The Talent Management Revolution

Talent management has emerged as a top priority for organizations over the last decade and has only been accelerated by the pandemic as employees were sent home, many displaced, and employers had to radically shift business operations. Human Resources (HR) led the charge in supporting business units to make this transition as seamless as possible – while stabilizing a very disrupted workforce. Not only has HR been thrust into the spotlight over these last few years, but progressive HR leaders have played a significant role in shining a spotlight on a much-needed talent management revolution.

Talent management has historically been designed to support more siloed organizational structures, which also tend to be process heavy and administratively onerous. This type of talent model is challenged in its ability to support agility, innovation, and speed to market. While these more traditional systems have guided employees through their employee lifecycle by creating a systematic and predictable set of processes – from acquisition, hiring, onboarding, development, performance management, to offboarding – they are not employee-centric by design, nor do they provide the kind of flexibility people strategies now require. What is more, employee expectations have evolved as demands for more autonomy, internal mobility, meaning, career development, and work-life balance have forced organizations to rethink overall talent management systems.

One of the most notable, and widely reported on outcomes of this shift in employee expectations has been coined ‘The Great Resignation’[1].  As employees are leaving jobs by the throngs, reprioritizing work life and focusing on well-being, employers have been tasked with finding new approaches to support employee engagement and retention. Employees want to gain a deeper sense of meaning from their work and are calling on their workplaces to invest in their development and career mobility.

Another key issue that has been accelerated by the pandemic is known as the ‘skills gap’ which emerged as organizations have increased their reliance on technology. As the World Economic Forum projects, 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025.[2]  This focus on skills development is an opportunity for organizations to invest in their employees; the key will be for organizations to have a multi-pronged learning and development strategy that targets the development of specific skill sets, taps into individual interests and development goals, while supporting business priorities and creating a strong succession pipeline. As Amy Borsetti, Senior Director of Talent Solutions at LinkedIn notes, “skills are the new currency at work and organizations play a critical role in creating the conditions to learn, advance the learning process, and offer effective learning opportunities for people to grow, get promoted…and contribute to the organization’s vision, mission, and business outcomes.”[3] These kinds of strategies will set organizations apart and become part of the employer value proposition.

A talent model that is emerging as a more practical and contemporary solution to address some of these challenges is the Talent Marketplace, defined by Betterup as an internal system within an organization focused on developing talent. “The talent marketplace lets employees promote their skills and pursue aspirations. It also allows companies to post projects, gigs, new roles, or even mentoring opportunities.”[4]

These platforms have the capability to capture and share data about employees’ current skills, and through personalized profiles, allow employees to update their skills as they complete training, participate in projects, and share their career aspirations and interests.  This is a more networked, interactive, and engaging space where organizations can communicate more effectively, improving speed to market by having the right talent deployed to the right projects. This is a significant shift from more traditional talent management solutions which have lacked mechanisms to capture these kinds of insights, ultimately inhibiting internal mobility and career progression.

As Taylor and Lebo note in their book, The Talent Revolution, 40% of employees feel they are stuck in their jobs. Revamping current career path options requires organizations to take notice of the large, productive workforce available to them.[5] Leveraging the platform as a centralized skills database – where organizations can conduct a skills inventory and gap analysis – does just that; it provides the kind of insight organizations need to understand workforce capability, inform succession, and acquisition planning, and enable internal talent mobility.

There are several talent marketplace solutions that can be adapted to meet the specific needs of your organization; however, you can start to implement some of these practices more immediately by leveraging your organization’s intranet. Creating an internal site where employees are encouraged to post information about their interests, showcase their project work, and update their skills is a great starting point. Similarly, leaders can use the portal to share business updates, workplans, and job opportunities. This can also present an opportunity for organizations to develop mentorship programs where matching interests and development goals to people can become a great, cost-effective development strategy.

4 Best Practices to Support Staff   

In terms of more immediate strategies to help you better support your staff, here are some best practices that you can implement that will help to get you started.

  1. Regular Check-ins are an important activity to build trust with your employees. These regular 1:1s allow you to provide ongoing and relevant support to your staff, and help you determine if additional supports are needed to stay on top of deliverables. In addition to your employee 1:1s, make sure you schedule regular team meetings. This gives an opportunity for staff to showcase their work, consult other team members, and build team trust and collaboration.
  2. Stay interviews are a great way to manage involuntary turnover – especially for high-performing employees. These conversations can help clarify employee motivation and career aspirations, it also provides an opportunity for employees to provide feedback, identify any barriers they may be experiencing in their roles, and what incentives can be put in place to support their retention. These conversations will build trust, instill a sense of reciprocity, encourage engagement, and improve employee morale. The HR department would typically lead this process.
  3. Development Plans help to align business priorities with individual development goals. They also provide strategic stretch and development opportunities. They can include secondments, mentorships, and gig assignments. Development plans should also address any feedback provided in stay interviews and annual performance discussions. The goal here is to help support the development of employees while also mapping career progression. Actively investing in employee development also serves engagement and retention strategies.
  4. Performance conversations should be happening regularly through in-the-moment feedback and your regular 1:1 meetings. Employees shouldn’t be surprised by feedback in their annual performance reviews. Use coaching skills in your regular conversations with employees to support development areas, address any issues, and to revise annual goals and/or expectations as business needs evolve throughout the year. And don’t forget to ask employees to provide you with feedback as well. Stay open to building a reciprocal relationship.

About the Author

Wylie BurkeWylie Burke is an innovation consultant, facilitator, and leadership coach. She has over 15 years of experience in business administration, human resources, strategic and operational planning, and leading high performing teams. She brings a unique perspective to her work, having had the pleasure of working for a diverse range of organizations including United Way Toronto, CIBC, SickKids, WSIB, and Toronto Metropolitan University. She has led large-scale merger and integration initiatives, cultural transformation and change strategies, and is recognized for taking a people-centred and creative approach to her work and is inspired by helping people and organizations realize potential and reach new heights. As a sought-after coach, consultant, and facilitator, Wylie is recognized for creating inclusive environments that inspire insights, connection, fun, shared learning, and that result in personal and organizational integration. Wylie is passionate about her work with clients in reimagining the overarching HR function, turning it from a process heavy one into a strategically designed talent hub. Employing a design thinking methodology, Wylie helps to evolve talent models, programs, and strategies into innovative, agile, flexible, relevant assets that connect talent decisions to value-creating outcomes.

Wylie is the facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Talent Management program.


Borsetti, A. (2021, March 2). Skills are the new Currency in the World of Work. LinkedIn. Retrieved, May 1, 2022, from

Boudreau, J. (2016, March 17). Work in the Future Will Fall into These 4 Categories. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved May 1, 2022, from

Chung, A. (2021, November 29). What is the ‘Great Resignation’? An Expert Explains. World Economic Forum. Retrieved, May 1, 2022, from

Deloitte Insights. (2020, September 18). Activating the Internal Talent Marketplace. Retrieved May 1, 2022, from

Maggioncalda, J. & Yacoub, S. (2020, December 4). 4 Ways to Reskill the Global Workforce – and this is where it’s already happening. World Economic Forum. Retrieved, May 1, 2022, from

Miles, M. (2022, March 17). What is a talent marketplace and why do employees need it? BetterUp. Retrieved May 1, 2022, from,projects%2C%20gigs%2C%20new%20roles%2C%20or%20even%20mentoring%20opportunities.

