Rising to the Top


In a time of crisis, we look to organizational leaders with the expectation that they will guide the rest of us and navigate the way through the extremely difficult times. We expect our leaders to be able to lead.

There is a saying that good leaders, like the best cream, always rise to the top. In a time of crisis, however, what happens to the weak leaders, who may not be prepared and ready for the rise? If they proceed with a lack of development, will they, like cream gone sour, curdle and fall to the bottom? Will they take the rest of us with them?

Unfortunately, crisis does not wait for the completion of a management training program for the leaders who continue to need development. There is no time in the midst of a crisis to develop a crisis management lesson plan. There is no time for long-term management development planning. There is no time to complete a needs assessment so that a proper skills-based approach can be implemented.

Out of all the management skills development models that we study in theory, the most applicable approaches during the reality of a crisis appear to be on-the-job training and error management training. The textbook speaks to the positive aspects of error management training as a leadership development tool, because it requires “constant adaptions to an ever-changing environment” as a “norm.” This results in the immediate application of problem-solving skills with the hope that the error rates are few, and error corrections can be applied immediately.

During a crisis, many of the negative characteristics of on-the-job training models are heightened for leaders who are still in the stages of development. These include the lack of structured training approaches and the lack of effective resources in the form of coaches or mentors who have time to provide active feedback and reinforcement. On the other hand, as noted in this article from Human Resources Director-Canada, the current pandemic crisis has provided some with “the best leadership development program ever.” The author speaks to this moment of crisis as an opportunity to assess both the strengths and weaknesses of our leaders. Most importantly, it allows leaders to focus on the continuing need to develop their best skills, which come from the heart, to promote a culture of trust and care.

Clearly, the pull to the top should prevail in developing the best leaders, now more than ever.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you expect from leaders in your current organization during this time of crisis? How are leaders meeting (or not meeting) your expectations?
  2. What type of leadership development tools would you need for yourself if you had to lead a team through a crisis?
  3. Besides on-the-job training and error management training, what other training tools should be put in place to bring out the best in organizational leaders in a time of crisis?

Who Will Train Whom in HR?


Professional training for the HR professional has always been required, and traditionally, they’ve had to keep up their professional development on the following topics, which were always changing:

  • employment laws
  • leadership and organizational trends
  • economic trends around employee recruitment and retention

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as the digital and Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution, however, is here and transforming the workplace drastically. How much will workplaces change, and how fast? Many are afraid that AI, deep learning, and robotics will eliminate all human work. Although it is true that many jobs—and even whole industries—will change, and possibly even disappear, not all human workers will.

It is interesting to ponder what the role of the HR professional will be in this Fourth Industrial Revolution. Richard Baldwin, in his book The Globotics Upheaval: Globalization, Robotics, and the Future of Work, outlines a key insight of what HR professionals could do: “Realize that humanity is a competitive edge, not a handicap.” This is a very powerful statement, which should inform the fundamental goal of all HR professionals and HR departments—seeing where workers can do their best work with the greatest impact.

Perhaps it is now time in the HR world to take the often-administrative tasks of job design and analysis and make them strategically important to ensure human skills are used to their full potential. Marty Neumeier, in his HR article, discusses key human skills and their innately human qualities, such as:

  • creativity
  • intuition
  • system thinking

Click here to read in greater detail about the human skills required in future workplaces.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will certainly disrupt current workplaces, jobs, and even entire industries, but by combining the thoughts of Richard Baldwin and Marty Neumeier, HR professionals may be able to create more engaging and meaningful work for the new workplace reality.

Discussion Questions:

1. Research and review a Job Analysis (JA) process. From that research, develop a process and create a JA form that takes into account the key human skills required in the future workplace, as outlined by Marty Neumeier and Richard Baldwin.

2. Once your new JA process is complete, prepare a five-minute presentation that would convince your VP of HR that they should adopt your new system of Job Analysis.

The Need for Empathy Training

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A common understanding of the term “empathy” is that it describes the ability of a person to share and understand the feelings of another.

What is not a common understanding is whether this ability for empathy is a skill or a trait. If it is the latter, empathy as a trait implies that it is part of one’s personal character. Either you have it or you don’t. If it is the former, empathy as a skill moves into the realm of something that can be learned, nurtured, and developed.

An exploration of skill-based empathy is provided in this TedxTalk by Jamil Zaki.

Jamil Zaki identifies this new view of empathy as a trainable skill. His examples show that empathy develops and adapts at an emotional level to a specific environment. Empathy, according to Zaki, is not a natural state, and it is one that may need to be enforced in order to grow. It is hard to do and may require incentives—as he notes in the female-male approaches—for continued development. As we learn with any other skill, the more reasons we have to practice it, the more motivation we’ll have, and the better we’ll become at the process of becoming and being empathetic.

