Current Practices

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HR Leaders and Educators: Summit Report

Reported by Paul M. Swiercz, Ph.D., Director, Strategic HR Partnership Project, The George Washington University

A working meeting of regional HR leaders and university academicians was recently sponsored by The Washington Human Resource Forum, an affiliate of HRPS. This gathering of 25 HR leaders and faculty representatives from five area universities was designed to facilitate a dialogue between the practitioner and academic communities. Specifically, the HR Leaders and Educators Summit explored: 1) personal learning styles of successful HR leaders, 2) the developmental needs of current and prospective HR leaders, and 3) strategies for improving the flow of communication between faculty and those responsible for converting ideas into practice. Highlights of the discussions follow.

Personal Learning Styles

Universities are a major source of education for personal development, but substantial evidence exists that successful leaders also tend to be successful self-learners. They learn every day from a wide range of venues. To discover the personal learning styles of acknowledged HR leaders, participants were requested to indicate and discuss in small groups their personal learning styles. As might be expected, participants were able to list a wide range of learning styles. While most of these techniques were fairly typical, some were unique and interesting. The three most distinctive personal learning styles included:

I. Informational arbitrage. The word "arbitrage," borrowed from the financial world, describes the practice of purchasing and selling securities across the markets to take advantage of price discrepancies. Applied to the HR leadership environment, it suggests the idea of taking on a "knowledge broker" role. Users of this technique report that they developed the habit of scanning the information market for promising ideas. Once their scanning uncovers information of value, that information can be shared or bartered to other members of the management team.

II. Modeling/shadowing. Behavior modeling has long been recognized as a valuable learning technique so it is not surprising that it showed up on the personal learning styles list. What is interesting is that it showed up on a list generated by senior HR leaders. At this stage in their career, one might expect these individuals to act in the role of "the model" rather than still searching for behaviors "to model." Apparently, the utility of behavior modeling is extended by two process modifications.

First, the modeler seeks out selective functional behaviors, purposefully seeking out and capturing particularly effective behaviors in context. For example, they might observe how a peer executive in marketing leverages the firm's public commitment to customer service as a tool for securing organizational resources. The sophisticated modeler, having observed this successful behavior "in context," then captures the core process variables and applies them to their specific circumstance.

The second modification involves the use of multiple modeling sources. Successful HR leaders are eclectic with respect to the sources of modeling behavior. They are just as likely to observe and model the behavior of a new IT technician as they are that of their corporate CEO. The decision to model a behavior for these leaders is personal and pragmatic: "Is it something I can use?" and "Will it work?"

III. Experimentation. HR leaders, perhaps as a legitimate byproduct of their traditional staff role, have a reputation for conservatism. Innovations, if they occur, are likely to be limited in scope and carefully pre-tested before implementation. It was therefore interesting to discover the endorsement of experimentation as a personal learning style by these senior HR leaders. Time constraints prevented a detailed exploration of how learning through experimentation is actually implemented, but sufficient time was available to yield one conclusion: Conservative/professional HR leadership is not incompatible with a personal learning style of experimentation and exploration. …