Why Human Resource Development needs a new foundation

Wednesday, 9 January 2013 01:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Following are excerpts from a paper presented by Dr. Asoka Jinadasa at the 12th International Human Resource Management (IHRM) Conference in India in December 2012.


According to KPMG’s recent survey, ‘Rethinking Human Resources in a Changing World,’ most business leaders around the world believe the HR function to be non-essential and ineffective. Only 17% out of over 400 senior executives across major industry sectors in Asia, Europe, North and Latin America maintain that HR is demonstrating its value to the business. Dave Ulrich predicted this situation when he said: “The competencies that served HR well in the past will not be enough to propel it into the future.”

The globally-researched HR Competency Model issued by SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) in 2012 has identified nine competencies out of which eight are behavioural, as summarised by: Knowledge (hard skills) + Behaviour (soft skills) = Success. Hard Skills comprise of work-related knowledge, skills, tools and processes. Behavioural Soft Skills relate to employees’ self-confidence, awareness, intuition, motivation, leadership and their ability to integrate new thinking into their daily work.

Most Human Resource Development (HRD) programs focus on improving employees’ Hard Skills. There is little focus on developing employees’ Soft Skills for enhancing their attitudinal, behavioural and interpersonal competencies, even though these are essential for sustaining organisational success under today’s turbulent conditions.

Out of 105 research papers presented by delegates from 22 countries at the 12th IHRM Conference, only Dr. Jinadasa’s research paper, ‘The Five Dimensions of Success: A holistic new foundation for HRD’ responded to this need by introducing a new concept of ‘360-degree Total Personal Empowerment’. It presents new methods for developing Inner Soft Skills for personal empowerment, and Outer Soft Skills for developing interpersonal competencies. It provides a ‘future-proof’ model for HRD via the development of five key attributes symbolised by Heart, Mind, Passion, Focus and Health, which govern the success of individuals and enterprises, even under unfavourable conditions.

The need to widen the scope of HRD

Slowing growth in many major economies has made it difficult for business and industrial enterprises to stay competitive. They have been applying rationality and logic to problem-solving and decision-making, using tools such as operational research and computer modelling. According to Prof. Mihalasky, what all this has given us is more incorrect, invalid or unreliable data for making decisions, whose outcomes have been correct about as many times as when they were based on blind guessing.

He attributes this to people focusing their attention on logical and analytical thinking, without investigating the application of non-logical, intuitive thinking in today’s volatile conditions that are hard to predict. His research has shown that top CEOs who performed best in intuition tests also tended to be the most successful in running their businesses.

It is rarely a shortfall in technical expertise (Hard Skills) that limits people’s performance, but rather a shortcoming in their social, communication and self-management behaviours (Soft Skills). Skill development is one of the main drivers of employee engagement, which holds the key to revenue growth, profitability, innovation, productivity, customer retention, and cycle time reduction. Therefore, while developing work-related concrete Hard Skills, HRD programs must also develop employees’ abstract Soft Skills, which are essential for sustaining corporate success under turbulent conditions, as depicted in Figure 1.

We are leaving the old way of thinking with its over-dependence on the logical mind; a new kind of thinking is awakening, characterised by a balance between logical thinking and intuition. Increasingly chaotic conditions require HRD to be founded on a new paradigm based on Intellectual Capital possessed by the workforce. This demands the parallel development of concrete Hard Skills and abstract Soft Skills.

J.M. McCann summarised the changing role of employees in the turbulent corporate world: ‘We no longer live in a world where one may look solely to the Boss for answers or motivation. Each individual must take responsibility for pursuing knowledge, insight and possibility, and muster motivation and courage to take huge risks in devising and implementing strategy.’

To meet the unprecedented challenges that employees and their organisations could be facing in the difficult years looming ahead, HRD programs must unleash the full potential lying mostly dormant within every person into an everyday business innovation ideology.

Introducing the Five Dimensions of Success

Good leadership is about being prepared for more of the unexpected. HRD programs thus need a holistic new foundation for empowering employees aptitudinally, attitudinally and behaviourally, to enable them to lead their organisations through unpredictable future obstacles. Such a foundation has to extend far beyond the scope of conventional HRD programs. ‘The Five Dimensions of Success’ depicted in Figure 2 enables the HRD function to fulfil its mandate for Human Resource Development, using the new concept of 360-degree Total Personal Empowerment.

Heart governs emotional intelligence needed for empathising with subordinates, colleagues, superiors, customers, suppliers etc. Heart also governs corporate success, since a heart-oriented corporate culture will be able to retain staff, clients and suppliers, especially during difficult times.

