April 04, 2020

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What Is Human Resource Development (HRD)? Definition, Functions, and Best Practices for Training Program - HR Technologist

A keen focus on human resource development is essential in the current dynamic business environment, where companies must acquire, retain, and develop top talent. In this primer on human resource development, we tell you what the concept means, best practices and tools to strategize, and a quick checklist to get started in 2020.

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Table of Contents


What Is Human Resource Development?

The term human resource development was first coined in 1969, referring to the training, education, and development of the workforce. It aimed to bridge the gap between school-level education and workplace requirements.

Depending on the median educational qualification available in your region, and the day-to-day requirements of work, the definition of human resource development can vary widely.

For example, a plan to amplify people's potential for a startup in Silicon Valley will look very different from a human resource development program designed for a large factory in China.

In the early days, HRD would involve rigorous hands-on training focused on the acquisition of hard skills. Today, the picture is different.

The skills profile of top-tier talent is highly layered, comprising a mix of hard and soft skills. HR must pay equal attention to these areas of human resource development to bring out an employee's full potential.

In addition, strategies to improve culture and build a work environment conducive to upskilling and self-development also come under HRD. A data-driven mindset might also prove useful, allowing HR to measure learning performance and dynamically update performance benchmarks.

For these reasons, we recommend an agile approach when defining human resource development for your company, keeping in mind your organization's unique needs and its potential to grow.

Learn More: What Is Learning and Development (L&D)? Definition, Objectives, and Best Practices for Strategy

5 Key Functions of Human Resource Development

There are five formal human resource development functions in an HR department:

1. Strategic talent sourcing and acquisition


The first step to enhancing your human capital is to spot and onboard the right talent. The best candidates may not always have the most experience or the highest number of qualifications. However, they can be good culture adds to your organization.

A careful mix of soft skills, personality, and potential will determine talent sourcing, and in turn, the effectiveness of human resource development.

Right from the onboarding stage, HR begins to equip the employee with the knowledge required to succeed during the employee's tenure in the organization.

2. Education-oriented employee benefits


A benefits package focused on human resource development will include sponsorships for adult education, assistance for tuition fees, flexible hours for those continuing their learning outside of college, and so on.

For example, the Starbucks College Achievement Plan provides U.S. employees with tuition coverage for specific universities and degrees. DHL offers a similar benefit in the form of tuition reimbursement for employees applying for online college degrees.

The functions of human resource development

Fig 1. The functions of human resource development

3. Performance measurement and management


Performance management is at the heart of human resource development. Employees may not always be able to take time out for learning sessions and online courses, which is where a strength-focused performance management model kicks in.

Managers regularly review employee performance and share inspiring/coaching feedback. Employees then focus on improving performance, incrementally improving their capabilities. Such a structure requires agility to prove useful.

4. Formal learning and development programs


To complement managers' efforts, you can offer learning and development sessions to close specific skills gaps. This must factor in company needs on the one hand and the employee's personal ambitions on the other.

Let's say an employee with leadership potential is interested in the marketing domain. You can assign a learning track that develops both these skill sets and gradually helps the employee transition into the marketing department where they can learn the ropes before taking on that leadership role.

5. Internal mobility and succession planning


An effective human resource development program will ensure that every employee finds the best-fit job within the organization, in sync with their desires and capabilities.

Internal mobility supports lateral transitions, while a succession plan focuses on developing future leaders. Once again, internal mobility and succession planning must be supported by hard and soft skills training, respectively.

Interestingly, HRD also takes place informally. Unstructured interactions such as informal mentorships and on-the-job collaboration can go a long way in strengthening employee capabilities. However, having a structured, measurable program in place is essential to the success of a human resource development program.

Learn More: How is Human Resources Evolving with Technology?

How to Start a Human Resource Development Program

The many functions of human resource development require several stakeholders from outside the HR department. That's why launching the program could seem like an effort- and time-intensive task.

Here is a quick breakdown of steps that could streamline the process:

1. Assess internal and external talent potential


Take stock of your existing workforce and the available talent pool in your domain and region. Estimate hiring timelines for expanding the workforce and launching the program. To do this, you can use  HR analytics. Based on the data the analytics engine has, it can identify the potential of each employee and help you develop training programs accordingly.

2. Map human resource training and development objectives


Make sure to include both near- and long-term objectives in this step. These objectives could range from upskilling for a project that must be closed in one month to making your workforce more resilient to ongoing digital transformation. Collaborate with the different stakeholders needed to create this employee career development program – for instance, department heads and team leaders.

3. Identify the resources need for training and development


What are the tools, resources, time, and external assistance you need to meet the objectives mapped out in the previous step? Carefully outline these processes to build a sequential strategy that clearly defines the expected outcomes.

4. Speak to stakeholders and obtain buy-in


This could include buy-in from the CEO for high-level business targets, from the CIO for digital tools and implementation, from the CFO for budget approval, the CHRO to hire external consultants if required, and the like.

5. Communicate with on-ground execution managers


The program will be primarily executed by team leaders, business unit heads, and learning practitioners. Conduct workshops with these individuals beforehand to convey the intended objectives of learning and the approach that will be adopted. Ensure that you adapt the plan based on feedback.

6. Launch the program and review it at regular intervals:


After a specific interval (a robust HRD program will take time to show tangible results), conduct an evaluation.

  • What are the program's strengths and weaknesses?
  • Is the cost-to-benefit ratio in your favor?
  • Should the plan have a wider deployment?


Review these parameters and relaunch the program after accommodating this feedback.

These are some of the foundational steps to start a human resource development program, no matter what your intended vision might be. Let's now look at a set of best practices that can help HR across industries to develop their human capital better.

