post Investigation Components: Notification of parties, and storage of material from investigations. Included in this was the deliberate removal of the fact-finder from post-investigation follow up, such as recommending and issuing discipline, something that had been practice in the past.

With the support of Queen’s IRC, finding an infrastructure that works within our organization has been vastly successful while at the same time creating a culture where best practice investigation continues to be a mandate.

About the Author

Cathy Rendek is the Manager of Human Resources at DynaLIFEDx, a private medical laboratory with more than 1,200 employees, serving over 1.4 million patients a year. In 2012, Cathy earned both the Labour Relations Certificate and Organizational Development Foundations Certificate from Queen’s IRC.

Queen’s IRC Archive Revitalization Project

The Queen’s IRC archive revitalization project has been unveiled.  The goal of the project, driven by Queen’s IRC Director Paul Juniper, was to digitize archive publications to make them available to the public once again.

“I am excited to be able to share our IRC research and publication history in a new and accessible way,” said Juniper.

Throughout its rich history, Queen’s IRC has enjoyed a long-standing tradition of research excellence in the field of labour relations and human resources. For many years, the IRC operated the IRC Press, which was committed to creating, promoting, and disseminating knowledge about the world of work.

Today, Queen’s IRC primarily releases its practitioner-focused research online, but as a former publishing house, the IRC holds hundreds of publications in their archive.  In 2011, the IRC began a project to digitize some of the “lost” print copies of articles, papers, case studies, and interviews in the collection. During the digitization process, archive articles were carefully selected, scanned, converted, and reformatted digitally.  When the newly redesigned Queen’s IRC website launched in July 2013, they began to share these resources online.

“We have added these papers to the hundreds of resources available on our website,” said Juniper.  From George Adams’ Negotiation: Why Do We Do It Like We Do? to Diane Patterson’s First Contract Arbitration in Ontario: An Evaluation of the Early Experience, these documents will help students, practitioners, and life-long learners understand the context of where we came from and how we got to where we are today.

The two year project was spearheaded by Queen’s IRC Director Paul Juniper, and led by Marketing Assistant, Cathy Sheldrick. Several Queen’s students also assisted with the archive digitization process.

Archive documents can be found in the Research and Resources section of the Queen’s IRC website. More documents are being added on a monthly basis.

Queen’s IRC is also launching a “Flashback Feature”, which will appear in its newsletters, and will highlight an article from the archives that has recently been digitized.

 

Organizational Design: Trusting in the 4-D process

Organizational Design 4-D process - Queen's IRCThe structure of any organization is key to its ability to function productively. In my role of chief executive officer for the Professional Association of Resident Physicians of Alberta (PARA), I was concerned that our organizational form wasn’t aligned with our intended function. My challenge was to take a group of volunteer resident physicians through a design process that would enable our organization to more effectively live its mission: representation for physicians completing further training in a residency program; advocacy for excellence in education and patient care; and optimal working conditions and personal well-being for all its members.

PARA had a number of organizational practices that led to a disconnect between what the organization had intended to achieve, and how it had evolved to achieve it. It was in this context that I, along with one additional staff member and one resident physician volunteer, found ourselves in Banff for three snow-filled days in December, keen to learn about the 4-D process of organizational design. Teaching the Queen’s IRC Organizational Design program was Brenda Barker Scott.

Within the first few hours of the session, my expectations were shattered. Here I thought I was going to get a ready-made template – all I would have to do is insert PARA into an existing governance model. Instead, after that first day, what I went away with was a better understanding of the path we had chosen. We were actually going to take stock of our organization – through the Queen’s IRC Blueprint for Organizational Effectiveness – and we were going to build our own governance model.

This revelation made me nervous, and set off alarm bells in my head; I distinctly remember at least three occasions during the program when I confided my concerns to Brenda, our organizational design guru. “How in the world are we going to get from where we are now to where we need to be?”

Brenda’s calm and confident response was always the same. “Trust in the process, Sarah. Try not to get fixated on the outcome.”

In this spirit, the three of us embarked on our design journey. We committed to trusting in the process; each time any of us got agitated about our yet-to-be-discovered outcome, we would anchor ourselves in Brenda’s wisdom to trust in the process – define, discover, design and do.

