Final Blog Post: HRD Reconsidered

Anytime a colleague, friend, or neighbor asked what class I was taking this semester, I eagerly answered “Human Resource Development” followed by “and I love it!” Never before have I taken a course that was so relevant to what I do – from performance management to learning and development models,  I have taken away so much that will positively change the way I perform, learn, and analyze myself as a worker, team member, and leader. Each reading and class discussion made me want to be in the field and actively engaged in development at both a micro and macro level. As a result of this course, I narrowed down my professional goals and applied to the graduate program in Adult Education. The course also helped me see a greater connection between HRD and academic advising in higher ed. The class supported the School of Ed’s learning-center model. Dr. Hurst facilitated discussion and it was those class discussions – hearing from those in other industries or from other countries – that widened my scope of knowledge and allowed me to learn.

When I felt most engaged in the learning experience and why.

I felt most engaged in the course when we were discussing Theory X and Y. Maybe it was because of the paper assignment, but I found myself continually referring back to McGregor and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For example, our discussion on rethinking organizational development and involving Weisbord’s whole systems theory spoke to McGregor’s Theory X and Y. Likewise, Swanson’s chapters on learning versus performance paradigms in HRD made me think of Theory X and Y in 21st century workplaces.

I also enjoyed learning from those in the HRD field, especially Kevin Bruny’s presentation on corporate universities in Chesterfield County. I’m still amazed at the university model in local government. I never knew what a learning management system was until I took this class. The course gave me the opportunity to understand perspectives from both scholars and practitioners.  As a result of this course, I try to see areas for learning and organizational development at VCU and specifically within my own department. I recognize development efforts in my department, such as emails about a “Climate Survey” or 360 performance reviews of our directors. I never connected those efforts to HRD and am now a willing participator in engagement initiatives. I agree with Weisbord that the whole system needs to be at the table in order for effective change to take place.

When I felt most distanced from the learning experience and why.

I never felt distanced from the learning experience to be perfectly honest. Every aspect of this course material was relevant to what I do and what I hope to do professionally.  There were times that the Swanson readings were hard to digest because of all the theories and broad definitions, but the second we applied it to a situation in class or “broke down” the charts in class, I was engaged and eager to learn more.

What I learned about myself that can be applied to my life and why.

I learned that I actually am an HRD professional (not in official title, but in informal, practical ways). If you agree with Swanson and Holton’s (2009) broad definition of HRD, “unleashing and developing human potential,” then I practice HRD every day at VCU with my advisees (pg. 3). My department uses a performance management model to retain top talent at VCU. I learned that I identify, measure, and develop the performance of individual students in order to align them with the School of Business and VCU’s organizational mission and goals. I do this through individual meetings, formal classroom training, and web-based instruction. We use one learning management system for students called Blackboard, Inc. where students can find my organizational page with links to campus resources, academic policy information, and helpful study guides/test taking strategies. This is very similar to a unified learning management system in place at Capital One called Pulse, Inc. I learned about the similarity through my HRD interview with Sarah Wilkinson, Learning Manager at Capital One University. I learned that I assist students in developing an individual development plan (IDP) in our meetings that document the students’ goals and promote self-development.

Conversely, I learned that employees do not operate under a performance management model in my department. I realized that our leadership put more energy into advising and retaining our students than they do into developing and retaining their employees. I see a developmental gap in my department where the student/customer/stakeholder’s needs are more important than the employees’ needs. I feel as though my department could implement some HRD strategies to help address our professional growth and development. For instance, I just finished participating in a textbook review committee. At the end of our meeting, we all felt as though some formal or informal training on learning-centered or student-centered teaching and instruction would help us as advisors be better prepared in the classroom and engage our students. I serve a unique role in that I’m both a teacher and advisor to my students. I would never have had this type of clarity or initiative if I had not taken this course.

How I judge my best work (criteria) and why.

