Is HRD at the crossroads?

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Written by Tim Baker on 2 July 2014

Jeanette is a HR manager with a traditional approach to HRD. She refers to staffing matters as human resource matters; her training budget is almost entirely spent on technical and competence-based training. She wants employees to learn, follow, and be accountable for sticking to the organisational manual. In fact, she judges her success by how compliant people are in following organisational systems and processes. When a dilemma arises, she wants them to refer to the comprehensive manual she calls “The Bible,” and follow policies and procedures to the letter. Jeanette has been described as a transactional leader, and she is proud of that description. Her paperwork is impeccably completed and she values observance and risk aversion. She is hands-on and buries herself in the detail of an issue. She wants and seeks out all the facts. Jeanette does not ask many questions but prides herself on answering questions and giving the “right” answer. Training is usually done formally in a classroom with a trainer referring to a set training manual. Good training, in her mind, is following and getting through the training workbook before the end of the time allotted. Managers, in her mind, are there to lead and make decisions.

Craig replaced her as HR manager and had an entirely different approach to learning and development. He changed the name of the department to “People, Performance and Well-being.” Craig changed the training agenda and introduced such courses as lateral thinking and problem solving; he put more emphasis on personal development. Craig thought the main thrust of his role was about changing the culture of the organisation and put in place a plan to launch the company on the road to becoming an employer of choice. He left operational matters to line managers, whom Craig thought were in the best position to deal with day-to-day matters. Much to the frustration of consultants who had a good relationship with Craig’s predecessor, they were asked by Craig to shorten their sessions and break the program into smaller chunks. The trainers were used to coming in and running one-day programmes and riding off into the sunset afterwards. He spent his first few weeks talking to employees who were at the coalface. Craig wanted to understand the challenges they faced in their job.

One of the major impediments to developing a productive workplace culture is the traditional approach to learning and development. Approaches to HRD have generally failed to keep pace with the revolution in the workplace. Conventional responses to learning and development are no longer relevant in a fast-paced climate. A new way forward for HRD is long overdue. The Jeanettes of the world are becoming obsolete. We need more Craigs!

Dr Tim Baker is the author of Attracting and Retaining Talent: Becoming and Employer of Choice (Palgrave Macmillan, UK). He can be contacted via ​

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