(C) copyright 1996 by K. J. Johansen, M. E. Kusy, Jr., and R. H. Rouda -- all rights reserved.
This paper was originally presented at the 1996 Academy of Human Resource Development Conference,
held in Minneapolis in February, 1996
The purpose of this study was to determine the factors influencing success for HRD
leaders. A nationwide study of 300 HRD directors identified how they acquired their
knowledge and skills. Also rated were the skill sets that were identified as most
important for achieving their HRD goals, most frequently used, and most challenging.
The most significant were those skill sets related to the business needs of the
The literature has described competencies for HRD practice, including a generalized list describing
HRD leadership (McLagan, 1989; Rothwell & Kazanas, 1994; McCoy, 1993). The "Models for
HRD Practice" study (McLagan, 1989), now seven years old, described primary HRD roles, but
did not exclusively focus on the role of HRD leaders. According to Filipczak (1994), the HRD
field is lacking data on how HRD leaders should be selected. Most importantly, since the
publication of "Models for HRD Practice", there has been little research on HRD competencies
that incorporate recent business developments having an impact on HRD leadership.
Recent significant changes in the way HRD practitioners do their work include the following:
- Large scale, real time strategic change (Jacobs, 1994; Rouda & Kusy, 1995);
- Greater emphasis on globalization efforts (Witkin, 1992) including partnerships, mergers
- A business-driven need to develop an evaluation model grounded in research (Holton, in
- More participative strategic planning with inclusion of key stakeholders from throughout
the organization (Kusy, Isaacson & Podolan, 1994).
The purpose of this research was to field test the variables that the literature and subject matter
experts have hypothesized to be associated with HRD leadership success. The research questions
were: How do people with responsibilities for HRD leadership acquire the necessary knowledge
and skills needed in their practices? What are the most important factors contributing to their
successful development as leaders?
The authors went directly to HRD directors to answer the research questions. The authors
constructed a preliminary list of variables hypothesized to be associated with HRD leadership
success by examining the HRD literature over the past 10 years and conducting both interviews
and a focus group of subject matter experts. The focus group consisted of 12 members of the
Board of Directors from the Southern Minnesota Chapter of ASTD. The interviewees were HRD
leaders noted as successful by members of the Southern Minnesota Chapter of ASTD Board.
The qualitative data were analyzed and incorporated into a 14-item questionnaire that was
piloted with 10 HRD leaders. Final survey revisions were made to improve the content and
process of the survey. The survey, distributed to 300 randomly-selected national ASTD members
with the title of HRD director, incorporated both qualitative and quantitative items.
Follow-up research was conducted by implementing focused interviews of HRD leaders to
corroborate the data from the survey and identify additional variables. Thirty national HRD
directors were randomly-sampled from the ASTD Membership Directory (1995). The 30 names
were divided so that each researcher called 10 HRD directors. Responses were received from 14
HRD directors. The interview consisted of the following open-ended questions:
The data were analyzed for consistent themes.
- What are your current job title and responsibilities?
- How did you acquire the knowledge and skills for your current position?
- What have been the factors most critical to your development as an HRD leader?
- In the last year, what has been your most challenging task?
- In the last year, what has been your greatest professional achievement?
Results and Conclusions
Mail survey. A total of 97 surveys (32%) was returned from HRD directors who represented
20 industries, the majority of which included respondents from manufacturing, health care, non-
profit, education and hospitality industries. The following results were observed:
HRD functions performed. These data reflect the continuing need for HRD directors to be multi-skilled:
- 85% stated they performed training and development (T&D),
- 68% performed organization development (OD),
- 47% performed career development (CD),
- In addition, 42% of all respondents stated they performed all three of these HRD functions.
How HRD directors acquire their knowledge and skills.
- 90% reported acquisition from on-the-job experiences,
- 79% noted acquisition from seminars and workshops,
- 61% cited mentoring relationships as instrumental to their development.
The expected accuracy of a sample of size 97 is plus-or-minus 14%. This means that a sample
percentage can be expected to differ from the universe value less than 14% at the 95% level of
Skill acquisition. The HRD leaders surveyed acquired their knowledge and skills in a variety
of ways, primarily through on-the-job experience and through seminars and workshops. The
results are shown in Table 1.
Skill sets for HRD leaders. HRD directors were also asked to rate eleven skill sets according
to three dimensions: importance for achieving their HRD goals, frequency used on the job, and
degree of challenge they experienced in reaching mastery. These 11 skill sets and the survey
results are shown in Table 2. An analysis of variance was used to determine whether the means
differed only by chance. The analysis showed that there were significant differences in the mean
values in each of the three dimensions.
In order of importance, the following are factors the HRD leaders said were both most
important and most frequently relied upon to achieve HRD goals:
It is significant that these three skill sets relate to the business needs of the organization. The
data in this study reflect recent business changes that are placing new demands on HRD leaders.
- Understanding the business of the organization,
- Partnering with line management, and
- Being an organizational change agent.
The skill set cited as the most challenging to reach mastery was being an organizational
change agent. It is noteworthy that career planning and counseling were rated lowest in
importance, frequency used and degree of challenge. This corroborates the research conducted by
Ulrich, who found that career planning and development received the lowest ratings in surveys
measuring perceptions of companies' human resource departments (Ford, 1993).