I judge my best work if I answered all the questions thoughtfully and thoroughly – drawing upon my own thoughts and scholarly research. I am an analytical person (which could be the historian in me) so I truly try and analyze a question from all angles. If I’ve done that, I feel as though I’ve done my best. In this class, I also try to show up prepared to class having done the readings and made notes. I feel as though I perform at my best when I can openly contribute to the class discussion and apply it to my own work and life.

If I were to select the one single thing that represents my best work in the course at this moment, it would be Theory X and Y paper because I spent the most time on it.  Based on my criteria previously discussed, I feel as though I approached that paper from every angle and answered each question as thoroughly as possible – even bringing in other literature that I read on the side for fun.  A close second would be my part of the group project on understanding and managing generational diversity in the 21st century workplace because I updated my skills and techniques in the process. As I continue to work with others from different generations, I ask myself what behaviors, attitudes, and expectations does he or she bring to the workplace and how can that influence the way I communicate (Raines, 2013).

Additional personal learning needs that I have identified as a result of the learning experience and how I will go about meeting them (personal learning strategies.)  

I enrolled in this course as a way to learn more about HRD as a possible career path, and I end the semester feeling re-energized in my current role. I’m more excited than I’ve ever been to plan my syllabus for the 1-credit courses I teach in the fall. I want to practice some of the training and development techniques and the ADDIE model in my classes this fall. I also want to incorporate experiential learning models that were used in this class. I eventually want to work with an older adult population and turn my attention toward employee development as a long term career goal, but I view my current experience in student engagement initiatives, curriculum design, and cross-collaboration as a way to begin implementing HRD principles now and into the future.

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Generational Case Study

When researching my group project topic on age demographics in the workplace, I thought I’d blog about the generational differences I experience in my own workplace. I’m particularly interested in younger managers working with older generations like the Baby Boomers. I know I’ve mentioned my workplace before in other posts, but just to recap – I work as an academic advisor in VCU’s University College (UC) department. The UC advises all first year students to help them transition into college and attain academic success. Currently, there are 30 full time advisors who work with every type of major. Our Executive Director is a Gen-Xer. Not including my boss, our advising team is made up of 13 Gen Y (including me), 12 Gen X, and 6 Baby Boomers. What does this tell you? I’m use to working with people in my own generation and haven’t personally come across any generational conflicts. The age demographics in my own workplace also supports the current research findings that most of our current workforce is made up of Gen Xers (McDonald and Hite, 2008, pg. 87).

Most of the Baby Boomers I work with are extremely up to speed with technology. One of our Baby Boomer advisors is a School of the Arts advisor who does his own graphic design work (which means he’s probably better at computers than I am!…actually I know he’s better 🙂 But really, I don’t think we need to immediately jump to technology skills when it comes to the Baby boomer generation. I’ve done some research on the Baby boomer generation and they have so much to offer the work place. One of the committees I am a part of is currently revising a textbook. The committee chair is a Baby Boomer who is extremely structured, task orientated, and focused. He’s a great note-taker, so when a bunch of us “Gen-Yers” go off on idea tangents and big picture thinking, he keeps track of it all. Bottom line is that every generation adds value. It’s up to leadership to leverage that value in an organization.

I read another case study during my research that talked about the Titanium rule (very much like the “Golden Rule” we think of) that says most people want to be treated with respect, and so we believe we’re doing the right thing by treating others with respect, but the titanium rule means understanding each generation’s ideas about what respect looks and sounds like (Raines, 2013). In my workplace, we are made of of counselors who do a great job at respecting others by valuing each other’s opinions and making sure to listen to everyone (sometimes to a fault when it comes to time constraints); therefore, I think each colleague understands the level of respect necessary to connect to one another and get things done.

