For the Alberta government's Pauline Melnyk, the Queen's IRC HR Business Partner Certificate Program couldn't have come at a better time.
Melnyk was helping design a cumulative effects management system (CEMS) for her department, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. As part of the system, which designs programs and processes based on the cumulative effects of development on the environment, the department itself needed to review its organizational design.
Melynk enrolled in the inaugural program hosted by the departments of Environment, Energy, and Advanced Education and Technology, and immediately saw how she could apply what she learned to the CEMS project.
"It was so timely," said Melnyk, an organizational learning and effectiveness consultant. "When we were learning about the IRC's Blueprint for Organizational Effectiveness that very much came to the forefront in my learning about what the CEMS system looks like.
"Because of the IRC program, I was able to ask more poignant questions, and dig deeper."
Melynk began working more deeply with a program called Partners in Resource Excellence, a novel approach for working with industry and building relationships with stakeholders to achieve better and more meaningful compliance with standards without resorting to regulatory tools.
"I specifically developed that project as a partnership model, delved deep into what we were learning in that area, and how we could transmit it across the organization," Melnyk said.
"And the IRC course helped cement that. It gave me legitimacy to test the models, and to challenge the process."
Participants in these IRC custom programs come from many of the Alberta government's 20-plus ministry HR departments.
The leading-edge curriculum has five interrelated workshops designed to expand HR professionals' capacity to be internal business partners: Foundations for Internal Consulting, Change Management, Building Relationships and Strategic Partnerships, Coaching Skills, and Organizational Design. Facilitators include former Queen's IRC director Carol Beatty, Sharon Parker, Gary Furlong, Francoise Morissette, and Brenda Barker Scott.
The goal of the HR Business Partner Certificate program is to enhance the capacity of HR professionals to work as business partners; to develop them into trusted advisors who use the knowledge of business needs, organizational context and HR policy and practices to generate insight and influence decisions.
Stephanie Noel, Business Development Manager at Queen's IRC, said leading edge organizations now receive the added value of HR operating at a strategic level.
"The Queen's IRC certificate series has been designed and developed to help prepare and transition HR professionals to become true internal business consultants," she said.
Current Queen's IRC Director Paul Juniper said senior leaders in organizations are increasingly calling on HR professionals to provide advice on organizational strategy.
"When the HR function is deeply embedded in an organization, HR professionals require not only a high level of technical skills and knowledge, but also business acumen and an in-depth understanding of their corporate strategy and design," he said.
"HR business partners, then, have the necessary skill sets to align HR strategy with organizational strategy, to think holistically and systemically, and to leverage the organization's human capital to maximize productivity and profitability."
Beyond the big-picture benefits, Melnyk said she loved the IRC facilitators' approach in the classroom.
"The beauty of it all is the experiential way of learning. I'll always remember that (the facilitators) used a blind square exercise, and the tool was to show that without information and without communication, you can't reach the other side of the square. You have to go back and then someone else has to try," Melnyk said.
"That was really valuable, but there were so many other neat components. We used clay, mind-mapping, story-weaving. It was so, so engaging. The days were long and challenging, no question, but they were chunked out in the right way."
Furlong, a long-time IRC facilitator, said the goal of the Building Relationships and Strategic Partnerships module was to give all participants a roadmap, a model for creating and sustaining effective partnerships and relationships.
"The course is a step-by-step field guide to putting an effective structure in place, one that will support people working effectively together for a long time."
Furlong said that when most people engage with other groups, they use a "Hope for" approach – they "Hope for" a good group of people who work well together. "Sometimes this happens, many times it doesn't. This workshop gives anyone tasked with making relationships work effectively a clear roadmap for delivering that."
Melnyk said she's encouraged that the Alberta government's HR community has invested in the IRC certificate program series.
"It says to me that they're headed in the right direction. It's such a solid set of tools for folks to use in the emerging world, and from changing the HR mindset from transactional to strategic," she said.
"We can complain that our partners aren't ready for us, but they need our guidance and our advice. And you need to approach it in a way that helps your partners feel strong. Regular practices don't help you have that conversation in that way. That's one key in this course; it changes the conversation."
"I saw a lot of my colleagues in the program grow. I think it gave them confidence. It sure gave me confidence to do it all."