The workplace has seen unprecedented change in recent years, thanks to the pandemic and to changing cultural attitudes. From introducing remote working, literally overnight, to millions of once office-bound workers to employees re-imagining what the workplace should look like — and voting with their feet when management doesn’t comply — businesses have had to adopt more strategic human resource management practices to keep pace and retain and attract top talent.
Dr. Bill Heisler has witnessed many of these changes in the workplace throughout his professional and academic career. Having initially spent more than 20 years working as an HR executive in a business with more than 20,000 employees that built aircraft carriers and submarines for the U.S. Navy, he now enjoys the benefits and challenges of working remotely as a professor at TROY. As a program director and also Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Human Resources Education, he draws on his professional experiences and shares them with his students in TROY’s talent development and training concentration of the Master of Science in Management program. The program is offered primarily through TROY Online with some classes also available at the Dothan and Phenix City campuses.
Dr. Heisler explains that the purpose of the talent development and training concentration isn’t to turn leaders into fully-fledged HR professionals but to equip them with the big-picture people skills they need to help their organizations succeed.
“Most managers get involved in recruiting, hiring and training people,” says Dr. Heisler. “We’re really trying to provide students in the MSM program who are focused on leadership and management with the human capital strategy focus that they need to attract and retain the people that can make their organization successful.”
Why Is Strategic Human Resource Management So Important?
According to Dr. Heisler, strategic human resource management in the modern workplace is all about aligning an organization’s human resource programs and practices with its overall goals.
“Our concentration provides an overview of all aspects of human resource management,” says Dr. Heisler. “But it also focuses on recruiting, staffing and employee development. I call the entire focus ‘strategic management’ because you’re looking at bringing people into an organization and then developing them to meet the organization’s strategic needs.”
Daniel Armstrong is a recent graduate of TROY’s Master of Science in Management (MSM) program with a concentration in talent development and training.
Armstrong studied for his master’s degree while also working as a military pilot in charge of the standardization and evaluation of 300+ aviators. Armstrong had previously studied for his bachelor’s in psychology with a focus in industrial/organizational psychology and felt the talent development and training concentration would complement his degree.
“I felt the talent development and training concentration would be helpful in my future career as I took on more leadership responsibilities,” says Armstrong. “I learned a lot about general business requirements. The program also helped refresh team-building requirements. It was also really good at teaching me the proper way to foster and assist organizational change.”
Developing employee skills remains key in leading organizational change and growth. Dr. Heisler explains that companies typically adopt two different strategies when it comes to employee development.
“Not all organizations focus on developing people,” says Dr. Heisler. “Some would rather go out and hire people who are ready for a job and keep them in that job as long as they can because they’re good at it. Other businesses have a culture that thinks about developing their people and helping them reach their fullest potential.”
Both strategies have their pros and cons. However, Dr. Heisler insists that for today’s job market, employee retention should be at the center of decision-making regardless of which approach HR professionals take. “Some employees may be happy with what they are doing and seek higher wages or more flexible work hours; others may want more development and the opportunity to advance.”
Human Capital Management and the Changing Job Market
With incredible opportunities available to employees in the current burgeoning job market, employee retention has become an even more vital component of a successful management strategy.
“In today’s employment market, jobs are just so abundant,” says Dr. Heisler. “It can be a vicious circle. You are recruiting people, but you are taking them from somebody else, and they are trying to take them from you. So you have to think of ways to try to retain your folks. But, even then, that’s not going to be enough.”
Dr. Heisler suggests that HR professionals involved in workforce planning processes might look to untapped resources to maintain employee levels and enhance their human capital strategy.
“Businesses are looking to hire older people who have perhaps already retired,” says Dr. Heisler. “We’re also seeing more businesses targeting military people and looking for ways to help people with disabilities access the workplace.”
Demographic changes in the population amplify the problem.
“The demographic trends show that the loss of baby boomers is accelerating in much larger numbers,” says Dr. Heisler. “A population of working-age people is not growing in the United States. While Millennials are the largest single generation in today’s workforce, the birth rate continues to decline, and younger people are staying in school longer. It’s just a tougher job to find people today.”
The Great Resignation
Working practices adopted during the pandemic are increasingly becoming the norm, particularly for millennials, who currently represent 35% of the working population in the U.S.
“Millennials are much more interested in feeling that the organization they are working for is doing something worthwhile and that their career has value,” says Dr. Heisler. “They’re not happy to be in one place doing the same thing all the time. They want to do different things and explore different opportunities to grow and develop professionally and personally. Organizations have to wake up to that.”
This means companies must move with the times and develop more agile work environments.
“Companies are learning that they have to become more flexible,” says Dr. Heisler. “In particular, they have to learn how to manage a remote workforce if they intend to keep their individuals. But, again, it’s a problem of retention. If you don’t keep them, what are you going to do about the jobs that you have open?”
Dr. Heisler suggests that the ball is very much in the employee’s court.
“I recently saw a survey that said about 60 to 70% of people already have another job lined up when they resigned,” says Dr. Heisler. “Employees know that companies are looking for people, and so they are trying to leverage this for additional salary and better working conditions. Your better employees are most likely to be the ones to take advantage of this situation.”
Highlighting the most significant challenge managers face when developing talent and retaining employees, Armstrong cites the problem of engagement.
“In general, I believe keeping top talent engaged in the work is the biggest challenge,” says Armstrong. “Finding ways to continue to grow their abilities and keep them interested in the work they accomplish are critical. I have seen good people leave organizations because they were not given a shot at developmental opportunities. Those people took their talents elsewhere and succeeded.”