Schreiber-Shearer, N. (2022, January 24). What is a Talent Marketplace? Inside The Talent Marketplace: Game-Changing Platform That Unlocks Workforce Agility. Retrieved, May 1, 2022, from

Taylor, L. & Lebo, F. (2019) The Talent Revolution, Longevity and the Future of Work. University of Toronto Press.


[1] Chung, A. (2021, November 29). What is the ‘Great Resignation’? An Expert Explains. World Economic Forum. Retrieved, May 1, 2022, from

[2] Maggioncalda, J. & Yacoub, S. (2020, December 4). 4 Ways to Reskill the Global Workforce – and this is where it’s already happening. World Economic Forum. Retrieved, May 1, 2022, from

[3]  Borsetti, A. (2021, March 2). Skills are the new Currency in the World of Work. LinkedIn. Retrieved, May 1, 2022, from

[4] Miles, M. (2022, March 17). What is a talent marketplace and why do employees need it? BetterUp. Retrieved May 1, 2022, from

[5] Taylor, L. & Lebo, F. (2019) The Talent Revolution, Longevity and the Future of Work. University of Toronto Press.

Hot Skills in a Dynamic Canadian Labour Market


Hot Skills in a Dynamic Canadian MarketUp until March 2020, Canada had minimal to no real unemployment. Essentially, it was a seller’s market where anybody looking for work could find it. This reality, which defined and drove compensation priorities and strategies, was especially true for highly skilled and knowledge-intensive employees, and organizations that required their critical competencies to deliver on mandate expectations. Opportunities and challenges were particularly pronounced for unique job families and roles like Cyber-Security and AI Specialists that were short on supply and in high demand.

Over the course of the past 15 months as all industry sectors and employers navigated the devastating impact of the pandemic, and rapidly transitioned to a broad range of digital service and product platforms, the labour market imbalances for highly specialized skill sets became even more pronounced.  Quite simply, the existing supply of technical and knowledge-intensive specialists, and those being produced through apprenticeship, college, university and licensed programs, have not kept up with demand. More specifically, for example, labour markets have not been able been able to source an adequate supply of nurses in healthcare, digital software engineers and technicians in high technology, and environmental scientists in clean energy, to name but a few.  The net result of these pronounced labour market imbalances has been production and service delivery constraints, and ultimately material risk to customer, client and patient quality commitments. Strategically, this contextual reality and now a re-opening economy are forcing employers of all kinds to strategically think through what they can do from an HR and compensation perspective to better attract and retain these mission-critical resources or colloquially, “hot skills”.

Understanding the impact of hot skills on one’s business model and organizational capabilities can be both a challenge and an opportunity and, if not done thoughtfully and carefully, can result in a number of HR and economic risks. Knowing what hot skills are in this day and age, how they should be managed and compensated, and the risks and implications of ineffective choices for both one’s hot skill employees and broader workforce have become a critically important HR strategy issue for many employers.

What are Hot Skills?

Hot Skills are essentially an occupational or job-specific skill or a set of skills that are highly specialized and in high demand and in short supply (SHRM, 2011), and are viewed as being of critical importance to mandate value creation and customer satisfaction. These labour market imbalances can be found across multiple industry sectors and even geographies. In some cases, the skills may only be in high demand for a short period of time (e.g. Y2K conversion in the year 2000), and in other cases, the skills can remain in demand for a prolonged period of time (e.g. an experienced construction engineer).

So how does an organization determine if a skill is hot or not? The first signs are typically recruitment and retention challenges. If an organization is continuously having trouble attracting certain skill sets through external recruitment efforts, it may be because of a poor employee brand, ineffective recruitment efforts, or quite simply because of uncompetitive base and/or variable pay practices. Similarly, if an organization is continually having trouble retaining certain skill sets and the issue is not due to the working environment or organizational culture, but rather because of materially higher rates of pay being offered by marketplace competitors, the organization is likely dealing with a “hot skill” compensation challenge.  And of course, in this high-speed digital age where social media is driving the pace of both content and perception distribution, these hot skill attraction and retention challenges are being shared and perpetuated continuously by external candidates and employees alike.

Compensation for Hot Skills

Once a hot skill has been identified, there are several different human resources strategy options that could be deployed to address the attraction and retention issues. These options can include a select number of non-compensation solutions, and range from contracting out to revising specific HR policies and programs to attract and retain hot skill talent (for example, training and development, unique career paths, and even specialized benefits). Many organizations, however, conclude that a compensation response is also needed, especially when competing human resources strategies appear to be comparable and not differentiated.

A compensation strategy to address a measured hot skill challenge, however, is a major decision and can have profound ramifications.  As a starting point, an employer should consider its overall compensation philosophy – is it willing to offer a unique element of compensation to a designated workforce segment to the exclusion of its broader talent-base, and thereby alter internal equity practices to address external equity realities? Once these priorities and guiding principles have been confirmed, management can then explore a number of different compensation strategies or options for dealing with hot skills.  These options can be varied and include:

  1. Simply examining and better promoting one’s full total rewards package. Are there plans that your organization offers beyond direct total cash compensation to attract and retain hot skill employees? For example, better emphasizing above-market pension and/or benefits programs that other competing employers may not offer at all – as is typically the case in healthcare;
  2. Identifying and defining possible base pay premiums that would be selectively offered to hot skill jobs and incumbents, but on an annual renewable and without prejudice basis;
  3. Identifying and defining very specific attraction [e.g. sign-on bonuses] and retention-based [tenure] variable pay rewards for designated “hot skill” jobs and employees;
  4. Working within one’s existing base salary range framework and administering one-off in-range adjustments for existing hot skill employees whose compa-ratio positioning is below target control points;
  5. Possibly offering above minimum range base salaries for external recruits; and,
  6. Exploring other non-monetary benefits (e.g. extra vacation, paid membership or license fees, etc.).

For a number of reasons, including the varying nature of what skillsets are considered “hot”, how long pay premiums last, and the confidentiality of strategic compensation practices especially in the same industry sector, it is difficult to find and establish concrete external trends and data sources. Current but limited research, however, suggests that organizations offering hot skill pay supplements offer time-based premiums of 5% to 10% of base pay that are deemed separate from established classification and base salary policies – to do otherwise would blur and possibly compromise both core internal equity and pay equity principles. Some organizations may also offer a “sign-on” bonus [supported by specific tenure-based “claw-back” requirements], or one-time retention bonuses supported by specific tenure criteria in order to secure certain skills.

