Paul Kearns speaks at a Develor event in Prague

MI Council Chair, Paul Kearns, joined Stanislav Tichý, Country Manager for training provider Develor, for a one-day conference in Prague on 2nd December. Stanislav wants to take his company’s clients to a higher stage of maturity in learning and development and invited Paul to speak on the theme of “From HR Maturity to Mature Organizational Learning & Development”.

While he was in Prague Paul was interviewed by Barbara Hansen Cechova from the leading Czech HR magazine, People Management Forum.  The English translation of her January 2015 article is shown below.

HR Forum – Czech Republic – January 2015

Prague article 2015 

How mature is your HR?

British HR expert Paul Kearns, invited by consulting company DEVELOR, made a speech in Prague about the levels of maturity of HR in companies and organisations. His model, supported by research, describes the stages companies go through within the evolution of planning and organization of their learning and development services for employees. An interesting approach, don´t you think? Moreover, it is possible to assess the current maturity level of an organisation.

Text: Barbara Hansen Čechová’s interview with Paul Kearns

When you ask human resources officers what is the return on investment from a corporate education, they do not know what to answer. They make development programs and hope to have the results, without having some serious evidence.

You have created an interesting scale, which shows the maturity of the companies in terms of HR. On what basis have you developed it?

The first ideas I had came from working as an HR manager in an automotive supplier company in England, which supplied components to Ford and GM. The change came when our management team looked at the offer from Toyota, which was very different from what we had been accustomed to. Toyota required good relations with suppliers, on the basis of win-win. They claimed to teach us to be more efficient, and being more efficient, we will earn more money. And since they help us with that, we can share the profit together. They made it clear that they are only interested in a long-term relationship. It was a completely new view that I had considered to be very mature, although I had not used this term, yet. Then I started working as an HR consultant and measured the added value of HR. I saw that some departments perform only administrative functions, while others are more focused on strategy. It began to shape my vision of this scale. One colleague of mine, who worked for IBM, then helped me to find a name for it – the Maturity scale.

Does your scale have a certain base in research?

Of course. It is not based on a theory, everything has been observed in practice. At the beginning I was lucky that I met a woman from Iceland who read my book about HR strategy and she liked the idea of HR maturity.  She was the first one to make a serious research within the academic field in Icelandic companies on this theme. She is now one of our MI Council members.

On the chart we see a barrier, what does that represent?

This represents most companies’ inability to measure and therefore recognize the benefits and true value of corporate education. When you ask HR directors, what is the return on corporate education, they do not know what to answer. They make development programs and hope to have the results without having some serious evidence. They don´t even have a clear idea in their heads about what is the cost of education.  To be able to answer this question, they have to be able to measure the benefit of education, which only a few can do.

What methodology do you recommend to this?

You need to know exactly the reason why you do the training. It needs to be linked to something that is measurable in the company. Maybe, say customer satisfaction. A lot of people would say that the contribution of education cannot be measured, and thus it ends. However, it is important to know what you want to achieve by education and which one of measured indicators to change.

Do you think that companies are advancing on your scale step by step?

Yes. Our range represents a meaningful direction showing companies how to develop themselves and where to proceed. But it is necessary to say that very advanced companies are very rare, there are only up to ten of them in the world.

And which companies exactly do you mean, and what are they distinguished by?

For instance Toyota or Goldman Sachs bank, which is one of the few that haven´t fallen into the snares of the crisis, because it had been able to predict it. More advanced organizations are based a lot on the ability to learn continually, as well as they are based on team, elimination of the fear of making mistakes and creating a safe and stable environment. Research carried out in the Royal Bank of Scotland, which had to be put under the state control, showed that here there was a strong atmosphere of fear and it did not allow the necessary information to get to the ears of the Board of Directors. People were afraid to say what they think, and management controls amounted to micromanagement.

So when the company in your scale is more advanced, is it also less directive?

Basically, yes. In some companies, when you ask why they are doing business so well, you get the answer that the reason is a good management. Companies that are at a higher stage of development on the scale don´t highlight individuals, ensure everyone works as a team.

Is there a correlation between the maturity of companies and national culture? For example, Scandinavian companies are very team-oriented…

Excellent question! Unfortunately, we haven´t proved anything by our research, yet.

Do the most mature companies have a weak spot, an Achilles heel?

They tend to become iconic cultures. If you go to Goldman Sachs, and Toyota to a certain extent, you see people who are not inclined to break away from their work, they work 14 hours a day, and do not think about anything else. This may possibly have adverse effects but nothing else comes to mind.

DEVELOR conducted a survey among Czech companies based on your model. How did it end up?

Czech firms ended up similar to most other Western European companies. Pretty good, but could not reach beyond the barrier of measurability, we talked about above. The problem is that most companies are driven by the interests of shareholders, which is often a very short-sighted view. Subsequently, the company management has often small or unclear expectations regarding the business benefits and the value that HR should create. The only way to improve organizational performance is by every employee increasing his or her own performance. That is where the essential importance of the maturity of the company comes into play in terms of the planning and organization of learning and development.

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