Is it Time to replace HRD Managers by
Knowledge & Learning Managers


T.V. Rao
T V Rao Learning Systems Pvt. Ltd.

HRD (Human resources development) Managers and HRD Departments were created in this country essentially to promote a learning culture. In the consulting report that created the first HRD department in India at Larsen & Toubro in the year 1975 the IIMA Consultants have outlined the following roles to the HRD function and to the HRD Managers:

* Developing enabling capabilities in individuals and the system
* Integrating the development of the people with Organizational development
* Maximizing the learning opportunities of Individuals in organizations through various mechanisms, autonomy and responsibility
* Decentralization, delegation and shared responsibility
* Balancing change and adaptation
* Building feedback and reinforcement mechanisms etc.

The HRD Function was differentiated from the Personnel Function based on the finding in L&T that creation of a learning environment through HRD tools suffers if the same group of people are to look after personnel (essentially monitoring, control, and maintenance roles) and development functions. It was integrated also into the HR function along with differentiation as a lot of development issues depended on personnel policies and both functions were required to work hand in hand. Since the time India had the first dedicated HRD Manager (L&T appointed Dr. D F Periera as DGM HRD) in the year 1975, the population of HRD Managers has grown in the country. Perhaps HRD is one area where such designations came in the US much after India had them. India took the lead. Unfortunately the growth of the role is not in proportion to the needs in this area. If any, the role of HRD Managers over a period of time has shrunk tremendously.

Today most organizations seem to use the HRD Managers for people maintenance and control roles rather than development roles. HRD roles are supposed to derive their power from their expert knowledge, networking and facilitation skills, and from the employee they serve. The HR Manager (new name for the traditional Personnel Manager popularised in mid eighties to keep up with times) derives his power from his association with policy making, implementation, and closeness to CEO. In spite of the need for competency building in a globally competitive environment real Human Resources Development has not got the attention it deserved. HRD Audit by the author of over a dozen Indian companies in the recent past have revealed that the real HRD Managers envisaged two decades ago are getting practically extinct. The HRD roles are being reduced gradually to recruitment and retention roles essentially involving salary revisions, ESOPs, performance Appraisal and reward systems. There is very little effort made or time left for competency building, creation of learning environment and to aligning HRD with business strategies. Dave Ulrich's books indicating the changes needed in HRD roles are widely read and quoted but very little of it is followed.

It is in this context worth examining if creating a new Role called Chief Learning Manager or Chief Knowledge Manager will help Indian corporate sector.


The Davos World Economy Forum conducted a survey of how the US CEOs look at the future. The survey revealed that 94% of the CEOs mentioned that globalisation as a priority area, 88% mentioned knowledge Management as a priority area, 79% stated that reducing costs is a priority area, 78% mentioned that creating global supply chains us a priority area and 76% mentioned cross country optimisation of manufacturing as a priority.

Knowledge Management is defined by Anderson Consulting as "The systematic process of acquiring, creating, capturing, synthesizing, learning and using information, insights, and experience to enable performance". In this way, knowledge management is the engine that transforms ideas into business value.

In another definition, KM is defined as the new discipline of enabling individuals, teams and the entire organization to collectively and systematically create, share, and apply knowledge to better achieve the business objectives.

According to some authors KM is not a HR, IT or other domain but a strategic business development issue.

Organizational learning is a parallel process: a continuous and strategically used process. A learning organization is an organization that learns continuously and thus transforms itself. There are no universally accepted definitions of these terms.

According to one estimate made by Dr. Dede Bonner, President New Century management Inc, USA there are likely to be anywhere between 50 to 250 Chief learning Officers and Chief Knowledge Officers in the world. This is growing. Some of the organizations having such titles include:

* Bank Boston
* Coca-Cola
* Ernest & Young
* Ford Motor Company
* General Electric
* Hewlett-Packard
* Prudential Insurance Company
* Sun Microsystems
* Unisys
* US West
* Pillsbury Xerox Corporation
* British Petroleum

Other titles like Managing Partner of Knowledge Management (Anderson Consulting); Director of Knowledge Management, Knowledge Coordinator, Knowledge facilitator, Knowledge leader, KM Consultant, Senior Knowledge librarian, Learning Coordinator, Learning specialist, Organizational Architect, Director of Organizational Effectiveness. Vice President Knowledge Management is also known to exist. They draw between $80,000 to $ 750,000 a year in terms of salary.

Chief Knowledge Officers (CKOs) are the focal points to leverage the organizations' knowledge into tangible business results and to gain competitive market advantage.

Chief Learning Officers are the focal points to leverage an organization's learning into tangible business results to gain competitive market advantage.

These positions are new, the responsibilities are evolving gradually and duties vary among different companies.

Sample of responsibilities for CKOs and CLOs include:

* Strategic planning at the highest levels of the company
* Ability to integrate diverse groups and work across all functions; develop the culture; build awareness of knowledge management or organizational learning.
* Design and implement a knowledge and or learning infrastructure to tie together corporate databases, employees' tacit knowledge and paper files.
* Consulting activities, organizational effectiveness
* Work closely with CEOs

Dave Ulrich and team in their most recent book on "Leadership for results" (HBS, 1999) have outlined the following four skills for the CLOs:

1. The CLO knows appreciates and influences business strategy including customer relationships and financial performance
2. Understands the nuances of making change and applies the change
3. Understands the essence of information and knowledge management and creates an organization in which learning occurs
4. Maintains focus on training and development but is sensitive the entire array of HR practices.

Responsibility for building the next generation Leaders rests with the CLOs CKOs.

The CLOs and CKOs perform multiple roles like that of a Consultant, Entrepreneur, Technologist, Environmentalist, and a Champion of knowledge and Learning. The roles and responsibilities are gradually evolving. It is in many cases a strategic as well as a possible informal role for the HRD professionals. This role represents a unique and historical opportunity for HRD managers to influence senior managers, impact the company's bottom line and build professional credibility.


* Visionary outlook;
* Strong people orientation and interpersonal skills,
* Familiarity with technology and best practice studies'
* Experience or capability in strategic thinking'
* Familiarity with knowledge management tools or the newest learning methodologies
* Strong customer service orientation
* High level of flexibility

The conditions for the success of these roles fall into two categories: organizational values ad organizational systems and structures. On the values front, supportive senior management, rapid expansion mind set, culture of high trust, belief that knowledge and learning offer competitive advantage and customer orientation. The organizational systems and structures include good IT systems, integrated HR, IT and business units, strategic planning systems, measurement tools and standards.

It is estimated that KM is a 7.2 Billion-Dollar market in the US (Dataquest). KM involves getting people to disseminate best practices, measuring results. Two out of three are people issues and KM deals with these.

Performance Technology (PT) Knowledge management and HR professionals seem to be synergistic roles.

It is high time probably to give a new life to HRD, at least in some organizations, by abolishing the HRD roles and creating a new agenda for change and competence building through CLOs and CKMs. The hope is that at least through title changes the lost focus on learning can be brought back. This of course need not apply to those HRD Managers who are doing excellent job already in promoting learning and competence building.

T.V. Rao
T V Rao Learning Systems Pvt. Ltd.

Source: E-mail February 28, 2007


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