It's time L&D and HR "woke up"

A panel at Talent Gathering Scotland debated the future of HR and L&D

L&D and HR are committing “slow suicide” and “it’s time we woke up and focused on real competences and real people”, according to Donald Clark, CEO of AI learning system WildFire Learning.

As part of a panel debate at the inaugural Talent Gathering Scotland, Clark spoke about the future of the two functions.

He blamed their demise on the shift to HR “suddenly becoming the department that was protecting the employer against its own employees, which is happening more and more”. When this shift occurred, he said, HR and L&D became responsible for “massive dollops of compliance training” that “don’t work”, pointing to research that shows the inefficacy of diversity training in particular.

Clark went on to rubbish unconscious bias training, as well as leadership development. “When you deliver your unconscious bias training and you probe your employees’ unconscious and accuse them of being racist – what on earth are you playing at? It doesn’t help. Often it’s accusatory and counterproductive,” he said.

He argued that organisations should ditch this type of training altogether and focus on “nudges, management techniques and recruitment”.

Co-organiser Dave Buglass, founder of Claymore People Consulting and also speaking on the panel, welcomed Clark’s candour and said that HR needs to be more commercial and focus on the skills necessary to revive the function in future; such as storytelling and marketing.

“HR has a massive opportunity to be the storyteller and tell the amazing stories in the organisation. HR has to be more like marketers than the compliance police,” he said.

While fellow keynote speaker and panellist Karen Henderson, global head of talent development at analytics firm Verisk, agreed with some of what Clark said, she countered that: “L&D is imperative. It’s not going to die."

"We know that people looking for employment are looking to be developed," she said. "So if you want to be competitive you need to develop your people. And we need leaders, even if just thought leaders. But it’s true that we’ve got to reinvent ourselves. Almost everybody in this room is agreed on that.”

Henderson added that L&D professionals are energised to change but don’t know how.

“We’re stuck in the quagmire,” she said. “We are always so caught up in helping others retrain and redevelop but we are not putting enough emphasis on ourselves. We’re not looking inwardly enough at ourselves and the skills for the future that we need to develop; like marketing and internal communications. We’ve got to learn to excite people to want to learn, not just serve it up.”

While being “inclined to agree” with Clark’s point about the problems originating from a shift to HR as protector, Henderson disagreed with his dismissal of training, particularly of unconscious bias training.

“I’ve seen real ‘a-ha’ moments in that training. I’ve seen executives say they didn’t realise they were so badly biased and adjust the way they operate. If people have these wake-up moments then that is good enough for me,” she said.