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HRD Leadership Elite Series: Why we Need HRD Leaders


Paul Kearns is back. In this first of a new series of articles looking at leadership in learning, Paul asks where are the visionaries to guide the way for HRD?

Contrary to popular belief the world of learning has not been short of resources, initiatives or Government funded bodies to promote training and development. In the UK we spend billions of pounds on it every year. We have Learning and Skills Councils (LSCs), Investors in People (IiP) and National Training Organisations (NTOs), to name but a few. Many companies still spend huge amounts and even continue their spend when times are hard. What we have been seriously short on though has been results: evidence that there has been a pay-off and any sense of continuity and sustainability in the way organisations learn.

As a nation we are short of plumbers, doctors and good managers and UK productivity still has a long way to go. Why? Because there has been no clear leadership to make all of this happen. No visionary leaders have emerged to show us all what is possible or how we are ever going to make really effective learning a reality. No one to ensure the investment has been a wise one and will continue to be so.

That, of course, is a very broad-brush view of the world of learning and development and one that you might not immediately identify with. If you think everything in the learning garden, or at least your corner of it, is fine and dandy then this article will have absolutely no resonance with you. However, if you do not see the issues around leadership, or lack of it, then maybe you inhabit a very different world to mine.

I have yet to meet a board of directors or management team who have the first idea what development and learning could really mean for their business. They might understand the compliance element of training and even offer vocal support for the notion of employee development and the benefits this can bring, but when push comes to shove it always seems to fall into the ‘not a priority’ category. Its value is uncertain and it always comes in second place to immediate operational issues.

Getting business leaders out of this mindset, once and for all requires leadership of the highest order from the learning profession. People who can convince boards of directors that the operational problems of today and the strategic problems of tomorrow can usually be traced back to a lack of learning at some earlier point. A point where they were unaware or unconvinced of the importance that learning can play in organisational effectiveness.

Why is this more important now than it has ever been? Because we need to accelerate our ability to learn in the face of the sort of pressures that are already on the horizon. China and India’s impact on the global market are only just beginning to show. Europe’s position is looking increasingly precarious as unemployment moves to the top of the agenda. It’s time for learning

Is Paul Kearns right, is there a dearth of HRD visionaries? Have your say by adding your comments below.


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