Investment in Our People

 Investment in Our People


By Brad Harwick

As business leaders, there are a plethora of needs demanding attention each day. Staying focused on the organization’s mission and economic prosperity should be at the top of this list. And, supportive of both of these priorities are the people employed to carry out the mission. But, who is in charge of developing the people?

In December of 2012, the Chief Operating Officer was asked the question, “Who is in charge of developing our most important asset, our people?” He replied, “Each of us. We are all responsible for the development of our people.” This provided an opportunity to illuminate why developing the team wasn’t working as well as it could. When everyone is in charge, no one is in charge – or at least accountable. This explained why there was no clear strategy or measureable progress for professional development beyond the OJT, or On the Job Training. Thus, began the build-out of an Academy for learning & development.

Dedicate Resources

Look around the business to be reminded of what’s done when there’s a new service line to add, product to launch or operational area to be led. Responsibility/accountability is assigned and the operation is built around a person or persons to execute. Right? So, why not do the same with something as important as human capital? The easy answer is, learning and development (L&D) has historically been seen as a cost center and not a revenue center. If a case can be made for having a world-class team of people unparalleled in the industry who will be more effective, efficient, engaged and tenured, might we believe that revenues will be impacted positively? Of course, so put someone in charge of leadership and learning; and, consider keeping them part of Operations and not Human Resources.

Invest in the Structure

Building an online university can be curated through a third party. Internally, though, the job is to pour a foundation, put up walls and cover it with a roof. This means a whole host of formative actions needed to be addressed before real progress can be seen.

  1. What to call it? An Academy.
  2. What is best practice in the industry? Assemble a board of advisors.
  3. What’s needed? Conduct a needs assessment.
  4. What’s the budget? First, create the plan.
  5. How to determine success? Develop metrics.


“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” ~ Lewis Carroll

Doing a needs assessment helps focus on the mission critical competencies to be addressed first. In this case, there were 34 competencies across multiple job classifications that would drive programmatic attention in the first two years. It was important to establish with the business unit leaders early on that the embryonic learning and development program would focus first on these competencies and would evolve over time. Most leaders were fine with “moving the ball forward,” but some had their short list of items to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Research Programs

The L&D industry is very mature and ripe with resources for addressing most every need. In an industry where professionals are primarily technically trained engineers, the assessment revealed a critical need for soft skills training addressing such issues as communication, listening, planning, organizing, and developing others. There were two programs addressing most of the mission critical competencies – Situational Leadership (Blanchard Companies) and Project Management Bootcamp (PSMJ). Each of these programs are taught in-house and supported by ongoing coaching to drive tools deeper into team culture.


Part of the challenge many small to medium-sized organizations face in wanting to declare their commitment to training/learning/professional development is lack of resources. Many organizations reachSidebar PD 15 for simple, off the shelf programs, to implement and then “check the box.” Alas, there’s a favorable reaction and some learning, but rarely are behavior and results seen – see the sidebar with Kirkpatrick’s Model. Part of being able to see the efficacy of a program is not extending too far. Stick to a plan top leadership has bought into and drive deep instead of going wide. As results and impact on the business are seen, expanding the effort is often warranted.

Progress not Perfection

Whether there’s an existing L&D program currently, or a desire to start one, don’t be wrapped up in trying to make it perfect. First, put someone in charge who is not afraid to take risks and try new things. Second, give the effort time to develop. Third, provide ongoing support to those leading the effort. The development of a world-class team is a marathon, not a sprint – a journey and not a destination. Utilize the proven resources in the market, dedicate (re-dedicate) efforts and create something sustainable and meaningful. The team will notice, the competition will notice and so will the bottom line.

Brad Harwick is Senior Vice President, Director of Corporate Development for Austin-based Bury, Inc. Brad directs talent development under the Bury Academy and leads the firm’s merger & acquisition activities. Bury has been named one of the state’s Top Design Firms by Texas Construction, is ranked among the Top 500 Design Firms by Engineering News Record and is ranked among the Top Workplaces by the Austin American Statesman.

Brad received a BBA in Marketing from Texas A&M University and an MBA in Management from St. Edwards University.


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