Networking for HR Professionals

At last week’s HRMAJ conference in Ocho Rios, I had the pleasure of giving a speech on the topic of New Relationships, New Possibilities for Tough Times.

I spoke about the ways in which Human Resource Professionals are forced to do more, with the same or smaller budget, due to the economic times.  They need to find the latest technologies to get things done that allow them to secure their own futures, find the best talent wherever it may reside and take the lead in transforming their companies.

The entire presentation and the audio recording is available for viewing here:  New Relationships, New Possibilities for Tough Times

Francis Wade

CaribHRForum 2008 Survey Results on Regional HR Conferences

The survey results from the CaribHRForum 2008 survey were recently published.

Over 290 respondents took the time to complete the survey on the topic of the region’s HR conferences.

The link to the final report was published to the CaribHRForum discussion group (which as grown to over 300 members,) and it can be accessed by clicking on the following link:

Click here for the CaribHRForum 2008 Survey Report.


Closing the Gender Gap

Dr. Sheila Rampersad’s article in the Trinidad Express of November 18th, 2008 is titled “Women earn less than men in T&T”.  This statement was made in response to data produced by the World Economic Forum in their 2008 Global Gender Gap Report.

The article highlighted the fact that women in T&T earn half of what their male counterparts earn.  Hazel Brown, co-ordinator of the Network for the Advancement of Women, was quoted in the article.  She expressed grave concern that despite T&T’s increased rating from 2007, the gap seemed to highlight deficiencies in employment practices in the country.  Females outnumber males in the educational system from primary through secondary and tertiary levels.  They also outperform the males at examinations.  So why are they being discriminated against when entering and progressing in the workplace?  Can we regional Human Resource practitioners provide any insight?

I found Ms. Brown’s comments fascinating and this lead me to read the report.  There are some positives coming out of the report and this provides some measure of comfort.  Trinidad and Tobago leads the Latin American and Caribbean Region, jumping from 46th place overall in 2007 to this year’s 19th place ranking, the only country in the region in the top 20.  Trinidad and Tobago’s improved performance is largely in part to the number of women represented in parliament and with ministerial portfolios.  The report ranks one hundred and sixty countries based on four categories, namely Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment.

The excerpt below shows the ranking of T&T, Barbados, Jamaica and United States.

Country    Overall Ranking (2007)    Overall Ranking (2008)

Economic Participation and Opportunity Ranking

Educational Attainment Ranking

Health and Survival Ranking

Political Empowerment Ranking
T&T     46    19    52    39    1 (tied with other countries)    24
Barbados    n/a    26     9    44    1 (tied with other countries)    62
Jamaica    39    44    23    1 (tied with other countries)    91    91
United States    31    27    12    1 (tied with other countries)    37    56

There are several ways to analyse the data.  At face value, I saw that each Caribbean nation had strengths in particular factors.  This would lead to the obvious thought that we can learn from each other and maximise synergies.  We the Caribbean are ahead of the United States in certain categories, so clearly we must have something going for us.

The analysis highlighted in the report itself pointed to the trend of increases in closing the gaps.  The Nordic countries continue to perform well, seemingly they have the recipe for equality.  Closer analysis of the structure and systems of the economic, social and political facets of these countries would prove useful.  Norway, the leading country in the survey has modified legislation to dictate the gender balance required for boards of public companies, Finland, the second place country has a female president.  These countries also offer great support to females with generous maternity provisions and paternity provisions as well.

The report draws four conclusions.  The one that I find most relevant for us, Human Resource practitioners, is the correlation between gender gap and national competitiveness which has impact on GDP and quality of life for citizens.  The report correctly emphasizes that the most critical factor in the determination of national competitiveness is the effective use of human talent.  The skills, education and productivity of the workforce are all contributing factors.  These, as far as I know, all fall directly within our purview as HR professionals.  So we are poised to have a direct positive impact on our countries.

From recruitment and selection practices which embrace diversity and women in the workplace and give equal pay for equal work, to compensation and benefits where a cafeteria style menu can be implemented to cater to women’s specific needs, to training and development geared at giving the best minds, even if these are female the right tools to climb organizational levels, to policy and procedure development that promote equality, Human Resources can certainly mould the organizations that will lead to women being paid the same as men.  The regional HR associations could probably highlight their work to Ms. Browne so that she would know that HR professionals are doing their part to close the gender gap.

The report makes very interesting reading.  I strongly recommend it.

Bianca Attong


HR and the Global Economic Downturn

As economies all over the globe are slowing down, with rampant predictions of gloom and doom, what can we HR professionals do to keep the workforce positive and productive during these challenging times?

