The HR ‘butterfly effect’

May 5, 2014

Originally published on 'Human Resources' Magazine
 

 

Despite many corporate campaigns focusing on “people as their best assets”, the reality on the ground can often be a different story. I firmly believe businesses can be highly productive and successful – not at the expense of their employees’ well-being, but because of it.

While I see the HR specialist areas as different facets of the same, focusing on learning in this column will help us to fully understand the role it can really play in organisations.

Learning with a capital “L” refers to the organisational function, and all its components, which usually sit within HR. Learning with a small “l” is the all-encompassing organic process of change that takes place in individuals, teams, organisations or society as a whole. So, why look at our role as designers of environments and experiences?

Learning professionals are largely still working from outdated models, which will not serve the learning needs of the workforce of the future. At an early age we learn language, motor skills, cognitive processing and many more skills naturally and organically. However, our education systems and organisational learning are founded on standardised, infl exible, batch processes.

On one hand, it is an organic process that feels effortless, natural, fulfi lling and fun; and on the other it’s a structured process that sees us sitting for long hours, taught through a standard curriculum and aiming for the highest grade.

Psychology research indicates we learn best when relaxed; with our minds open; the situation aligned to our strengths and yet challenging; connected to our passion; and with a clear sense of purpose and curiosity.

The structured industrial model of learning will remain useful for times to come, especially around compliance, onboarding and high-volume activities. However, if we believe the research, it is not a sustainable model and it requires a radical transformation.

How can we begin to transform learning functions to design meaningful learning environments and experiences? Organisations collectively invest billions of dollars on learning solutions each year. We invest to keep businesses compliant, improve productivity, transform cultures, develop leaders, manage change and develop teams. Investing part of these resources to design learning environments and experiences could provide the platform for employees to discover more of their potential and contribute more positively.

At the risk of oversimplifying, I propose three steps to begin this journey:

Understand the context: All our individual experiences are fully contextual. When working with our customers we should be deeply aware of this and focus on understanding their context. It is not unusual to enter a situation with preconceived ideas, which make our actions ineffective and our chosen tools inappropriate.

Understanding the context gives us the power to be the most appropriate and effective for the situation.

Start here: When planning a route, one requires a minimum of two data points: the destination and the starting position. If either is missing there cannot be a route. Many businesses spend time analysing the destination and forget to analyse their starting position. This can result in unexpected obstacles, difficulty in progressing and sometimes arrival at the wrong destination.

Be bold: I often hear HR professionals describe themselves as “order-takers”, reacting to the demands of the customer and engaging in activities they don’t necessarily believe in. HR is its own profession, with knowledgeable and experienced professionals driving its development. I believe we should be bolder with our knowledge and experiences to support our customers in their endeavours.

As I’ve progressed in my career I’ve seen tangibly how everything is interconnected and have had the privilege to work for some large and impactful corporations and I can see how their work and presence has an impact in the countries and societies they operate in.

I am reminded of the “butterfly effect” and as I play it backwards I see how my work ultimately impacts the employees, the customers and the societies my organisation operates in.

I see a learning environment and experiences as opportunities to shape lives, leaders and businesses to be healthier and successful, not as something we “do” or deliver.

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