The define phase was marked by clarifying the issue at hand. The scope of our project focused on PARA’s infrastructure and our relationships. How could PARA be designed to better manage our volunteer turnover, transition periods, and nature of the work? How could PARA better develop and nurture networks between our members, volunteers, stakeholders and staff? During the define phase, involvement was clearly outlined – who would be involved and when, including what each groups’ responsibilities would be. Understanding PARA’s purpose and context was also a key component of this phase. To answer these questions, we looked to those who had chosen and elected to be involved – our leadership team, design team, contribution team and our contributing stakeholders.

In the discovery stage of this process, the design team was challenged to process all the information that had been gathered, and refine these ideas into discrete criteria statements for the organization. The team came up with seven criteria statements: PARA must be designed to… so that we can achieve… One example of a refined criteria statement is: PARA must be designed to recruit and build diverse leadership capacity so that we can be informed by distinct perspectives and have a collective voice.

From here, the design team was tasked with designing a new framework, which included new processes and policies for our organization. This stage was the heavy lifting, and required the design team to translate the newly developed criteria into the language of “how”; the how would clearly outline strategies for achieving the criteria. This translation included the development of brand new processes, groupings and linkages: a new elections process, reporting structure, committees and working groups, transition policies, and knowledge management infrastructure and protocol. Looking back, the design stage sounded so daunting, but because we didn’t get fixated on the outcome, the design criteria really spoke for itself and the “how” truly just flowed out of the process.

Next stage in the process was “do”. While this stage seemed to be a lot more straightforward, that wasn’t necessarily the case. At this point, only the design team understood what needed to be done. We needed all of those involved to understand and buy into the “what” and the “how”. Luckily, by design, through every step of the processes, we consulted, communicated and sought feedback. I remembered Brenda’s advice: check in often and tell a story: “Here is what we asked you; this is what you told us; here is what we did.” Consult, communicate, feedback, repeat – by the time we got to the point where we were asking our elected members to accept the new bylaws, getting them passed was easy.

This year will be the litmus test as PARA puts our new structure into action through a newly organized and empowered assembly of elected representatives. Our momentum and energy for success is high. Those involved in the project discovered that organizational design is an endurance test, and that Brenda’s advice was sound. You don’t get to the finish line by focusing on the end, you get there by diligent investment and trust in the journey – define, discover, design and do.

About the Author

 Trusting in the 4-D processSarah Thomas has recently moved on from her role as chief executive officer of the Professional Association of Resident Physicians of Alberta. Sarah provided leadership to the organization’s staff and volunteer board of directors for over eight years. Sarah is looking forward to starting a new role with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta in August, 2013.

Queen’s IRC Awards First Advanced HR Certificate

When Paul Juniper became the Director of Queen’s University Industrial Relations Centre (IRC) in 2006, he recognized the need for more senior level training in the changing human resources (HR) profession. To accomplish this, he designed a new series of Advanced HR programs to enhance the strategic knowledge, ability, and capability of HR practitioners. The goal was to enable HR practitioners to shift from an administrative and/or transactional role, to one that has become an integral part of an organization’s business strategy – an HR business partner.

By 2012, with a series of Advanced HR programming in place, the Advanced HR Certificate was introduced. This spring, Erin O’Flynn became the first IRC participant to earn this coveted certificate.

O’Flynn, who is the Director of Human Resources at Cogeco Data Services Inc., started her training with Queen’s IRC in 2008, with the popular Negotiation Skills program. While she had a wish list of IRC programs she wanted take, she wasn’t sure it would ever happen. “Training dollars are so scarce,” she said. “But over time, I was given the chance to take one here and one there, and then I just needed one more.” That one more was the Linking HR Strategy to Business Strategy program, which O’Flynn completed in April 2013.

“The most beneficial programs for me were the Advanced HR, and Linking HR Strategy to Business Strategy programs.” O’Flynn noted that the focus on culture change, how to become a business ally, and change management from a business perspective, were all key takeaways for her.

“I was at a point in my career where the programs underpinned everything I had learned to date, and they helped me to finesse what I’ve learned as an HR professional.”