Mind governs concrete and abstract intelligence, technology, innovation, creativity etc. It underpins both individual and organisational success by cultivating innovative thinking in employees’ minds, alongside their daily focus on problem solving.

Passion drives ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results by aligning their hearts, minds, beliefs and efforts. It fuels both individual and corporate success by unleashing the energy needed by individuals and organisations to reach ambitious goals, against heavy odds.

Focus is the convergence of beliefs, resources and effort that makes individuals and organisations strive until they achieve goals, despite setbacks. Focus is used here instead of Willpower, since Focus implies desire and willingness, whereas Willpower implies doing something emotionally unappealing through force of will.

Health is the overarching foundation of the other four dimensions. Organisational health is analogous to a healthy person having a strong immune system that can defend against attacks from most pathogens; it symbolises corporate sustainability as determined by profitable growth, net asset value, liquidity, resilience, innovativeness, motivated workforce, etc

For developing the ‘Mind’ dimension fully, HRD programs must include new techniques such as whole brain integration, which increases brain power by a factor of 5 to 10 times by balancing the rational ability of the left half of the brain with the creative ability of the right half. Since most HRD programs are left-brain oriented, they need to be balanced with right-brain oriented methods to enhance participants’ ability to use both sides of the brain in tandem. HRD programs must also eliminate mental barriers such as negative emotions and limiting beliefs that prevent employees from maximising their performance. Adverse conditions will trigger such negative emotions and beliefs, and demotivate them and minimise their effort, when maximum exertion is needed to overcome obstacles. Developing employees’ Five Dimensions of Success will totally empower them via enhanced concrete Hard Skills and abstract Soft Skills depicted earlier in Figure 1.

How Soft and Hard Skills relate to corporate growth

Commercial enterprises that follow a gradual organic growth process typically go through four different growth phases that require different competencies, as empirically summarised in Figure 3.

In their start-up phase, commercial enterprises are founded on Technical Competencies needed to analyse market opportunities and develop products/services/processes to be commercialised (Hard Skills). Their next growth phase typically requires Managerial Competencies in areas such as planning, financing, staffing and administration (mainly Hard Skills). The third growth phase typically requires Interpersonal (Relational) Competencies for dealing with key groups such as employees, customers, suppliers, media, public etc (mainly Soft Skills). The last growth phase typically requires Strategic Competencies for sustaining growth against diverse threats (combined Soft and Hard Skills).

This simplified conceptual model shows how Soft Skills become increasingly important as an enterprise grows. Assuming that an enterprise started-off in the right direction in terms of the commercial viability of its products/services in its target markets, obstacles for initial growth will be minimal. Unless an enterprise depends on proprietary technology or uses an enterprise-wide Blue Ocean Strategy to pre-empt competitive threats, obstacles to its growth would typically burgeon with increasing size. As this happens, in addition to Hard Skills, employees’ Inner and Outer Soft Skills play an increasingly important role. This changing role of Hard and Soft Skills in the corporate growth process must be reflected in the HRD model and training programs.

Changing the conventional HRD model

The conventional HRD model depicted in Figure 4 mainly focuses on improving Hard Skills related to products, services, processes, resources, organisational structure etc. Except in a few areas such as sales training, scant attention is being paid to the development of Soft Skills, which comprise of Inner Soft Skills for self-empowerment (improving confidence, intuition, assertiveness, creativity, decision-making etc), and Outer Soft Skills for relational competencies (becoming ‘people-smart’ via interpersonal intelligence for dealing with and influencing others).

In this conventional HRD model, Soft Skills that enable employees to identify trends (personally or through people) are undeveloped and isolated from Hard Skills. Due to the absence of this critical link, employees are not empowered to detect significant trends and integrate new thinking into their day-to-day work. Consequently, they function within their existing mental and operational frameworks, with no innovation, opportunity-seeking or risk-evaluation underlying their daily focus on problem-solving.

The inadequacy of this conventional HRD model was illustrated by the collapse of many renowned companies during the 2008 global crisis. It was caused not by a natural disaster or shortage of vital resources, but by poor decisions made by key individuals in affected companies and their regulatory agencies. These individuals must have had well-developed Hard Skills, but lacked the Soft Skills to sense impending dangers and initiate timely responses, despite prior warning by independent agencies such as Weiss Ratings.

Considering the exponential growth and complexity of risk/opportunity variables in recent times, CEOs and their employees must develop competencies to deal with situations they had considered improbable or even impossible. By not doing this, Japan’s renowned electronic manufacturers, once the undisputed Titans of consumer electronics, are now struggling to survive due to their stagnant business models, outmoded management practices and poor leadership.