How does this type of skill development translate into our current workplaces? In the video, Zaki provides an example of empathy training for police services in the state of Washington. This type of training resulted in a proven decline in the use of force by police officers, especially in situations where they had to interact with people who experienced mental illness.

This type of empathy-based training program has been adapted within a Canadian context as well. By using virtual reality technology, Halton police services implemented an empathy training program for its officers as noted in this article.

Through situational simulations, police officers learn what it feels like to be a person in crisis who has autism, schizophrenia, or is experiencing suicidal thoughts. As the virtual experience provides the feeling of a person in crisis, police officers can better understand how to adapt their own approach to a real-life situation. With a different mindset, police officers can focus on de-escalation and the need to “minimize the stress of the person in crisis in real-life scenarios.”

It is not just the use of technology-based training that makes this approach a “game changer.” It is the repeated practice of empathy-based skills development that can truly change the world.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think empathy is a trait or a skill? Explain your rationale.
  2. Besides police services, what other types of industries or workplaces would benefit from empathy-based training?
  3. What can you do to develop your own empathy-related skills? How can you apply these skills in your current or future work environment?

Silver Linings Learning

Black Jack/Shutterstock

When we look back at this time of pandemic crisis, it will, no doubt, be framed in the lens of ‘before’ and ‘after.’ ‘Before’ will be the time when we learned together in physical spaces, such as classrooms and lecture halls. ‘After’ will be the time when we adapted to learn in isolation through remote access and online technology.

If history has taught us anything, it is that crisis forces ingenuity and seismic shifts to get from ‘before’ to ‘after.’ This article from the Harvard Business Review provides us with a brief exploration of the future for post-secondary education. It also highlights the significant changes that are required to make technology-based learning sustainable in a post-pandemic world.

As noted in the article, faculty all over the country are scrambling to make their existing and future courses accessible through remote or online learning platforms. There is a collective push for academic learning in place. Faculty want to provide students with the means to achieve the credentials that they set out to earn. At the same time, faculty are trying to figure out how to provide effective learning to others in the midst of learning how to do so for themselves. To say that it is challenging is an understatement—made worse in this time of fear and uncertainty about health concerns for those whom we love.

The article also addresses the traditional notion of post-secondary education as a commodity. In order to receive accredited and institutional learning, one must “pay to play.” Now, we know that learning materials can be open and accessible to anyone with internet access. This means that the commodity of education is shifting in its value. Learning can be affordable—it may even be free!

In the ‘before,’ access to education was unattainable for some because the metaphorical door, representing the commodification of education, was closed. Through this crisis, that door has been forced open. It will be difficult to close in the future. Once we move into the ‘after,’ in the post-pandemic world, we may see that learning and education will become an egalitarian opportunity, accessible by and for, everyone.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you had to choose between in-class or online learning, which one would you prefer?
  2. Are there specific online courses that you think achieve the same learning results as those provided through an in-class environment?
  3. What type of classes or courses do you think still need to be offered through a physical (in-class) learning environment?

Credibility and Micro-credentials


The landscape for learning is shifting. In response to the need for filling an increasing skills gap, governments, post-secondary institutions, and employers are coming together to provide specific training and learning opportunities through online learning. The concept and practice of online learning is not new.

All post-secondary institutions provide online courses, which are typically linked to a designated program of study. These courses are credit-bearing, in order to meet the requirements for graduation from the program. What is new, is the recent announcement by the provincial government in Ontario to offer ‘micro-credentials’ through partnerships with post-secondary institutions and employers, which provide specific, short-term, skills-focused, credit-bearing courses in an online setting.

The announcement of this pilot project allows for the recognition of skills development through an online learning platform and treats credentials from online courses as assessable and valuable by both employers and employees. In order to upgrade specific skills, an employee does not have to go back to school for a set number of years. Instead, they can complete specific courses in a much shorter time frame that bear the credible authority of the post-secondary institution.

In the field of human resources, for example, a working HR practitioner may want to focus on developing a specific skill set in workplace negotiations. They could access a short-term, skills-targeted course that is recognized as a legitimate credential, instead of just a professional development refresher.

The competition for online learning is fierce. Anyone can access open-source learning sites, such as opensource.com or LinkedIn Learning, which offer free courses to all in an online setting. The challenge that comes with these sites is the lack of recognition in the form of an accredited credential. Employers continue to look for the formal ‘seal of approval’ that comes from paying for accreditation, and outdated standards set by industry and institutional requirements.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Based on your studies to date, do you see yourself continuing to learn through micro-skills development courses? Explain your rationale.
  2. Do you agree that skills development courses that provide a credential are beneficial in the current workforce? Explain your rationale.
  3. What types of industries would benefit from offering micro-credential programs to their employees for skills upgrading?