O’Flynn also found the networking opportunities in the IRC programs very beneficial. She enjoyed the quality of the programs, and the hands-on experience that they offered. “I found the facilitators very good. They are all experts in their field, and they bring their experience to the table, not just the theory.”

“In the Talent Management program, the facilitator provided a lot of great tools. I was able to implement those as soon as I returned to work.”

“Overall, the IRC’s programming is fabulous,”O’Flynn said. “The IRC is very good at making people feel comfortable. It’s a rich learning experience, and very customer friendly.”

It is precisely these reasons why O’Flynn has arranged for other employees to attend the IRC’s programs. “We were coming up to bargaining, and I sponsored two people to attend the Negotiation Skills program. Both walked away with a whole new perspective.”

She describes one employee, who had an ‘I throw out my number and you throw out yours’ approach to collective bargaining. After attending the program, he was able to apply the skills and knowledge right away. “He learned the benefits of interest-based bargaining, and was looking for collaborative ways to negotiate. We saw an immediate cause and effect.”

O’Flynn was excited to earn her Advanced HR certificate – she already has it hanging on the wall in her office. “This certificate, coupled with my on-the-job experience, has further enhanced my credibility as an HR practitioner,” she said. O’Flynn is also excited to be a valued strategic business partner at Cogeco, and to have the skills and knowledge to help shape the company’s strategic goals.

The IRC’s Advanced Human Resources programming began with the foundational program, Advanced HR. It was designed for HR and labour relations professionals currently in a middle management role, with at least three to five years experience managing an HR department, who hold a CHRP designation or equivalent profile. Additional programs include: Succession Planning, Talent Management, HR Decision Making, and Linking HR Strategy to Business Strategy.

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

Graduates of the HR Business Partner Program, Dec 4-6, 2012, Edmonton Alberta
Graduates of the HR Business Partner Program (Series 3), December 2012, Edmonton, AB.

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."

The State of HR in Canada: 2011 Survey Results

 Executive Summary
Paul Juniper, Queen's IRC Director, and Alison Hill, Queen's IRC Research Associate, authored the Executive Summary of An Inquiry into the State of HR in Canada (2011).

In response to increasing demands from organizations, the skills and knowledge that HR professionals require in the workplace continue to shift. As many of our program participants are likely aware, HR professionals are now more involved in strategic roles that help to shape organizational culture, effectiveness, and design.

To target the professional development needs of HR practitioners, the IRC thought it was necessary to reach out to our HR community and gain insights on the complexities of the work HR professionals perform and the challenges they face in their work. We wanted to describe and analyze the state of the HR profession in Canada, based directly on the perspectives of practitioners.

In February 2011, the IRC surveyed HR professionals across Canada to glean their perspectives on HR, the challenges and priorities for HR departments, and the kinds of skills and knowledge that are perceived as critical for the practice. Our 53-question survey was divided into two sections: demographic information and perspectives on the profession. HR professionals were keen to share their insights; we collected over 450 complete survey responses.

This article provides a synthesis of some of our data. Please note that a complimentary copy of An Inquiry into the State of HR in Canada: Executive Summary is available for download from the Queen’s IRC website.

Demographics

 Executive Summary
An Inquiry into the State of HR: Executive Summary

The majority of our respondents, 73%, are female. Respondents are concentrated in the 46 to 55 age bracket, with 33.7% of respondents in this category. Years of HR experience vary amongst respondents, ranging from less than five years to more than 25 years. Job titles range from professional/technical through to CEO/President. Approximately 31% of respondents are HR generalists, while approximately 28% are senior leaders. In general, a respondent is likely to hold an undergraduate university degree (43.5%), a CHRP designation (52.1%), and belong to a provincial HR association (76.1%).

Our sample includes diverse organization sizes, with respondents employed in organizations with fewer than 100 employees to more than 5000 employees. There is a relatively even split in public and private sector representation: 43.7% of respondents work in the public sector, while 42.8% are part of the private sector. An additional 8.0% are from non-profit organizations.

