For decades, many human resource development programs have suffered
from a poor image because organizational leaders, managers, and
employees do not view them and their professionals as vital,
contributing members of the organization.
Some HRD programs are not perceived as valuable because their
programs and services are not linked to the organization's
strategic business goals. Others falter because HRD professionals
do not properly communicate the value and benefits of their
interventions and initiatives to decision-makers within the firm.
These conditions exist because the HRD department and its
professionals lack credibility. Consequently, HRD professionals are
unable to help improve the organization's performance, quality,
efficiency, or productivity, or help it accomplish its strategic
goals and objectives.
A change agent is a person who "takes part" with others, and
partnerships involve the "parts" we each play in our work.
Partnerships are essential to the success of any organization, and
they have two primary elements--purpose and partnering. Purpose
defines why a partnership is needed and provides focus and
direction for the partnership. Without a purpose, no partnership
exists. Purpose may be quite clear and explicit, as that imposed by
an organizational leader or manager (client), or implicit, as a
mutual exploration of a purpose about to be defined. Purpose, in
essence, brings us together.
Partnering occurs when HRD professionals and clients pursue a
common purpose. The act of partnering exemplifies the visible and
invisible dynamics between the HRD professional, client, and
purpose; the result of clarifying roles and focus. It also embraces
underlying assumptions, trust and risk, shared values, and
expectations. Much that is key to partnering often goes
Better management of limited financial and human resources is
another reason to create strategic alliances. In other words,
partnerships help HRD professionals decide which programs or
services provide the highest value and have the greatest impact on
the organization. Armed with such information, HRD professionals
are in a better position to appropriate resources that will
maximize organizational performance and results.
Three types of partnerships enhance HRD professionals' credibility
- Strategic business partnerships are intra-organizational
alliances formed when HRD professionals align themselves with
organizational leaders, managers, supervisors, and employees for
the purpose of helping the organization achieve its strategic
business goals and objectives and ensuring successful achievement
of the firm's overall strategic plan.
- Management development partnerships are established to overcome
managerial malpractice, and are joint ventures between HRD
professionals and the organization, designed to improve managers'
competencies and skills.
- Organizational development partnerships are aimed at improving
organizational renewal, performance capacity, growth, and
competitiveness. These long-term oriented partnerships require the
involvement of all organizational members (Gilley and Gilley,
Improved credibility results from HRD professionals' ability to
demonstrate professional expertise and their understanding of
organizational operations and culture. In this way, HRD
professionals provide real value to the firm. In David Ulrich's
book Human Resource Champions (1997), he points out that
HRD professionals need to demonstrate several behaviors to enhance
First, they need to be accurate in all HRD practices. This includes
analysis activities (performance, needs, causal, organizational),
design of HRD programs and services, recruiting and selection, job
design, performance appraisals and management activities,
compensation and benefits, and performance and organizational
development consulting activities.
Second, HRD professionals need to be predictable and consistent,
dependable, and reliable so decision-makers have confidence in
their actions and recommendations.
Third, they must meet their commitments in a timely and efficient
Fourth, HRD professionals need to establish collaborative client
relationships built on trust and honesty.
Fifth, they must express their opinions, ideas, strategies, and
activities in an understandable and clear manner, and at the most
Sixth, they need to behave in an ethical manner that demonstrates
Seventh, HRD professionals must demonstrate creativity and
Eighth, they need to maintain confidentiality.
Ninth, they need to listen to and focus on client problems in a
manner that brings about mutual respect.
Similar to managers, HRD professionals establish credibility within
organizations by demonstrating the ability to solve complex
problems, satisfying client needs and expectations, exhibiting
professional expertise, and understanding organizational operations
and culture. Credibility may be transferred, most commonly by
third-party referrals. This is often referred to as a network,
which is a collection of individuals who can introduce HRD
professionals to key organizational decision-makers while keeping
them informed. Credibility can also be developed via reputation,
typically by delivering results. In essence, credibility must be
The second step in establishing credibility is for HRD
professionals to develop a customer service strategy that satisfies
their stakeholders' needs and expectations. Such a strategy ensures
that HRD programs and services are aligned with stakeholders'
expressed interests. As a result, HRD departments will be supported
as well as defended by stakeholders during difficult economic
periods. Ultimately, an effective customer service strategy becomes
a guiding principle for HRD professionals, which directs their
decisions and actions.
The third step in establishing credibility requires HRD
professionals to demonstrate an understanding of business
strategies, goals, tactics, and financial performance.
Consequently, HRD professionals need to acquire knowledge of
business fundamentals, systems theory, strategy, organizational
culture, and politics. Business acumen proves essential for HRD
professionals, and enables them to think like their clients. HRD
professionals possessing business understanding are better able to
facilitate change without disrupting the firm's operations.
Becoming a change agent
To enhance their effectiveness, HRD professionals need to become
proactive in their efforts to change negative perceptions of
themselves and their programs. They need to discover ways of
enhancing their credibility and, ultimately, their effectiveness.
As change agents, HRD professionals are in a position to influence
the direction of the organization, as well as enhance their own
credibility and the value of HRD programs and services.
Becoming a change agent gives HRD professionals the opportunity to
develop personal relationships with clients. Relationships that are
synergistic, mutually beneficial, and long-term require HRD
professionals to develop a responsive, customer service orientation
that allows them to better understand and anticipate client needs.
Alliances allow HRD professionals and clients to create trust and
develop a shared vision of the future through a free exchange of
ideas, information, and perceptions. This promotes relationships
based on shared values, aligned purpose and vision, and mutual
Finally, becoming a change agent produces economic utility, which
is measured in terms of increased organizational performance,
profitability, revenue, quality, or efficiency. Overall, strategic
alliances afford HRD professionals and their clients opportunities
to work in harmony for the purpose of improving the economic
viability of the organization. A healthy organization benefits all.
Gilley, J. W., & Gilley, A. (2002). Strategically
integrated HRD: Partnering to maximize organizational
performance. 2nd Ed., New York: Basic Books.
Ulrich, D. (1997). Human resource champions. Boston, MA:
Harvard Business School Press.
2007 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.