HR And L&D: Do We Need To Unblur The Lines?

HR And L&D: Do We Need To Unblur The Lines?
Branislav Nenin/
Summary: This article relates to making a distinction between the HR and L&D functions within an organisation, and recognising that they require different skill sets.

Discussing The Differences And Similarities Between HR And L&D

Human Resources and Learning and Development within an organisation are both aimed at developing people and talent. However, historically, the L&D team has often been located within the HR function, often with HR personnel slotting into L&D roles, and vice-versa.

In seeking L&D/Instructional Design roles in the past, I have been interested to see that the job descriptions for these roles regularly seek an L&D or HR background, and it made me think, should we seek to make the distinction between HR and L&D for the good of Learning and Development?

While the importance of HR within an organisation cannot be understated, L&D requires a completely different skillset. Whether the L&D role involves identifying learning gaps, designing and developing learning solutions, completing assessments and evaluation, or simply providing training, these activities require a particular knowledge base and set of skills that do not automatically translate from an HR function.

Understanding how people learn while translating learning gaps to effective learning solutions is not within the remit of an HR role, and while HR personnel are slotted into L&D roles, we will continue to receive poor, ineffective and unengaging learning experiences in our organisations. This is not the fault of HR but it is more of how we view the HR and L&D functions as interchangeable entities.

As L&D professionals, we should seek to ensure others understand the unique nature of our roles and what we bring to the organisation so that our work is both understood and valued. But how do we do this?

Highlighting the value of other departments within an organisation can be more straightforward as translating the actions of these departments into visible and accountable metrics can be more easily achievable due to solid data and reporting information. For example, in the IT department, it may be a case of identifying how many tickets were handled and successfully processed over a given period, and how this contributed to less 'down-time' and increased productivity.

For L&D, this can more of a challenge as effective learning is not easily translatable to money metrics and KPIs. Often a learning intervention can contribute partly to a particular metric, and while proper evaluation models help to translate this value, this is often just part of a larger story.

And when we think of storytelling, perhaps that is how we help to demonstrate our value, by choosing and telling the right stories. When it is difficult to leverage figures, it may be useful to be able to tell the story of how and why learning was effective and efficient in a meaningful way. Communicating the value of L&D to the wider organisation can be challenging, but we know that storytelling for learning works; so why not leverage it to set ourselves apart from our colleagues and their roles within the organisation?

In setting L&D apart, it is vital that L&D professionals not only understand how to make effective learning experiences using the technology that is available to them but to also understand the 'whys' around how and why learning works. Understanding adult learning theory and being able to explain it to others provides us with gravitas when making learning decisions and challenging the decisions of others.

Also, having a background in learning theory and learning science sets us apart from HR and positions us as the learning professionals that we are.

While not all L&D professionals necessarily need a Masters in learning theory, there are a number of courses available to us and which help to develop our knowledge base in these important areas. Professional development and lifelong learning are key if we want to keep our knowledge fresh and our learning approaches up-to-date.
How can we expect others to engage in learning when we do not practise what we preach?

While the world of learning is continually changing and evolving, one of the big steps I think we, as L&D professionals, need to take is to continue to demonstrate our value and to seek to set ourselves apart in our roles. Only when we can demonstrate our value, can we be seen as the valuable resource that we are!