Contextual Considerations

Even in the face of identified and measured hot skills and related compensation challenges, not all organizations are able to respond and deploy an agile compensation response to address hot skill priorities. Unionized employers and unions working within an existing collective agreement will likely be constrained in this regard. Other constraints may include fiscal year timing and budget limitations, pay equity requirements and the gender predominance of designated hot skill jobs, as well as legislative pay restraints found across various public sector jurisdictions.  Finally, some employers may philosophically be of the view that they will not make unique provisions for the few to the perceived detriment of the many, and therefore, are prepared to explore other broader HR strategies to address hot skill shortages such as outsourcing, strategic partnerships, multi-skilling, and even incremental overtime.

Conclusion: Intended and Unintended Consequences

While the identification of hot skill jobs within one’s organization can be a straightforward exercise, the related compensation and human resources decisions that are made to address them will have profound policy implications, and possibly unintended consequences. For example, a decision to not offer some sort of compensation premium or adjustment when you have specific hot skill roles may undoubtedly impact your attraction and retention of these incumbents, and therefore materially constrain marketplace growth aspirations and customer expectations. Conversely, a deliberate strategy to offer a select compensation adjustment or premium runs the risk of perceived internal inequities and broader employee disengagement. More specifically, providing a hot-skill premium to a very select number of roles and employees within a particular function [e.g. IT/IS] or job family [e.g. digital] may be viewed as being overly generous and unfair to the balance of employees in the function or business unit.  Increased absenteeism and turnover, let alone declining employee engagement and productivity may then be the unintended consequences!

Even in the case where the hot skill premium is profoundly needed because of profound competitive pressures, the decision may be costly, and difficult to undo in the future if related labour markets strike a balanced demand/supply equilibrium.  Employers must also weigh the need for additional administrative and management efforts that will be required to monitor and assess external labour market and compensation practices, and related policy responses. For some organizations, this incremental management cost has become more pronounced because of the speed and impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on labour market and compensation practices, and how quickly they can be up-ended and render one’s compensation program, let alone hot skill strategies, irrelevant.

As many of us can attest, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned well-intended compensation strategies upside-down, including measured hot-skill premiums. With the economy and labour markets now rebounding as we hopefully move into a post-pandemic era, those employers that are able to identify their hot skill jobs and people, and determine and “stress test” relevant compensation strategies, will be strategically well-positioned to optimize attraction, retention and related performance for years to come.

About the Authors

Ian CullwickIan Cullwick is a retired Partner with an international consulting firm, and served as the Vice-President of HR and Organization Research at the Conference Board of Canada. Ian is a specialist in human resources governance, organization and performance management, and compensation strategy.  He is also a noted thought leader and has authored articles on organization design, performance management and compensation strategy. In addition to serving as a Queen’s IRC Instructor, Ian also teaches in the Executive MBA program at the Telfer School of Management.

Katrina GalicKatarina Galic is a Compensation Specialist at a large asset management organization in Toronto, responsible for the development, governance and administration of compensation programs and practices. Katarina specializes in job evaluation, broader workforce market benchmarking, salary structure design, and total rewards for a global organization. Previously, Katarina was a consultant in Ottawa with an international HR consulting firm, where she supported clients on competitive pay analyses and job levelling in the public, private, and crown corporation sector. Katarina holds a Bachelor of Commerce specializing in Human Resource Management at the University of Ottawa.



Perez, T. (2019, January 30). Which Skills Are the Most Valuable? – Compensation Research. Retrieved July 09, 2021, from

Ledford, G., & Heneman, H. (2011, June). Skill-Based Pay. Retrieved July 09, 2021, from,%20FINAL.pdf.



Identifying High Potential

Identifying High PotentialHow do you spot potential? What differentiates a high potential employee from one who has reached a career plateau? Many organizations fall into the trap of relying on past performance as a measure of future potential. Current and past performance may be an indicator of potential, but the two are not synonymous. In fact, according to a study conducted by Gartner (previously CEB/SHL Talent Measurement) only one in seven high performers are actually high potentials.[1] That means that over 85% of today’s top performers lack the critical attributes essential to success in future roles.  People who perform well in their current positions can fail miserably if they are promoted beyond their level of competence.

To more accurately identify potential, it is useful to assess an individual’s level of “learning agility”. Learning agility is the speed at which people learn and adapt to change. It is a term used to describe continuous learners who are open to exploring new ways of thinking and being. Agile learners are students of life who are able to abandon entrenched patterns and ways of operating to try new things.

The ground-breaking research in this area was undertaken by McCall, Lombardo, and Morrison (1988).[2] Their book, “Lessons of Experience,” was based on research indicating that many high performing managers who possess the technical skills required to perform their jobs effectively do not succeed when promoted. This is because they tend to rely on the skills that made them effective in their previous roles, rather than learning the new skills necessary after they had been promoted. Conversely, managers who performed successfully after promotion were more willing to extrapolate from past experience while learning new skills.

Korn/Ferry (previously Lominger,)[3] espoused that learning agility is a reliable measure of leadership potential. This is because learning agile individuals are capable of absorbing and integrating information from their experience and then extrapolating what they have learned to apply the knowledge and skills in a completely new context. The Learning Agility Model they developed is comprised of the following four components:

  1. People Agility – People who treat others respectfully, communicate effectively with diverse individuals and respond positively and resiliently under pressure.
  2. Results Agility – People who accomplish results under challenging circumstances, inspire others to do the same and exhibit a presence that builds confidence in themselves and others.
  3. Mental Agility – People who take a fresh view of problems, are comfortable dealing with ambiguity and complexity, and are capable of explaining their thinking to others.
  4. Change Agility – People who are comfortable with change, demonstrate curiosity, experiment with new approaches and constantly strive to improve themselves.

Another model often used to identify high potential was developed by SHL and Gartner. The Ability, Aspiration and Agreement Model[4] identifies the following three factors as indicators of high potential:

  1. Aspiration – to advance to more senior roles and take on more complex responsibilities. This is influenced by how driven and motivated an individual is and the extent to which they desire recognition and influence.
  2. Ability – to perform effectively in more senior roles. This is based on a combination of innate characteristics, (including cognitive agility and emotional intelligence) and acquired experience (including technical/functional knowledge and interpersonal skills.)
  3. Engagement – a commitment to remain in the organization and to take on greater challenges. Engagement is comprised of 4 separate elements. These are: emotional commitment (the extent to which an employee values and believes in the organization); rational commitment (the degree to which an employee believes that it’s in his or her own best interest to remain in the organization); arbitrary effort (the employee’s willingness to do more than what is required); and, intention to stay (the desire of the employee to remain with the organization.)

