Large organizations, by nature, have a wide range of members in them. All organizations that pay people for their knowledge and skills, invariably have a range of skills and aptitudes, even among the people who do the same job. A lumber mill has millwrights that all technically do the same job. However, I am not passing along a great pearl of wisdom to say, that in most mills, the skills of each millwright are not precisely the same. Some are better at other elements of their jobs…some just better period.
Education is of course, the same. I often meet with my principal colleagues and marvel at some of the ideas and aptitudes they have that I do not. Hopefully, somewhere along the way, the same has happened to someone when I had something epic to share….or maybe that time still has to come yet, I am not sure.
Regardless, this fact then makes it necessary for all organizations to make attempts to help their employees grow and learn in their craft. Furthermore, if one is in an organization that by its nature, is more dynamic than others (software engineering for example), the very future of the organization lies in its employees continuing to grow. However, I would suspect, even in a dynamic organization like a software engineering firm, there are still variances in employees as to their ability to adapt, and perhaps more importantly, their willingness to do so. In the private sector, the willingness to change may be easier to deal with, in terms of how employment is structured, but in the public sector, or in more heavily unionized private sectors, that is not necessarily the case. If a software engineer appears unlikely to adopt change, or does not agree with the direction of the change, a parting of ways at the end of his or her contract likely solves the immediate problem.
In a sector though, that is structured more along the lines of more permanent employment, barring major issues, the situation is different. Organizations like these may find themselves in a position where they have a staff with varying degrees of willingness or ability to evolve in a certain way. Both situations, the willingness and ability could theoretically be affected by strong PD, training or whatever you want to call it. However, as is also the case, the resources for such training are never infinite, and neither is the time required. So organizations have to make a choice. Does an organization focus on those who are willing and ready to move on and learn and change, or does it focus instead on those it needs to bring along further? Does it do something in the middle?
Going back to the Lumbermill again, I will use technology as the example. As mills introduce more and more computerized technology into their operations, they will invariably have some millwrights who jump all over the opportunity and learn and accept the new skills. Others will be mildly interested, and others still who will want to stay with their tried and true ways. What does the mill do? Do they focus on the last group, and move them along, expending resources to get this group at least to the middle of the pack? Or do they focus on the first group, and get them even further along? In their case, this is about profit and success in a brutally difficult industry. Do they focus their money on the group who are already moving in the direction the mill wants, and hope that the others will sort of be “dragged along”? Or do they focus on the last group, the most resistant to change, and hope that the first group, will continue on their own path, interested in their own learning? I find it an interesting conundrum. Personally, I think as we move forward in our brave new world, it is a question that has to be answered by each organization facing it.
As a personal reflection, I will think of my father. As a small business man he needed to keep up with technology to some degree. I can remember when he purchased, probably in the early 80’s, the latest and greatest cash registers for his business. For the life of him, he had a challenge operating them. He was a pharmacist, had university degree and ran a successful business for 45 years, so he was presumably intelligent. However, I can remember my then 18 year old sister, losing her patience with him. He would press the wrong button, something would beep and he would proceed to press every button available to him, causing even more difficulty. My sister would have to bail him out….and it happened more than once….more than twice. However, he had no problem navigating the technology of his new Canon camera…..So, was it just that he could not handle the technology of the cash register, or that he was far more focused with the camera, due to a personal enjoyment of photography? I think I know the answer. How then, does this translate to the problem I posed above? We cannot make a person want to be interested in something. Personally, mechanics holds zero interest for me. If I wanted to fix my own vehicle, I would need to learn, but there is no passion. What if the mill has a millwright who is intelligent and capable, but simply does not possess the interest and desire to change in a particular way? What then?
So, what do we do as organizations? Do we put our resources into those who may be further away from the goal, at the expense of those who want to move? Or do we put them into the movers and risk leaving others behind? Is there a middle ground somewhere? I really do not know, but as I personally navigate the working world for another 6 years or so, I am anxious to see where it goes, and to hopefully have some small part in finding the answer…..thanks for reading! Comments please!