HRD programs must therefore start arming employees with all the competencies needed to navigate their companies safely through increasing uncertainty. This requires the parallel development of Soft Skills and Hard Skills, as suggested in the new model depicted in Figure 5. Inner Soft Skills for self-empowerment must be developed first, since they form the foundation for developing Outer Soft Skills for improving interpersonal competencies.

In this new HRD model, intuitive insights gained by sensing changes in the operating environment, combined with relational insights gained through people, will guide the acquisition, modification, and deployment of Hard Skills. This provides a powerful employee-based feedback mechanism for quickly adapting to rapidly changing conditions in operating environments.

Under such a scenario, frontline employees (boundary spanners) who are closest to changes in ground-level conditions would use their analytical Hard Skills and intuitive Soft Skills to sense significant trends and send back intelligence up the corporate ladder. Staff at higher levels would also have enhanced Hard and Soft Skills to interpret such trends and respond to the underlying opportunities or threats that could affect their products, services, operating procedures, organisational structures, or even business models. Such a flexible operational structure, driven by the workforce and guided by top management, would have the adaptability to sustain corporate growth, under favourable or unfavourable conditions.

By deploying employee-based feedback through individual empowerment and engagement, HRM can become a strategic business partner by aligning HRD and business strategies. This will enable enterprises to exploit opportunities and mitigate risks arising from rapid changes in operating environments. This new model enables the move away from ad hoc piecemeal employee training, towards more systematic HRD aimed at creating ‘learning organisations’ via continuous knowledge acquisition and skill development closely geared to changing conditions in operating environments.

The Five Dimensions of Success provide the empowering framework for this holistic new foundation for HRD. Developing the ‘Heart’ and ‘Mind’ dimensions will boost employees’:

a) Inner Soft Skills for self-empowerment (improved attitudinal and behavioural competencies and increased awareness, intuition, motivation and confidence to identify significant trends and integrate new thinking into their daily work);

b) Outer Soft Skills for interpersonal competencies (dealing with and influencing colleagues, customers, suppliers, etc and obtaining feedback through them); and

c) Hard Skills for developing work-related knowledge, skills, tools, and processes to maximise competitiveness, profitability and sustainability under changing conditions.

The supporting dimensions of ‘Passion’, ‘Focus’ and ‘Health’ will optimise the use of such Hard and Soft Skills to achieve and sustain organisational success, even under unfavourable conditions.

Developing the Five Dimensions of Success

In the history of human thinking, breakthrough developments took place when two different lines of thought met from different cultural or religious traditions, as illustrated by quantum theory. To widen the scope and effectiveness of employee training to meet future challenges, HRD programs must also draw on lines of thought ignored by conventional approaches.

According to Del Pe, a pioneer in adapting Human Energy Science to HRD, the human energy system is analogous to a cellular phone: Our physical body is the hardware; our vitality or energy is like the battery; our emotional and mental profiles are like the software; our antenna is our cosmic connection to the universe through which we receive flashes of inspiration and intuitional insights. We can learn to strengthen our cosmic connection and increase its ‘bandwidth’ to ‘download’ creative ideas and innovative solutions to any complex problem. This is the concept underlying the Spiritual intelligence Quotient (SQ), which is the central and most fundamental of our intelligences, because it guides both rational Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Emotional intelligence Quotient (EQ), as stated by Steven Covey.

Human Energy Science provides an effective way to boost all Five Dimensions of Success, by developing the power centres in the human body, called Chakras. Since evolution has endowed all humans with comparable physical and mental attributes, developing all the Chakras will unleash all competencies lying mostly dormant within every person. This view is corroborated by Malcolm Gladwell in his ‘10,000-Hour Rule’ where he asserts that the key to achieving the highest level of success in any field is mainly a matter of practicing that specific activity for a total of about 10,000 hours.

New HRD techniques, such as developing the Chakras using simple methods devised by Del Pe, will develop all Five Dimensions of Success and accelerate the achievement of any desired level of individual and corporate success, even under the most difficult conditions.

(Dr. Asoka Jinadasa is a Chartered Engineer with a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA). He has had decades of top-level management experience in Europe, USA and Sri Lanka. He was former Chairman of the Entrust Group of listed finance companies. His new breed of transformational training programs for soft skill development is based on the innovative concepts presented in his research paper summarised above. To request his paper complete with references, email him at asokajin@gmail.com.)