Can’t We All Get Along?

This past week at LinkedIn, there have been a couple interesting discussions of the relationship among HR, Training and OD. Which led to my latest posting on HR.Blognotions, and re-published here.

As an HR Thought Leader, I’ve been asked what I think of the relationships among Training, Organization Development, and HR. Having labored in this nexus for over 25 years, I definitely have some thoughts.

Let’s start with Training and OD. For me, both are professional fields of practice, distinct from each other as career paths, but closely related historically as well as functionally.

Historically, the field of OD was originally training-based. The T in T-Group stands for Training. NTL stands for National Training Labs. Much of the early work of the founders of OD involved “interventions” that came to be known as “action learning.”

Functionally, Training and OD are pursuing the same end result, i.e. enhanced performance. Training focuses on individuals, while OD on teams and organizations. So I see them as points on a common continuum.

Yes, they can get along and cooperate. They can even collaborate and synergize. But there can also be tension, even conflict, especially if there is mistrust or disrespect in the relationship. While I’ve never seen antagonism in the relationship between OD and Training, I have seen turf issues. And I’ve seen (and felt) condescension, where the people in OD “looked down on” the folks in T&D.

I guess it’s human nature at work. OD likes to see itself as strategic, and Training as tactical. Actually, that’s not a bad point of view. The trouble brews when it reflects silos and division rather than creative collaboration.

My best experiences have been those where OD and T&D have been integrated in one department. In one company, it was called Learning & Development. In another company, it was called People & Organization Effectiveness. In a third, it was called Training & OD.

Whatever you call it, my recommendation would be to bring them under one roof, with one mission and vision. After all, Training and OD are in the same business: growing the capability of the organization to perform.

Things get muddier when we look at Training and OD reporting up into HR. I’ll never forget an early encounter when I joined the Human Resources team of a large international chemicals company in the early 1980’s. One of the HR Directors, who was cynically humorous, said to me and others at a staff meeting: “Training is something you do with dogs.” Everyone laughed. To me, it felt like a slap.

In the 25+ years since then, I’ve run into that attitude from time to time. It’s too bad. Seems like one that isn’t going away anytime soon, I guess. My take on it is that it comes from a place of not understanding at best, and disrespect at worst.

A smart HR leader will understand that HR and T/OD are different in outlook, action and spirit. HR is about control, compliance, and risk mitigation. T & OD are about strengthening organizational capability and performance. You can’t get much different, can you?

So a smart HR leader will hire really good Training and OD people. Make sure they are aligned with the business goals. And most importantly: Don’t under-utilize them by assigning HR-ish projects like performance reviews training. Instead, deploy Training and OD to the high-value work that will leverage and strengthen the culture and capability of the organization.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, June 5, 2010


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