Lessons from the North Pole (Editor’s notes)

HR professionals have much to learn from Santa's success
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/14/2008

Dear Santa: I hope this letter finds you well. I’m writing to you on behalf of an entire profession this year. HR professionals, to be specific. The last year has actually turned out to be a pretty tough one economically.

Sure, there were a few victories along the way. Some fascinating employment law decisions that seemed to tilt the playing field in favour of employers and some evidence the talent crunch has temporarily eased in many parts of the country (a fortunate side effect of an unfortunately weak economy) — but I won’t get into that here. Keep an eye out for the Jan. 12 issue, because we’ll have a great wrap-up of the year that was in 2008.

And I’m not asking for any presents this year — at least not the kind that are wrapped. This year what the HR profession needs is your sage advice. Your little operation up there at the North Pole has weathered countless storms over the past few centuries. We want to know how you did it.

Training and development: Let’s start with how you develop your workforce. I only have my own experience to draw upon, but I’ve seen a monumental shift in what your workers produced in the 1970s versus what is landing under my tree now. I can’t imagine the training involved to teach an elf, who was putting together Pong video games, to create and assemble an iPod. That’s a pretty phenomenal learning curve. How do you do it? Is it classroom training? E-learning? Blended learning? Mentoring?

Retention: I can’t think of an organization that does retention better than yours. I’ve yet to receive a resumé from an elf or reindeer, nor have I seen them working anywhere outside the North Pole with the exception of malls, with you. That’s pretty impressive, because those are some talented folk. How do you manage to keep every single one of them?

Diversity: I’ve seen the films about your operations — they’re flooding the airwaves this month. Not only do you have different races and genders working together, but you’ve got different species all pulling in the same direction — and speaking the same language to boot. That’s impressive. Organizations down here have plenty to deal with, with communication problems between IT and finance, let alone between humans, elves, reindeers and snowpeople.

Unpaid overtime: This is a hot topic, yet you’ve managed to stay out of the news. That’s no easy feat, given the production timelines in Santa’s Workshop and the vast quantity of toys you must produce by a firm deadline. What’s the secret to your great workforce planning?

Succession planning: Hmm. Well, alright. Maybe you have nothing to offer on this front. After all, you’ve been around for centuries and don’t seem to be going anywhere. Though, maybe that says something about stable, long-term leadership?

Thanks, Santa. And thanks to all our readers. It’s been our privilege to bring you news, information and trends over the last year. This is the last issue of 2008. We’ll see you in the new year.

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