Investing in More Flexible Working Conditions Is Hard Work
While many employees enjoy more flexible working conditions, training and development managers are finding their workload is increasing.
“It’s causing a lot more work,” says Dr. Heisler. “HR professionals have to plan and deliver employee training and development programs for people with different work experiences, whether that’s working from home, or on four-day workweeks.”
According to Dr. Heisler, even simple tasks like monitoring the hours that an employee works can be a challenge.
“How do you monitor people who are working from home?” says Dr. Heisler. “Currently, most people working from home are ‘exempt employees.’ This means that they are exempt from the overtime provisions of our Fair Labor Standards Act. However, we may get to the point where non-exempt people are also working from home. So how do we track their time, and how do we develop these people at home? How do we appraise their performance?”
Managing a Remote Workforce
Dr. Heisler can look to his own experiences as a remote worker to guide his students.
“Our entire program is online,” says Dr. Heisler. “Most of the faculty at TROY is located in Alabama. I’m in South Carolina, and I’ve got colleagues in Texas and Tennessee. So I’m managing a remote workforce. How do I know they’re always doing what they should be doing? Are they really connecting with students? How can I best help them? It’s a much tougher job, and you have to stay more involved.”
Dr. Heisler explains that this new type of work ethic is encouraged with his online students.
“We try to always include some kind of virtual teamwork in each of our courses,” says Dr. Heisler. “If our students complain about how hard it is working in remote assignments, we remind them that’s where the workforce is going, so let’s start learning how to do that.”
How the Pandemic Accelerated Organizational Change
Successfully navigating organizational change has become the mantra of today’s workplace. Dr. Heisler believes people are becoming more comfortable with the technologies required to manage a more flexible workforce successfully. However, there is still much to learn about strategic human resource management and workforce planning in the post-pandemic era. The pandemic may have accelerated organizational change, but some factors like the increased use of technology were already in play.
“The pandemic really helped move things along,” says Dr. Heisler. “The technology has been available for a while now, but the pandemic has forced many more people to use and get more comfortable with it.”
However, the most significant challenge with modern working practices isn’t a technical issue — it’s a human one. How do employees stand out and get noticed when they are part of a remote team?
“Visibility is a key factor,” says Dr. Heisler. “You have to show results. You have to speak through the results that you produce. I remind students that while organizations may be concerned with your development, no one is more interested in your career than you are. As HR professionals, we don’t always know what an employee’s long-term aspirations are. We don’t know where they want to be in the organization or if they are satisfied doing what they’re doing remotely. These are all things that we’re still learning about. And every employee must accept some responsibility to help in this process.”
Safeguarding Mental Health in the Workplace: Another Management Imperative
Mental health is another issue that has been pushed to the forefront in the minds of both employees and employers.
“We are seeing a lot more awareness of employee mental health today,” says Dr. Heisler. “Employers recognize that their staff are really stretched thin and may be struggling emotionally, both with work and personal issues. As a result, they are beginning to put in well-being benefit programs and treat people at work with more compassion and respect.
According to Dr. Heisler, isolation can be a significant problem in the remote working environment.
“There’s no real virtual coffee pot,” says Dr. Heisler. “People used to get together and have a cup of coffee in the break room and talk about things. People often miss that. We need to find useful alternatives.”
A New Kind of Workplace Requires Developing New Skills
The shifts driving today’s workplaces have brought some needed skills to the forefront. TROY graduate Armstrong highlights the skills he most frequently uses in his military career as “Communication, attention to detail, and critical thinking.”
“There cannot be a cookie-cutter approach to developing people,” says Armstrong. “If you take the same approach, you may leave a crucial person behind because they may not be interested in that kind of development. So instead, companies need to identify what kind of development motivates people and help get them in a position to be competitive for that developmental program.”
For the further development of his own skills, Armstrong chose the TROY Master of Science in Management program; the University was highly recommended by a colleague in the military.
“I had a previous commander who recommended TROY,” says Armstrong. “I was looking for a university that did not require a GRE/GMAT score and would not require out-of-pocket expenses. In addition, TROY offered scholarships to military members to cover the cost of tuition above the military’s tuition assistance program.”
Armstrong relished the opportunity to study for his master’s degree online.
“Online classes probably made my life easier because they let me complete work at my own pace within the weekly requirements,” says Armstrong. “I was able to complete my work while taking my actual job and life into consideration. I had to balance schoolwork with my job and three kids.”
Armstrong describes the online learning experience at TROY as “really effective.”
“I was able to communicate easily with instructors and other students,” says Armstrong. “The teachers in the management program cared about the students and wanted all of us to succeed. As a result, they constantly made themselves available to students to help with not only schoolwork but personal and professional problems.”
For Armstrong, the program provided the right combination of skills he was looking for. “This degree will help me build more effective and efficient teams. It will also help me streamline processes to reduce inefficiencies, and build the required support to successfully complete the change.”
While many of Armstrong’s fellow students take the skills they develop in the master’s program into various business settings, he is fully committed to his military career.
“I plan on making the military my career,” says Armstrong. “The military is a good career field. It is important to our country and our way of life. At this stage, I am starting to enter larger leadership roles. My bachelor’s and master’s will help me be an effective leader.”
Learn More About Strategic Human Resource ManagementTo learn more about how the talent development and training concentration of the Master of Science in Management program can help you develop leadership skills for the modern workplace, visit the program page on the TROY website.