|Will Human Resource Development Survive?|
Darren C. Short, John W. Bing, and Marijke Thamm Kehrhahn
We, the authors, experience human resource development (HRD) as a paradox. This is a time when HRD appears to be at its strongest in terms of publications and research outputs and when the environment appears right for HRD to demonstrate clear value-added to key stakeholders. However, in other ways, HRD appears inner directed and without substantial impact: publications seem to preach to the converted; HRD research and, to some degree, practice appear divorced from real-time problems in organizations; HRD professionals see their work being completed by those from other professions; there is limited evidence that HRD has really moved far from the fad-ridden gutters of false short-term training panaceas; and practitioners are still measuring training person-hours rather than the relationship between learning and productivity.
From this body of work a number of major challenges have emerged. These are macro issues that address the question: What challenges must the HRD profession overcome to ensure the effectiveness and success of the field in the coming years? Here, we set out challenges to provoke thought and action. Our intention is to encourage HRD’s multiple stakeholders to join in a spirited discussion on the future of HRD.
The ongoing critical debate about whether corporations have a responsibility to a wider group of stakeholders beyond their focus on shareholders continues to capture attention (May & Kahnweiler, 2002). HRD practitioners are caught up in the shareholder-stakeholder debate, in part because they are responsible for the learning supply chain that supports organizations. HRD cannot blindly focus on shareholder value alone if it must also respond to learning supply chain stakeholders, including primary, secondary, postsecondary, and postgraduate education institutions; continuing education, training, and development entities; just-in-time knowledge delivery systems; and other learning solutions both inside and outside corporations. As companies proceed from manufacturing to "mentalfacturing," not to take a strong position in support of the interests of learning supply chain stakeholders is as reckless as it would be for a senior supply chain manager to disregard the various contributors to the manufacturing supply process.
To establish themselves as key players in the development of organizational strategy, HRD practitioners must demonstrate how what they do correlates with the productivity and welfare of the company (Russ-Eft & Preskill, 2001; Swanson & Holton, 1999). The future of HRD depends to a great degree on the extent to which the value it brings can be confidently measured. We believe that a focus on demonstrating impact and utility will not only lead to greater overall influence of HRD on the organization but will strengthen HRD’s reputation as a legitimate profession. Therefore, over the next decade, linking learning and human process to performance and measuring learning, human process, and the resulting change in performance are crucial challenges to the field. Well-designed studies linking learning to productivity will be critical to these efforts.
We are concerned about how little time HRD spends focused on the future. Its research and theories struggle to keep up with the present, let alone anticipate what may be needed in the coming months and years. The void is filled by the fads, which falsely offer panacea solutions and lead to the poor reputation of HRD in delivering real long-term outcome benefits. To put it another way, HRD contains some products that are "quick-fix, flavor-of-the-month, buzz-worded remnants of a slick sales job" (Leimbach, 1999, p. 1).
Organizations are arenas with real problems that cry out for solutions. Yet the field of HRD appears to get lost in exploring its own processes. A glance through published research shows a wide variety of research agendas in HRD, but how many of them are focused on solving real problems that matter to stakeholders outside HRD? Chermack and Lynham (2002) listed the top twenty symposia topics from past conferences of the Academy of Human Resource Development. Included in the list are such internal process issues as core directions in HRD, university HRD programs, and advancing the profession through journals. Absent from the list are the major trends identified by Short, Brandenburg, May, and Bierema (2002): the increasing pressure for organizations to deliver shareholder value, the trend toward globalization, and the need for just-in-time products, services, and solutions.
By focusing on outcome-level problems and determining the HRD contribution to the solution, HRD is forced to think systemically and deliver a major contribution. HRD authors need to cease writing for the converted and seek a significant contribution in the world of those who are yet to be converted and those who could be labeled as being unaware that HRD could have any role in finding the solution to their problems.
HRD is a relatively young field. Few outside HRD consider it a profession. Chalofsky (1998) argued that HRD had yet to reach the level of a mature profession because practice is based on guesswork and not on theories tested by research, practice is based on research and thinking that are at least ten years out of date, and practice is based on what the client wants rather than on what works.
HRD is a relatively young field, and there are significant challenges to its future. Failing to acknowledge these challenges will increasingly marginalize HRD within organizations. The tasks seen as central to the HRD profession will be taken on by others who work in professions more focused on delivering and measuring outcomes, thinking and working systemically, with a sounder theoretical base, with clear standards and ethical codes, with stronger professional bodies and competent practitioners. HRD will be left on the sidelines: a gradually shrinking number of people who write for themselves, focus on internal process issues, and react ineffectively to demands long after they have been formulated.
Chalofsky, N. E. (1998). Professionalization comes from theory and research: The "why" instead of the "how-to." In R. Torraco (Ed.), Proceedings of the Academy of Human Resource Development. Baton Rouge, LA: Academy of Human Resource Development.
Chermack, T. J., & Lynham, S. A. (2002). Assessing institutional sources of scholarly productivity in Human Resource Development from 1995 to 2001.Human Resource Development Quarterly, 13 (3), 341–346.
Dilworth, R. L. (2001). Shaping HRD for the new millennium. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 12 (2), 103–104.
Kaufman, R., & Guerra, I. (2002). A perspective adjustment to add value to external clients, including society. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 13 (1), 109–115.
Leimbach, M. (1999). Certification of HRD professionals, products and academic programs. In K. P. Kuchinke (Ed.), Proceedings of the Academy of Human Resource Development. Baton Rouge, LA: Academy of Human Resource Development.
May, G., & Kahnweiler, W. (2002, July). Shareholder value: Is there common ground? T+D, 56, 44–52.
Preskill, H., & Russ-Eft, D. (2003). A framework for reframing HRD evaluation, practice, and research. In A. M. Gilley, J. L. Callahan, & L. L. Bierema (Eds.), Critical issues in HRD: A new agenda for the twenty-first century. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Press.
Russ-Eft, D., & Preskill, H. (2001). Evaluation in organizations: A systematic approach to enhancing learning, performance, and change. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Press.
Short, D. C., Brandenburg, D. C., May, G. L., & Bierema, L. L. (2002). HRD: A voice to integrate the demands of system changes, people, learning, and performance. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 13 (3), 237–241.
Swanson, R. A. (2001). HRD and its underlying theory. Human Resource Development Interna-tional,4 (3), 299–312.
Swanson, R. A., & Holton, E. F., III. (1999). Results: How to assess performance, learning, and perceptions in organizations. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
| - NOW AVAILABLE: Shopping Cart for Global Performance Enhancement Tools |
| - Update: ITAP's virtual team tools are now web-enabled! |
| - ITAP announces 2 new Regional Relationships: Human House/ITAP Denmark is now Human House/ITAP Nordic; Organizational Development Consultants, Ltd./ITAP Kenya is now Organizational Development Consultants, Ltd./ITAP East Africa |