Human Resource Development Model and Learning Organizations

Assumptions and goals. Human resource development (HRD) model advocates long-term learning and development to enhance the work-related capacity of individuals, groups and organizations (Watkins and Marsick, 1995). The basic assumption that applies to individuals, groups and organizations is 'development through learning’. Other fundamental assumptions of this approach include:

  • 1. Humans individually and collectively have an infinite capacity to learn and develop,
  • 2. The primary goal of the organization is to provide every opportunity to individual and team learning, and
  • 3. Organizations are successful to the extent that learning is fostered at all levels (Swanson and Holton, 2001).

The most important difference between the human resource model and the human resource development model is the way employees are perceived. In the HR model employees are critical 'resources’ for the bottom line of the organization, whereas the HRD model employees are valued 'for their intrinsic worth as people, not just as resources to achieve outcomes ... Thus, learning and development should be a means to enhance people and their humanness, not to accomplish performance goals’ (Swanson and Holton, 2001, p. 135). Organizational design is similar to that of the previous model: general, flat and loose to foster double-loop learning and development.

Learning organizations fully embrace the assumptions of HRD. In a famous quotation Senge (1990, p. 7) defined learning organization as 'an organization where people continuously expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free and where people are continually learning how to learn together’.

Job design. In learning organizations jobs are not fractionated and routinized. Instead, every effort is made to provide, to the fullest extent feasible, skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and feedback, which will enable the organization to respond effectively to its every changing environment, bringing both new opportunities and challenges. Job design fosters employees’ feeling of empowerment and personal mastery (i.e., sense of expertise, control and contribution). Job design also includes 'autonomous work teams’ - fully responsible not only for the operations of their unit, but also for activities such as: equipment maintenance, purchasing, quality control and even for the selection and training of team members.

Decision-making. Decision-making is similar to that in the human resource model: consultative and participatory; a natural outcome of the model’s recognition that most workers have the capacity to learn, develop and contribute to strategic decisions of the organization. As mentioned above, autonomous work teams have decision-making latitude on operational and strategic matters.

Communication. The unrestricted flow of information facilitating learning and adaptation processes is encouraged. There is a culture of open discussion and dialogue that creates a supportive atmosphere which allows employees to develop their ability to be assertive in advocating their views and ideas, engage in 'active listening’ and have the courage to accept and build on the views and ideas of others when one finds these to be more valid and germane to the situation.

Control of behaviour. The focus is on self-control and self-regulation. This gives employees a real sense of ownership of the job and, as a consequence, increases their stake in and commitment to the job. Employees are expected to have the control and responsibility of their own learning and development, rather than relying solely on organizational resources and guidance for learning.

Rewards. The most important reward is the ultimate achievement of learning and development. Organizational policies and practices to foster learning and development, such as stretch assignments, expatriate assignment, and crossfunctional teamwork are considered rewarding. These opportunities for growth and development are not merely for a climb up the rungs of the hierarchical ladder, but rather to increased autonomy and responsibility.

Managerial role. The manager believes that subordinates seek and are capable of, autonomy and self-control. Therefore, they give them the autonomy and responsibility for the performance of their job tasks. At the same time, the manager coaches and mentors subordinates towards the attainment of the unit objectives. In a learning organization, the leader’s vision is not dictated to or imposed upon the employees; rather, it is internalized by the employees. Such internalization changes the employees’ attitudes, values and behaviour in the direction of the goals, beliefs and values that are inherent in the vision. All the policies and practices of the human resources model are conducive to the internalization of the leader’s vision. However, it is the managerial role that is critical to the process of building as shared vision. As coach and mentor, the manager empowers subordinates as they collaborate with subordinates to clarify roles, establish objectives, provide support and feedback, remove or minimize constraints to effective performance.

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