Wright, N. (2004) ‘Resourceful Humans: Looking at HRD Differently’, News, Association for Management Education & Development, January-February, p10.
HRD[i] has become mainstream as the overarching approach to people development in organisations. In spite of this, HRD needs greater clarity and determination in terms of its foundational beliefs, value base and resulting practice implications if it is to be genuinely transformational. This short article will seek to address this matter from the distinctive standpoint of an HRD (OD)[ii] practitioner.
Firstly, it is clear is that people are affected by environments. It’s not that environments determine human nature in any absolute sense but they do influence motivation, choices decisions and behaviour. We can witness the most extraordinary transformation when a person is, for instance, transferred from an environment characterised by stifling constraint to one characterised by nurture and creativity. This has profound implications for organisational structure and culture as well as the physical design of working/training environments.
2. Personal character
Secondly, we can observe that people are capable of developing extraordinary character, resilience and innovation in the most adverse of circumstances, discovering in the midst of struggle new gifts and strengths that they would never have dreamed possible. We need to ensure that organisations, as learning environments, provide opportunities for challenge and risk, respecting individual potential, provoking vision/aspiration and avoiding the temptation to make tasks ‘too easy’.
Thirdly, human beings are essentially social creatures, developing important qualities through the topsy-turvy, meandering experience of human interaction that would not be possible by other means. It is fundamentally in the context of relationship that we learn, for instance, value, identity, meaning and purpose.[iii] This has profound implications for the way in which we organise learning interventions, particularly those supporting development of leadership and teamworking where human inter-dependence is critical.
So what are the implications of these observations for practitioners in the HRD arena?
Think outside of the training room Consider those aspects of the organisational environment (e.g. structures, culture, line-management, decision-making) that support or hinder development.[iv] Which 3 key factors could you influence/address in order to help support learning more effectively?
Combine appropriate challenge with support
Assess what kind and level of challenge is appropriate for each individual alongside the types of support that will be required, bearing in mind that human needs and aspirations evolve over time. What 3 key things could you do to help ensure that the right challenges and support are sustained beyond the confines of the training room?
Use the group itself as a learning medium
Plan to work with the group, using it as a social environment (often, a reflection of the organisational environment in micro) that can support, precipitate and sustain the learning and development of its own participants. What 3 key things could you do to capitalise on group work and its inherent dynamics more effectively?
[i] Human Resource Development. [ii] Organisation Development. [iii] Ultimately, according to my Christian belief, through relationship with God. [iv] I find it helpful to think about this systemically – see, for instance, O’Connor & McDermott (1997): The Art of Systems Thinking, for a helpful introduction to this approach.