When our company formed a “knowledge sharing” department—our learning and development (L&D)—I immediately agreed to weekly calls with our People & Culture (HR) department’s management. And they agreed right away.

Human resources (HR) and learning and development (L&D) functions have traditionally been very close to one another, often even shared within the same department. And when we look for a common denominator between HR and L&D, we can easily say it is people—our employees: The people that HR takes care of; the people whom L&D helps to grow skills and competencies.

These two functions must be well connected. However, each function has unique perspectives that the other may not always consider, thus impoverishing their relationship. In “The HR–L&D Intersection: What Should HR Know About L&D?  we discussed HR views on L&D; in this article, let’s explore how L&D can work better with HR.

A trusted (and informed) relationship

With more tasks automated in HR, the focus in HR has truly shifted to people, to relationships. This is the first thing that L&D should be aware of. L&D should see HR as an ally since HR is well connected to the company. “Use them as a connector and facilitator rather than competitor or obstacle,” confirms Jane Bozarth in her research report, Where L&D and HR Technologies Intersect.

Take, for example, performance management, where HR works tightly with line managers: L&D can use HR to expand their reach to line managers when assessing the training needs, for example. HR evidently has a broader agenda in the organization, so they are in a sense a “door opener” to L&D.

Establishing a two-way relationship where HR and L&D support each other leads to increased trust. Anja Leschly, the chief people officer at Conscia, remembers her days as a head of people at KPMG Denmark: “L&D handled all introductions and onboarding training for new joiners… The recruitment was handled by the people team, in close collaboration with the business, and then handed over to L&D for design and delivery of the graduate and trainee programs.”

This clearly shows a trusted relationship between HR and L&D. Such a relationship can only be established with the active involvement of L&D. As Leschly points out: “Together the Head of L&D and I developed our people management training program… So, with that, L&D was a fully integrated part of the people team, involved in basically all aspects of the employee journey and employee development aspects.

Strategic cooperation

HR is often focused on immediate and short-term needs. That means that they might not be aware of or able to address some longer-term needs.

Taking a proactive approach, L&D can help HR, possibly suggesting solutions even before HR asks explicitly. For instance, preparing for future roles with reskilling or upskilling programs.

Furthermore, HR probably has some immediate needs where L&D already has a solution. In these cases, L&D has to make sure that HR knows about their portfolio. This can be addressed in regular planning and informational sessions, such as the weekly calls mentioned earlier.

At minimum, situations will arise where L&D could adjust existing content quickly to address an immediate need, rather than designing new programs.

Data for data-driven decisions

Data-driven decisions in organizations call for quality data, and HR decisions are often dependent on information about skills and competencies. Here, L&D can help by sharing valuable data. We do not mean only quantitative data such as completion rates or other data derived from various learning platforms; more often, the qualitative data that L&D gathers in various interactions with learners, content developers, instructors, and managers is needed.

The question is how L&D communicates the data to HR and what data it provides to them.

Katarina Primoži? Ramoveš, people and culture director at NIL, says: “HR and L&D can create a powerful synergy that drives employee development and organizational growth, supports employee engagement, and results in organizational success. I believe collaboration between both can be improved and supported by aligned KPIs that ensure that HR and L&D work toward common organizational goals. It is important to understand each department´s goals and align them.

Yet, we in L&D are often not clear about these KPIs: How can we gather the right data if we do not know the KPIs that HR (or the entire organization) is pursuing? How can we align to the KPIs?

This is why we have to constantly exchange information with HR, for example, about KPIs such as the attrition rate. Provided that L&D constantly seeks to prove its value, lower attrition rates can easily show the value of successful training programs.

Finally, the communication about measurement and KPIs should take place even before L&D starts designing the solutions. Only with this approach can L&D include the metrics in its programs and demonstrate the positive impact to HR.

Move beyond the checkmark

L&D can easily fall into the trap of being an “order-taker,” checking the boxes when a course is done and delivered. This situation is probably more pronounced around compliance training, where checkmarks are often the only KPIs. But, since HR can be legally responsible for some decisions, actions, or consequences, the training that L&D designs should not only be an additional checkmark on the list; it has to truly drive performance change.

That is why it is so important for L&D to understand broader aspects of the learner’s —the employee’s—needs. As Primoži? Ramoveš points out: “When designing specific programs, it is important to dive deeply into HR's evaluations and employee career development plans, which helps L&D design targeted training programs that address specific skill gaps and performance expectations.

Too often, we in L&D overlook the power we have in helping HR to build and support the culture of the organization. Based on what we in L&D hear from HR, they expect us to be a significant driver in these efforts playing a “critical role in supporting and fostering a learning culture and enhancing employee engagement using inclusive, engaging, and modern techniques that boost employee interest,” Primoži? Ramoveš said.

To conclude: Learning leaders should understand that HR expects that we will not only build skills and competencies, we will also drive performance and build organizational culture—starting with learning culture.

Wrap-up: What should L&D know about HR?

  • HR is well connected to the company and has a broad reach; use them as a “connector and facilitator rather than seeing them as competitors or obstacles
  • HR needs data for data-driven decisions. L&D can provide the quantitative as well as the qualitative data. Make sure you know the HR KPIs, align with them, and design solutions with respective metrics.
  • HR can be legally responsible for some decisions, actions, or consequences. So, the training you design must truly drive performance change.
  • HR is typically busy with immediate and short-term needs, so they might not see some longer-term needs. Help them with a proactive approach, and suggest some solutions for them before they ask explicitly. Establish trust. 
  • HR probably has some immediate needs where the solution in L&D already exists; make sure HR knows about your portfolio. Communicate it regularly. 
  • HR and L&D, working together, can drive a learning organization.

Learn more at the Learning & HR Tech Conference!

Explore the intersection of HR and L&D—or take a deep dive into either of these areas—at the Learning & HR Tech Solutions 2024. The Learning Guild’s expanded talent development event takes place April 23–25, 2024, in Orlando, Florida, offering the familiar experience of Learning Solutions with an added focus on HR solutions and technologies.