Learn More: Top 8 Best Practices for Employee Cross-Training  

8 Best Practices for Human Resource Training and Development

There are several ways to make sure that your human resource training and development strategy hits the mark.

We specifically mention the training here because on-the-job training is pivotal to developing employee capabilities in nearly every field. Whether you run a manufacturing plant or supervise an educational institution, whether your company makes softballs or software platforms, the workforce must be adequately trained to produce the expected output.

To achieve this, follow these best practices:

1. Assign human resource development owners


The best strategies can fall flat if there is no ownership for execution. That's why companies must set specific key performance indicators (KPIs) for training, development, and performance, with process owners who are tasked with improving these metrics. These individuals may be L&D practitioners in the organization, team leaders, line managers, and the like.

2. Contain attrition among trained workers by focusing on engagement


Human resource training and development involves significant investment per employee, which becomes redundant when a highly trained resource leaves the organization. This is where focusing on ancillary HR functions such as employee engagement, recognition, and culture-building can help prevent employee attrition.

3. Use rewards and recognition to incentivize learning


Recognition is closely linked with employee retention and therefore helps to contain attrition in your workforce. Rewards for course completion and superior performance can also motivate employees further.

4. Coordinate pan-organizational development


Training and development tracks in different departments/business units should not be planned independently of each other. A centralized approach that keeps in mind the progress each department is making can enable the HRD program to meet the company's shared vision and purpose.

5. Link career progression to development


Career progression shouldn't entirely depend on the length of an employee's tenure. After training and development sessions, if an employee is seen to be an exceptional performer, you can develop a personalized career progression track for them.

6. Initiate human resource training and development from day 1


You can work together with the recruitment team to embed training into the onboarding experience. This will give new employees an understanding of your continuous learning culture, making later-stage training much easier.

7. Avoid a cookie-cutter training and development journey


One of the most significant transformations in human resource development is the emerging need for personalization. Today, employees are aware of their unique capabilities, which demand personalized and adaptive learning methodologies. Here's where corporate eLearning software can help.

8. Make the development transferable


A formal human resource development program should offer certifications, micro-credentials, and even digital badges upon completion. These achievements are transferable to other jobs outside the organization and can encourage employees to fast-track the learning process.

These are some of the best practices that can strengthen your human resource development strategy and make your training initiatives genuinely stick.

Learn More: 4 Ways to Make Your Employee Training Program Ready for 2020

4 Software Tools to Support Your Human Resource Development Program

The HR technology landscape is continuously growing, including learning and development tech. Several of these tools can prove useful to develop a company's employee potential. So, consider the following platforms when outlining your HRD strategy for 2020:

1. A job shadow enablement software like Grandshake


Nearly 70% of all learning happens via on-the-job experiences. That's why job shadowing and apprenticeship have traditionally been integral to human resource development.

Now, platforms like Grandshake are taking it one step further.

You can connect with local schools and educational organizations, you can engage with the "shadowee" and screen applications through video resumes, and you can improve performance through the in-platform feedback loop.

2. A workforce analytics platform like Cognisess


Workforce analytics can reveal valuable insights into your human resource potential, future possibilities, and next-best actions to boost performance. Analytics is now critical for human resource development programs, which is why solutions like Cognisess have rapidly gained traction.

Cognisess Pro is a predictive people analytics platform that has 50+ assessments to measure 120+ performance attributes. It uses AI to bypass the risk of bias/subjectivity, maximizing the value of your people assets.

3. A career pathing and internal mobility tool like Paddle


In a large workforce, hidden employee potential can go unnoticed. Your human resource development program should be able to tap into such capabilities to optimize resource utilization in your company. A tool like Paddle can match employees with the right role, improving overall productivity.

Paddle is an AI-powered tool for career pathing and internal mobility streamlining. It has a repository of learning materials to support transitions. The tool's AI can analyze employee skill sets and career histories to recommend the most suitable career path.

4. A multi-device e-learning authoring solution like Gomo


Your e-learning platform must combine multi-device delivery for convenient, personalized learning experiences with advanced analytics on employee progress. Gomo has two modules: Authoring for e-learning content generation and Delivery & Analytics to track consumption on multiple devices.

Gomo is a no-installation SaaS product that's easy to use, reducing the time-to-value from your human resource development program. It is used by the likes of Vodafone, Sony, and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Learn More: How to Improve Employee Training With Learning Software

Looking Forward: Which Areas of Human Resource Development Demand Attention in 2020?

The definition of human resource development concept covers a broad spectrum.

With so many areas and functions to address, it can be challenging to prioritize those that demand the most attention. Fortunately, predictive analytics tools can highlight which organization-specific areas of human resource development should rank the highest on your checklist for every quarter/year.

Apart from this, it is a good idea to keep an eye on the latest HR trends and map your HRD program to global benchmarks to gain a competitive advantage.

For 2020, we recommend a keen focus on the following areas:

  • Shedding legacy practices: Three out of five HR leaders fear irrelevance in 2020 if the HR function doesn't embrace modernization, as per KPMG's survey of 1,300 HR leaders.
  • Establishing a culture framework: 61% of respondents in the survey we cited are in the process of changing their culture. In 2020, HR professionals will need an established framework to align culture to continuous training and development.
  • Preparing for artificial intelligence (AI): Targeted human resource training and development to mitigate the challenges brought on by AI is vital in 2020. 56% of respondents in the KPMG survey agree on this issue.


Remember, a human resource development program isn't set in stone. In essence, feedback from execution managers, realigning the program based on performance and learning analytics, and finally, incorporating global trends in HR will be the way forward in the execution of a successful HRD program.

Are you ready to design a human resource development strategy that's suited to your company?

What does your human resource development program for 2020 look like? Tell us on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter.

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