Applications of neuroscience

One of the most important developments in HRD in recent times is the application of neuroscience (or ‘brain science’) to the field. It is generally considered that the left part (or hemisphere) of the brain deals with things like language processing and linear thinking whilst the right part of the brain specializes in our emotional make-up, our visual-spatial reasoning and how we deal with our experiences. For the L & D professional it is increasingly the case that an understanding of neuroscience and its applications is becoming a priority to ensure that the best decisions are made about learning provision.

Understanding how people learn has always been important in both the design and delivery of learning interventions, whether in the early days of training, or more recently as L & D tools have developed and become digitalized. Much of our understanding of how the brain works comes from the fields of psychology' (and to some extent education) as well as physiology'. Through studies of the brain, we are able to consider the learning process in new ways and analyze how a person’s attitudes to acquiring new knowledge and skills are impacted by the way the brain operates. Physiological as well as behavioural, cognitive, and social considerations are all at play therefore when looking at how best to offer learning interventions. Where learning provision has to cover a wide range of age groups in the workforce, understanding how this might contrast for different age groups becomes of particular importance.

An early interest in how the brain works has become a main area of focus and research. Collins (2019) suggests that it is very' important that L & D professionals know and understand such applications in their role of helping to change behaviours, increase knowledge, and improve skills. For example, certain specialisms such as coaching (and mentoring) are now using neuroscience applications to enable coaches to help their clients understand how they are thinking and feeling, and the impact this has on their behaviour. Often one of the main reasons coaching is offered is to ensure that behavioural change occurs (Brown and Brown, 2012). They describe our neurochemistry as being created by our experience, which in turn determines our behaviour and constructs the essence of the person. In the coaching world,‘changing the coachee’s brain’ may sound grandiose, but it is actually where applications of neuroscience can be used effectively. Understanding the concept of emotional intelligence (El) and how this might impact on the way a manager performs and is accepted by his/her staff is another application of neuroscience. This however requires the coach to be trained in this field.

These issues are explored in more detail in Chapter 6.

Inclusion and diversity in the learning and development process

Within the fields of both HRM and HRD discrimination within employment and its associated areas, including employee development, has become a key area of concern despite over 40 years of established legislation to prevent this occurring in the workplace and beyond. Discrimination occurs because someone is treated unfairly because of who they are. In the UK, under the terms of the Equality Act 2010, employees are protected from discrimination at work and employers are required to create equal opportunities and ensure that good working relationships are developed between different categories of people.

Country-specific frameworks of employment law are a key factor in how organizations deliver not only their learning and development activities but also how employment opportunities are offered and managed. Employers are required to ensure that staff are treated fairly and equally, and that opportunities for development are made available across a range of activities depending on requirements.

This strong focus on inclusion and diversity means that both employers and their staff need to be aware of the legal obligations facing them with regard to how such agendas are delivered. Taylor (2018) argues that fairness should be a major criterion when judging or evaluating resourcing policies, interventions, and decisions around all HR practices. Employers seeking to maximize employee performance and gain credit as being fair and equal in their provision will need therefore to ensure that all legal requirements are filled.

In Chapter 5 we explore these concepts further, with particular reference to age discrimination and how this might be dealt with in a multigenerational workforce. Given recent political events with the growth of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaigns across the globe, no one can ignore the importance of this topic in the workplace.

The professionalization of HRD and role of the professional bodies

A further factor which has influenced the development of HRD as a specialist function within organizations has been the process of its professionalization. Professions are generally defined by their specialization, their technical base, their assertion of an exclusive jurisdiction linked to skills and training, and their agreement to work to a set of norms or practice (Wilensky, 1964). Within each profession an overseeing body is responsible for setting and monitoring standards of operation and enforcing the application of ethical codes of practice as a rule of membership. HRD and HRM specialists have for some time struggled towards acceptance as belonging to a ‘profession’ where standards of operation are recognized and set, a clear body of knowledge supports and underpins practice, and peers provide recognition and acceptance of value. Developments within the field of HRD have been influenced greatly by the work of several country-specific professional bodies, not least the SHRM in the USA and the CIPD in the UK. In Asia Pacific the Institute for Human Resource Professionals (IHRP) in Singapore and the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) have also been at the forefront of developments in these locations. Both the CIPD and the SHRM now have global reach and offer programmes of study and qualification across centres in many parts of the world. Such expansion is an indication of the growing recognition globally of the value of those working in the field of HRD being qualified in their area of operation. Currently both bodies offer routes to membership by examination including offering specialisms within the learning and development arena different from more generalist HRM subjects. Their professional ‘route maps’ specify skills and knowledge requirements for membership and continual professional development (CPD).These route maps define not only the knowledge and behaviours required but also the inherent values needed by the people professional to challenge the status quo and really be able to both support and undertake change within their employing organizations. As the field of HRD has grown and expanded, subjects such as talent management and organization design and development have become specialist areas of study and research. For those working in the field of learning and development, choices can therefore be made around subjects which will provide professional recognition but also offer insights into specialist topics, and therefore their own development in these areas.

A survey by the CIPD (2018b) of almost 1,000 people professionals in the UK and Ireland suggests the use of the term ‘people profession’ to reflect the wide range of specialisms which now make up the HRD/HRM field including HR, L & D, OD, and organizational change. This research found that those working in the industry have a strong sense of meaning in their work. Such meaning can be personal as well as professional and ensures that people working in the field have a positive impact on peoples’ working lives. The survey found that having experience outside the HR profession was useful in terms of promotion opportunities. However, almost 40% of respondents indicated that they felt over qualified for the role they currently filled. The survey findings also indicated that many respondents experienced ethical conflicts with the business priorities they are expected to pursue. That said, many expressed their ‘professional courage’ to uphold their professional values. Being professional and professionally qualified in the HRD role therefore remains a key priority for many who work in that arena; having membership of a professional body will help to maintain standards and provide a source of advice and guidance.

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