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The Missing Link Between HR and L&D

Human resources and learning and development are equally important elements of a business strategy, and one function cannot exist without the other. Even in small organizations, where often a single individual wears both hats, the question of which function, if any, prevails over the other, still stands.

Have you ever been asked questions about how HR and L&D should split up responsibilities? Perhaps someone requests your opinion on whether they should operate as separate functions or be joined as part of the same division or if one should oversee the other one. Which structure is more valuable or convenient for businesses to have? What about those companies that do not have enough resources to have both functions in place, regardless of the organizational structure that supports them?

Let’s look at some examples. 

Byebugs4sure is a small company that employs an average of 31 employees. Over the last five years, Reginald handled all matters related to human resources, focusing mostly on talent recruitment and management. The company outsourced services for functional areas, such as payroll and benefits. External contractors addressed all of the company’s learning and development needs mostly with off-the-shelf products. However, as Byebugs4sure is reaching its maturation stage as an organization, one of its key players unexpectedly accepted an offer at another company. Since this company’s human resources focus was on administration, the missing link here is succession planning, which learning and development should own. 

Frances works for a medium-sized financial services company with an average of 123 employees distributed in two separate nearby locations. A human resources department serves both locations and has three analysts who specialize respectively in selection, recruitment, and training. Many transactions, such as leave requests and health insurance, have been automated, and employees have been trained to obtain the information that they need on their own. Frances is the HR manager and often finds herself having to carry out the activities of one or another of the analysts when they are on leave or at the other location. She knows that she should be focusing on executing the business strategy and addressing issues, such as employee onboarding and change management, especially now that the company expects to increase its staff by one third and will implement yet another system. Where’s learning and development when you need them most? 

Waiters4u has a staff of 716 employees with five different locations in three separate jurisdictions and is a local subsidiary of a private global company. Because of its size and the company owners’ belief in the importance of finding, developing, and retaining the right talent, Waiers4u has fully staffed HR and L&D departments. Both departments report directly to Rhonda, the vice president of administration. Even though the company holds several strategic planning meetings every year and Rhonda supports the company’s open door policy, Tracy and Mitchell, the HR and L&D directors, live in constant conflict and competition over roles and responsibilities, as well as over which function has greater importance for the business. What is the missing link at Waiters4u? 

In our experience, we often find significant levels of confusion in HR and L&D, regarding who do what regardless of company size or name of function. We have met professionals who lack knowledge about the different specialties within each area. The growing trend towards process automation, operational streamlining, and outsourcing noncore functions also contributes to this confusion. Professionals often find themselves not knowing something that they need to do, which then becomes their missing link. 

It’s time to go back to basics regarding the skills and knowledge that those involved in various aspects of human capital management and development must master. Landmark documents such as the ATD Competency Model and others provide crucial guidance about what we must do and how we should do it, regardless of the official function or title that we hold. 

Here are some examples of initiatives and activities that could be part of HR or L&D, depending on how the roles are defined in a particular context. 

Onboarding. Facilitating how new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors required to succeed within a company’s culture.

Succession planning. Identifying, developing, and supporting the talent pipeline that will maintain business continuity.

Change management. Expediting a systematic multi-faceted process to assist individuals in accepting and adopting transformations in the workplace.

Career planning.
Guiding individuals to manage their own learning and development to achieve their professional goals.

Training. Targeting short-term solutions (classroom, on-the-job, or online) to get skills that can be immediately applied on the job.

Talent assessments.
Using different instruments to assist businesses in identifying individual capabilities and talent gaps for selection, development, and retention.


Talent development. Designing and implementing ways to expand individual knowledge, skills, and behaviors using modalities that include but are not limited to traditional classroom or online training 

Performance improvement. Detecting, analyzing, and closing performance gaps.

Coaching. Working with employees in self-discovery to maximize their performance and potential.

Mentoring. Establishing the connection between two individuals, usually one more experienced in some area than the other one, to advance the career of the mentee.

Employee engagement champions or sponsors. Assuming responsibility for modeling effective practices to drive employee engagement whether in a business unit or through the entire organization.