The Learning Agility Model and the Ability, Aspiration and Agreement Model are both useful frameworks to help identify potential and either one will work. What is important is to agree on the model your organization is using and to be clear on what potential means. To identify potential, the use of assessment data can be useful to identify high potential performers. Assessment support could include:

  • Competency-based assessments – Can include self-assessment, behavioural interviews by a trained assessor, or performance of simulated activities in an assessment centre.
  • Personality measures – Provide important insight into an individual’s overall fit within a role and the challenges he/she may face over the long term.
  • Cognitive ability measures – Measure aptitude and critical thinking skills essential for executive roles where problems are ambiguous and require the ability to quickly analyze data and draw inferences with limited information.

When assessing potential, it is critical to avoid single-manager evaluation bias. This can be accomplished by conducting roundtable discussions with the broader leadership team where the performance and potential of staff members gets openly discussed and calibrated. As part of this conversation, many organizations make use of the nine-box methodology to visually represent where individuals fall relative to performance and potential.

The key thing to remember is that we need to differentiate between performance and potential. The more energy we invest in conducting a fulsome assessment of potential, the more likely it is that we will effectively identify and develop the leaders of tomorrow.

About the Author

Diane LockeDiane is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Talent Management program. Diane Locke is a senior partner at a Toronto-based human resource management consultancy. She has more than 20 years of experience in the areas of executive assessment, leadership development and talent management, including both internal and external consulting roles. Diane has worked with best in class organizations to design, develop and implement succession planning and talent management processes.  She has been actively involved in the use of assessment tools and strategies to identify and develop high potential.  She has provided training, coaching, and consulting services to a broad range of organizations in the public and private sectors.



[1] CEB/SHL Talent Measurement. (2014). The HR Guide to Identifying High Potential.  Retrieved March 25, 2019, from

[2] McCall, M.W., Lombardo, M. M., & Morrison, A. M. (1988).  The lessons of experience:  How successful executives develop on the job.  Lexington, Mass Lexington Books.

[3] De Meuse, K., Hallenbeck, G., Dai, G., Tang, K.Y. (2009). Using Learning Agility to Identify High Potentials Around the World. Los Angeles:  Korn/Ferry Institute. Retrieved March 25, 2019, from

[4] CEB/SHL Talent Measurement. (2014). The HR Guide to Identifying High Potential.  Retrieved March 25, 2019, from



A Cautionary Tale: 3 Reasons HR Analytics Projects Can Lead to Frustration and Failure

 3 Reasons HR Analytics Projects Can Lead to Frustration and Failure Nothing frustrates me more than to see the expertise, experience and time of HR professionals wasted. And in today’s working environment, I see frustration and failure all too frequently in Analytics projects.

When I say frustration and failure, I refer to the type of Analytics project we have all been involved in. We have pored through oceans of data and done hours of spread sheeting and analysis, and in the end the leaders we have presented our analysis to have put it to one side or seemed confused or unimpressed by our efforts. Somehow we have missed the mark. Or the leader takes one look at our analysis and demands something different – other numbers, more numbers, different charts, flashier graphics – take your pick. And we head off into another round of more effort and increasing frustration.

Why does this happen? Is there too much data? Sometimes. Too much complexity? Possibly. Too little time? Maybe. When these and other analysis challenges arise, it can often lead to the frustration that we have invested time and effort for little or no return. And our managers or leaders are equally frustrated because they are not taking away the insights they need to make informed business decisions.

To make the most efficient use of our time and to increase our chances of success, I’m going to briefly outline three problems that can cause HR analytics projects to stall or go completely off the rails and hopefully point you in directions to ensure that this doesn’t happen to you.

The three reasons for frustration and potential failure that I will explore are:

  1. Poorly defining the problem we are solving and the outcome we want
  2. Not understanding the story the numbers are telling us
  3. Too much data

These problems are all avoidable, if we are aware that they may occur. I will outline the problems and some ways to overcome them below, but this is a very brief article. If you want more insight and practice in these areas of analytics, please join us for the Queen’s IRC HR Metrics & Analytics program. In the program, we provide in-depth strategies, tools and templates, and real world applications to help you to directly address these challenges.

For now, let’s look at these three common reasons HR Analytics projects fail.

1. Poorly defining the problem we are solving and the outcome we want

The purpose of analyzing data is to help us make decisions to solve problems, capture opportunities or monitor and manage potential risks. In the best scenarios, we use data to run a more effective and successful business or organization.

And while it may be obvious to say, data doesn’t make decisions, people do. We do analysis to help ourselves and our leaders make better, more informed decisions.

Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher, once stated: If we agree definitions, we end most arguments. To this, I will add: if we agree definitions, we get to better outcomes, we get to them faster and we get to them with much less effort and frustration.

Too often requests for analysis are poorly-defined or not defined in collaboration with the person who will be using the analysis to make decisions.  “Why does it take so long to hire? Bring me numbers on recruiting!” “Money’s going to be tight this year end. Analyze the data and tell me how much money we should allot for bonuses this year.”  “I want to know if all that money we spend on training is delivering value. Bring me some numbers.”

We can all bring opinions on these issues, some of it informed, some not, but we will each have different ideas on what defines time-to-fill positions, a “reasonable” bonus structure, and value for money in training initiatives. In order to carry out effective analysis, we need to agree on the definitions of the key elements of a project, report, or dashboard with our sponsor or leader before we launch into gathering data and conducting our analysis.

To create effective analysis, we need to define a number of terms or elements. I’ll note them briefly here:

  • The problem we are solving.
  • The outcome we are looking to achieve.
  • The scope or population we are addressing.
  • The timeframe we want to analyze – both the historical past and predictive future.
  • The terminology we are using.
  • The relevant measures that will tell us the story of what is happening and will help us to make informed decisions.

Analysis in most organizational settings is done by one person or a team of people, in this case HR, to provide insight to another individual or team of individuals. In most cases, this will be your boss or a project team or your executive leadership team.  If you sit down for a brief meeting with the individual or team that needs the analysis – it doesn’t have to be long, an hour or less usually does the job – and agree the relevant definitions, there is a dramatically better chance that the analysis will be done in less time, insights will be more focused and meaningful, and decisions will be more realistically informed and easier to make.

Albert Einstein once said: If you have 20 units of time, spend 19 of them defining the problem. If the problem – and the other terms or elements identified above – are defined together by HR and the business leader who owns issues and the decisions, then the odds dramatically increase of using data in an intelligent, time-efficient way to come to better decisions and more sustainable solutions.

2. Not understanding the story the numbers are telling us

A very wise and senior HR leader that I know explained to a group why he liked the term “Human Resources”. He said that organizations had to use their Resources wisely – money, capital, systems, plant & equipment, patents, etc. – and so they had to know if they were being effective in their decisions and investments. This, he said, is the Resource part of Human Resources, and tends to be what the organization measures and analyzes (particularly the money ($$$!) part). But in HR, he said, it is our job to balance the Resources side of the equations with the Human side of the equation.

The point here is that, as HR professionals, we need to deeply understand both sides of the equation, the Resources ($$$!) part and the Human part, if we are going to be able to provide wise counsel and timely insights.

