How HR Can Make Learning a Competitive Advantage

Guest Contributorby Dr. Christopher Lee | Posted | Learning

How HR Can Make Learning a Competitive Advantage

Every organization creates value for its customers in a number of ways. As a whole enterprise, the organization's core competency—its know-how or its ability to deliver its value promise—is based upon what employees know as individuals and as a collective.

If know-how is based on knowledge, skills, and abilities, then HR should view learning and development not as a basic requirement, but as a strategic tool that will drive organizational competitiveness. It is time that HR professionals position workforce learning and development as a competitive activity.    

How can HR design learning programs to help employees know more, perform better, and deliver better value to customers? The answer lies in a partnership between HR and frontline managers. Beyond the basic questions such as, "What do employees need to know to be competent in their positions?", HR must ask frontline managers "What do people need to know to 'beat the competition'?" or “If our people knew ____, would that create better value for our customers?” Learning is the fuel that propels performance and productivity. It is one of the most valuable tools available to organizations.

Leading by example

Since learning is so important to the enterprise, HR should lead the way. As a result, HR professionals should master knowledge in three content areas related to their:

A) Position
B) Profession, and
C) Company or organization.

It goes without saying that each professional should strive to be a subject matter expert in their job. For HR pros, it could be anything from benefits to compensation, or training and employee relations — the goal is to be the go-to person for your organization.

In addition to being a SME, HR pros should master the generally accepted body of knowledge for the profession. This is best represented by earning an advanced degree or certification. Obtaining a PHR, SPHR, CCP, CBP, and similar certifications is a testament to an individual's commitment to their profession. Finally, HR professionals should have a full understanding of, and appreciation for, their company and its industry.

HR professionals should stay abreast of news and trends, as well as the regulatory and operating environments in their industry. For example, in the entertainment media industry, it would be prudent to understand how mobile platforms are transforming the delivery of TV, movies, and gaming to have insight into identifying, hiring, training, and compensating talent in that context.

Professionals in academe, my profession, should consider earning a master's degree before considering a certification because degrees are the highest form of currency in higher education. By contrast, HR professionals working in the manufacturing sector should consider earning their Six Sigma certification to gain an appreciation for the process improvement orientation that permeates that sector.

Many HR professionals have also gained street credibility by joining cross functional teams, completing externships, or spending a few years of their career outside of HR in the line functions of their organizations (e.g. sales, customer service, manufacturing, etc.) to better understand the 'business of the business'. In any scenario, advanced learning should be a basic expectation for all professionals and HR leaders should lead the way.

Outsmarting the competition

Today's work environment is increasingly competitive. Most organizations create value and competitiveness through the smart deployment of human potential. This potential is enhanced, refined, leveraged, or brought to bear through the purposeful enrichment of the knowledge, skills, and abilities of its people. Therefore, learning is as essential a strategic action as having a business plan to operationalize goals or having an investment plan to capitalize on financial or other assets.

Unlike other capital investments, the value of learning appreciates, rather than depreciates. Human resources departments can add strategic value to their organizations by elevating the importance of learning and positioning its delivery as a competitive tool. This occurs by deliberately linking learning activities to how the organization creates value for its customers.

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