Internal validation of mail survey. To determine the degree of truthfulness and
consistency in the responses, the respondents rated:
The responses to both inquiries were consistent.
- the importance of the skill sets to their development into successful HRD directors, and
- the importance of these activities in accomplishing their particular HRD goals.
Follow-up telephone interviews. Fourteen telephone interviews were conducted to
corroborate the survey data, and contained open-ended questions which yielded themes
consistent with the survey data. These data show that the HRD leaders interviewed assign
differing importance to a wide range of factors as being most critical to their development as
HRD leaders, and about their most challenging tasks and greatest professional achievements.
The focus on understanding and working with the business of the organization was the factor
of greatest importance.
HRD leaders need a better understanding of the organization's business. Some of the ways this
may be accomplished are suggested by the list of ways that current HRD leaders have acquired
their knowledge and skills (see Table 1). Additional ways this may be done are:
Furthermore, these survey data lead to important new questions about the practice and
development of HRD leaders. Are HRD leaders actively practicing and excelling in the
application of these important skill sets? Are these skill sets strongly considered in the selection
and promotion of HRD leaders? Have university programs in HRD kept their curricula up to date
so that HRD students will have the required competencies to excel in leadership positions?
- HRD curricula at universities need to be more business focused;
- HRD seminars and workshops need to increase their emphasis on business outcomes;
- Partnerships between business and education should be used to develop business knowledge and skills;
- Internships should incorporate business practices and experiences; and
- Operation personnel should serve as mentors and/or teachers to ensure the business relevance of educational offerings.
These recommendations are corroborated by other recent studies.
An outgrowth of this current study could be an examination of what non-HRD leaders (i.e.
the customers of HRD leaders) perceive as the critical variables for HRD leadership success. This
examination would further help HRD leaders respond to the business needs of the organization by
understanding key perspectives of their internal customers.
Filipczak (1994, p. 3), says
Training directors who get out into the operations of a company and ... actively "partner"
with line managers who have real performance problems begin to evolve into a different
kind of animal ... When training directors start moving away from traditional HRD and
toward developing performance solutions for the company, they start to become what
Mager calls performance directors.
Church & McMahan (1995) surveyed the key characteristics of OD in rapidly growing firms.
and found that 94% of those surveyed agreed practitioners should focus more on business-related
values and outcomes than on humanistically-oriented ones. Only 6% thought the field already
placed enough emphasis in this area.
Hequet (1995) found that training and development professionals said the new trainer needs
skills in business processes (knowing how things get done in business) and in facilitating
Quinn (1996) envisioned an educational program that selected from a pool of applicants who
They will have completed MBAs, will have successfully risen in well known
corporations, and will have shown clear abilities in the area of change. They will already
understand and have mastered the administrative art of blending across those disciplines
that are clearly separated in business schools.
- American Society for Training and Development (1995). Who's Who in Training and
Development. Washington, DC: Author.
- Church, A.H. & McMahan, G.C. (1995). Key Characteristics of OD in Rapidly Growing Firms.
ASTD Organization Development Newsletter, Fall/Winter 1995, 7.
- Filipczak, B. (1994). The training manager in the '90s. Training, 31(6), 31-35.
- Ford, D. J. (1993). Benchmarking HRD. Training & Development Journal, 49(6), 36-41.
- Hequet, M. (1995), The New Trainer, Training, 32(12), 29.
- Holton, E. F., III (in press). The flawed four-level evaluation model. Proceedings of the
Academy of HRD 1995 Annual Conference. St. Louis, MO.
- Jacobs, R. W. (1994). Real time strategic change. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
- Kusy, M. E., Jr., Isaacson, L., & Podolan, J. (1994). Encouraging upward influence through
employee involvement. Organization Development Journal, 12(1), 47-53.
- McCoy, C. P. (1993). Managing a small HRD department. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- McLagan, P. A. (1989). Models for HRD practice. Training and Development Journal,
- Quinn, Robert E. (1996, Winter). The Legitimate Change Agent: A Vision for a New
Profession. ODC Newsletter, Organization Development and Change Division, Academy of
Management, p. 5.
- Rothwell, W. J., & Kazanas, H. C. (1994). Human Resource Development: A Strategic
Approach (2nd ed.). Amherst, MA: HRD Press.
- Rouda, R. H., & Kusy, M. E., Jr. (1995). Managing change with large-scale, real-time
interventions. Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry Journal, 78(12),
- Witkin, N. (1992). Success strategies for the training manager of the nineties. Performance
& Instruction, 31(4), 19-21.
Keith Johansen is associate professor of business training and development
at the University of Wisconsin - Stout.
Mitch Kusy is professor
of organizational learning and development at the University of St. Thomas, and is a practicing organization development consultant.
Bob Rouda is a consultant on human resource development and process engineering, and is a research
associate and student of organization development and change management at the University of St. Thomas.
(C) copyright 1996 by K. J. Johansen, M. E. Kusy, Jr., and R. H. Rouda -- all rights reserved.
This page is maintained by Robert Rouda.
CONTACT webmaster for information.
Last update 5/9/96.