And this brings us to stories. Any insightful analysis is a combination of Numbers & Stories. If you stand back for a moment and consider any analysis you have been conducting, every number has come from a combination of human decisions and human actions. And every solution to improve those numbers will come from human beings understanding the story that underlies the numbers and making Human and Resource decisions to improve that story.

Numbers are the language of business. To understand the story in the numbers, we need to understand the business, how the business uses its resources and the numbers that measure and score the results. Our recommendations and efforts need to help the business to drive successful, sustainable results. To do this, we first need to recognize that a successful business leader focuses on three key issues: How do I grow revenue? How do I reduce costs or make sound investments? And how do I identify and manage the risks that are inherent in making more money and spending less?

Revenue. Cost. Risk. Any HR practice or issue can be linked to one or more of these business results, these business stories. What is the impact of sales training on raising revenue? How can we reduce risk if we fill empty positions sooner? How will that impact our revenue? What will be the impact of multiple retirements? What are the levers or drivers that will encourage employee engagement and greater productivity? How can we restructure a department or division to take out cost? If we understand the business issues – and define the key terms with our business leaders (see above!) – then we can begin to understand the numbers and how change initiatives and HR practices can help to move those numbers in a positive direction.

Numbers and stories. We need the relevant numbers and we need to understand the story that those numbers are telling us.

3. Too much data

Data is best used for two purposes: to identify opportunities for improvement and to monitor and manage risk. The reason we measure and analyze is to make better decisions or to identify areas of unacceptable risk.

Here is the ever-present danger that exists in today’s working environment. Because of the proliferation of intelligent data-capturing technologies, we are, figuratively speaking, DROWNING in data. And some days it feels like we are literally drowning in it.  To compound the problem, because the sources of data and the amount of data keep expanding, we lose confidence in the numbers we are looking it. (And I can already see other hands waving in the back: What about corrupt data? Incomplete data? What about systems that don’t talk to each other? What about huge gaping historical holes in the data? Or departments that input incomplete data or no data all? These are all very real problems that each organization needs to address, but for right now, for this article, we will only deal with having too much data. One tsunami at a time…)

So, how do we address the challenge of too much data? Remember, not all data is created equal. Data and analytics do not solve our problem – they help lead us to insights so that we can make informed decisions on how best to move forward. I have two recommendations before you start to wade through the oceans of data. Go back to the two points discussed above:

Recommendation #1: Work closely with your business leaders to define the problem they are facing and the outcomes they need.

Recommendation #2: Understand the story of what the numbers are telling you so that with the business leaders you can choose the relevant data to measure and analyze.

In the end, all three problems are connected. If we haven’t defined our problem and our desired outcome, then we don’t know what story the data is or might be telling us. Without having the clear, agreed definitions and understanding the story, we can’t determine what data is relevant and what isn’t and we quickly become overwhelmed by the amount of data available.

I encourage you on any project, but particularly where analysis is required, to work closely with your business leaders. Together with them define your terms, understand the story, determine the relevant data and from your analysis find the insight and benefits to help them make sound business decisions. And in the end, I can only hope that you can profitably use these ideas to avoid frustration and failure!!


About the Author

Jim HarrisonJim Harrison is an international consultant and facilitator focused on strategy, sales and talent management for mid-sized to large organizations, including government, public service and healthcare organizations. He started his career in financial services, working as a money trader for RBC/Dominion Securities.  He has over 30 years’ experience in consulting, training, and executive coaching. He 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, Deloitte, Fuji, AGFA, TD Bank, AT&T, Deutsche Bank, and HSBC. Jim received his B.Sc. degree in Finance from Florida State University and a Master’s Degree in English from the University of California, Irvine.

Jim teaches on the Queen’s IRC HR Metrics and Analytics and Linking HR Strategy to Business Strategy programs.


The Talent Gap – Is it Reality or Fiction?

The Talent Gap – Is it Reality or Fiction?A simple Google search on the words “talent management” reveals almost 17 million hits, and if we look at studies in all countries over the last decade, every time CHRO’s & CEO’s are surveyed, two of the top three challenges they say they face are lack of talent and a shortage of leadership. It isn’t clear whether these two are linked (i.e. is talented leadership scarce; or is it that both leadership and specific talents at all organizational levels are in short supply.)

Whatever the answer, it does appear to be a universal and long-standing issue. One would think that if it is so important and companies have been working on it for decades, they would have found a solution by now.

This raises the question, with all this information and such a multiplicity of studies, why has it not been fixed? Thus we address the question “Is the talent gap reality or fiction?”

In a previous articles, we described a Human Resources Framework encapsulating the five knowledge competencies  which we believe are requisite elements for CHRO success:

  1. Strategic Business Planning and HR Alignment
  2. Talent Acquisition Allocation and Management
  3. People Management
  4. Compensation, Rewards and Recognition
  5. Employee and Leadership Professional Development

In our most recent article, Making of the Super CHRO, we discussed how HR must align people strategies with the overall corporate mission.  In this article, we cover the only sustainable factor that differentiates successful organizations from those that don’t make it – finding, developing and keeping talent.

The fact that it continues to be a problem means that either it isn’t as important as surveys say; or it is important but no one has the answer. This conundrum is a tough nut to crack.

There seem to be four overarching factors that make the issue a real challenge.

The Critical Role of Orientation for New Employees to Your Organization’s Culture

First impressions count.  However in the workplace, organizations often fail to realize that this truism is a two way street.  As much as we form first impressions about the people we interview, hire and welcome into our organizations, the employee is on a parallel journey.  How did we interview them?  How did we invite them to join our organization and how did we welcome them when they arrived?

Traditionally, “orientation” is seen as a static event, one in which we provide an employee with a list of expectations and requirements, a package of information on their benefits, and perhaps some formal welcome session or introduction to the organization’s policies and procedures.

There is much research to suggest the importance of the workplace culture in attracting and retaining highly qualified staff.  In a changing workforce, there is even more emphasis on how to attract and retain a new generation of employees, and with that, a focus on ensuring there are up to date tools and technology. However, much of the research shows that it is an organization’s culture that has the most impact on staff satisfaction and engagement.  Employees, regardless of their age or demographic, consistently stay in workplaces where they feel welcomed and valued, where they are engaged with their teams, where they have a strong working relationship with their supervisor and perhaps most importantly, when they are able to see how their role fits in to the of the bigger picture of the organization; it’s Vision.

Guelph General Hospital is a 150 bed, community-based, acute care hospital that employs approximately 1300 people and hires approximately 250 new people every year. After reviewing our orientation program and staff evaluations and thinking critically about the research around employee engagement and organizational development, we recently decided to shift our orientation’s focus. We moved away from a one-day information (over)sharing session to a highly interactive half day opportunity for new staff members to connect with our hospital’s values and with each other.