Communication comes to mind first and foremost. Employees must be made aware of how organisations anticipate the current conditions may affect them. We cannot hide and think we are immune or insulated from the problems of the leading economies, for this village we live in is now truly global. While we may not be able to share all our strategies to combat the crisis, we can at least relay a sense that we are in control and working to minimize adversity.

Focus groups can be established to generate solutions to mitigate the circumstances. Employees can brainstorm and present and discuss options to the wider workforce. This also goes a long way to ensuring buy in.

Revenues are going to be reduced and there may not be much that can be done to change this; so the costs or expenses have to be closely monitored. Finance can work along side Human Resources to advice management on where costs can be better managed. Costs for items such as kitchen supplies and stationery can be immediately addressed. Other costs can also be tackled with some closer analysis.

Technology can be utilized to greater effect with the introduction of teleconferencing and video conferencing facilities in-house or rented through service providers. While there may be short term costs associated with these, the long term savings may well be worth the initial outlay. We know first hand from our experiences with the CaribHRForum that virtual teams do work!

Emphasis must be placed on succession planning and retention of key employees during these times of uncertainty. Organisations can ill afford to lose prize talent when they need it the most.

Employees will be feeling more apprehensive and stressed, so that productivity can be affected. The use of Employee Assistance Programmes therefore becomes critical. Team Building sessions as well as those that focus on Stress Management may be timely.

Most of all, Human Resource professionals need to continue to be the warm, empathetic human beings that we are and smile as we seek to be a ray of hope in an otherwise unsettling world.

Bianca Attong


What Can HR Do For Me?

Well I guess it depends on who is asking this question.

We will explore this from the business perspective that is from the eyes of the line. (The People Management magazine of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development dated 18 September 2008 was used to help develop this article.

First of all HR should understand) what drives the business and what is their optimal operating model. In my organisation, we have adopted the Business Partnering model where the line is our first customer. This model was driven by the business and adopted to deliver on the needs of the business.

We also used the McKinsey 7-S framework, the strategy shapes, the structure, systems, leadership styles, shared values, skills and staff. We had to review all of it and the transition has been and is still is challenging. The main change is who is your primary customer and what this means for your role and the associated services.

We are expected to work through the line, where the line assumes prime responsibility for their staff and we advise and support the line. It is just as important for the line to understand what this means as it is for all HR personnel to understand what this means.

Gone are the days when the line says “HR wants to see you” to an employee with the intention of delivering some kind of reprim. This is now the role and function of the line consistent with the total management approach.

One of the first things that we did before moving to this model, external consultants conducted in-depth  surveys with all the major stakeholders to determine what they like about HR and what they would like to see in the future and what HR can do differently to be of strategic value. We needed to ask our customers what they want and what they thought of our current services.

We found that HR needed to be more responsive, more visible, and more accessible with faster response times with quality and error free work and related advice. Managers wanted HR to understand the business and the workforce where they can help management balance employee needs with business needs. Our customers want us to have an increased impact on the strategy of the business, but we need to illustrate that we deserve that recognition and role. Essentially our customers want HR to identify potential people implications early on so the business can mitigate against potential fall out by working with the people affected.

The line also needs tremendous support in time of change, either a system change, a structure change, a new product line or a new distribution channel.  Whatever the change; HR must show the line the required support by being present and providing solid advice and required tools to work through the challenges.

We also received feedback that our advice seems inconsistent at times as it depends on who an employee speaks with. This means that all HR must be on the same page and general internal training among the HR team is compulsory regardless of a specific role. In addition to knowledge sharing, it also helps create a positive learning environment for your HR team to learn, develop and grow.

The transition to the “Business Partnering” model has been painful but fruitful. The HR representatives had to make leap in their thinking, where they are more empowered to solve problems and suggest solutions as opposed to processing transactions. The majority of the administrative transactional activities were stripped away from the HR staff in the business and hived off to the shared service. All the roles in HR had to be revised with high expectations while ensuring the right skills existed among the selected candidates.

The HR team has been a great asset and I congratulate each of them on their willingness, cooperation and commitment as we continue to take on challenges and succeed – The Guardian HR Team (Guardian Holdings Group, Trinidad).

Denise Ali

Developing a Training Plan

Human Resource Development is critical to the success of organizations today.  Development can be approached from many angles, but one of the key approaches used is that of training and development.

In many organizations, training and development occurs on an ad hoc basis, in that there is no structured approach.  Employees may see something advertised in the newspaper, express interest in attending and that is it.  While this may be fine once in a while, it is certainly not the ideal way to approach such a necessary component of employees’ development.