Areas that I noticed could be improved upon is gathering more information on our stakeholders (i.e. our students) and gathering more data (both quantitative and qualitative) about their demographic. As advisors helping students learn, we want to meet the student where they are developmentally. Yet, I feel there is a lack of active research on the Linkster generation (aka the Facebook generation) in my workplace. The Linkster generation is defined as those individuals born after 1995 (Johnson, 2010, pg. 7). Since I’m in the middle of editing a textbook geared toward that generation, I’m curious about how they would read (or not read) certain sections that we, as advisors, feel are very important. More information gathering about that demographic could help us enhance our programs, textbooks, and learning systems.

I can’t say enough how this class and even this blog have helped me focus on areas to address in my own workplace – I think I’m on to another research project idea!

Thoughts on Organizational Development

Swanson and Holton’s chapter The Nature of the Change Process left my head spinning. I never stopped to think about the complexity of change, specifically the various types of change outcomes and change theories. I can understand the importance of change in relationship to OD. The constant pressure to keep up with the pace of change and meet the demands of the future affect every organization. HRD professionals then lead and facilitate change in an effort to help organizations improve, meet performance standards, and provide strategic insight for the future (pg. 308). One similarity I found for each work process, group, or individual change theory or outcome involved some type of commitment to change. 

I kept going back to Lewin’s principle on commitment to action/change. The workers will commit to a change they helped create. Motivation is the underlying principle of any change process. The most important concept of organizational development is involving everyone in each step of the process when it comes to the “unfreezing, movement, refreezing” philosophy. (Swanson, pg. 315).  OD involves some type of “buy in” from the worker, which is why I think group-focused or team-building approaches are at the heart of OD practices.  Workers feel more comfortable sharing confidential information when their input is valued and has the power to change people and the organization as a whole.

After reading Swanson’s chapters on organizational development, I filled out a “Climate Survey” at my work, which asked 12 month faculty for their feedback on issues like supervision satisfaction, professional development opportunities, and administrative transparency . Our Vice Provost for Learning Innovation and Student Success collects this qualitative data for quality improvement purposes. I’ve not participated in the survey in the past, but I was ready and willing to give my input this time around.  My eagerness to provide feedback is a result of this class. I now realize the importance of participative management. Our Vice Provost is new, and I’m waiting to see his reactions to the feedback and visions for the future.  In comparing my department to Swanson and Holton’s performance system model, we are in Phase 2: Diagnose and Feedback. What I’m most looking forward to, however, is Phase 3 and 4: Plan, Design, and Develop and Implement. In this way, I agree with Swanson and Holton that OD has the potential to unleash “human expertise required to maintain and/or change organizations,” but this is only possible when everyone is on board and real action takes place as a result of the feedback (pg. 306). Leadership and management maintain the integrity of OD process by institutionalizing change (assuming the change is for the better.. which is another topic altogether). 

Change Strategy and Learner Readiness

After class a few weeks ago, I wrote down the term andragogy. I had never heard of it before. I wanted to know more about Malcolm Knowles’ theory on adult learning since I work with young adults.  I am currently teaching a course that is designed to help students on academic warning gain academic success skills.  When planning the curriculum, I came up with journal assignments and assessment tools that reflect andragogy principles: experiential learning, problem-solving, goal setting, providing immediate value to their current academic situation ,etc (Swanson, p. 205). Assignments include mainly journal entries on motivation, what they want to get out of college, etc. I try to peel back a layer before diving into how to fix study skills, note taking, time management, etc. Most often the reason for bad grades has to do with a lack of motivation. The lack of motivation is usually due to other things going on in a person’s life.  I find young adults are excellent at describing in detail the obstacles (i.e. lack of focus, not sure what to major in, insufficient study habits, family/money problems, etc.) but gloss over the change strategy.  My students think it’s as easy as just making more time to go to the library (which is a start in the right direction, but not targeting the real problems).  I usually get the “I just needed to devote more time to studying” or “I just need to go to the library more.” In our appointment the following week, I then hear that they got another bad grade and didn’t follow through on their identified strategies.  My point is that when I implement andragogy principles by discussing new strategies in our meetings and connecting their current courses to their long term goal –  nothing happens. I’m at a point where I can’t motivate or help a learner who isn’t ready to learn and make a change. They have all the tools, the self awareness, the plan, but don’t put that into action. I now see the part of the andragogy model where it talks about learner readiness and believe some students are simply not ready to learn. 