We designed our new monthly orientation with a clear end in mind. We did this by carefully selecting our topics, speakers and exercises in a way that would focus new employees on our hospital’s vision, mission and values. We imagined what kind of story we would want our new employees to tell when they got home from their orientation and were asked by their partner or family what their first impression of us was.  What key messages and impressions did we want them to have about Guelph General Hospital?  The answer?  It was clear that it was critical to engage new staff in understanding our values and the importance of their role in achieving our vision and mission. Not only did this focus just ‘feel’ right; it was also aligned with our research regarding what is most likely to engage new staff members during the on-boarding process. Given this focus, we re-designed our orientation program in the following ways:

Welcome from the CEO

We begin the day with an engaging presentation and welcome from our hospital’s CEO. In a short presentation, our CEO is able to eloquently message her desire for new employees to think critically about their own accountability and ability to powerfully impact the lives of those we are here to serve. She points out specifically how valuable “new eyes” are in an organization and how open she is to hearing feedback from people regarding what they are seeing as they come to learn about “how we do things around here.” She takes time to ask each participant about who they are, what led them to choose to work with us and how they hope to impact those we serve here at Guelph General. She reinforces our values by asking staff members to thank our volunteers, understand some of the systemic issues that highly influence and guide our work (LHINs, boards, etc.) and welcomes any and all questions.

Examining our values

We engage staff in an exercise to reflect what the organization’s values (compassion, accountability, respect and teamwork) might look like within each of their respective roles and departments.  It was important to us that from day one, employees are able to understand how to operationalize these values within their own work context, and explore how the hospital’s values lay the foundation for how we do our work. This exercise brings our values to life, ensures they become more than just “words on a wall” and highlights that our vision and mission can only be achieved when EACH of us live them out.

Focusing on the value of teamwork

We create an opportunity for staff to understand the interconnectedness of their roles, and how the value of teamwork assists us in achieving our vision. Participants are paired up and asked to share their current understanding of what their role will be and to brainstorm about how their roles may be connected. It is not unusual for participants to come to orientation without an understanding of other roles/services/departments within the organization. After participants are given the time to share their respective roles with one another, they are given a challenge and asked to explore the question “What are the potential barriers to reaching our vision if we get too comfortable in our silos and fail to understand each others’ roles?”  We have found that participants can easily identify the importance of understanding and removing barriers when the relationship between the two roles is clear, such as between Intensive Care and Emergency Room nurses. However this exercise is more challenging when the need for inter-departmental understanding is not as obvious, such as for someone working in our Sterile Processing Department and someone working in Food Services. Invariably however, the challenge to think broadly and systemically about their role almost always leads participants to find some common ground between their roles and how this impacts the overall care of our patients and the smooth functioning of the hospital. It’s during this activity where we introduce our internal job shadowing program called “Walk this Way.”  By highlighting a program whose purpose it is to allow for better interdepartmental understanding, we also reinforce the hospital’s expectation as it relates to one of our core values, teamwork.

Refocusing essential “information” sessions on patient and staff safety

In order to ensure a more consistent flow between essential staff and patient presentations such as Infection Prevention and Control, Staff and Patient Safety, and Privacy, we spent time with each presenter and asked them to primarily focus on the role each staff member plays in keeping both staff and patients safe. We reminded presenters that our new employees are not likely to remember all of the details of each presentation and that their focus should be on a few key highlights of their program, with an emphasis on where to get the details when it was needed. Most importantly, we wanted participants to feel welcomed by the “experts” so they would know who they could connect with should they need more support or information once they were settled in their new roles.

Creating space for participants to connect on a personal level

Part of our orientation focuses on the unique and vulnerable experience of being a hospital patient or visitor. During this review the floor is opened for new employees to share their own positive or challenging experiences of interacting with the hospital environment. Allowing this free flow narrative provides new employees the opportunity to learn from one another and connect personally with an awareness of the potential vulnerabilities, joys and frustrations that our patients and visitors experience when they come into our organization.  We use storytelling as a powerful bridge to encourage respect and compassion for the patient and family experience, and our power to either support or frustrate the people that we are here to serve.

Reviewing key supports for staff

Key messaging about the programs that reinforce our culture are shared and explained.  Supports such as our Employee Family Assistance Program, Education Assistance Fund, Respectful Workplace and Violence Prevention Framework, conflict management coaching, Crucial Conversations/Crisis Intervention Training and other educational offerings are reviewed to reinforce our culture’s commitment to creating a healthy workplace for our staff so that they in turn can live out our mission:  “To provide the highest quality of care for patients and their families.”

Touring the Facility

We end our orientation with a tour of the hospital to familiarize staff with key departments and support services, such our Occupational Health Services, Learning Centre and multi-faith chapel.

It is important to note that the orientation process does not stop after the first day. New staff go on to be welcomed into their departments and receive department specific orientation.  Additionally, the hospital follows an on-boarding approach with each employee that ensures they meet with their Director twice over the course of their first 90 days for what we call a 30-90 day check in.  The emphasis of this check-in is to further engage new employees and see how we, as an organization, are measuring up to their expectations of what it would be like to work here.

The following participant feedback statements help to reinforce that we are on the right track:

“I felt like the CEO was connected and meant it when she welcomed all of us. She was knowledgeable and welcoming.”

“I liked the story sharing at the end about how people have felt welcomed or not welcomed at a hospital.”

“Really awesome to hear about all the resources available to staff to help us bring our best at work.”

“Great to hear CEO’s personal path to get a better feel for the cultural direction of GGH.”

The culture presentation “…was a great opportunity to learn more about the roles of other health care workers and my interactions with them in my job. A good reminder of how our behaviours can be perceived.”

The confidentiality presentation “…provided excellent scenarios and discussion as to how to handle each…more aware of how to handle various situations.”

Revamping our orientation program to a half day highly engaging session has resulted in a much more meaningful introduction to our hospital. Getting clear on what key messages an organization’s new employees need to walk away with after attending an orientation session is an important first step in ensuring an engaging orientation program that sets the stage for empowering staff to see their role in creating and sustaining a healthy and safe workplace culture.


About the Authors

Karen Suk-Patrick, MSW, is the Director of Organizational Development and Employee Health Services at Guelph General Hospital where she has worked for a total of ten years.  Karen’s background as a clinical social worker informs her systemic approach to organizational development and her passion creating a healthy workplace and taking care of the most valuable resource the hospital has – its people, so that they can take care of patients.

Chantal Thorn has been a staff member at Guelph General Hospital for the last 10 years, most recently in the role of Organizational Development Specialist. Chantal completed her Phd in Applied Social Psychology (Organizational Development) in 2007 where her research looked at work life balance supports and systems and their impact on employee commitment and reduction in work life conflict. Her role both within Guelph General Hospital and with her own coaching/consulting company is to facilitate individual and organizational excellence.

Network Mapping as a Tool for Uncovering Hidden Organizational Talent and Leadership

Network Mapping as a Tool for Uncovering Hidden Organizational Talent and LeadershipMany factors influence the way we experience our work today, regardless of the sector or industry in which we work. Funding pressures, constant organizational restructuring, demographic shifts and technology are fundamentally reorganizing our workplaces. In our attempts to address these changes through our traditional organizational structures we often encounter decision making bottlenecks and critical communication gaps that can affect our ability to achieve our business goals. Identifying expertise, talent and leadership amongst staff becomes crucial to succession planning initiatives to support this new work reality.

