Learning by experience is a transformative process. For the Treasury Board within the government of the Canadian Province of Saskatchewan, it was central in adjusting the workforce to rapid changes in the public sector.
When Bonnie Nixon became the director of organizational development for the Treasury Board, there was a demand to change the role of human resources from transactional to strategic. At the beginning, there were just three consultants, a previous manager and a part-time assistant, all of whom needed to learn a whole new approach to human resources.
The first decision that had to be made was how they wanted the staff to transform. A plan was created around what needed to be done in the corporation to make it a more strategic function. Teams were set up to work on all the areas of implementing competencies within various departments of the Treasury Board. The consultants selected the departments they felt were the best fit and could provide the department with the greatest benefit. Nixon handled overall management of the project and provided the needed coaching and expertise across the teams.
As the teams worked, it became apparent that there were additional organizational needs. These were built these into work plans for the new OD consultants. The consultants signed up for areas that interested them and where they felt they could make a positive contribution. They also held regular meetings with Nixon to chart progress. Throughout all of this, she maintained an “open door” policy whereby consultants and staff could come and chat when they needed assistance or just another point of view.
The consultants took on lead roles and were given continuous feedback and coaching. They were to come up with a project plan and timeline for their team. They were expected to lead meetings. When it was discovered that additional help in facilitation would be necessary, one of the consultants co-presented a two-and-a-half day workshop with Nixon. This not only helped the consultant learn facilitation skills, but also increased the competence of her peers at the same time.
By allowing these consultants the experience, space and support to move from being a transactional force to a strategic one, both the organization and the individual benefited. The accomplishments included:
• Developing a human resource plan with an advisory committee of senior managers under the title Improved Organizational Performance. This provided strategic direction for human resource initiatives in the organization.
• Facilitating 10 division and branch/regional strategic planning sessions in alignment with the corporate plan and priorities.
• Taking on work that was normally farmed out to external consultants, which saved the organization in excess of $89,000 a year.
• Designing a best-practice, three-year leadership development program that helped managers, directors and executive members reach their full potential as leaders to the benefit of themselves, the corporation and those it services, as well as a two-year learning and development program that helped employees meet their full potential.
In the end, this initiative provided “wins” for individuals in the OD function as people stepped outside their comfort zones, giving them the opportunity to succeed and internalize the learning. Learning by example also allowed participants to become more engaged in their work, which has had a significant impact on retention of talent.
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