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Embedding a learning culture into the everyday life of the organisation

Eve Poole , 19 Oct 2010

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Learning and development is an essential element of any successful organisation, but is often seen as the preserve of L&D and HR professionals. To coincide with the launch of the HR Most Influential rankings, Eve Poole from Ashridge looks at the advantages of embedding a learning culture into everyday organisational life.

I teach part of the HR syllabus on the Ashridge MBA, and I suppose the ‘patron saint’ of modern HR is Dave Ulrich. His famous matrix maps the world of evolved HR onto four key roles: HR as administrative expert, employee champion, strategic partner, and change agent. As a function, HR has morphed through its incarnations as payroll/welfare/IR and personnel, to become human resources/human capital, or a similar strategic and proactive title, and many HR departments now use Ulrich’s language to describe and structure their work. The elevation of HR from admin to strategy, and the increased automation of many basic HR tasks, has led to the wholesale devolution of much day-to-day HR to the line, supplemented by ‘HR partners’ for second-line support.

However, this shift may be having a level of unintended negative effect on organisational learning. This is because, particularly in ‘people’ businesses, L&D is seen as a key plank in delivering the talent strategy. L&D is therefore reserved as a strategic activity to the central HR function. However, the problem with reserving anything to the centre is that it can let the rest of the organisation off the hook. In the same way that the CSR community have realised that CSR is more likely to percolate through an organisation’s entire operation if it is ‘owned’ by the line as well as by the centre, there is a risk that centralised L&D can (accidentally) send a message to the line that this activity is already taken care of on their behalf. This can limit, or at least slow down, L&D’s organisational reach…

Eve Poole is the deputy director of the Ashridge Public Leadership Centre. To read more on her thoughts on putting learning and development into the DNA of a business, click here

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