A Picture of Current Practice

Keith J. Johansen, University of Wisconsin - Stout
Mitchell E. Kusy, Jr., University of St. Thomas
Robert H. Rouda, University of St. Thomas

(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 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:

Research Questions

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.

Results and Conclusions


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?

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.


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.