Is L&D Fundamentally Different Than Other HR Disciplines?

Is L&D Fundamentally Different Than Other HR Disciplines?

By Dave Vance

I just attended my first “HR” conference. I normally attend L&D – focused conferences like ATD, CLO Symposium, and Skillsoft Perspectives. This conference was 2.5 days and while it had an L&D track, the primary focus of the other four tracks and all the main session topics were on other aspects of HR like talent acquisition.

The conference certainly broadened my understanding of the challenges and issues facing our colleagues in other HR departments. It also provided a much better basis for answering the perennial question of whether L&D “belongs” in HR. I used to answer that question somewhat ambiguously by saying that HR was probably the best fit for most (but not all) L&D functions. (Note: At Caterpillar the L&D function was within the Human Services Division.) My first impression after the 2.5 days is that L&D may indeed be fundamentally different and may not be best positioned in HR.

Here is what struck me and I wonder if you have seen the same in any HR conferences you may have attended. I did not hear a single speaker talk about HR as a direct contributor to achieving the annual business goals of the organization, like increasing sales by 10% or reducing operating costs by 5%. They talked about how HR can help achieve long-run goals like developing a more diverse workforce and ensuring that the right workforce will be in place in five years. They talked about the important role of HR in managing the leadership pipeline and improving the performance management process. Don’t misunderstand me, these are all important goals but they will contribute INDIRECTLY to achieving the long-term business goals and even more indirectly to this year’s business goals.

Speakers also talked about big data and talent analytics and how these can help address current business issues like finding the best candidates for open positions or the best place to locate a new office. Again, very important and issues that HR is now better positioned than ever before to address. But there was no mention of current business plan goals like increasing sales by 10% and how HR might directly contribute.

Using the language of TDRp, the measures in support of these HR initiatives were primarily efficiency measures like number of hires, diversity of the workforce, and cost per hire. There were a few effectiveness, like bench strength and quality of hire. But there were no outcome measures which we define as the direct impact of HR initiatives on organization (business) goals. When speakers talked about goals, they were really talking about efficiency or effectiveness goals – not business goals. So, they talked about how HR initiatives would help accomplish HR goals.

Now, contrast this with L&D’s ability to directly impact business or organizational goals. Think about the common business goals like increasing sales, reducing costs, improving quality or productivity, and reducing injuries. In most organizations, L&D can and typically does contribute directly to achieving these goals. Consequently, we have outcome measures for L&D to measure our impact on these goals. (Of course, L&D can often also contribute to HR goals like improving employee engagement and leadership.)

So, perhaps L&D is fundamentally different than other HR disciplines because we can directly impact many, if not all, business goals. Initiatives from other HR functions play an important role in enabling organizational success in the current year and in the future, but often are not direct contributors. More thought is required here.


  1. says

    I’m with you on this Dave. I also attend many of the “industry shows” for my business – and belong to many the organizations that sponsor them. But if I were to rank them solely on their relevance to real-world business, I would only go with two: CTR and ISPI (International Society for Performance Improvement). That’s because both espouse a systematic approach. I find they bookend each other quite nicely. So as you continue your journey with TDRp, you may wish to check the other guys out–they just announced their annual conference.

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