UFHRD 2014: 6 June, key note on Exploring HRD Wendy Ruona

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The talk aims to discuss the identity of HRD and on its values and practices and whether it should professionalise;  exploring the border zone of sociology of knowledge and landscape of the professions; and in searching for a frame for further conversation and development of the ideology and culture of HRD.

HRD has a strong sense of identity: “we know who we are” as human and organisational development (Hamlin & Stewart 2011) identified common core themes of developing knowledge, skills and competence along with work-related systems and learning in work. Furthermore, the debates on learning and performance are replicated in the literature but that is combined in many definitions so that debate appears to be resolved.

HRD struggled to identify the phenomena of study with an ideology of why we’re interested in the phenomena. The construction of HRD has been validated in both practice and research since 1989 with McLagan’s HR wheel which is research based rather than being a conceptual definition.  Gosh et al 2013 reviewed four journals over ten years and identified training & learning as key themes of the field.

But by positioning HRD as about both individual and organisational development generates a complex and dynamic subject discipline in “the meat grinder”. Also as HRD emerged from training there is a struggle to integrate OD and training and a question on whether this integration is really being explored  in depth.

In relation to this is the question of whether HRD is a generalist of specialist subject. So should HRD programmes include instructional design learning technology but this pushes against the limited time available on programmes against the breadth of subjects to cover. This pushes HRD towards generalisation and may disadvantage student in the job market as they lack of specialist knowledge and skills. This issue is reflected also in research in HRD that lacks a unique disciplinary frame – research could ‘fit’ across many domains of the social sciences – and this breadth may also be shallow compared to other disciplines.

There has also been the emergence of national HRD asking questions on the boundaries of HRD into workforce development and national policies.

The second question is whether HRD is a profession as a self-controlled occupation, that the identity of professions is more concerned with power of control over the work (Friedson 2001). So lawyers and medics control their work. So is HRD specialised, has formal education, executive jurisdiction, sheltered position and an ideology of doing good.

The audience feedback on these characteristics:

– is HRD work specialised: our work is diffused across performance management, quality improvement, change management but there are some areas of specialised practices. So are there specialisms within the umbrella of HRD but are these specialised enough? But is there advantage in being in the space between professions.

– we don’t have executive jurisdiction as the client controls our work

– we don’t have sheltered position as other communities of practice encroaching into the HRD ‘space’ such as change managers, OD, learning design. HRD is seen as a sub-set of HRM

– formal training by occupation: yes,  but in multiple locations across business schools and in education schools and that space in HE is small and tenuous. Also training is not required to practice HRD nor to be successful in HRD

– an ideology of doing good and quality work which also has an altruistic component as contributing to something that society values. While we espouse this, there is a tension with the lack of executive jurisdiction as well as the difficulties of what *is* good work.

So we’d have to conclude that HRD is not a profession.

Are we a discipline? That is constructed by academia as a “branch of knowledge” and we probably are a discipline by the newer and looser definitions. HRD has an identity, cultural attributes, shared objects of study and disciplinary stance along with artefacts of journals, conferences etc. But HRD is not a strong discipline. Using Becher and Trowler (2001) schema we are more fragmented, permeable, unstable and complex.

Also raising the issue of the relationship with human resources (HR) as HRD/ OD ascended the corporate ladder to be more strategic and so converged towards HR. This was validated in a 2008 study with a strong emphasis on internal  consulting to help managers solve people problems. So former management consultants are getting these strategic roles which further dilutes the occupational identity of HR/D.

HRD also relates closely with other specialisms including HR; OD; instructional design, etc……

The issue of professional identity is increasingly important and the social construction of identity should be more central to professional education in HRD. Practitioners experience persistent identity struggles as eg, asHR, or a consultant or your knowledge is too broad and too shallow.

If professional identity is a choice in a pluralistic world then how are we preparing our students for this? Especialy how are we supporting students to act as boundary spanners and integrate new knowledge while maintaining a professional identity.

Future paths for HRD:

1. that we narrow and consolidate back to training and learning

2. focus on the integrated T&D with OD

3. different stance and give up the quest to be a profession and acknowledge there is no such thing as a HRD frame and so expect our students to be boundary spanners across professional domains. We should focus on the discipline of HRD as practice rather than a profession.

Q: on spanning between HE and practitioner?

Comment: that we are already heading down the third path of giving up on being defined as a profession. HRD is a network of networks.

But there is an increased recognition of the value of learning and development specialists including instructional design by businesses. Also recognising that OD is more integrating with concerns of individual learning and development.

A further reflection is that newer scholars have been overly concerned with disciplinary ‘neatness’ rather than entrepreneurial boundary spanning.

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