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Solving Human Resource Challenges

Solving Human Resource Challenges

3 Minute Read

First Nations face several unique human resource challenges that can be managed by taking decisive steps and getting external help.

  • What HR gaps do First Nations need to fill?
  • How can Band Managers collaborate with external advisors to overcome the challenges?
  • How can MNP help
Senior Manager, Consulting Services

First Nations Administration face various human resource challenges that impact the success of their governance efforts such as having outdated policies or dealing with a limited talent pool. To manage their business and deliver services effectively and efficiently, communities require qualified people, a supportive infrastructure, and appropriate funding.

First Nations can face more complexity in their work environments because of familial dynamics. This dynamic can expose departments and entire organizations to delicate challenges in relationship, performance, and human capital management. HR leaders in collaboration with department managers must identify each of their unique challenges and have access to the required tools and supports to improve competencies and build a stronger workforce.

HR challenges

Building the human capacity required for strong governance and delivery of services to the community requires targeted and prioritized strategies to address the gaps below.

Limited talent pool

This is a challenge with far-reaching consequences for many First Nations as a portion of the workforce often lacks the formal skills, competencies, and experience required for many open positions. There are several reasons for this, including the lack of access or trust in the K-12 education system, combined with multiple other barriers, such as limited funding and wraparound supports to attend post secondary schools. Hiring from outside the Nation is often impractical due to challenges with housing or commuting. This can put the Nation at risk of not being able to effectively provide its programs and services.


Funding is limited for most departments, resulting in a limited ability to attract and retain qualified employees. Compounding this challenge is the gap associated with outdated or non-existent competitive and equitable compensation.

Performance Management

With many Nations issuing directives to hire Nation members, HR leaders often fill positions with available talent, some of whom may be their or leadership’s immediate or extended family. This occasionally puts supervisors and managers in difficult positions such as if the employee is unable to fully undertake and perform their duties. Unfortunately, this often results in an unwillingness to provide feedback, which limits the employee’s ability to learn and grow. Additionally, providing praise and recognition may sometimes be mistaken for favouritism which contributes to an unhealthy perception of performance management and the benefits it delivers.

Inefficient organizational structure

A documented and well-defined organizational structure is a gap which contributes to a lack of clarity on reporting lines and working relationships. Balancing organizational design from a need’s perspective rather than solely on an individual and / or team’s capability is important to keep in mind. Without this perspective, there may be an uneven distribution of responsibility throughout the organization which contributes to either over or under utilization of available resources. Clarity on the division of roles and responsibilities and reporting helps define the work. Performance management also helps to build the necessary capacity and competency to meet the full scope of each role.

Poorly worded job descriptions

Often times, there are no job descriptions, or they are outdated and no longer reflect the position and responsibilities of the job. There are also times when HR leaders tailor job descriptions to the capacity of available employees rather than the expertise required for the role. Over time, this can result in additional risks or costs to the Nation as employees are unable to fully assume their responsibilities resulting in service gaps. Understandably, this may also contribute to some employees feeling unfulfilled and others overwhelmed which increases challenges with internal equity and retention.

A recipe for stronger HR management

The road to a stronger HR function is within reach through the following progressive and committed steps. By taking these decisive actions, HR leaders will position the Nation for success, empower their employees for optimal performance, and meet the needs of the community more efficiently.

Establish the foundation

Begin with the end in mind. What is your vision and purpose? Document your strengths and understand your challenges. Ask yourself a few key questions – is your current organizational structure able to deliver its mandate, programs, and services? Do you have policies, job descriptions, a performance management system or salary grid in place? What is your plan to attract and retain employees? Are you positioned for growth and building capacity?

Create your policy

Collaborate with department managers to review and update existing policies in accordance with both cultural and best practice as well as the required legal and regulatory compliances. Create new policies where needed.

Train your employees

This is a two-step process. Once the policies are established and properly documented, you should communicate them throughout the organization. Hold in-person orientation sessions for all employees to answer questions such as: What are our policies? Why are these policies important? What are the benefits to the organization, Nation, employees, and clients? What are the consequences for breaking the policies?

Secondly, orient each employee to their job description followed by formal learning and development plans to address gaps and build capacity. This will help employees succeed in their roles and prepare them to take on greater responsibilities. It is also a key ingredient for developing a transparent and objective performance-based compensation structure, which supports attraction and retention.

Be committed and consistent

Commit to the changes you have made and consistently follow through on the rules and practices you have established. Address the presence of bias in your workplace as well as the decisions influenced by those biases. Recognize that you may be dealing with long-standing behavioural issues that can only be resolved through consistent practice and time.

Get external help

While an HR leader or Band Manager typically bridges the gaps in their HR or Administration departments, their efforts are sometimes insufficient because they have extremely limited time, competing priorities and / or expertise to lead and manage human resource initiatives. Some Nations have outsourced aspects of the human resources function, such as payroll management, and maintain responsibility for recruiting, employee engagement, compensation, benefits, etc. Due to limited capacity, is it often challenging to implement the desired improvements.

What can be done differently? We have found partnering with a qualified advisor over a longer-term to be beneficial in assessing needs and developing a customized plan to systematically address immediate priorities while setting the foundation for greater stabilization of HR functions. MNP’s advisors work to understand your environment, develop collaborative solutions , help you implement desired changes while supporting you as you adopt the improvements and integrate them into your working environment.

Contact us

Faye Miron

Senior Manager, Consulting Services


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