Yesterday’s Model? (New Modes of Thinking Required)

By Jennifer Gerves-Keen

Our organizational models are not working; as HR professionals we should not be surprised—merely prepared. What does organizational change have to do with effective recruitment and retention? Everything.

We are hearing constantly about our current/upcoming labour shortage, and even though we are not yet experiencing the large retirement wave as initially expected, the challenges facing quality, relevant recruitment practices and employee retention issues are greater than ever.

Recruiting Tomorrow Today

A perfect example of this is Northern BC, a region which is, and will be, a key revenue generator for this province over the next five years and beyond. Prince George alone will need 20,000 people added to their workforce within the next two years to keep up with employer demand.

The next two years is not long-term planning—it’s now.

Another example is our resource sector. “Even if we employ all the people who are employable in Canada we’re still going to be very short (on) workers”, commented David Bazowski, chair, BC Task Force: Mineral Exploration, Mining, Stone, Sand & Gravel in his recent report delivered to the mining industry in BC.

The Mining Industry Human Resources Council report went further, suggesting that, “Just as mines have 25-year mining plans, they should also have 25-year HR plans”.

Adapting to What Matters Now

In Gary Hamel’s thought-provoking book, What Matters Now, he states: “We live in a world that seems to be all punctuation and no equilibrium, where the future is less and less an extrapolation of the past. Change is multifaceted, relentless, seditious, and occasionally shocking. In the maelstrom, long-lived political dynasties, venerable institutions, and hundred-year-old business models are all at risk”.

Our marketplace, our HR landscape, even our values, have been subjected to major change over the past five years—and it is just the beginning of even greater change. Organizations are becoming divided, not necessarily generationally, but by adaptability.

There are those who desire and welcome change, and those who do not.

Yesterday’s Model vs. Today’s Challenges
Job-hopping” is on the rise, even within our relatively flat economy; knowledge transfer is becoming a key concern for organizations, and succession planning is becoming very challenging as the younger members of the workforce do not want to rise to the top under the current paths available to them.

How do we work within the context of these challenges as HR professionals so that there will actually be qualified, capable and motivated people to run our organizations in 10-20-30 years’ time?

Many of the younger employees being considered for “grooming” are simply not interested in either climbing the rungs, let alone taking the reins. By and large, they are not seeing happy, balanced, family-friendly people at the top of the proverbial ladder—and the role models they are looking for don’t seem to exist in our current structures.

We have respected businesses and institutions working within antiquated models and anachronistic mindsets that simply cannot respond to the force and flux of current human resources needs; how can they be effective in retaining a productive employee base?

Asking Questions, Assessing Resilience
Employers need to be asking themselves some hard questions. How can we effectively recruit qualified employees through limited online systems? Can we find a productive, time-effective system that lets us sort through all those resumes by hand? How do we train our hiring staff to look beyond immigrant education, look beyond age groups, demographics or any other subjective trait, and actually evaluate someone based solely on their skills and values? How do we discover someone’s true values through an interview process?

Moreover, with the average job length now dwindled to 18-24 months, how effective are the opportunities we offer? If an organization can’t offer development or promotion due to the structure or nature of the business, it is going to have a tough time competing for top talent.

As opposed to looking at potential employees by age group or education, employers need to be taking a good look at individual’s values and attitudes to see how resilient (or resistant) they are to constantly changing benchmarks, goal posts and long-term visions; what is sought is that built-in flexibility that provides competitive edge in today’s market.

Adaptive Leadership Required
Our organizations need to be adaptable in ways that they may have never experienced before; many are simply not equipped as yet. In order to successfully adapt, we need to be prepared to take risks, factor feedback and forge ahead fully aware that a failure to do otherwise is no longer an option. Troublingly, the deep cultural and organizational shifts that need to happen are being practiced by few, and while grassroots innovations do occur, the most critical support is from the top.

Innovative and flexible leadership is critical; our organizational leaders need to show the way by allowing people to try – and potentially fail – new ways of working, and by visibly showing their support to those who are pushing innovation within their organizations.

The demographic shifts that Canadian society is currently experiencing impact much more than our potential retirement numbers, or the diversity of our workforce. People want trust, they want transparency, and they want a bigger say, whether it’s in our political institutions, within their work environment, or simply through online comments or debate.

Youth, Immigrants and First Nations
There are three key areas, from a recruitment perspective, that are crucial to BC’s future economic success, and those are our youth, our immigrant population, and our First Nations communities.

There are under-utilized immigrants in our province – and across our country – who came here after being sold on the Canadian business model. Not many are even working in the industry they are trained in, let alone at an equivalent level based on their past experience.

There are young people, apparently the most anxious age group in Canada, many of who are well-educated, yet un-or-under-employed, and who still, for the most part, show no desire to move out of the Lower Mainland.

Then, there are the First Nations communities facing unemployment rates more than double those in non-Aboriginal communities according to B.C. Stats.  Moreover, their under-25 population in Canada is growing at triple the rate of the Canadian non-Aboriginal demographic.

There is opportunity.

Good Enough…Will Not Be
For the organizations that take an honest look at the challenges facing them now and in the years to come, there are amazing opportunities to build successful, vibrant and exciting professional communities that will be able to dance with (not around) whatever comes their way.

For all the other organizations who believe that “the way we’ve always done it” is good enough, best of luck.

Jennifer Gerves-Keen, M.A. ( is a talented facilitator, speaker and professional coach with over 15 years experience helping organizations and individuals.

(PeopleTalk: Winter 2012)


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