Saturday, January 01, 2011

In 2011, I hope L&D partners with Focussed HR

It's been a great year - before I write another word, I'd like to thank you for reading this blog. For the few people that subscribe to this blog, thanks for your support. I also want to apologise for missing last week's blogpost while on holiday, but I must say the break has done me a world of good and I'll be hitting the digital space with a vengeance in this new year. Speaking of the new year, I have a wish. I wish that we can revive the age-old partnership between L&D and HR. I've always believed that to create a true learning workscape, L&D, HR and IT form a facilitation conglomerate. It takes great organisational and individual will to make this relationship thrive, with HR sitting bang in the center of it all. This is my resolution for the year as well, and in today's blogpost I want to explain why I feel that a strategic HR focus can help L&D in a big way.

HR still focusses on all the unimportant things
Don't get me wrong, it isn't that HR is incapable of focussing on what really matters. It's just that policy management, performance appraisals and transactional HR operations are the traditional sweet spot for the trade. With an absolute lack of leadership interest (and understanding), HR departments in a lot of organisations seem to revert to the steady state of doing the easiest transactions than driving a fluffy, unsupported strategy. That said, with what companies like Atlassian are doing with things such as performance reviews, it's only a matter of time before we see how little the value is in managing these heavy processes.

It also irks me to see smart, forward thinking HR professionals get stuck into defining policies and managing their untiring use in the company. Frankly, most policies are a matter of common sense and when we follow protocol while disregarding common sense, Dilbert happens! For example Netflix doesn't have a leave policy and their rationale is that when they don't measure the number of hours people spend at work, then why measure how many leaves people take? By employing and retaining the best people they possibly can, Netflix promotes a culture of freedom, responsibility, innovation and self-discipline as against a culture of process adherence. Is there a way we can run our companies with the minimum amount of process possible, so HR can focus on what really matters?

“There is also no clothing policy at Netflix, but no one has come to work naked lately.”  – Patty McCord, Netflix

Three Areas I'd really like to see HR focus in 2011
As my little picture above may indicate, I hope HR can redefine their focus to being Human Resource Development than being just Human Resource Management. Smart people can manage themselves and self-organise when the need comes by. On the other hand, an organisation needs to do it's best to grow its best people, help facilitate the right culture in the workplace and do what it takes to attract new, smart people into the fold. This is crucial for L&D as this is the context that we operate in. The more we can do to assist our HR colleagues in this space, the better results we're likely to see in our own work.

Strategic Sourcing

"Great workplace is stunning colleagues. Great workplace is not day-care, espresso, health benefits, sushi lunches, nice offices, or big compensation, and we only do those that are efficient at attracting stunning colleagues."
- Netflix

It would seem that free food, parties, and little bubblegummy activities in office will attract and retain the best people. As it turns out, the best people are the best people because they're passionate about their jobs. They do their job because they're love them to the extent that it doesn't feel like a job. It's what Dan Pink calls a state of 'flow', in his awesome graphic novel - The Adventures of Johnny Bunko. As the world moves to newer, more efficient ways of learning we need to ask ourselves if we're hiring people who know how to learn. 'Social' is the new skill for this decade. Knowledge workers need more than technical skills - can L&D help HR seek out the best knowledge workers who've mastered meta learning?

Workplace Culture
I can't say enough about the importance of a great learning culture. In fact, I don't say it's important - Bersin says so. OK, I wrote about this a couple of weeks back as well! I strongly believe that a strong learning culture doesn't emerge out of nowhere. It requires facilitation, nurturing and strong leadership. Over the years, I can say ThoughtWorks has been fortunate to have Roy Singham as the chairman and founder challenge us each day to learn, question, debate and be a part of shaping a progressive company. It's taken 18 years to build this culture at my organisation and at the heart of it was a conscious social experiment. Given that L&D is such a strong stakeholder in this and given that HR can be a strong partner in this endeavour, how can we help build a culture of curiousity, questioning, collaboration and learning?

Talent Management

"Companies that reach maturity, need to focus more on coaching and development"
- Josh Bersin

A few months back, I attended a webinar on development driven performance management with Josh Bersin. While the focus of the talk was about harnessing the performance management process to drive organisational development, some of benefits Josh outlined were pretty clear. Coaching and development based models help in:
  • retaining top performers
  • hiring the best people
  • developing employees
  • developing leadership pipelines
  • and developing great leaders
Add to this an enviable opportunity to influence the markets your company can compete in, the new customers they can target, the new products/ services they can innovate - you're talking about some real, tangible benefits here. Coaching and development happen to be L&D competencies, but to drive them we need HR support. As another side of the coin, we have the opportunity to think ahead of the curve with HR here. What are the development challenges our companies are likely to face in the next 24 months? What skills and competencies will we need then? What do we need to do today, so that when those challenges arrive, our people can get ready fast? How can we build a workscape that helps people grow and learn every day of their job? How can we address the development challenge HR faces each time they try to be 'strategic'?
I believe we're stepping into an era of convergence. The lines between departments and different functional competencies will need to blur if an organisation has to function and thrive. L&D was traditionally a part of HR and there's good reason for people to place us there. Somewhere, with the advent of technology and the social web, we might be positioning ourselves a little too far from a place where we can make significant impact. Can 2011 bring us closer to our mates in HR? Can we create the facilitation conglomerate that'll lend teeth to our work? I guess only 2011 can tell. Best wishes and a very happy new year!


Iris Topaz said...


Brilliant and so timely for the work I have been tackling as an L & D consultant sitting in (but really working just outside and around) HR. Although I am still trying to be on holidays, your post woke up my vacationing mind.

Very recently my HR colleagues and I sat down and talked for many intense hours about how we can work more efficiently to accomplish some of our bigger HR strategies while not drowning in the transactional depths of the overflowing work.

It came down to letting go of what managers, staff and unions can do on their own and facilitating support in a different way. HR consultants would be forecasting and facilitating the "what's next" instead of "what has always been".

We are so not there yet, but we are working together on designing and piloting programs including 'communities of discussion'. We are tackling topical HR practices with like-minded groups, providing concise information and creating dialogue opportunities to hear from them as to their current ways and needs. As predicted they are learning far more from each other than is in the policy and practice manuals.

As the L & D person, I have been knitting this particular cozy group engagement thing for a while, and the challenge has been that my (very respected) HR colleagues have been swamped by their transactional work. When I mentioned the multicolour yarns of dialogue, knowledge communities and the dreaded facilitation, my poor colleagues noticably sweated.

It has taken a bit of patience (on both sides), building facilitation strengths and abilities, course development, and that precious resource time to get to some small but mighty successes. HR is delighted with the rich results (the qualitative feedback is stunning and impacts are evident). Each delivery gets better from the interaction of the last. Development isn't at all static and it seems HR is actually enjoying themselves!

In addition when I run organization-wide L & D programs for leadership, peer coaching, etc, I encourage (read 'cajole') my colleagues to participate. This is not only for their learning but for them to listen and be involved in what is being shared between our widely represented employee-participants.

The future of L & D in HR is significant and exciting. I love that you are stirring this conversation up - there is much to discuss as L & D professionals. I too realize that I need to dig into some further resources and conversations to avoid that risk of becoming overwhelmed and transactional myself!

What's next?


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