Critically evaluate the extent to which academic research enables practitioners to meet todays HRD challenges

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Criticall evaluate the extent to which academic research enables practitioners to meet todays HRD challenges

“HRD practice does not come close to what we know from sound theory” (Swanson, R.A. 2001)

This paper will evaluate the extent to which academic research into Human Resource Development (HRD) practices enables practitioners to meet the challenges they are presented with in today’s fast-changing workplace. By considering the issue from various adverse perspectives, using a range of academic evidence, it will give a rounded critical evaluation of the topic. It will also critique the potential benefits and limitations of using academic research to the practical development of HRD policies and strategies intended to meet corporate objectives at organisational, group and individual levels.

The theoretical HRD research upon which practical applications are based will be considered in terms of both findings and methodology. An evaluation will also be given of the current debate in relation to the concept of the ‘theory-practice gap’ and developing on this a discussion of the nature of academic research. To what extent does academic research enable, if it is meant to at all, the work of HRD practitioners? But also if the position is taken that academic research is not there to enable the work of HRD practitioners what is its purpose? Following on from this, the paper will deal with specific HRD challenges in the current workplace and how theory is, or is not, useful in considering these issues.

Firstly, as necessary groundwork the issue raised by the lack of clarity in respect to a usable definition of HRD needs to be addressed. It is widely recognised that HRD is a discipline with a background in other fields such as sociology, psychology, education, organisational behaviour and other social sciences. It is the blending of these core research areas that in many ways provides HRD with its distinguishing theoretical base. Having said this it is also the reason why “the process of defining HRD by academics, researchers and practitioners is proving to be frustrating, elusive and confusing… and suggests that HRD has not established a distinctive conceptual or theoretical identity” (McGoldrick et al, 2001; p.344).

On a simplistic level HRD is the process of increasing the capability of the people within the organisation by means of development. It can therefore be seen as a route to adding value to individuals, groups or a whole organisation. With this basic idea the answer to the issue in the questions as to; who is a HRD practitioner could be that all members of the organisation engage in HRD practice. Individuals do it as they work to develop themselves, management do it as the enable others’ development and HRD specialists do it by providing the formal development methods and strategies for the organisation. In this way HRD is defined by what it is rather than by who does it. That being said this paper will in the main by using the term HRD practitioner to mean individuals whose primary role in the organisation is the implementation of development activities for others.  

According to Lynham (2000) research theory is particularly important in an applied discipline such as HRD that is still very much in the process of developing its identity. This is for a number of reasons that can be helpful to the practitioner. One of these is that it gives the practitioner some tools to use to discern between what might be the latest fashionable thinking and a practice of genuine substance. Unfortunately HRD is a discipline that does lend itself to trendy thinking, with evermore outlandish rhetoric promising instant results. Sound theoretical research into these claims is the best way to enable a practitioner to make a judgement as to their usefulness in practice. As Hatcher states, “Without a focus on the theoretical foundations of research and practice HRD is destined to remain atheoretical in nature and poor practice will continue to undermine its credibility” (2000: 45).

Swanson (1997) endorses the usefulness of HRD research to practitioners at the same time as criticising the large number of HRD products available as being without any scholarly basis. This seems to have changed little in the next fifteen years with many HRD products available to practitioners having little of any theoretical basis for the transformational claims they make. Patterson (1983) supplied practitioners with a useful list for assessing the research theory that should underpin good practice. This included such criteria as; importance; preciseness and clarity; simplicity; comprehensiveness; operationality; empirical validity and practicality. Practitioners want to know about the reliability of the ideas they adopt and sound research gives them the confidence to try out a new idea in their workplace.

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That being the case, the enabling of practitioners by academic research is a relatively new idea in HRD. According to McGoldrick, citing Jacobs (2000), “the development of HRD can be found in the journey from training and industrial design, to training and development, to employee development, to human resource development” (2001: 347). As a result the discipline of HRD was drawn out by practice and not from any theoretical framework or as a result of academic research.    

 “There is nothing so practical as good theory” is a well-known statement credited to Kurt Lewin in the 1940’s and typifies ...

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