Nancy O. Berger

Virginia Commonwealth University, USA

Keywords: Planning, Strategies, Methodologies,Technology.


1. Introduction to Planning Strategies for HRD

2. Needs Assessment in HRD

3. Human Resource Development Objectives

4. Human Resource Development Activities

5. Resource Requirements for HRD

6. Human Resource Development Plans

7. Essential Elements of Strategic Planning For HRD

Related Chapters



Biographical Sketch

2. Needs Assessment in HRD   

The first article deals with needs assessment for HRD. HRD needs assessment is an investigative process whose purpose is to connect an organization’s performance problems or opportunities for performance improvement to specific HRD interventions. In simple terms it is a systematic process for identifying the gap between a current level of performance, or "what is", and a desired level of performance, "what should be".

2.1. What Are Needs?

The term "need" can be somewhat ambiguous. What one person considers a need, another may consider a want or desire, leading to the terms "felt" and "actual" needs. In some cases, felt needs are actually symptoms of deeper actual needs. For example, a group of employees expresses a felt need for stress management training. Upon investigation, however, the actual need may be to ameliorate or eliminate the sources of stress, such as noise, inefficient work processes, or ineffective supervisory practices.

2.2. Purpose and Levels of Needs Assessment

A comprehensive needs assessment provides a systematic way to research performance gaps, which can then provide substance and direction for strategic HRD planning, including the identification of performance improvement initiatives that are likely to provide the best return on HRD investments. Training needs assessments, for example, can determine levels of optimal performance and standards for excellence, evidence of individuals’ actual performance levels, attitudes affecting performance, and root causes of performance problems. Although the needs assessment process is often skipped or cut short, for a variety of reasons, a well-researched needs assessment can help avoid wasted time, effort, and money. As Drucker has pointed out, "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all."

The type of information needed affects the focus of a needs assessment. Needs within an organization may be assessed at a high strategic level, a departmental or functional level, a team or group level, or at the individual level. The organization’s performance within the context of the wider society might also serve as the focus of a needs assessment. Choosing an appropriate level of assessment is critical to the resulting analysis.

2.3. Steps and Methodologies

Berger provides suggestions for framing the needs assessment process, based on three elements: organization characteristics, decision-maker characteristics, and analyst characteristics. Numerous needs assessment models exist, and include steps such as the following:

  1. Define the goals/objectives of the assessment.
  2. Develop an initial plan.
  3. Gain management commitment.
  4. Identify the data needed.
  5. Identify sources of data.
  6. Select the most appropriate methodologies for the assessment.
  7. Collect the data.
  8. Analyze the results.
  9. Resolve disagreements in interpretation of the results.
  10. Prioritize the needs.
  11. Compile and present your findings.

Techniques for data collection may include observation, surveys or questionnaires, one-on-one interviews, phone interviews, focus groups, tests, analysis of existing performance data, job and task analysis, critical incident surveys, and reviews of professional literature, conference reports and other benchmarking sources.

2.4. The Link to Evaluation

Needs assessment is the first step of a planned performance improvement cycle. The results of the needs assessment can be used as the basis for evaluating the outcomes of the HRD initiative: Were the needs identified in the needs assessment satisfied as a result of the HRD initiative? Since evaluation frequently uncovers new needs that must be analyzed, the evaluation step often leads back to the beginning of the cycle, and so the cycle continues.

2.5. Guidelines

Some of the guidelines for carrying out an effective needs assessment include:

Finally, when assessing needs, consider not only performance as observed in the past, but also future performance needs.

3. HRD Objectives   

In the second article, Bates introduces the topic of HRD objectives by noting that the multidisciplinary and somewhat nebulous nature of the field of HRD implies a wide, complex range of objectives and activities. At the same time, HRD must be flexible enough to meet the needs of a rapidly changing economic and social environment. How can we visualize and make sense out of this broad scope of objectives?

3.1. A Conceptual Framework for HRD Objectives

Bates presents a framework to help capture and illustrate the dynamic nature of HRD objectives. He suggests two different kinds of HRD objectives, those related to change and those related to maintenance. Each type of objective encompasses four levels of objectives: individual, critical performance subsystem, process, and mission. The framework illustrates the interdependent and mutually reinforcing aspects of HRD objectives. By enhancing learning and human potential, we create high performance work systems, which in turn contribute to sustainable human development. Sustainable human development is a fundamental objective of HRD because it makes future improvements in learning, human potential and work system performance possible.

The following is a brief summary of the elements of this framework. First, change objectives focus on improving the functioning of work systems, including methods, processes, and system and sub-system interfaces, as well as developing new systems. Maintenance objectives, on the other hand, serve the purpose of preserving the functioning of the work system, and may include analysis of the operation of subsystems, interventions to control operations, troubleshooting to identify causes of malfunctions, and so on. Both change and maintenance objectives contribute to sustaining and improving work system performance.

