Requiem for the Stand-Alone HR Expert

In the age of collaboration, change can roll over your professional life like a tsunami if you’re not proactive. It’s one thing to keep an eye on trends such as mobile learning, talent management, and the latest insights on leadership development, but it’s quite another to recalibrate your skills, your job, your thinking, and your professional relationships to keep pace.

If you still believe learning and development (L&D) is merely about the transfer of knowledge, you’re already behind the times. And if you think you will be working mostly with other HR professionals in the future, you’re mistaken.

6 emerging themes

Let’s start at the top, with the future of HR itself. In some organizations, the function is already reaching beyond its traditional boundaries into such areas as marketing, communications, and corporate reputation.

“This goes beyond partnering with these functions to support their work,” says John Boudreau, co-author with Ian Ziskin of “The Future of HR and Effective Organizations,” published in the October 2011 issue of Organizational Dynamics. “HR will learn from and adapt the practices of other disciplines and this will be essential to HR’s progress going forward,” he adds.

HR practitioners might, for example, use concepts from supply chain management to define the flow of talent through the organization, deciding when to hire heavy and develop light and when to do the opposite. Or they might involve marketing professionals in the design of L&D to make it fit the other elements of the employment “deal” using product design principles.

“An important concept for L&D professionals to understand and act on is that boundaries between HR and other functions will be more permeable,” says Ziskin. “It will be necessary to reach out through the whole organization and co-create with functions that may formerly have been rivals.”

This investigation into the future of HR by Boudreau and Ziskin is part of an initiative at the University of Southern California’s Center for Effective Organizations. Their work identified six emerging themes.

1) Hero leadership to collective leadership. Collective leadership is vested in the whole organization, not concentrated at the top. In such organizations, leadership development will be broader, applied wherever leadership is needed, and aimed at a new cadre of leaders wherever they are.

2) Intellectual property to agile co-creativity. This trend to rethink the ownership and shelf life of intellectual property is already observable in the pharmaceutical and IT industries and will spread to HR. “Competitive advantage will come not from protecting intellectual capital but from co-creating it with others,” says Boudreau.

3) Employment value proposition to personal value proposition. HR has traditionally considered employment as a product of the organization directed at employees and potential employees, explains Ziskin. In the future, this value proposition will extend beyond employees to target customers, legislators, investors, activists, and other groups who want to have a say in the practices of large organizations. Think Occupy Wall Street, or efforts by consumers to influence Walmart’s HR practices.

Another change to expect will be a move from broad characterizations of organizations as family-friendly, innovative, or fun to value propositions that are personal to each employee and not just from a work perspective. HR will be grappling with mass customization of a value proposition that could encompass work location, flexible hours, and a better boss, among many other individual values of employees.

4) Sameness to segmentation. For L&D, this change will require finding the right balance between potentially wasteful standardized development for everyone in a category and mass customization of learning.

“People in L&D will have to behave more like marketers,” says Boudreau, “understanding talent and customizing development for individual needs, but also optimizing those efforts by knowing where customization has the biggest impact.”

5) Fatigue to sustainability. The accessibility and mobility afforded by technology has a negative side effect: fatigue. L&D will play a significant role in advancing thinking and practice about work-life balance in the digital age. Fatigued employees do not build sustainable organizations, and HR will be expected to be more actively engaged in building sustainable organizations.

6) Persuasion to education. L&D often takes a customer service approach to its offerings, marketing them for their business value and their impact on performance. Boudreau and Ziskin see a shift from a service approach to L&D being accountable for the quality of the decisions their constituents make as a result of their development.

“This is a role that is more like that of an educator and requires looking beyond L&D and even beyond HR,” says Boudreau. “When L&D’s constituents have finished working with your systems and teams, have they learned something applicable about the nature of their learning? Are they smarter about this or have they just completed a series of tasks before going back to their real work?”

Ziskin adds that “better analytics will be an important underpinning to address these issues.”

What about those metrics?

The need for new metrics in L&D is a topic burning up the blogosphere and dominating agendas at gatherings of senior HR leaders. Blogger Clark Quinn recently posted this gripe about measurement’s slow rate of change:

“This stuff shouldn’t be a topic in 2011. It should be already well-practiced and in the repertoire. We should be thinking about how to start tracking meaningful activity in social networks, the value of performance support and more, not old stuff about courses. And, how to tie it back to important deltas in organizational performance.”

Groups including The Conference Board, KnowledgeAdvisors, the Institute for Corporate Productivity, the Society for Human Resource Management, and ASTD are devoting their efforts to identifying and sharing new metrics for the profession. While these and other groups challenge the usefulness of traditional metrics about learning events, there is little consensus yet about what should replace them.

Should these new metrics address effectiveness and efficiency? Should they demonstrate L&D’s influence on strategic goals of an organization? Should they correlate with and help predict high performance?

Some things about new L&D metrics are already clear: They won’t be determined in isolation by industry insiders and they will cut across HR, reaching to the top of the organization.

“Determining what to measure will be a collaborative effort involving not only the stakeholders in managing talent across the organization, but their CEOs,” says Tony Bingham, president and CEO of ASTD.

In his conversations with CEOs of major companies, Bingham notes a consistent theme on the topic of the effectiveness of training: Specific individual measures about learning matter less to them than progress toward their companies’ most important goals.

“Time and again, CEOs have told me that they know learning and development is working when they see progress toward key strategic goals,” says Bingham. “Making that link clearer will be an essential component of any new metrics for the learning profession.”

Returning full circle to Boudreau and Ziskin’s prediction that HR will learn from and adapt the practices of other disciplines, practitioners also should expect to apply many new perspectives—from accountants, supply chain experts, marketing people, and others—to the future of metrics and how they show value.

The age of the stand-alone expert is over.

About the Author:

Pat Galagan is editor-at-large for ASTD. Reprinted from T&D magazine

Pin It on Pinterest