The past two blogs featured perspectives on the Forzes event in January where we hosted four speakers on the topic of ‘teal’, ‘holocratic’ or ‘reinvented’ organizations. Since then I’ve been contemplating what would happen to learning if HR, and therefore centralized HRD departments, would cease to exist, as would be the case in reinvented organizations?

For the best part of 30 years I’ve worked in learning and development. I’ve been involved in projects regarding organizational change and projects pertaining to regular, day-to-day, learning that’s job-related. Maybe it’s an oversimplification, but I’ve found that my Forzes network and ROI on Talent are hired by the business itself for the former and mainly by HRD for the latter. It seems that whenever learning is focussed on obtaining the necessary capability to perform, it’s relegated to HR. When it’s about performing better, improving the business or ensuring continuity then it remains very much under the auspices of the C-suite.

Here’s the thing.

What would happen if our organizations would reinvent themselves and so could strike HR from the equation? Could it be that HRD is no longer required for learning? If so will it be (or is it already)obsolete?

A huge loss
The Rabobank, one of our key accounts a few years back, have done some amazing work on visualizing current learning trends.

I’m both the biggest fan of this infographic and its biggest critic. From a learning perspective, it gives us a comprehensive overview of what learning is and what it could become. It’s attractive and informative. It’s from a business perspective, however, that things become rather less concrete. Although the infographic mentions Rabobank’s strategic focus, it does not ‘drill’ down to either the business or performance improvement and it links neither driver to the proposed learning landscape.
Let answer our questions we posed earlier from Rabobank’s current perspective. From the view of their learning landscape we’d see a huge reduction in learning initiatives if HR(D) is no longer offering their services to drive them forward in a reinvented organization. From this perspective, organizations would suffer a terrible loss if HR were to be disbanded.

Good riddance!
Here’s another perspective. At the Taipei ATD conference I joined a session that featured Degreed’s insightful research .

What struck me in their infographic was the incredible intensity of learning driven by employees without HR’s intercession . In terms of quantity, frequency and accessibility it outstrips HR(D)’s offerings: significantly.
From this perspective, the answer to this blog’s key questions would be markedly different. I can foresee a veritable outcry from the C-suite: “We can arrange our own learning HR(D), thank you very much!”.

Do I personally think HRD is obsolete? I’m still wrestling with my own question and pondering my prediction. I’ve been brought up in and nourished by the HRD environment and I find it hard to imagine a world without HRD’s role in onboarding people into new roles.
And yet, I have grave concerns whether HRD has proven to be vital in developing organizations. For so many of the projects I’ve undertaken under the auspices of HRD I’ve felt the business (needs) to be somewhat remote at best. And vice-versa, whenever I’ve been able to work with the C-suite’s support we’ve been able to achieve measurable results and impact.

Maybe HRD at its current level of maturity is obsolete. And maybe, like a Phoenix, something new will rise from its ashes when/if it’s struck from the org-chart in reinvented organizations. I, for one, sincerely hope so. I have far too much love for my work in HRD to watch it fizzle out without a fight for relevance and a viable role in tomorrow’s new world of work.