HR, training teams must take responsibility for driving business forward

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Robin Hoyle, writing for AccountingWEB.co.uk, says poor leadership, poor management, and poor engagement is all your fault.

Take any glossy company annual report and it will always boast how people are the heart of the business, the careers pages on the website will talk of exciting learning and development opportunities and fulfilling your potential and the induction explains how learning objectives are established through extensive coaching discussions with your line manager. However, the reality once your ‘newbie’ honeymoon period is over, can be completely different.
 
It’s a standard joke: The Devil, concerned that so few people are coming into Hell starts a recruitment drive. Newly departed souls are shown golf courses and fantastic countryside and beautiful people living an active and fulfilled life. They sign up for purgatory only to find themselves stoking the fires of hell 23 hours a day. Many ask “What happened to the golf courses, with the...?” They are usually met with the response, “Oh that was when we were recruiting.”
 
It seems that one of the key challenges in modern organisations is to deliver in line with pre-recruitment promises. But how can this be achieved when HR is considered a dirty word? Especially when those booked on courses are routinely pulled off a programme at the last moment for operational reasons, or when personal development plans are only completed at the last minute to keep HR people happy?
 
Why is there such a disconnect between HR and Learning and Development (L&D) teams and the departments they are supposed to support? Well, there’s fault on both sides and I’m afraid this starts with the managers who complain about HR being out of touch but do absolutely nothing to engage in L&D activities. When subject matter experts are required, a junior person or even, in one recent example I came across, an intern is given the job of being the organisational expert for a training programme. The head honcho may turn up for the first training course to present the commercial realities at the sharp end of the business, but the next cohort or the one after? It’s unusual if the seniority of the input is maintained at anything like the same level. 
 
Employing incompetent people is fine...
 
Of course, certain training, especially those courses involving regulatory or compliance programmes, get looked after, otherwise those same managers might end up in court. It seems employing people who are incompetent is fine, but employing negligent people isn’t. Tote that bail, tick that box, then if you drop the bail on your foot at least it’s not our fault.
 
Then again, no one ever reached the top of an organisation by focusing on people development, so it can’t be that important, can it? But consider all the disciplines in modern organisations, from sales and marketing, supply chain, production, finance, legal and L & D. Can you name a single CEO who progressed through the organisation from a HR or training background? Apart from those companies who actually make their money from training (and not even all of these) the CEOs are usually accountants, occasionally people from a sales and marketing background, and rarely a production or technical person. No sign of HR, training or people development, and yet the annual report says...
 
We may look back fondly at our first boss or early manager who had an impact on our lives. Did that person support learning? Did that person focus on longer term, sustainable competence or on short term fixes? Did they deliver the results today and worry about the future later on? If they did, chances are you’ll emulate that model of leadership too. After all, poor short-sighted and short term leadership is infectious. Being a rubbish manager is a transmittable disease.
 
Therefore ignoring, and in many cases being rude about, L&D and HR teams becomes the lingua franca of the successful head of department. Staff know they can’t meet their targets in the real world and develop their career if they allow themselves to be sidetracked by what they consider to be irrelevant HR people.
 
The bus is moving but no one is in the driving seat
 
It seems HR can’t win, but often they don’t make the effort to even try. HR personnel might feel undervalued, unloved and a little isolated by the organisation but too often they allow themselves to be treated as a cost centre, an expensive luxury. Many try to respond to business issues and tie programmes into the strategic objectives of the organisation, but fail to actually drive the business forward in the process.
 
HR has a significant role in ensuring that the “most important asset of the business” is well maintained, capable of delivering results, and competent now and into the future, and yet completely reactive in its approach. Perhaps HR and training teams only attract those without the drive and ambition to change organisations in difficult and competitive environments? Uncomfortable thought, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
 
It’s time for HR and training teams to take some responsibility for driving the business forward. If the innovation, difference and competitive advantage to face the future doesn’t come from the most important asset of the business, where is it going to come from? HR teams need to be bold in the face of managerial incompetence. Any manager who doesn’t contribute to developing their staff should be named and shamed. Any leader preventing training because of short term operational requirements should be exposed for the poor resource manager they are.
 
Moreover we need to start modelling the behaviour we want others to follow. We should start thinking long-term into the future and equip the organisation with the skills to deal with that future, however unpredictable it is. We need to change the organisation through transforming the individuals within it and only then might we deserve the respect we seek, instead of the (lack of) respect we deserve.
 
About the author:

Robin Hoyle is the head of learning at Infinity Learning.

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