Does L&D belong in HR?

That was the topic of last week’s Learning Cafe in Sydney It was a very interesting  discussion. Here are some of the takeaways :

Ryan Tracey

In short, my esteemed peers and I agreed on “yes”, but that’s not the end of the story. Allow me to explain… According to one school of thought, L&D belongs in HR because that’s how you achieve scale. The fundamental learning and development needs in the organisation (eg leadership, culture and change) are enterprise-wide. So it makes sense to centralise their management. According to another school of thought, however, the needs of the business are so diverse and unique that a central L&D team could never hope to keep abreast of them all – let alone address them effectively. So it makes sense to embed L&D professionals into the teams to manage the learning in its context. Of course, both POVs are right. Whether L&D should be centralised in HR or distributed throughout the business is not a binary proposition. A true learning organisation needs both. Having said that, how the organisation implements the two is important. There’s no point having an ivory tower bestowing empty training interventions upon the masses; and conversely, there’s no point having an army of hermits toiling away in isolation. What’s required is a partnership: L&D people across the organisation consulting and collaborating with each other – and with the business – to generate the right solutions for everyone.

Read the post on Ryan’s Blog

Peter Davis

The business will drive activity, capability or functionality into where it sees opportunities to improves productivity, performance, revenue generation. It won’t wait for and L&D function to fill those gaps which it could if it broadened its current perspective from training to performance improvement. The risk for L&D is that it will remain a “training provider” subject to the same lack of organisational power and cost cutting measures that have hindered and frustrated it for so long.

Jeevan Joshi

Of the two views, L&D under HR is the predominant view at the moment. However there is a growing view that learning specially for performance support  is “business as usual” and should sit under he business or operations. Learning partners belonging to the L&D function but embedded the  business is becoming more commonplace.

L&D is different from the other HR functions in that it potentially touches every employee ever working day. It works with employees rather than work on them i.e learning is less about “counting” (how much money is paid in salary or days lost due to injury or turnover) and more about improving performance. The day to day impact also applies to Performance Management which unfortunately is restricted to  twice a year appraisal exercise. The day to day impact, the need for L&D  to be cost concious and match the speed of business will see the L&D get closer to business.

This a topic that has a lot more to it than can be covered over one cup of coffee. Watch out for more posts on this topic.


  1. Placement of L&D is debatable and is very much about the nature of the organisation, and also it’s leadership at a given time. So, to throw in a further consideration . . .

    There is not too much argument against the statement that human resources are an organisations most valuable asset and, from that perspective, the HR function needs to be strategic. But think about the two distinct things that HR and an L&D function within it does. On one hand there is typically a whole lot of operational stuff that goes on. Much of this is transactional in nature and examples are payroll, leave and OHS processing from a HR perspective and scheduling learning activities, managing facilitators and venues from an L&D perspective.

    On the other hand, HR typically has a clear strategic role in the form of (for example) workforce planning, remuneration planning and organisational development. But usually, any strategy development present in many L&D functions is overshadowed by transactional activity and it needs to be separated a provided with some breathing space.

    To decentralise the transactional L&D function could be an expensive option due to the potential for work duplication. But to centralise the transactional aspects of L&D along with the transactional aspects of HR work could, for many organisations, be highly effective as a “service centre” model – called something along the lines of “HR Service Centre”.

    To decentralise the strategic HR functions (as mentioned) along with the strategic aspects of L&D could lead to fragmentation of effort in an area when organisation-wide considerations are vital.

    When it comes to the development of performance support interventions (opposed to structured/formal learning) – well, this is clearly a business function.

    How this is managed is very much how the different characteristics (perhaps culture) of each organisation to play out, what is palatable and so on, but generally speaking for me it’s a centralised strategic function that sits either as a separate division called something like “People Capability” or as a sub-group (similar title) within an overall Group Strategic function but with strong links to and within the business.

  2. I think the ultimate is a hybrid.
    Centralize the strategy , approach, governance and delivery. Put the rest out into the business.
    Or in other words centrally control the how and the why, put out into the business the what, the when,and the who. Enable the system as a whole to create reporting of leading and lagging indicators for executive to exercise command and control.
    Rob Bartlett

  3. My organisation just went through this. Our Training & Dev dept was disolved when our manager left and there was considerable discussion about whether we should become part of HR or Ops Div. We are now under Ops Div. Most of the training iniatitives are related to Operations’ projects, and, as Rob Bartlett pointed out to me on Twitter, we’re “closer” to the performance problems there. It was feared that we would be “out of the communications loop” (i.e., not invited to meetings) if we were in HR. HR seems to be seen as the area we turn to when there are people problems (“performance management”).

    While going through this change, I’ve asked that we take this opportunity to move from being labelled a “Training Dept” to performance support area. I would like to see us move from being solution-oriented (“we create training programs & procedures manuals) to cause-orientated (“we provide performance support – using human performance technology”). We’ll see what happens there…

  4. Rob, that makes sense to me.

    Trish, I think thre’s a lot to be said from shifting the mindset from “training” to “performance support”. Bob Spence for one is a fan of changing the name of the function to Performance Support or similar.

  5. Trish that is an interesting situation you are in. Mike Collins will be writing the blog “Learning Cuppa from the UK” and his first blog is about how the Institute of Training is renaming itself to become the Learning & Performance Institute. Watch out for Mike’s blog.

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