When it comes to the future of human resources, there seems to be consensus among researchers, consultants and professionals that HR’s value proposition will be increasingly linked to its professionals’ level of awareness of the business challenges and to their ability to find people solutions to organizational issues. This requires a culture shift on HR’s part with a new focus on talent, people and skills versus processes, vertical structures and tasks.
Across many different organizations, whether public, private or in-between, there has been a great deal of momentum building behind more modern methods of approaching the use and development of an organization’s human capacity.
The federal government has, in general, been applying a “one-size fits all” approach to HR management. The same legislation, policies and procedures apply across most government organizations with little recognition for the various communities of practices and their respective issues and needs. Those few examples where an HR policy or program has been tailored to meet the specific needs of a particular sector of the workforce are exceptions rather than the rule.
This standardized HR management framework is usually implemented in silos – department by department, directorate by directorate, with little horizontal integration across the federal government. Employees’ work is defined by the tasks delineated in the work description for their position, in their department. There are no effective mechanisms to recognize what skills are available within organizations versus which ones may be lacking. There are actual barriers to focusing on skills and allowing for organizations to effectively invest in, deploy and redeploy talent where it is required.
For a prime example of how the current HR management approach can impede on achieving necessary outcomes one simply needs to look at the government’s science community.
Government science works in a myriad of inter-connected and rapidly evolving fields, to address ever-changing and complex issues that are often international in scope. To work effectively in this dynamic context, federal science programs must be adaptable and flexible to quickly align expertise to address and communicate on emerging needs, with mechanisms to establish multi-disciplinary project teams and network with scientists in other countries, levels of government, academia and industry. The government of Canada must be able to attract and retain top level scientific talent, offering appropriate compensation and attractive career paths. Mechanisms are needed to allow scientists to step in and out of government service, while also pursuing non-government professional opportunities.
This challenging context for government science has been recognized for many years, by government leaders and government scientists themselves. HR management approaches are key to meeting these challenges. Government science represents a unique “community of practice,” with particular issues and needs for recruitment, on-boarding, compensation, professional development, employee mobility, staffing, employee recognition and knowledge transfer upon retirement.
Only through HR mechanisms that successfully address these challenges can the government build and maintain an expert, adaptable and responsive science capacity.
A group of seven science-based federal departments and agencies – Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment Canada, Health Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada – is standing this picture on its head.
Instead of making community-based HR management an exception, they want to make the science community within their organizations the starting point for a pilot project to evaluate and implement changes required in developing an enabling HR management framework. In the context of Blueprint 2020, they started talking about the needs of government science from a business perspective and the changes to the HR management framework for the science community that would be required to meet those business needs.
The vision of an expert, adaptable and responsive science community requires an interdepartmental recruitment, training and talent management program designed specifically for the community. And that’s what these seven organizations have committed to develop; they’ve called their initiative “One HR for Government Science.” From recruitment to retirement, they want to identify the specific needs of the community, break down barriers to mobility and build an HR management framework to meet those needs while also having potential application/expansion across federal science-based departments and agencies.
Many of the changes and improvements they envision are possible within existing legislation and policies. Where the legal/policy framework presents an impediment, they are prepared to present proposals for changes to policy and legislation in partnership with senior leaders from the federal science community.
It’s an exciting vision and initiative, one that could hold promise for a new approach to HR management in the federal government – developing differing HR frameworks to support unique communities of practice.