The development of a company-wide training and development plan seeks to streamline efforts and align training initiatives with the short, medium and long term needs of the organization.  Training and Development can be used in a strategic manner for enhancing skills in anticipation of new technology, to cater for succession planning or to optimize workforce efficiency and reduce costs due to wastage or errors.

There are four basic steps involved in creating a plan; these include analysis of the business environment, identification of training needs, planning of the training and evaluation of the effectiveness of the plan.

Analysis of the business environment includes both internal and external factors.  Internally the vision, mission, organizational culture, core values, human resource development philosophies, executive management buy-in, budgetary constraints should be considered.  On the external side, the national, regional and international climate (PESTLE – political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental) would impact on the development of the plan.

As we see in our world today, changes are taking place at a rapid pace and it is difficult to predict what will be next, so all the more reason for taking the time to think of the impact of these factors on your organizations.

Training Needs Identification can be informed by corporate strategies, short, medium and long-term divisional, departmental or unit goals, career paths, development as outlined through the performance management process and by analyzing jobs, competencies required and associated tasks.  The gaps in current performance whether these be financial, quantitative, qualitative should be noted in the development of specific programmes.  The Human Resource Information System can also be used in determining who needs training and in what areas.  The Succession Plan for the organization would also highlight those individuals targeted for promotion and any gaps that can be closed by training.

In finalizing the actual plan, all the information gathered from steps on and two needs to be reviewed and considered carefully in determining priorities and in recognizing any economies of scale that can be achieved across the organization.  The learning objectives or desired outcomes from the training should be the starting point as these would dictate the content and delivery that would be most appropriate.  In some instances classroom training would be ideal in others e-learning including Computer Based Training might be more appropriate and at other times a blended approach to learning would yield maximum results.  The outcomes required should be specified in terms of cost, quality, quantity, specific behaviours and time so that tangible measurement of improvements would be possible.

The resources available in terms of availability, suitability and cost must be balanced against the desired outcomes.  Evaluation of facilitators and final selection would occur once the plan is approved.  In working with the facilitators selected, Human Resources should ensure that employees’ various learning styles are taken into consideration in the development of the actual presentation of the material.  Groups can be formed to tackle similar training needs such as Computer training at a basic level.  Formal and informal methods of training should be incorporated.  Customised training can have a great impact as the organisation’s specific situations can be taken into account.  Generic programmes can have benefits as well, as employees may participate more and get more out of the experience.  In all instances it is beneficial to ensure that resources are optimized.

What is the use of having wonderful training programmes, designed to meet the needs of the organization and not measuring the effectiveness or determining the impact of the training on the bottom line.  This is where Human Resource Professionals need to step up their game and ensure that they can justify the implementation of these programmes.  If you can tell management that they will save a specific amount of money by the reduction in wastage, you are more likely to have your training budget approved, than if you say the employees will learn a lot.  Some organizations set a target of their Human Resource budget for training eg. 3 – 5%.  This is a good idea.

We all know of Donald Kirkpatrick’s Model for evaluating training effectiveness which consists of the measurement of four levels, reactions, learning, transfer and results.  We need to move from the smiley sheet at the end of each training session to more meaningful results oriented evaluations.  Metrics that can be tracked and included in monthly or quarterly reports include the Training Investment Factor (total training cost/headcount) and ROTI (Return on Training Investment) which is the total benefit derived less the cost to develop and deliver times 100.

Bianca Attong

Small Money and Big Training Needs

In today’s Trinidad Daily Express (14th October 2008), there is an article that speaks to the Inter-American Development Bank’s agreement to loan local companies US$6 billion. The IDB noted that the origin of economic crisis is outside of the Latin American and Caribbean region but can have potentially serious repercussions. They feel the need to protect the strides made by countries in the region to promote growth and reduce poverty.

Against this backdrop of a looming world economic crisis, companies need to be increasingly innovative in the use of scarce resources to remain viable.

How do we as Human Resource Professionals address these challenges? We have a situation where we are increasingly unable to pay market prices for talent that can hit the ground running with minimal training. Hence, we are often forced to compromise on the quality of hire and recruit the more inexperienced candidates (maybe inconsistent with our espoused people philosophy) with an intention to train to perform the job.

Then we run into another challenge: “where do we find the funds necessary to train?” One idea is to incorporate the concept of an internal faculty into the company’s training philosophy.

An internal faculty is based on using the internal employees who are experts in their fields or possess other skills and talents to train the employees with performance gaps.