One way around this is to move from the traditional hierarchical organization chart to a more fluid and adaptive set of relationships and connections that more accurately reflect how our organizations work. This article will focus on the practice of social network mapping within organizations to deliberately leverage and engage these intra-organizational sets of informal connections that are less “hard-wired” than formal organizational working relationships.

Although it is often used when organizations are planning for a large change initiative, network mapping can also be used to quickly identify and visually map internal linkages that have been established informally across organizations. In particular, the article will highlight the applications of the tool to identify hidden talent and leadership within the organization to support succession planning initiatives and diagnose internal communication and decision making blockages.

Business Intelligence, Big Data, and HR

Business Intelligence, Big Data and HROur people are our most important asset, or so we hear, so data about those people – workers, or employees, if you prefer – should be central to our organization’s total data set! To understand where HR data fits, you first have to understand your organization’s overall data management strategy. How is data collected, organized, and managed?  And how do you analyze that data to obtain information?

“Business Intelligence”, the idea of transforming raw data into useful and actionable information, has become an oft-discussed concept. It allows management to gain historical insight and to produce predictive analytics for competitive advantage. And Business Intelligence arises directly from “Big Data”, the process of bringing together raw data from multiple data sources into a single analytical tool. That tool can be used by management to produce Business Intelligence.

The next time that you use Google, or some other search engine, do a search for some unusual item; something that you haven’t searched for before. Then spend some time on sites that you visit often.

You will notice that ads related to the unusual item will pop up beside your search results for the more common items. That is Big Data at work in a marketing context. Google has picked up your first search and is now displaying pages that its algorithm predicts will be of interest to you based on that search.  And Google (and other providers) charge advertisers for this. It is the core of their economic model.

4 Trends in Recruiting Top Talent: Approaches and Tools for HR Managers

 Approaches and Tools for HR ManagersAs the use of traditional methods of recruiting decline, human resource managers must develop new approaches and tools to recruit top talent. Hiring managers are often faced with wage pressures (particularly within private companies) and a lack of qualified workers. To effectively compete in the talent marketplace, organizations are leveraging a rich blend of methods in order to identify and recruit the best human capital that they can.

1. Big Data and Analytics

Many organizations are now using holistic approaches with integrated workforce planning and tech-enabled initiatives. These approaches forecast supply and demand and reach out to new networks of talent. Xerox1 used big data and predictive analytics provided by Evolv to identify the best predictors of attrition and performance in customer service jobs, and other employers are also becoming savvier about using such information and technology for recruiting and talent depth analysis. Robust analytics are now enabling employers to identify the top sources for candidates, relative yields, time to hire, and other quality of hire metrics.

2. Social Media

Social media is now a dominant component of recruiting, and social media recruitment platforms provide analytics that can enable employers to identify the most productive source(s) of top candidates. Employee referral programs are also being fueled by the growth of social media, and referral hire targets are at their highest levels in history.2

Organizations are also leveraging social media platforms to screen potential candidates. Although concerns have been raised about the legal risks for employers, best practices are shaping internal policy to address when social media screenings are appropriate, what content to consider (public profiles), and guidelines for performing these checks on a consistent basis. Employers are also able to view work samples offered by candidates online, use mobile platforms, conduct video interviews, and open conversations with a particular emphasis on targeting networks of high potential candidates.

3. Employee Development

Leadership development programs and coaching (individual, team, and peer) have taken off in spite of economic and budgetary constraints. With organizations realizing significant ROI from these initiatives, employers are building development programs, internal learning cohorts, and formal mentoring programs, not only to close skill gaps and support retention and rewards, but also as an investment in their employer brand, which supports recruitment.

In addition, organizations are experimenting with blended learning and MOOCs (massive open online courses), again leveraging the web and technology to drive the programs. There is a new emphasis on workers taking charge of their own development and creating leadership development networks across organizations. This development is focused less on competency models and more on collaboration, adaptability, self-awareness, and boundary spanning. Employers are also creating recognition programs linked to development which helps to build a learning culture and increase engagement with executive management, promoting participation of employees at all levels.

4. Employer Branding

Employer branding remains the proven long-term recruitment strategy. Employers have learned that there must be a social media strategy that reinforces the brand not only through advertisements and postings, but also by fostering engagement and creating new channels to disseminate information.

Not only does the social media universe include the big three (LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook), which command the lion’s share of the users on the internet, but there are also many other sites including YouTube, Vine, Pinterest, and Instagram that provide employers platforms to reach a larger audience and present varied content. This wider range of content enables potentially interested candidates to gain a deeper understanding of the employer’s organization, goals, and culture. Further, tapping the plethora of niche platforms can prove invaluable depending on the functions, geographies, industry sectors, and qualifications sought. The HR recruiting goals should be part of the organization’s broader social media strategy, and should communicate the practices that nurture and sustain the organization:

  • Flex-time, flex schedules, telecommuting, and teleworker agreements
  • Phased retirement and on-call reserves, allowing retirees to return on a part-time on-call basis to share their knowledge and expertise
  • Apprenticeship models for college recruitment
  • Enterprise-wide campaigns communicating and reinforcing the brand messaging and employer value proposition

In this time of constant, multidimensional change, new technologies, processes and practices are evolving to address the challenges that confront us in this new war for talent. There are conversations happening now that hint at far more complex variables being introduced into the recruiting equation involving data warehousing, business intelligence, and there will no doubt be new algorithms and program environments. Employers recognize that recruiting top talent to accomplish strategic objectives is the most important metric.

About the Author

Adam SmithAdam Smith, MBAOD, ACC is a leadership coach and organization development consultant. With over 25 years of experience in talent management and consulting, Adam is an active writer and speaker in the areas of leadership development, recruiting, organization development, and individual and team coaching. Adam has served as Associate Faculty in the Carey Business School of Johns Hopkins University to MBA students in Leadership, serves on the Board of Directors of the World Institute for Action Learning’s US Affiliate, and conducts workshops in Leadership Development, Innovation & Creativity, High Performing Teams, Problem Solving & Decision Making, and Adult Development. He lives and works in the Washington, DC area.



1 Retrieved from:

2 Jobvite 2014 Social Recruiting Survey. Retrieved from:

Lifelong Learning: Advocating Professional Development

Lifelong learning is a catchphrase often used by many, but a concept practiced by few. As professionals look to not only increase their skill sets, but also to keep up with trends within their industry, it is increasingly important to maintain a high level of competence by continuing to learn. In many fields, such as human resources, professional organizations have been established to maintain a minimum standard for practitioners to achieve to ensure that the profession is held to a measurable level of competence. The CHRP is one example of a professional designation in Canada.

