Because of the long-standing dominance of the behaviorist tradition in the HR community, informed opinion in the past has been, essentially, that one could be anything or anybody they wanted to be–all that was needed was the proper training. This is the assumption behind the traditional Human Resource Development (HRD) paradigm. If a person is not performing up to standard, just develop them.
The evidence for genetic contribution to personality, and hence to performance, has tempered that informed opinion, such that today we have alternatives to the development strategy. We are recommending the discontinuing of the traditional “Human Resource Development” label and replacing it with “Human Resource Optimization.” This new label for addressing human performance issues recognizes five substantially different approaches to performance improvement.
Imagine a very introverted engineer with a job requiring frequent presentations to management. She dreads them and they aren’t successful, so her boss sends her to a three-day presentation skills workshop. The trainer uses every method and technique possible to inspire his students, including video-feedback, visualization techniques, and the best materials. Yet at the end of the three days, the engineer’s final presentation is every bit as awkward as her first. What happened?
Companies and organizations spend millions of dollars every year training people. It has long been assumed that you can train anyone to be anything if you work hard enough at it. In terms of the Nature-Nurture debate, people mistakenly assumed that nurture rules and that anyone could be trained if given the proper methods and technology. We now understand that all workers do not take equally well to all training. It is time to rethink the existing “human resource development paradigm.”
The new approach is called “Human Resource Optimization” (HRO). It means understanding the skills required for a job, understanding an employee’s strengths and weaknesses, and then finding a way to leverage the strengths and minimize the weaknesses to get the job done effectively. It involves looking, not just your performance, but also your natural affinity/preferences/potential to determine how to develop you. This requires you to be assessed on your current performance as well as your personality traits.
The first step in using Human Resource Optimization is to identify the necessary competencies in a job. For example, competencies associated with Sales are: Competitiveness, Presentation Skills, Self Confidence, and optimism.
When your performance needs to be improved, put Human Resource Optimization to work:
1. Define the competencies required for your job (See Sales competencies above).
From research studies, we know which traits support each competency.
2. Assess your performance on these competencies using a 360° assessment or other appraisal tool.
3. Assess your traits using the recommended Workplace Big 5 Profile.
4. Identify the gap between the ideal trait infrastructure for each competency and your actual trait infrastructure (capacity).
5. For each combination of Performance and Trait Capacity, HRO has 5 strategies to employ. See diagram below:
It is important to remember that having low trait capacity for a competency doesn’t mean that you perform poorly. Just as an introvert can give a successful presentation, or network effectively at a trade show, someone without a natural tendency for the competency can perform well. It is just harder for you, as you are working outside your natural comfort zone and against your nature. For any particular competency or skill, if you have a fewer natural traits, you may not perform as naturally, as someone who has more natural traits.
As you can see, HRO is about using different strokes for different folks. It allows for more specific strategies in enhancing performance situational upon a person’s performance as well as natural traits.
George T K Quek
(based on information from the Center for Applied Cognitive Studies, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA)