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Debate: Part of HR or Independent?

Friday, September 15, 2017

The argument: The talent development department should be a stand-alone function separate from HR.

Talent development doesn’t belong under the HR umbrella. Or does it? Org charts worldwide differ regarding whether talent development is a separate entity from HR, reporting directly to the CEO, or falls under HR, reporting to a CHRO. Although it’s clear that talent development and HR must work collaboratively, which structure is best?



Stephen W. Oliver
Director, HRCVision

Talent development should be moved out of the HR department to function as a fully independent entity. As a stand-alone unit, the TD function can act as an organization-wide strategic element that can be used to develop more successful business outcomes and solutions while developing people.

In many companies, HR is viewed negatively, many times regarded merely as a support function for transactional services. If too closely associated with HR, the TD function easily can be viewed in the same regard.

There are four key benefits associated with a TD department that functions as an organization separate from HR:

The TD function can connect employee performance directly to business objectives. Karyn Romeis writes that "L&D’s job is all about performance, and performance is an operational thing. Our job is to help the organisation meet its business objectives by helping people do their jobs." If the learning function is positioned next to the workspace, it can become part of the job. If the TD department functions on its own, it can directly help workers to experiment on the job, learn by doing, observe others doing the job, and then practice and get some recommendations from the learning function on how to do the job. These direct learning outcomes from TD possibly can be thwarted by a layer of reporting to the HR function.

More focus on the internal TD customer to support work engagement. As an independent function unencumbered with implementing HR policies and procedures, TD has the ability to work directly to more effectively and quickly analyze organizational issues and challenges in context, as they happen, to help frontline managers move the business forward.

By directly supporting the internal customer (employees), it can better gain knowledge of the skill deficiencies throughout the organization. TD can identify learning opportunities and then develop training solutions for better customer service issue resolution and outcomes.

Better alignment with management. With direct connections to business leaders and the customer, TD professionals have more opportunities to observe issues up close to help determine learning outcomes and to offer training solutions. According to the Institute for Management Development (IMD), it is important to identify the various stakeholders and understand what they require from your TD strategy, gain buy-in by making them a part of the process, and then consult with the stakeholders to incorporate their TD needs. A good TD strategy incorporates training for senior executives to strengthen management alignment and continuously sharpen leadership skills.

Better access to budgetary resources. As an independent organization, TD has better access to corporate funds, giving it the capability to develop and offer best-in-class learning tools, techniques, and strategies. "Some of today’s best tools for integrative corporate learning include leadership exercises, leadership coaching, guided case study analysis, flexibly balanced distance and campus learning, and real-world learning in global business hot-spots," writes IMD.

While it is certainly advantageous to have a good relationship with HR, as a stand-alone, decentralized organization separate from the bureaucracy of HR, the TD function can more easily demonstrate and affect its value directly to business leaders and customers.


Jill Guindon-Nasir
Adjunct Faculty Member, University of Virginia

I believe there are four relevant benefits to having TD housed within the HR department.

The culture of an organization ultimately determines the success of the TD impact. Culture is king, and the culture of an organization ultimately will determine its success. Is the company a learning organization? Does TD have a seat at the table? The value an organization places on TD is far more important than where it resides within the company.

In a January 2011 Mindflash blog post, Bill Cushard writes, "A learning and development organization should exist for the sole purpose of helping people perform well at their current jobs and prepare them to perform well at the unknown job tasks of the future, so that the organization can achieve its goals."

If the culture supports TD, then the function will thrive within HR because the HR function will be seen as a vital player within the company.


It’s about the people. HR is home to the organization’s human capital resources, and TD is about assisting the people with their learning needs, which is also an "about-the-people" part of the business. There is no better case to highlight the importance of housing the TD function within the strategic HR business unit than many other of the administrative functions.

It is vital for HR and TD to be in constant communication concerning the organization’s human capital. HR and TD can align to ensure they don’t duplicate any efforts and have open communication, which benefits the entire organization.

Leveraging technology through a single platform. When TD is housed in HR, the structure enables a company to leverage a single platform solution for measuring data that can be shared organization-wide. This process breaks down multiple operational agendas, which can cause silos created by each business unit that is focused on its own goals and performance versus those of the entire organization.

According to the Softscape whitepaper Top Five HR Process Integrations That Drive Business Value, "Single platform solutions also make it much easier to report on key metrics such as effectiveness of the learning programs on performance since all of the data resides in a centralized repository."

By housing the TD function within HR, you create one voice for the organization, and better understand the overall balanced scorecard of your organization’s TD needs.

Business-relevant workforce planning alleviates the need to take TD out of HR. Taking the time to conduct the appropriate workforce planning enables HR and TD to be a powerful force within an organization. It is when this preparation is not conducted that business units start to think they would be better off with the TD function located within their own business unit. Planning is a process that needs to take place to ensure the TD needs are met, the organization is aligned on the needs of the business, and what is going to be prioritized and focused on in the upcoming fiscal year and beyond.

"Many HR functions have a role that is a liaison between the HR function and business leaders," writes Stacey Harris in the executive summary of The Top Best Practices for the High-Impact HR Organization. "High-impact HR organizations use it to advise senior business leaders, focusing on decision support, workforce planning, leadership development and executive coaching. By enlisting the right person, HR can improve its credibility across the enterprise, improve working relationships with business leaders, cultivate mutual understanding and gain influence."

The above benefits are attainable for all organizations that are serious about the TD function. Housing the TD function within HR starts with the organization’s overall culture, and the importance of the TD function within that organization. The company also needs to recognize that "it’s all about the people." If an organization understands that, then it is clear why TD should be housed within the HR function: for alignment and credibility.

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author
About the Author

Jill Guindon-Nasir is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Virginia.

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