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Nigel Paine

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HR Has to be Learning and Development’s best friend? Surely!


Nigel Paine believes that L&D and HR departments don't need to do much to achieve the same goals. Just follow the guidelines that he's laid out.

It is almost exactly five years since 'Fast Company' - the US-based business magazine- published its seminal article by Keith Hammonds, its deputy editor, called: 'Why we hate HR.' He wrote it as a direct reaction to attending a strategic HR conference in Las Vegas! Hammonds argues that after 20 years of rhetoric claiming that HR is a strategic partner helping to run the business at the highest level, 'HR people are, for most practical purposes, neither strategic nor leaders.' And the reason we hate HR is that the gap between claim and reality is so stark we have lost respect for the function that is still buried in what he calls 'administrivia'. HR, he claims, consistently over-promises and under-delivers by failing to step up to the mark.
It is easy for the L&D professional to act superior and avoid all eye contact and beg to report elsewhere in the heirachy other than into HR. But if we read that article carefully, we had better be extremely reluctant to throw the first stone. The HR mud sticks just as well to the L&D wall. So how do you avoid the pitfalls that Hammonds so eloquently elaborates upon? There are some guidelines that you should note.
  • In a Hay survey quoted in the article only 40% of employees commended their companies for retaining high-quality employees. However, the same survey claimed only 58% rated their job-training as favourable. So number one is: review the relevance of your offerings. Define value as something much more than mere attendance. 
  • Think about what you achieve, not what the process is. Who cares if 100% of staff received 20 hours development? What we want to know is what the impact of that development was on the overall performance of the company.
  • Efficiency is not the same as value, and you need to live and breath value and encourage the team to do the same. If someone asks: 'what do we get for our investment in L&D?' you had better have a great answer straight off the top of your head. Dave Ulrich said 'You are only effective if you add value'. Take those words and stick them on the wall where everyone can see them.
  • Do not isolate yourself in a specialist cocoon. Get a regular throughput of temporary staff from the business spending time with you. Help them understand what you do, in order for you to better understand what they do and what drives them. Make L&D a must-have placement location for young upwardly mobile managers, not a dumping ground for older, disillusioned staff.
  • Be part of the engagement process within an organisation. The learning space is a great place for people to come together and debate. If your model is one-way transmission, then you care little for what the participants think, what knowledge they bring to the activity, and what they can contribute. Recast your learning so that you tap into the skills, views and intelligence of everyone who passes through, and remember, that could be a majority of staff.
  • It is time to dump a one-size-fits-all model by responding to the increasing diversity of the workforce. Diversity in age, nationality, culture, gender etc etc. Different people have different ways of looking at the world that you should capture and build upon, rather than ignore. This allows huge insights on your part but it means that you have to be prepared to customise and individualise what you offer. Work it on their smartphone, their laptop or face to face. Have no preconceived model of what ought to work and how to deliver it.
  • This means starting where people are, and this can't happen if you have no idea who your staff are in the first place. You simply have to engage their views, discuss what works best, and face up to and act upon the feedback you get. 
  • Finally you should go for long-term value, not short-term reward. Just like the business as a whole (you hope!) go for something that will deliver over a three- to five-year timescale as well as on a year to year basis. Have your own 3 Horizon discussions: making what you do now effective and impactful; working out how to leverage and build on that that using existing resources over the next year, and then spending some of your time on the three to five year perspective. How will you have to change in order to say relevant and continue to add value.
Remember you are an inescapable part of the people business: an individual employee does not care which section recruited, inducted, trained, developed, promoted and extended her. She just wants it to happen, and happen seamlessly. HR is your partner. When HR is great, it is so much easier for you to be great. You have the same aims, just different means.
Nigel Paine is a coach, mentor, writer, broadcaster and keynote speaker of international acclaim. He is currently working in Europe, Brazil,  the US and Australia on a variety of assignments, that hinge around making work more creative, innovative and aspirational and making workplaces more conversational, team-based and knowledge sharing. You can read his blog at or follow him on Twitter: 

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