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The world is changing and the changes that are taking place are having an impact on business organizations all over the world. One big change is the advancements in technology. New technologies such as social media are changing or improving the way business gets done. (Module SHRM, 2004, p.g.2-6) According to the Garavan, et al., (1999), p.g.174 other big changes may include product or market changes, external and internal labour market changes, changing skill requirements within industries and the availability of skilled workers from outside the organization.
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Furthermore, the size of these changes can be big and the speed of these changes can be fast. How are organizations responding to such changes? Organizations have to change along with the environmental changes. One way they can change is to change the way they think about people. It has often been said that people are an organization’s most important asset. On the surface, this saying seems to be consistent with one of the most important ideas of SHRM-that an organization’s competitive edge and ability to succeed is derived from its intellectual assets, which are found mainly in the people working at an organization but in the face of the big environmental changes, the saying does not seem to be totally correct. The reason is that the “value” of the assets is not likely to stay constant in the turbulent environment. For example, in order to use the new technologies that are now available, the people of an organization will have to have the right skills. Organizations with the right people will have the ability to take advantage of the new technologies while those that do not may eventually lose out. According to the assignment Standard Chartered Bank case study illustrates the employees into five categories which are high-potentials, critical resources, core contributors, underachievers, and underperformers. The reality is that there are underperformers in practically every organization and they cannot be rightly considered as assets, and as suggested in the Standard Chartered Bank case study, the underperformers may have to be “managed out”.
An organization can get the right people through several ways. One way is to hire but this could turn out to be an expensive option. Another option is to upgrade the existing human assets through human resource development (HRD) activities. HRD activities are concerned with the training and development of people as well as their education. Such activities can be formal or informal and all may be categorised more or less as “learning”. According to Garavan, et al., (1999), p.g.174 HRD practitioners dream of creating learning organizations-organizations that learn adapt and innovate as cohesive units. HRD practitioners are strong supporters of learning organizations because they believe, as one management guru puts it, that the ability to learn faster that one’s competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage. In short, sustainable competitive advantage is an important HRD outcome. Garavan, et al., (1999), p.g.174 stated that another important outcome is “organizational innovative capacity”, but before competitive advantage and “organizational innovative capacity” can come about, learning has to happen first.
HRD can play several key roles in helping organizations achieve learning. To illustrate how HRD can help companies do well in the current environment, I will use the case of a fake but nevertheless believable Malaysian company. This Malaysian company has a relatively large presence in the region and it has decided to introduce teams as part of its response to the environmental changes. The main reason for doing so is because the top management felt that teams are able to respond more quickly to customers and their frequently changing needs. It should be pointed out that for a long time, the company has been hierarchical and bureaucratic in its management style, so adopting a new organizational form is quite a big change as well as a big challenge.
HRD can help the fake Malaysian company in several ways. Firstly, it is obvious that the workers need to learn new skills in order to remain effective in the new team environment. HRD can help to identify the skill gaps and address those gaps at the individual, team and organizational levels or whatever level that is relevant (Module SHRM, 2004, p.g.291-293). In the case of the Malaysian company, part of the learning has to include “hard” technical training. That is because it has offices all over the region so it has no choice but to go “virtual” and its workers need to learn how to use information and communication technologies effectively to make the teamwork work. In addition, the learning will have to include cross-cultural communication and teamwork. Many nationalities work in that company and different nationalities communicate and do things differently. Therefore, the people at the company need to be trained so that they can communicate and work effectively as a cohesive multi-cultural team.
Secondly, according to the module SHRM, (2004), p.g.291-293, HRD can act as catalyst for change and in the case of the fake Malaysian company, cultural change may be especially critical. Culture is the way people do things at a particular organization. Culture can also be considered as the wisdom and knowledge that an organization has accumulated throughout the years of its existence. The change from a hierarchical, bureaucratic style to a team-working style is in part a cultural change. Culture is however difficult to change partly because it has contributed to the organization’s past successes. Imagine telling a 20-year veteran in the fake Malaysian company who has risen to a fairly high level, a person who is so used to the hierarchical and bureaucratic style of working, that he now has to work in a team. It is very likely that he will resist the change. So, the veteran needs to learn to accept the need for change and ultimately change himself. In this case, training may not the best learning solution. More informal HRD activities such as coaching or counselling may be more appropriate in this sort of situation.
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Indeed, the “correct” choice of HRD activities is critically important in ensuring that learning really takes place. In this particular context, learning means that the skills picked up by the participants of a training programme are immediately put into use at the office. It can also mean people showing the behaviours that an organization considers highly desirable and important for organizational success, such as teamwork. The “transfer” to the workplace however does not happen automatically and HRD practitioners can play a role to ensure that the transfer will eventually take place. HRD can do so by getting things right from the start, by making sure that the content and delivery are right, which is HRD’s third role in helping an organization achieve learning. Take training as an example. In most organizations, some of the training can be conducted by in-house experts but not all of it. So HRD practitioners will have to source for training solutions from the outside and they will also have to perform some sort of quality control on the solutions. That is the content side of things. Great trainers complete the picture by giving great delivery. Some people think training equals HRD, but is that true and is training always the best solution? The truth is this, training is not the only solution and it is not always the best solution. Let’s look again at the 20-year veteran case. As mentioned, I do not think training is the best solution in that case. What may be more appropriate for the veteran is one-to-one coaching or counselling. Coaching, counselling and mentoring can be considered as delivery mechanisms. Other delivery mechanisms include e-learning or formal education. HRD practitioners need to know the strengths and weaknesses of each mechanism and make the right choice. In addition, HRD practitioners cannot assume managers automatically know how to train, coach, counsel or mentor. HRD practitioners can help the people involved get trained in both content development and delivery. At the end of the day, HRD practitioners need to know what works best in any given situation and give their recommendations and they should never forget that the learning outcomes of the selected content must be in alignment with the organisational objectives and that the delivery should be good so that the transfer of learning is likely to occur.
Finally, HRD can play a role in the creation of a learning climate or environment. This is important because a learning climate can help embed learning within an organization’s culture. Learning can take place anytime, anywhere. However, as implied above, learning may not be an easy thing for some people and if we look back at the 20-year veteran, some people may even resist learning. In that particular case, it is probably more of an unwillingness to learn than an inability to learn but in the case of the fake Malaysian company, they are now told more or less that their way of working is no longer good enough. The implication is that they are incompetent, an implication that will likely hurt the self-esteem of many a veteran. Therefore, in order to encourage learning, organizations have to make it safe to learn. The safety that we are talking about is psychological safety. HRD practitioners have a less direct role to play here. It is the top management, the leaders, who will have to play a major role. They will have to lead the way. For example, leaders have to find ways to encourage people to take risks. As pointed out by Garavan, et al., (1999), p.g.174 innovation “will only take place in organizations where the organizational culture empowers individuals and accepts risk taking”. In the same way, when people learn, they may in fact be taking risks but risk-taking can result in failures and when people fail in their attempts at learning, they become open to “attacks”, especially from their bosses. For instance, the 20-year veteran may need relatively more time to learn the new technologies and he may well experience some hiccups along the way. So before people are willing to learn, people must be confident that they won’t be punished when they fail, that they won’t be attacked when they are down. In short, learners have to place great trust in their bosses, especially during times of failures. So leaders have to somehow show that it is OK to make mistakes and fail. It is easier said than done, but the adoption of this leadership style may pave the way towards innovation and sustainable competitive advantage.
All in all, HRD can play four roles in helping companies achieve SHRM and organizational outcomes and the most important outcome may well be learning itself.
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