The age of the stand-alone expert is over. Anticipate
collaborating to learn from and adapt the practices of other
In the age of collaboration, change can roll over your professional
life like a tsunami if you're not proactive. It's one thing to keep
an eye on trends such as mobile learning, talent management, and
the latest insights on leadership development, but it's quite
another to recalibrate your skills, your job, your thinking, and
your professional relationships to keep pace. If you still believe
learning and development (L&D) is merely about the transfer of
knowledge, you're already behind the times. And if you think you
will be working mostly with other HR professionals in the future,
Six emerging themes
Let's start at the top, with the future of HR itself. In some
organizations, the function is already reaching beyond its
traditional boundaries into such areas as marketing,
communications, and corporate reputation. This goes beyond
partnering with these functions to support their work, says John
Boudreau, co-author with Ian Ziskin of The Future of HR and
Effective Organizations, published in the October 2011 issue of
Organizational Dynamics. HR will learn from and adapt the practices
of other disciplines and this will be essential to HR's progress
going forward, he adds.
HR practitioners might, for example, use concepts from supply chain
management to define the flow of talent through the organization,
deciding when to hire heavy and develop light and when to do the
opposite. Or they might involve marketing professionals in the
design of L&D to make it fit the other elements of the
employment deal using product design principles.
An important concept for L&D professionals to understand and
act on is that boundaries between HR and other functions will be
more permeable, says Ziskin. It will be necessary to reach out
through the whole organization and co-create with functions that
may formerly have been rivals.
This investigation into the future of HR by Boudreau and Ziskin is
part of an initiative at the University of Southern California's
Center for Effective Organizations. Their work identified six
Hero leadership to collective leadership. Collective leadership is
vested in the whole organization, not concentrated at the top. In
such organizations, leadership development will be broader, applied
wherever leadership is needed, and aimed at a new cadre of leaders
wherever they are.
Intellectual property to agile co-creativity. This trend to rethink
the ownership and shelf life of intellectual property is already
observable in the pharmaceutical and IT industries and will spread
to HR. Competitive advantage will come not from protecting
intellectual capital but from co-creating it with others, says
Employment value proposition to personal value proposition. HR has
traditionally considered employment as a product of the
organization directed at employees and potential employees,
explains Ziskin. In the future, this value proposition will extend
beyond employees to target customers, legislators, investors,
activists, and other groups who want to have a say in the practices
of large organizations. Think Occupy Wall Street, or efforts by
consumers to influence Walmart's HR practices.
Another change to expect will be a move from broad
characterizations of organizations as family-friendly, innovative,
or fun to value propositions that are personal to each employee and
not just from a work perspective. HR will be grappling with mass
customization of a value proposition that could encompass work
location, flexible hours, and a better boss, among many other
individual values of employees.
Sameness to segmentation. For L&D, this change will require
finding the right balance between potentially wasteful standardized
development for everyone in a category and mass customization of
learning. People in L&D will have to behave more like
marketers, says Boudreau, understanding talent and customizing
development for individual needs, but also optimizing those efforts
by knowing where customization has the biggest impact.
Fatigue to sustainability. The accessibility and mobility afforded
by technology has a negative side effect: fatigue. L&D will play
a significant role in advancing thinking and practice about
work-life balance in the digital age. Fatigued employees do not
build sustainable organizations, and HR will be expected to be more
actively engaged in building sustainable organizations.
Persuasion to education. L&D often takes a customer service
approach to its offerings, marketing them for their business value
and their impact on performance. Boudreau and Ziskin see a shift
from a service approach to L&D being accountable for the
quality of the decisions their constituents make as a result of
This is a role that is more like that of an educator and requires
looking beyond L&D and even beyond HR, says Boudreau. When
L&D's constituents have finished working with your systems and
teams, have they learned something applicable about the nature of
their learning? Are they smarter about this or have they just
completed a series of tasks before going back to their real work?
Ziskin adds that better analytics will be an important underpinning
to address these issues.
What about those metrics?
The need for new metrics in L&D is a topic burning up the
blogosphere and dominating agendas at gatherings of senior HR
leaders. Blogger Clark Quinn recently posted this gripe about
measurements slow rate of change: This stuff shouldn't be a topic in
2011. It should be already well-practiced and in the repertoire. We
should be thinking about how to start tracking meaningful activity
in social networks, the value of performance support and more, not
old stuff about courses. And, how to tie it back to important
deltas in organizational performance.
Groups including The Conference Board, KnowledgeAdvisors, the
Institute for Corporate Productivity, the Society for Human
Resource Management, and ASTD are devoting their efforts to
identifying and sharing new metrics for the profession. While these
and other groups challenge the usefulness of traditional metrics
about learning events, there is little consensus yet about what
should replace them.
Should these new metrics address effectiveness and efficiency?
Should they demonstrate L&Ds influence on strategic goals of an
organization? Should they correlate with and help predict high
Some things about new L&D metrics are already clear: They won't
be determined in isolation by industry insiders and they will cut
across HR, reaching to the top of the organization.
Determining what to measure will be a collaborative effort
involving not only the stakeholders in managing talent across the
organization, but their CEOs, says Tony Bingham, president and CEO
In his conversations with CEOs of major companies, Bingham notes a
consistent theme on the topic of the effectiveness of training:
Specific individual measures about learning matter less to them
than progress toward their companies' most important goals.
Time and again, CEOs have told me that they know learning and
development is working when they see progress toward key strategic
goals, says Bingham. Making that link clearer will be an essential
component of any new metrics for the learning profession.
Returning full circle to Boudreau and Ziskin's prediction that HR
will learn from and adapt the practices of other disciplines,
practitioners also should expect to apply many new perspectives—from
accountants, supply chain experts, marketing people, and others—to
the future of metrics and how they show value. The age of the
stand-alone expert is over.