HR can review the training needs assessments to determine the different interventions required and then match that with the internal skills inventory of the employees. HR can identify potential candidates for the internal faculty and provide them with guidelines, roles, expectations, outcomes, amount of volunteer time required etc. The potential candidates can then decide if they are willing to assist.

This provides an avenue for the employees to communicate and get to know each other as a networking opportunity. It also affords the experienced employees an opportunity to be recognised, showcase their knowledge and share it with other employees in a structured manner.  More importantly, it decreases the cash out flow due to training and supposedly minimises the training gap. There are some concerns with this approach as one maybe unsure about the quality of training being delivered or the manner it maybe delivered.

In addition to benefiting from the company’s internal faculty, one can also investigate offers of free training. For example, the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago provides free lectures, workshops and seminars aimed at educating the public on finance. The Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business in Trinidad has a free seminar on October 22nd 2008 entitled “The Economic Partnership Agreement”. The National Insurance Board and the Board of Inland Revenue all have free seminars on national benefits and income tax laws respectively.

If the company must seek an external vendor to provide necessary training, always negotiate group rates with agreements on key training outcomes.

Developing an Internal faculty, exploration of free sessions and skilled negotiations are just a few ways to address some of the challenges that may be coming our way or for some of us the challenges are already in our back yard.

Denise Ali


The Not-So-Diverse Caribbean Workplace

The following is an excerpt from an article I wrote for the September issue of FirstCuts, the monthly ezine for Framework Consulting.

The topic surrounds a contentious issue — the diversity of our workplaces with respect to differences in sexual orientation.  The full article, along with public comments, can be found at

Here is an excerpt:

The Not-So-Diverse Caribbean Workplace
Global opinion is growing: the Caribbean is increasingly seen as one of the least inclusive, intolerant and unsupportive regions of the world as it relates to the matter of “differences.” The term “difference” is a fairly new one to the Caribbean workplace and it generally applies to obvious aspects such as race, gender, age,
religion, physical ability, etc. However, our international reputation is largely being tainted by our strident relationship to gays and homosexuality.

By extension, Caribbean companies and executives are not exactly seen as world leaders in the context of business tolerance.

The fact is that many of our territories’ populations have relatively little day-to-day exposure to people of other races, nationalities and beliefs. The tendency is to speak single languages as relatively few of our companies conduct business in other countries, even within the region. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend a few nights in a hotel in the vicinity of Times Square and I was reminded of what it was like to be surrounded by people of backgrounds different from mine and languages from all corners of the globe. We simply don’t have the kind of diversity that is influencing the way the world’s most admired companies relate to people who are “different.”

It might be no mistake that the CEO of Jamaica’s largest company, the Government, recently announced to the international public that he is unwilling to accept gays at the highest levels of his organization.

When asked in a recent BBC interview if he would allow gays to take up senior government positions, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Hon. Bruce Golding, replied emphatically, “Not in my cabinet!” I might be wrong in thinking that he is not the only CEO/Prime Minister/Chairman to have these views in the region.
While he may be the only CEO with these views, the effect of his words are far-reaching, as presumably they must have some impact on the entire Government of Jamaica, which coincidentally is the
largest employer in Jamaica. (The link to the interview is given in the next section.)

Clearly, his idea of an inclusive, diverse workplace has its limits.

If he is seen as a typical representative of a “regional CEO,” what are the pros and cons to companies when executives adopt this approach either publicly or privately? What does it mean for business and what is its impact on stock-holders, employees, customers and other stakeholders? Even though the societal
impacts are many, here in FirstCuts I will only focus on the impact his words and our attitudes, may have on the financial success of our corporations.

To read the full article, see

Subscriptions are free, and can be initiated with an email to

Francis Wade


Mentorship and Its Benefits

Mentoring is a career development method whereby less experienced employees are matched with more experienced colleagues for guidance either through formal or informal programmes.  Most CEO’s you speak with, will say that they are where they are because they got guidance or advice from some other experienced individuals this most likely was through an informal mentoring relationships.  In fact these relationships often continue for their entire careers.

There are many advantages for both the mentor and the mentee or protégé in both formal and informal mentoring relationships.  I have worked in an organization where there was a formal mentorship programme and the benefits were quite evident.  The excitement, enthusiasm and commitment generated had immediate positive impact.  The mentees were young and most were new to the world of work.  So, having experienced employees to help them overcome obstacles showed that the organization was serious about them and committed to their future and success.

Benefits for the mentee include job related coaching and counseling, a better orientation and induction into a new organizational culture, more intimate knowledge of the organization and its operations, the potential for networking opportunities, the ability to reach full potential at a faster rate and the mentor’s personal experience in similar situations.