It is human nature to always question and seek knowledge. Most of our conversations are the sharing of or the request for information. We continually seek to expand our knowledge base and learn more about what interests us. As practitioners, we know all too well that at the end of any course we take or seminar we attend, our own theories start to develop and the quest for additional knowledge grows. This is why we must embrace learning and encourage it both professionally in our various workplaces, as well as personally, and apply it to our outside interests. Professional development programs and workplace learning strategies are ways in which employees can ensure that they continue to expand their knowledge and skills, thereby contributing to their lifelong learning. In this article, I discuss the benefits of professional development from an employer and employee perspective.

Why employees benefit from professional development

For the employee, professional development programs in the workplace offer more that just a simple perk to their employment. Psychologically, this type of learning lets the employees know that they are all there for a reason and that their worth to the organization goes beyond their current skill sets. In turn, employees recognize that their organization is willing to invest in them to ensure that they are the most competent and successful members they can be. This leads to higher morale and, in theory, results in higher productivity.

Professional development helps to retain employees

Employers can never be naive and think that employees are theirs forever and that none of them would ever think of “jumping ship” to work for a competitor. Nor can employers develop their training, learning, and development plans around this type of thinking. If employees are not satisfied with their role within the organization, they will leave. I think that organizations that encourage lifelong learning attract ambitious, self-motivated employees. For example, as individuals attend various training programs and “brag” about what their employer is doing to better equip them in their careers, word will spread, and the organization’s learning programs will become known by prospective candidates.

Investing in professional development facilitates employee loyalty

Compensation is a factor in attracting employees, but we are foolish to think that it is the governing factor. As employees, we like to have a nice pay cheque every week but we also like to have our employers value what we do. As employees move through professional development programs, they often see the value behind the courses and a greater link with the organization is established. The organization becomes more than just a place of work; it enables knowledge acquisition and freethinking. This weighs heavily on employees when faced with an alternate job offer. In fact, this could be the factor that retains an employee, regardless of the improved monetary package offered. Providing opportunities for personal and professional growth creates loyalty to the employer and can contribute to building a more stable and competent workforce.

Employee loyalty contributes to workforce capacity

In addition, employee loyalty may enhance capacity within the workforce. As employees’ fundamental skill sets are increased, additional duties are assumed, and more complex tasks are picked up in-house instead of relying on external assistance. Employees start to take on roles as resident subject matter experts and guide the organization through various projects. Whether it is organization design or change management, mediation or negotiation, labour relations or strategic grievance handling, proper training improves the overall effectiveness of the team. From an employer’s perspective, increased capacity and productivity result in fewer expenses incurred. The return on investment in employees’ professional development soon becomes evident.

It is important to note that learning must be a meaningful experience. Thus, both the employer and the employee must be active participants in the programming and both parties must determine how they can benefit from each other. The employee must recognize how the new skills that are acquired can be put to practical use within the organization. Similarly, the employer must play an active role in guiding employees’ learning and ensuring that knowledge transfers to the workplace.

Employers should invest in developing learning plans

As employers or decision makers, establishing a professional development or learning plan for each employee or each department is a time consuming task. It requires needs assessments, an inventory of current skills and training, and then builds on those. Duplicating courses and random workshops that do not necessarily fit within the professional development plan should be avoided. Having all employees in the same office attend the exact same courses is not a benefit to the employer or the employee.

Instead, rounding out the staff with programs that will interest them, can be applied in their work, and are purposeful is more in tune with an effective learning strategy that will benefit everyone. It’s important to remember that encouraging employee development through workplace learning benefits both the organization and the individual. It is not a form of praise or reprimand (i.e., not allowing participation as discipline), rather it should be viewed as a part of the employment package.

Lifelong learning benefits the most competent and dedicated team members

In some cases, your star employee will have the practical experience required for the job or role they are in, but lack formal credentials or training. Professional development programs offer that employee an opportunity to demonstrate and share their knowledge and skill sets with others through collaborative learning environments. This reinforces to the employee that their skill sets are on par with their peers, and gives the credentials that document abilities. In some cases, this confirmation is just enough of a boost in the member’s confidence level to move them to a higher capacity within the organization. Learning and affirming skills usually lead to the quest for more knowledge.

Making learning a priority

As employers attempt to attract the most qualified and talented employees to join their team, it is important to look within their own organization and find the hidden talent. Most employers do not have an inventory of what courses, programs, or seminars in which their staff members have engaged. In my view, creating a record of employee learning is essential. Failure to do so results in lost resources and may signal to the employee that their learning has no value to the organization. Utilization of a member’s newly acquired skill sets is motivating and provides the member with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Special projects assigned based on these new skills gives employees a feeling of community and creates a bond between them and the organization. Retention of skilled staff is an obvious desire for any organization. Professional development programs that promote lifelong learning should be viewed as tools for employee retention and to attract high caliber employees.

As a firm believer and participant in lifelong learning, it has been my experience that regardless of the course of study, there are always areas that can be applied to your workplace. From small lessons learned, to new processes to examine a problem. Lifelong learning constantly challenges us to adapt and explore outside of our comfort zone and apply our new skills in our workplace. Providing employees with professional development opportunities and encouraging lifelong learning has motivated and driven staff within my organization to excel and take on more complex projects and duties. This allows supervisors and management to pursue other organizational needs and challenges, knowing that their staff is better equipped to handle their day-to-day duties.

About the Author

Derik McArthurDerik McArthur began his career with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) after graduation from Confederation College with dual diplomas in Human Resources and Human Resources Management. Prior to attending college, he was an active member of the Canadian Forces Army Reserve working as a full-time infantry soldier.

His professional career began as an organizer with the union that included work throughout Canada and the United States. He progressed through the organization and was reassigned to member service where his responsibilities focused on grievance settlements and collective bargaining. In 2005, he was elected as president, RWDSU Canada, and as RWDSU International vice-president/Canadian director. The following year, he was elected to international vice-president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union – a union that represents 1.4 million members in North America. Most recently, Derik facilitated the merger of 11 local unions in Ontario into UFCW local 175. The amalgamated locals have formed the largest UFCW local union in North America with over 70,000 members.

In addition to his positions in the union, Derik sits on the Employment Insurance Board of Referees, and hears appeals from EI applicants that have been denied Employment Insurance benefits.

Derik is active in the community and is a founder of the Home for a Hero Project – an initiative that raised over $300,000 for a triple-amputee Sudbury soldier coming out of Afghanistan. He also sits on the Board of Directors for the Sudbury and District Food Bank.

Outside his professional interests, he enjoys spending time with his wife and children and continues to enjoy working as an army reservist and infantry soldier with the 2nd Battalion Irish Regiment of Canada.

Derik holds a BA in Justice Studies from Royal Roads University and has completed his Organization Development, Labour Relations, and Organizational Capacity Certificates from Queen’s IRC and currently sits on the IRC Advisory Board. Derik is a coach at the IRC’s Labour Relations Foundations program.

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