Employee surveys. Administering surveys as well as analyzing their results and putting together action plans to address issues to improve the business.

Outplacement. Enabling an employee’s transition from one workplace or career to another usually including resume writing and interviewing advice. 

Exit interviews. Holding individual meetings with employees who are leaving an organization to gather feedback about their experience and suggestions for workplace improvement.

Return-on-investment for learning initiatives. Placing a financial value on the impact of learning activities to demonstrate its connection to the bottom line.

Which of these activities and initiatives are familiar to you? Perhaps you have led or have been part of one or many of them. Maybe some constitute the essential functions of your job. Others may become stretch assignments for your own development because they bridge the gap between traditional HR and traditional L&D, requiring a broader skills base and multifunctional expertise. 

In the end, you decide what constitutes the missing link between HR and L&D in your particular setting. Regardless of your formal role, where your position resides within your company’s organizational chart, or whether you are a consultant who works outside of those boundaries, both functions must carry their weight towards the common goal of executing business strategy.
© 2017 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Wanda Piña-Ramírez is an enthusiastic advocate of selecting and developing talent for business success, who has held various roles in industries such as hospitality, tourism, telecommunications, restaurants, petrochemicals, retail, waterworks, and government in United States, the Caribbean region, and Puerto Rico. Wanda is certified as Coach (CCC) from the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras, as Practitioner in Neurolinguistic Programming and Applied Kinesiology by the International NLP Trainers Association, and as Human Resources Administrator by the Escuela Avanzada de Administración de Recursos Humanos y Legislación Laboral de Puerto Rico. She serves as advisory board member of the School of Business Administration of the University of Puerto Rico at Bayamón. Wanda received the Training and Development Professional Award of the Puerto Rico Chapter of ATD in 2011. 

en Español

Wanda Piña-Ramirez es una entusiasta defensora de la selección y el desarrollo del talento para el éxito de los negocios, que ha tenido varias posiciones en industrias diversas como hotelera, turismo, telecomunicaciones, restauración, petroquímica, comercio y empresas del gobierno de EE.UU., región del Caribe y Puerto Rico. Sus clientes incluyen compañías multinacionales a PIMEs. Wanda es Coach certificada (CCC) por la Universidad de Puerto Rico en Río Piedras, profesional  en programación neurolingüística y kinesología aplicada por la Asociacion Internacional NLP de Formadores y administradora en RRHH por la Escuela Avanzada de Administración de Recursos Humanos y Legislación Laboral de Puerto Rico. Es miembro de la junta directiva de la Escuela de Administracion de Empresas de la Universidad de Puerto Rico en Bayamón. Wanda recibió el premio del capitulo de la ASTD en Puerto Rico, al mejor profesional en formación y desarrollo en el 2011.


About the Author

Norma Dávila has dedicated her career to develop others in industries as diverse as banking, technology, pharmaceuticals, retail, utilities, automotive, and education. She is a hands-on consultant in organizational development and training who designs and implements change management and capacity building strategies. She prepares internal organizational capacity for different roles through coaching. Norma provides outplacement support, designs employee handbooks, and challenges operational processes among other services. Her consulting practice also includes leadership development and talent management programs.  Norma is certified as Project Management Professional (PMP), and Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology at Yale University and her master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology at the University of Chicago. 

en Español

Norma Dávila ha dedicado su carrera a desarrollar talentos en industrias tan diversas como banca, tecnologías, farmaceuticas, comercio, servicio público, automoción y educación. Es una consultora de muy práctica en desarrollo organizacional y capacitación que diseña e implementa admistracion del cambio y como generar estrategias de creación de competencias. Ella prepara a traves del coaching el desarrollo de capacidades internas en las organizaciones. Norma provee apoyo de recolocación, diseña guías de empleados, y procesos de cambio organizacional entre otros servicios.Su especialidad incluye tambien desarrollo de liderazgo y programas de gestión del  talento. Norma está certificada en Gestión de Proyectos Profesionales (PMP) y en Profesional Senior de RRHH (SPHR). Posee una licenciatura en Psicología por la universidad de Yale; y un Master y Doctorado en Psicología por la Universidad de Chicago.


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