How can human resources (HR) and L&D strengthen their relationship in the new world of work? At first glance, this is a strange question: Why wouldn’t HR and L&D be completely aligned, on the same side and in complete support of each other?  However, we could ask the same question about sales and marketing. So near and yet so far.

We’re facing dramatic shifts in the world of work, and now is the time to make sure that no resources are wasted as we equip our organizations and our people with the tools they need to navigate them. We’re only just beginning to understand the breadth, depth and complexity of the changes ahead of us.

The Common Denominator

What brings HR and L&D together is a shared need to redefine the skills, behaviors and attitudes that we need from our people in order to achieve business results.

What has changed in terms of what we will need from people in the new world of work?  Right now, it isn’t clear. As a global pandemic shifted work, and life, as we know it, fundamental perceptions about how, where and why people work have been thrown into the air.

For HR, this means it will take longer to create new and fair work structures (e.g., work hours, location, rewards/benefits and contracts).There is likely to be extended negotiations regarding the way people work because, now, they’ve had a glimpse of flexible work arrangements that were previously out of reach.

For L&D, this means that we’re still learning about the implications for leadership, management and other skills — the learning outcomes we want, as well as how L&D is delivered. When virtual training delivery was first tried, it was considered less desirable than its in person counterpart: People missed being in the same room with their trainer and fellow learners. Now, however, most organizations and participants realize that a virtual or blended program can be far more flexible and cost- and time-effective than traditional in person, instructor-led courses.

These evolving factors demand an integrated approach. It will be the HR and L&D leaders and managers who take the organization from its current state and into the future of work. They will already have been involved in far more consultation than ever before as they adapted to the pandemic.  Their role in facilitating discussions about longer term work choices will drive engagement and performance in the future.

Preparing for Transformation

It’s important to take a step back and ask how will we work out what the future workforce needs to look like?

Both HR and L&D play a vital role in ensuring that they don’t just tweak the systems and processes they’re using as needs change. If organizations don’t grasp the challenge (and opportunity) of innovation and progress with both hands they will fall behind. Transform, don’t tweak.

“Transformation” is a big word that’s often used glibly. However, right now, we have the unique situation where nearly all organizations are rethinking their business models.

Consider your own organization: Think about where it was at in early 2020, how it operated and engaged with the market or community. In what ways has that changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic? How were those changes achieved?

It is likely that many well-established ways of working, communicating, leading and managing have changed dramatically since then. Which of the changes will make a positive contribution to future success, in terms of both profitability and culture? What does the future vision look like, and what are the drivers of success that will deliver that? Which leaders and managers have risen to the challenge, and why?

Discovering the answers to these questions, working out the implications, and articulating them to senior leadership, will take considerable work, but are imperative in driving your organization forward.

Moving Forward, Together

Let’s get back to our central question: How can HR and L&D pull together?

To answer this question, we need to recognize what they’ve been through, too, since the start of the COVID-19 crisis: How did the pandemic affect their ways of working and learning? It’s likely that HR leaders faced huge operational pressures, while L&D leaders suffered budget cuts and side-lining. This may have deepened any differences that existed before.

However, the human aspects of work have worked their way to the top of the list of organizational priorities. C-level executives now recognize the importance far more readily of employee well-being, engagement and trust.

This is what brings HR & L&D together: A shared commitment to enabling people to perform their best at work. It’s a great place to start.

Build a Shared Sense of Purpose

There are strong imperatives right now that demand that all functions come together to re-imagine the future of work. HR and L&D can lead this together. Start with the business context and vision, and establish some key principles that leaders can rally around. This is a rare opportunity for HR and L&D to show that they’re aligned and present a united strategy that responds to the needs of the business and its stakeholders.

Many organizations are rethinking their strategic purpose, and both HR and L&D can facilitate the communication of that realignment through the organization, ensuring that consistent messaging runs like a red thread through all interventions. Alongside that, they can take an equally fundamental look at their own work.

Now is not the time to simply tweak old ways of working and learning. Rather, it is a time for generous curiosity, challenging questions and robust debate about what will drive future performance.

What a wonderful opportunity it is for both HR and L&D to be at the forefront of envisioning, creating and delivering work and learning strategies of the future not separately, but together.

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