We are all familiar with state of the union addresses made by leaders in which we get a synopsis about how we have done as a community or a country, where we are at and where we need to go. With many challenges in sustainability we are at a crossroads. If we do not mobilize collectively, we will continue to see growing gaps in economic, societal and environmental well-being as we are seeing today. And the trends don’t look promising. Thus, we need a few elements to fall into place in our organizational development, particularly in large business, government and institutions.

Human potential is the recognition that a person or persons can excel in an identified area of performance through learning. This is talent development with deep instincts. We identify this mostly in protégé children who exemplify talents such as language, math or the arts. Rarely, do we recognize this in adults – it is almost as if we have given up on creative potential past a certain age. There is a tendency to rely on educational credentials as a method of identifying potential in people through academic performance and that this will translate to talent in a working organization. This is the wrong approach – if anything, school can put a nail in the coffin in creativity and leadership due to its powers of conformity.

As we all know, workplaces can be the most stultifying and difficult places to feel motivated to perform anything if there is no avenue to lead transformative development. The other kicker is that managers are ill-prepared to discover the best in people and foster that potential – we are always in a rush. So who does that leave to forward the organization and tap into innovation and education? Either leaders or the human resources department…preferably both.

it is almost as if we have given up on creative potential past a certain age.

Tapping into human potential is the resource we need to generate solutions. Poor performance can also be described as waste, poor ethics or hostility towards one’s work. I like to use the term enlightenment as a way of depicting the kind of waking up to one’s own talent and leadership abilities. Life’s challenges force us to reach deep and rise to our potential. But what is happening in the workplace is not as personal or as ‘in our face’ as dealing with family illness, job loss or personal crisis. This may be why we feel we are not relating to our communal challenges – it somehow feels ’out there’ or ‘not our problem’ so we operate at a lesser level because there is no need to excel.

If we are to make any meaningful change on a societal scale, we must reform our approach to education, learning and behaviour in the workplace. This is not simply a recycling issue, this is about transforming people and how we work which means going deeply into cognitive and emotional processes. Human resources has the opportunity to transform, to bring out the best in people, ensure education and motivation are part of a working culture and adopt best practices to close gender pay, create inclusion, address mental health, performance gaps and leadership skills development.

We can start by simply changing the name of the department perhaps as I have indicated. Symbols, titles and labels are all a part of a meaningful identification with the vision of an organization thus culture change begins with language and communication. Remember, potential is nothing without kinetic action. So let’s put our potential into action by treating people less as a resource and more as a solution.

Christopher Caldwell is an author, blogger, speaker and workplace educator on various topics to improve leadership, relations and social responsibility.

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