In September’s edition of the HRD Review, Elwood Holton and Bogdan Yamkovenko urge the adoption of a “strategic intellectual capital development” paradigm for the field of HRD. I have to say, they sold me. As described by Holton and Yamkovenko, strategic intellectual capital development is an excellent endgame for professionals in our field. Allow me to summarize their argument and offer my endorsement, but stay tuned for a brief rant at the end of this post..
Here’s the endorsement: Based on a wide range of literature, Holton and Yamkovenko define intellectual capital as encompassing human capital (individual knowledge and skill), social capital (networks that provide a “medium for transfer and sharing of knowledge”), and structural capital (knowledge repositories and informal routines that store and transfer knowledge). Their argument perfectly captures the true strategic importance of the work that we do and focuses squarely on positioning us as “the leader in acquiring, developing, and maintaining the intellectual resources of the organization.” Hear, hear.
Accepting intellectual capital as our area of accountability draws us towards delivering solid training (in a variety of delivery modes), accessible resources (physical and virtual), supportive learning communities (peers, professional networks), and learning culture (culture of sharing knowledge and skill, management support). Laying claim to responsibility for developing social capital puts us in the business of promoting knowledge transfer peer-to-peer (not just through formal training), and stretches us to investigate new social networking (web 2.0) tools. Minding structural capital may put us uncomfortably close to owning knowledge management, but we have to be at least consulting with leaders in that space if we are to ensure that the electronic repositories are structured to effectively enable learning.
The phrase, strategic intellectual capital development, also links our work to our business strategic position. Just as our IT colleagues need to craft a long term infrastructure and systems plan to support business goals, and our product development and marketing colleagues need to stay ahead of the competition with their plans, those of us responsible for intellectual capital must be clued into the strategic vision of the organization, identify the intellectual capabilities needed to achieve goals, and devise plans to ensure those capabilities are available.
Why change? Professionals in our field seem to recoil from being in the business of learning (too soft) or training (training is for dogs, not people). And when we focus on performance, we wind up doing a lot of work that isn’t about learning (it’s important work, mind you, it just isn’t learning). I would be proud to stand up and say that I am accountable for strategic intellectual capital development. It’s more broad than “training and development,” and more substantial than “learning.” Even the recent focus on “talent management” feels like repackaging, not reenergizing the field. If we actually move in the direction suggested by Holton and Yamkovenko, the responsibility for strategic intellectual capital development would be a paradigm shift rather than just a play on words. And it is a shift we must make if we haven’t already.
So here’s the brief rant: Because I am involved with a number of professional organizations, I have heard many and varied exhortations regarding what we (this field that focuses on learning in organizations) should be about. ASTD moved away from “training and development” to refer to the field as “workplace learning and performance.” Academics call the field human resource development or HRD. ISPI asks us to focus on human performance technology. The Learning and Development Roundtable obviously chose “learning and development” as the field’s scope. E-Learning Guild tends to refer to us as “learning professionals.” “Talent management” has also recently made appearances as the focus for the field. Some of that, of course, may be driven by the audiences desired by those various professional organizations. In the annals of this blog, I, myself, have argued that we (learning professionals) should focus on the learning (competency development) component in partnership with all the other organizational leaders who collectively (us included) are responsible for generating performance. As much as I like the potential change in the language we use (say it with me: strategic intellectual capital development), it’s only words unless we endorse – and act on – the larger meaning. I worry we might be spending way too much energy discussing how to position ourselves as relevant and not enough actually being relevant. I worry, too, that despite all the high hopes to be strategic partners and really contribute to organizational performance, talent growth, and competency development – our work gets watered down under time and resource pressures. And I worry that we need more practitioners who are true experts in learning – and in strategic intellectual capital development – if we are to be successful. Just me?
Holton, E.F. and Yamkovenko, B. (2008). Strategic intellectual capital development: A defining paradigm for HRD? Human Resource Development Review, 7(3). pp. 270-291