My next thought relates this same principle to HRD professionals. How does the HRD professional assess or measure its effectiveness when there is no behavioral or institutional change? If we are to assume from a Theory Y perspective that workers want to grow and learn and are provided the tools from HRD professionals and upper management, what happens when no change takes place? How would the HRD professional handle an employee who knows they are not the right fit, but decides to stay within the organization for whatever reason? My last entry stated that “If in the end, HRD helps an employee realize they aren’t the right fit” its still a success marker for the HRD professional. But I’m wondering how that gets measured and assessed within an organization? Do they move on to the next employee who’s motivated to change and let management deal with the stagnant employee? Should I simply focus on other the students who actually want to make a change? Maybe this will make more sense when we start talking about perspectives on learning later on in the semester. I just find what I’m doing in my current course, so relevant to this learner readiness assumption, I had to get my thoughts out. I’m open to hearing how you might have had to deal with a similar situation in your workplace?

Thoughts on HRD

Prior to enrolling in this course, my knowledge of HRD consisted of Google searches. I’ve recently been looking at jobs in the corporate world that align with my current skills and expertise in the academic field. I’ve been an academic advisor for over 3 years now and I’m looking at what else I can do professionally. My professional goal has always been to provide individuals with support and resources in order for them to achieve their own personal and professional goals.  My initial internet research helped me realize the connection between HRD with what I currently do in academia – facilitate learning.  From there, I decided to enroll in this course for the opportunity to further research the field and gain a better understanding of the theory, history, and methods of HRD so I’m better prepared to transition into the field.

The main thing I realized after the readings and first class is the complexity of the field. There is no single way to view the field. The HR wheel serves to break down the field in ways I never knew existed. HRM and HRD can be viewed as two completely separate components. HR doesn’t just have to be about numbers, math, and complicated benefits and coverage questions (which are not my strengths).  Instead, the idea that Organization Development (unleashing human expertise)  and Training & Development (developing human expertise) fall under HRD is something I relate to in my current job and what I can see myself doing in a corporate setting.  I now see the larger scope and structure of HRD, which makes me even more interested (maybe even excited?) in this potentially new career path.

The individual factor is probably the single most important piece of HRD. The definition of HRD that  makes most sense to me is that it’s a strategy for aligning organizational objectives with competencies and capabilities of employees. In other words, for me it’s all about learning and development of employees who can then impact the overall organization in meeting the organization’s strategic goals.

I personally align myself with the learning centered part of the debate that places the importance on adult education. I think this is what attracts me most to the field – that an institution or organization is going to be most effective and competitive in the global market if they have employees who are informed, engaged,  and can think critically about how their organization fits in the larger, more complex market.  A similar principle applies in higher ed.  Part of VCU’s new strategic plan involves student engagement. The more engaged a student is at VCU, the more academically successful (and the more apt they are to finish in 4 years). My job as an advisor is to help facilitate that engagement through teaching, appointments, and electronic communication. Part of my strategy for engagement involves letting students know about the abundant resources available to them at VCU.  My feeling is that knowledge stimulates engagement, which will eventually lead to success.

From a corporate perspective, I like the part about helping employees see the bigger picture. If HRD professionals help inform and engage the employee in the system, the organization as a whole improves. I think the only downside would be when you are helping employees do this, the assumption is that their own personal/professional goals align with the organization (i.e. that it’s the right fit for the employee and they want to help the organization grow). If the employee comes away from various HRD trainings feeling the need to move on from the organization, it still provides the opportunity for personal growth and learning – which again is what HRD is all about!