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Understanding HR’s relationship with L&D: Collaboration, differences and skillsets

When it comes to the workplace awards season, it’s pretty easy for HR to make a clean sweep while L&D’s role as best supporting function gets overlooked. In a lot of businesses, the L&D team either sits within HR or it doesn’t even exist, leaving HR to plough ahead alone. In others, HR and L&D are completely separate, they barely communicate despite the fact they’ll often work towards the same goals or projects. 

Why does this even matter? Well, L&D and HR often get used and treated as if they’re interchangeable, but they each have their own skills, specialisms and specific goals. And if they’re to work together in harmony, it’s important to understand all of this…

The skillset of an L&D professional 

Just because you’re great at tennis, it doesn’t mean you’ll start smashing out home runs if you step onto a baseball field. Sure, there might be a little transfer from the hand-eye coordination and the general gist of hitting a ball, but they’re vastly different disciplines.

And it’s a common trap people fall into when it comes to HR and L&D. Sure, they’re both involved in onboarding and training, but while an HR expert would be skilled in finding and retaining talent, the L&D pro gives them the tools to perform their role more effectively. This involves being able to spot learning or skill gaps, crafting the right courses and content, and executing the strategy that helps close them. It’s not a glove that an HR professional can easily slip on…

That’s not to say someone in L&D’s digits would be any more dainty if they tried to step into managing payroll, employee records or the benefits program. In a long-winded way (filled with hand-heavy analogies apparently), this is your reminder that HR and L&D work towards the same goal of people development, but their roles and responsibilities can differ greatly.

What about the small teams where one person does it all?

That’s a fair question! When an employee sits somewhere between L&D and HR, they’ll need to think like both sides of the aisle at different times but they’ll still encounter similar issues. It’s more a case of working out where their time is best spent and the skills they lack. 

If they’re from a traditional HR background, they might choose to manage payroll internally but outsource all their learning content to a third party. After a while, they might realise that their overall business goals would be better supported by more personalised learning that’s produced in-house. They need to be pragmatic when it comes to which hat they wear and where they spend more of their time.

What happens when HR exists without L&D? 

It’s no wonder that people talk about skills like a currency and valuable commodity because there’s often a supply and demand dilemma. The availability of skills is a concern for a lot of business leaders. HR is great at finding new people to bring in those skills, but they’re not necessarily experts when it comes to helping existing employees develop the required talents. 

You’ll notice this in companies that follow the traditional model. Without dedicated L&D staff, HR probably manage the logistics of any course you agree you’ll attend with your manager. Those tried and trusted methods are exactly why learning innovation is key. When new skills are needed it’s L&D’s time to shine! To find learning solutions that offer more than a top-down LMS, to upskill rather than always hiring, to work out how people best learn and help deliver that.

Should they exist as separate departments?

Something that can frustrate L&D teams is when they exist in or are perceived as an HR function. Although they have those shared goals, this can create a situation where HR is the middleman between the L&D team and those leading the business. That makes it more difficult to understand the wider goals, the challenges of reaching them and where L&D plays its part. Otherwise, planning and goal setting is constantly filtered through the HR department.

It’s more about both aspects being perceived as equals, and L&D being seen as a partner rather than an order taker. People development works best when the two work together, to achieve those employee satisfaction, development and ROI goals. But they need the space to set their own goals and objectives, otherwise, it’s much harder to understand the value and impact of either. But with L&D often viewed as the younger sibling, it’s an issue that affects that team more commonly.

Becoming profit centres

It’s not just goals they share, it’s challenges too! Most notably that they’re both often viewed as cost centres, not value or profit centres. That’s one of the key reasons they should have the capability to speak with leaders independently. To understand the wider goals, so they can ask the right questions and understand how they’ll align with those objectives.

If the goal is to become a partner, it’s important that either department presents how they’ll support various projects and goals, but more importantly, to outline how they’ll measure that ahead of time. Clear plans, clear goals and a clear view of L&D and HR’s impact on the bottom line.

Communication and collaboration between HR and L&D

Don’t things just run so much better when we speak often and transparently? Most of us have been in a situation where we end up working on the same thing as someone else without realising or talking to each other. That’s an incredibly unproductive and ineffective situation you want to avoid when it comes to HR and L&D.

If your HR department is carrying out annual or quarterly reviews, those findings are invaluable for L&D teams when it comes to developing courses and content. When the L&D team measures the skill gap or gains insights around employee aspirations through learning, those would be a big help to HR colleagues and the business leaders. There’s countless examples like this, where each department can scratch each other’s back!

It’s a similar situation when it comes to data! Your HR system needs to speak with your learning platform because that’s how you create a more rounded and insightful picture of employees based on data. Imagine there’s a course that has to be completed six months after you join the company, having that juicy HR data around start dates helps you automate all of that in your learning platform.

How can you find the right learning platform that integrates with your HR system and other tech? By checking out this guide to building a HR tech stack

9 tools for a winning HR tech stack