Learning and HR

I have been following some sensational blogs on learning. Both Harold Jarche and Jane Hart seem to have been working in the field of learning for sometime, and their blogs are rich with thoughts and ideas on learning beyond the classroom, e.g., social, experiential and personal learning.

I am relatively new to the learning field, having spent the majority of my career in human resources.  I migrated to learning within the human resources function, but after two Learning roles within human resources, I wonder if the learning function belongs there.

Perhaps I am a bit jaded about human resources.  But it seems to me that the effectiveness of excellence in learning is antithetical to excellence in human resources.  In my recent experience, human resources is programmatic and process oriented.  Programs abound in benefits, compensation, employee relations, recruiting, etc and often in silos, where the programs are not developed cohesively, but by subject matter experts.  Programs are about control of costs and behavior.

A training and development function fit nicely into human resources in the 90s, where T&D was programmatic as well.  As “talent management” came into prevalence, it seemed a good link between learning and human resources – linked by the performance and talent system that identified development needs which pointed to human resources programs.

Enter social learning and the internet….now there is too much content to deliver and too many ways to do it.  To keep learning as “courses”, you could keep leaders and employees in class for 40 hours a week; of course, productivity would be pretty low.

Learning in this age of information can’t (shouldn’t) be controlled.   It has to evolve, collectively as individuals, teams and organizations learn.  Leadership has to transition to fostering innovation rather than putting boxes around the work.  This is a WHOLE new ball game.

So over the past several years, it seems that other areas of the business have developed their own focus on learning, often outside the human resources function.   Six sigma and LEAN groups facilitate learning among teams and within processes, ideally leading to human performance improvement.  Process improvement and project management departments introduce principles of change management, human interaction and engagement as a critical element of the work.

I see those elements (pretty clearly from my perspective) as elements of what human resources should be, but I have not had too many opportunities to see human resources either understand or embrace human performance methodologies as a means of really contributing to the business.

Yes, human resources is getting better at metrics that show savings in benefit costs, turnover, time to hire, etc.  And all of those are excellent measures.

But in my mind, finding a way to effectively facilitate individual, team and organizational learning will truly place human resources in a “value add” role within the business, not just the business of human resources, but the actual performance and productivity of the people.

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