HRD objectives at the individual level are meant to enable individuals within a work environment to improve their contributions to the overall system performance. Critical performance subsystem objectives focus on work teams, production units and other internal sub-systems that contribute to the overall mission of the work system. At the process level, objectives focus on improving the way in which work gets done by considering sets of interconnected work activities or processes that produce a product or service. Mission level objectives focus on the relationship between HRD, work system goals, and the work system's external environment. All lower level objectives should be developed and carried out in ways that support these guiding objectives.

3.2. Key Mission-Level HRD Objectives

According to Bates, two mission-level objectives should guide HRD practice. The first objective emphasizes HRD as a strategic asset. HRD objectives should address the long-term performance goals of the organization and help ensure that those goals are met. The second mission-level objective is to enhance learning, human potential and high performance in work systems in ways that contribute to sustainable human development. These two objectives demonstrate that HRD as a field of practice is concerned not only with "what is", but more importantly, with "what should be," and as such, HRD is a normative endeavor. HRD, because of its unique capabilities, can and should play a leading role in solving human and organizational problems while also providing leadership for efforts to develop a sustainable future.

4. Human Resource Development Activities   

In this article Sofo discusses HRD activities within three broad functions: training, development, and education. HRD activities vary by level (individuals, groups, teams, communities, nations, worldwide organizations), function (type of learning involved from very simple to very complex), and timeframe (from a few minutes to several years). Despite dramatic differences, all HRD activities have at least two things in common: 1) HRD activities are all directed towards learning and change; and 2) HRD activities are directed at people, either individuals or groups of different sizes ranging from small teams to national and even global audiences. HRD activities can be deliberate or spontaneous. Learning, as described by the Learning Declaration Group, can be both enjoyable and painful; formal and informal; and a cause and a consequence of change. Learning requires questioning, listening, challenging and inquiring; becomes more effective when it is self-managed; and requires policy makers, leaders, facilitators and individuals to support one another to improve the quality of discovery, innovation and insights.

It is important to note that HRD must be aligned to the personality, dynamics, and infrastructure of the entity, reflecting and working with the assumptions of those involved. An imposed HRD philosophy rarely works.

4.1. Machine and Ecological Approaches

Sofo suggests that most HRD activities can be located on a continuum from what he describes as a machine approach to an ecological approach. Within a more machine-oriented environment, HRD requires clear, well-thought-out processes that reflect the ideals and needs of senior decision-makers. Core training functions are likely to be focused on improving efficiency and effectiveness. HRD tends to be a centralized function expected to keep skill levels and competencies on track and aligned with a pre-determined organizational direction. At the other end of the continuum, an ecological approach accepts that individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole are in constant flux. The organization is a living system that cannot be controlled by mechanistic systems. HRD activities focus on engaging more than controlling. People are encouraged to be self-managing, and are assisted in building networks and relationships that will help them perform their jobs. Knowledge is shared with anyone at any time. In reality, organizations may display characteristics of both approaches, although they generally lean toward one end of the continuum more than the other.

4.2. Training for Individual Performance Improvement and Organizational Growth

Training within an organization usually focuses on producing permanent behavior change that leads to improved performance and organizational success. Training is designed to improve both performance in the current job, and eventual mobility from one job to another one. Organizations offer training in diverse ways: in classrooms, on the job, through the internet and intranets, through audio-conferencing, via virtual classroom courses, and so on. Electronic formats for instruction continue to increase. From 1997 to 2000, for example, there was a 95% increase in internet-based training per year.

Despite fears to the contrary, electronic methodologies will not replace classroom training, which is also projected to grow, although much more slowly. Knowledge management initiatives are also increasing in number, and HRD will undoubtedly play a key role as training, information technology, and business re-engineering become more intertwined.

Sofo suggests that those involved in training must work harder to develop a clearer focus on the needs of individuals using a combination of complementary efforts that support learning outside formal training efforts, such as action learning, mentoring, coaching, performance development systems, learning contract, and experiential learning processes. Training must be strongly linked with actual job or life requirements.

Sofo also notes the need to consider both near and far transfer of training issues, in order better to produce improved performance and organizational productivity. He offers tips to improve the transfer of learning during the design, development, and post-course implementation phases of a learning initiative.

Within organizations, HRD is increasingly within the manager's and team leader's responsibilities, rather than being confined to an HRD department’s control. No one best way to develop staff members exists, although commitment from leaders, teams, and individuals helps. HRD professionals are changing their focus from training activities to performance improvement strategies. This mindset shift influences all of the dimensions of HRD activities: function, mission, services, roles of staff, structure, and measures and accountabilities.

One way to look at HRD activities is through the desired outcomes of HRD, many of which are listed in this article. Another is to consider a list of 36 "polarizations" that help us consider the range of activities and approaches used in HRD. A ten-step HRD development process is also recommended.


5. Resource Requirements for HRD

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