We received many responses from the Prairie region; 66.3% of respondents are from Alberta, Saskatchewan, or Manitoba. The high percentage of respondents from the Prairie region is due in part to the Human Resource Institute of Alberta (HRIA) offering to forward our survey to their membership. In addition, 19.3% of our survey respondents are from Ontario, 8.0% from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, or Prince Edward Island, and 4.2% from British Columbia. The IRC recognizes that there is a distinct lack of responses from Quebec. We suspect that this finding is due to the fact that our survey was only available in English. Moving forward, the IRC may conduct a bilingual survey.

Perspectives on the HR Profession

We now provide a summary of the HR activities in which respondents are involved, the perceived challenges, along with the immediate and long-range priorities for HR departments in Canada. Then, we present the skills and knowledge that HR professionals perceive as critical for their work.

Using a Likert scale, participants reported the extent to which they are currently involved in a select set of 16 HR activities, and also the extent to which they were involved in those same activities two years ago. With the exception of recruitment, on average HR professionals rated their current involvement higher than their involvement two years ago in all of the HR activities we listed. The five activities that were rated highest in current involvement were employee relations, employee engagement, organizational culture, employee training and learning, and change management.

To determine the top challenges faced by HR departments in organizations across Canada, participants were asked to rank order a list of 18 items. Almost three quarters of the respondents (73.8%) ranked talent management in their personal top-five list. Rounding out the rest of the top five were employee engagement (58.5%), succession planning (54.3%), change management (46.6%), and organizational culture creation/maintenance (42.1%). Further analysis showed that these rankings were consistent with no significant difference found based on region or between private and public sectors.

Despite the challenges HR departments encounter, 80.7% of respondents have an optimistic outlook on the future of the profession. This optimism is consistent across sectors and regions. We are encouraged by this optimism.

We then sought to determine the top three immediate priorities (i.e., within the next 12 months) for HR departments. We invited participants to cite the top three priorities for their HR departments. Based on the responses to this open-ended question, the immediate priorities facing HR departments include succession planning, employee engagement, talent management, and training, learning and development.

Similarly, we asked participants to list the top three long-range priorities (i.e., next three to five years) for their HR departments. The results suggest that the long-range priorities are comparable to the immediate priorities. The top three long-range priorities include succession planning, talent management, and recruitment.

Given an understanding of the challenges and priorities facing HR departments, what are the skills and knowledge that HR professionals deem critical for their work? To unpack the skills and knowledge required by HR professionals, we created two open-ended questions that allowed participants to cite their own answers. An interesting finding was that even though the questions were open-ended, themes did prevail in the data. It was clear that HR professionals share similar perspectives on the essential skills and knowledge for their work. Required skills for HR professionals include communication, the ability to think analytically, critically, and strategically, interpersonal skills, technical skills, and conflict resolution. Knowledge required by HR professionals includes business acumen, employment law/legislation, talent management, employee/labour relations, and a broad understanding of HR. Reflecting on this data, it is interesting to note that the skills and knowledge perceived as critical by HR professionals seem to exceed what is typically deemed as “traditional” HR functionalities.

Discussion

Intuitively, HR is, at its core, about people. The role of HR includes, but is not limited to, engaging employees and supporting their professional development, helping employees to manage change, along with organizational culture creation and maintenance. These trends were evident in the top five HR challenges elicited by our respondents.

According to our survey, talent management is perceived as both a challenge and a priority for HR departments, including developing and implementing succession plans, as well as building the capacity of the organization, through effective learning strategies. As such, the IRC has elected to launch a Talent Management program in Fall 2011. The program is still in the development phase; however, the focus of Talent Management is devising effective strategies for recruiting, training, and developing an organization’s talent pool. The program will be designed to allow participants to acquire the skills and knowledge to build an effective talent management strategy for their own organization, discover gaps in existing recruitment and retention practices, and become an important internal resource and advocate on talent management.

In closing, the data collected in our recent HR survey have allowed the IRC to better understand and describe the state of the HR profession in Canada. As intended, the survey findings are helping the IRC to better match our program offerings with the professional development needs of our HR community. Now that we have collected baseline data, the IRC plans to conduct a similar HR survey every two years moving forward. This survey will allow the Centre to compare trends in the profession and continue to provide quality programming for our participants. Our Executive Summary has highlighted only a few of the findings. We intend to rely on the full dataset for future IRC work.

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