The mentor also gains from the relationship.  To share and guide another individual on a path to success is a truly rewarding feeling.  Also the mentor’s commitment and loyalty to the organization are enhanced through the experience.  Of course, they must be willing to make the relationship work, by dedicating time to the role and providing timely feedback.

All organizations can benefit from the implementation of such a programme.  The areas of recruitment, retention, human resource development and culture are all impacted.  Programmes can be informal, that is a basic outline is presented and employees chart their own course through it.  Structured programmes which often include milestones for various phases of the relationship and deliberate matching of mentors and protégés take more effort, but the rewards can be significantly increased.

There is a lot of material out there, so starting a programme is not that difficult for those with limited resources.  For larger organizations the programme can be implemented through the use of a trained facilitator.  In these challenging economic times, organizations, guided by Human Resources have to make the effort to keep valuable employees; an informal mentorship programme may be one such avenue.

1Definition from Society for Human Resource Management Knowledge Centre

The Manager’s Pocket Guide to Effective Mentoring, Dr. Norman Cohen
Making the Most of Being Mentored, Gordon F. Shea

Bianca Attong

Health and Human Resources

Current issues in the newspaper refer to poor public health services, serious traffic congestion, spiralling crime rate and double digit inflation. What can we do as Human Resource Professionals to assist our employees in dealing with the current socio-economic conditions?

The newspapers have numerous articles on the public health care services in Trinidad, where citizens are reporting on the poor services received and the medical professionals reporting on the staff shortage, poor facilities, equipment and scarce resources and where the Government, by way of the Minister of Health has continued to debate these allegations.

In today’s Trinidad Daily Express (September 30th 2008), there are two articles that refer to poor health care. One article refers to lack of follow up when baby Justin Paul was burnt in his incubator at Mt Hope Maternity Hospital. Another article speaks to a young boy’s scholarship achievement and he attributes his inspiration and choice of study (maxillofacial surgery) to his brother who suffers with cerebral palsy. His brother has been placed on awaiting list for surgery for three years at Mt Hope, so he hopes to be qualified to reconstruct his brother’s jaw.

How do we protect our employees from suffering similar fate? Quite often, the view to these issues tend to be one-dimensional but it should be noted that a 360 approach may yield substantial results in the long term health of our employees.

We can explore making arrangements with private health institutions and our health insurance providers to ensure our employees get the care needed with the adequate health care coverage. We have negotiated to increase our major medical limit to five million renewable over three years. Also, review the preventative schedule of benefits to ensure adequacy and or acceptability against the premiums being paid. The key recommendation is to discuss needs and costs with the various stakeholders to get the best deal possible to assist employees in times of a medical emergency.

Another option is to organise a subsidised or free vaccination programme within your organisation for the employees. This may encourage employees to get vaccinated since they would not have to be inconvenienced to visit the local health centre and they can enjoy decreased costs or none at all. This preventative measure may result in decreased absenteeism levels.

We can also encourage our employees to live healthy lives to avoid lifestyle diseases. There are some diseases we may be predisposed too and others we may increase the probability of its occurrence when we smoke, drink alcohol excessively, lack of exercise, improper diet, excessive stress and the like. We can engage the services of a nutritionist and or a dietician to assist our employees and their families with eating right. We can also subsidise the fees to attend a local gym to encourage exercise.

An employee assistance provider (EAP) can also be quite helpful by targeting stress areas and also by providing therapy sessions on an individual basis for those that may need it. The EAP is a great network of resources that can be tapped to help improve our employee’s ability to capitalise on day to day character building opportunities.

Many articles have been written on the benefits of a mother’s breast milk to her baby; yet, we ask that our new mothers return to work after three months of giving birth. Returning to a workplace that provides a private area or at least twenty minutes to express breast milk would encourage a new mother to express milk to feed her baby and thus decrease the probability of partial or full transition to formula. Breast milk is said to improve the health of the baby and a healthy baby means that the mummy will spend less time worrying or by the Paediatrician and more productive time at the office. This may also re bound to the claims made against the company’s health plan and thus improves the claims loss ratio.

One final suggestion is a committee that is focussed on encouraging healthy lives, bodies and mind. At Guardian, we have a committee called “Life Pulse” and the committee promotes healthy living through hosting fun walks/runs, hosting various health weeks, where employees can get screened for specific illnesses, sight tests, cholesterol tests, blood sugar testing, blood pressure testing and the like.

The above are merely a few ideas and suggestions to provide care to our employees. The suggestions may serve to build employee commitment and engagement where employees exercise increasing levels of discretionary behaviour and result in improved productivity.

Denise Ali