No Image Available

Stephen Walker

Read more from Stephen Walker

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Training is not an HR responsibility


The behaviour of the people in an organisation is the only difference between competitors, in the end. Stephen Walker reviews the functions of HR and considers where they can best add value.

What does Human Resources (HR) do in your organisation? Different size organisations and their various process technologies create a bias toward a particular HR functional specification. HR involvement in operational issues, like training, is an example of matrix management. Haven’t we learnt that is a dead concept by now?

When you boil it down, anyone can buy the IT, set up the processes, get the assets and do the marketing in any sector. The only difference between one organisation and its competitors is its employees. Is this critical success factor too important to leave to HR?

The lifecycle concept

Innovations, new products, ideas and organisation structures follow this cycle. This is a well established marketing concept, and each stage requires a different marketing approach. Clever organisations recognise when their products are moving into the decline phase and innovate the 'next big thing' to maintain market share and turnover.

The lifecycle concept is a useful tool to think about how an organisation works. Organisations offer a variety of working methodologies at any one time. Departmental managers (or whatever you call yours) will have different styles and create a modified working environment for their staff. That organisations metamorphose as they grow is a well established concept.

Greiner’s crisis of growth

Greiner wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review in 1972 describing a phoenix-like process where successful growing organisations have to regenerate in a new form. Perhaps that is more Doctor Who than phoenix! You can read more on this in my article Management skills for the growing organization.

Clearly in an organisation, even of modest size, people develop and innovate at different speeds. An organisation is a collection of different styles, albeit within the common core of official policy. The first - and most obvious - learning point is the experiment, the innovation that is allowed to take place is sowing the seed for the future. Organisations need to allow, even encourage these experiments for their tomorrow. But what of HR?

What is the role of HR

The role varies between organisations depending on their lifecycle/Greiner development. HR can stand for Hiring Regulations. The not entirely unreasonable obsession with complying with the anti-discrimination laws can reach the stage where managers can’t speak to a prospective employee without an HR minder.

Someone needs to drive the performance review process as sadly many operational managers don’t understand the benefits. HR worries again that discussing performance is a legal minefield that requires precise wording. How many HR minders attend performance reviews to ensure compliance with the rules?

Then we come to managing the training process. They collate training needs from performance reviews, objectives and strategies into a broad training need. HR will then deliver the training or outsource it. Either way the collated, averaged, best fit training misses the sweet spot for the most people. Fortunately we all know that training is a 'good thing' so we don’t bother looking for a return on the investment of the time and money.

To be fair there is nothing like an employment tribunal finding against you to push you toward safety, a policy of compliance at all costs. I’m not suggesting that misbehaviour in managing employment is ok. But I do have to wonder how many successful show jumpers have never fallen off their horse? They learn how to avoid falling off while still taking the risks that brings the winning performance.

Strategic HR

HR people wish their voice was heard at board meetings. An HR director’s role is not to promote safety, compliance or the avoidance of risk. A director’s job is to manage risk, to accept some risk for business advantage. Directors need to be working at the innovation-leading edge of the lifecycle: exploring alternatives and matching the needs of their market to the most appropriate transformation of the business.

HR directors in particular should be involved in culture change. That is change across the organisation to better match up with the future needs of their customers from all the options that exist. In the particular case of employee engagement organisations have managed to process the cultural change issues into a bland valueless 'good thing' that misses the point altogether. Admittedly they have not been helped by some sellers of the benefits of employee engagement.

Given the poor job a lot of training organisations do in producing a real ROI for their clients it is easy to see why the government feels the need to subsidise it. Cheaper valueless training is a terrible way to spend my tax money. The HR strategic function should not be involved in training. Put the responsibility, the budget, and the need for a ROI back to the operational heads asking for the training. Let’s make training valuable again. An HR vision to be innovative, adaptable and growth enhancing would be startling. I’m sure they exist - tell me about them please.


If people are ultimately the only difference between one organisation and another then the management of those people is THE critical success factor. The culture of the organisation should be in the mind of the CEO constantly. Strategic HR is the function that delivers on the CEOs obsession with the culture. Nothing is more important.

  • HR needs to lose their shackles in the present, the day-to-day operations
  • They need to begin the long walk to the boardroom
  • They need to become proactive not reactive
  • They need to be an inspiration to change and not a drag

HR has an essential strategic role to play in developing the organization. Training is best left to operations who should show an ROI on the training spend.

Stephen is a co-founder of Motivation Matters, set up in 2004 to develop organisation behaviour to drive greater performance. He has worked for notable organisations such as Corning, De La Rue and Buhler and has been hired to help Philips, Lloyds TSB and a raft of others. A published author of articles and Conference speaker, Stephen delivers workshops across the country. It is all about “making people more effective” he says. You can follow Stephen on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Blog


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!