Difference Between HR OD L&D

Difference Between HR OD L&D

There's plenty of confusion out there about what the difference is between Human Resources (HR), Organisation Development (OD), and Learning & Development (L&D) ... and with good reason. (One consultant probably said it best when speaking in an OD forum: 'When I saw what the topic was, my first thought was, Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enters Here'.)

Quick Note: 'Organisational Development' and 'Organisation Development' are often used interchangeably, however, all the basic texts and member associations use 'Organisation Development' (the noun, not the adjective), which is considered proper. Both are widely accepted when used in the context of 'OD'. Also, L&D is often used interchangeably with T&D (Training and Development) — we mean the same thing.

Let's start off with a list of activities that might be associated with each function:

Human Resources (HR): (Administrative HR) Payroll, Compensation, Benefits Recruitment Terminations Workplace Health & Safety Industrial Relations (IR), Employment Law Company Policies, Compliance Illness, Disability, Injury Grievances, Complaints Harassment, Conduct, Disciplinary Matters Staff Evaluation

(Strategic HR) Leadership Culture Change Management Talent Management Employee Engagement Performance Management Team Development

Strategic HR

Organisation Development (OD): (Strategic Change) Leadership Culture Change Management Talent Management Employee Engagement Performance Management Team Development Succession Planning Surveys/Diagnostics/Assessments 360 Degree Feedback Restructuring/Mergers Knowledge Management

Learning and Development (L&D): (Skills Training) Hard Skills Training (Technical Knowledge) Soft Skills Training (Emotional Intelligence) Induction Coaching/Mentoring Leadership/Management Skills Training Team Building/Communication Training Sales Training Customer Service Training Safety Training Computer Systems Training (E.g. PowerPoint, Word, Outlook) eLearning/Learning Management System (LMS) White

HR L&D OD All three are concerned with people, but each has a slightly different core focus:

The HR function has a legal/regulatory focus (a police officer) The OD function has a broad strategic focus (a business detective) The L&D function has a specific skills training focus (a coach, facilitator or trainer) White

"Increasingly Blurred" HR has changed considerably over the last 20 years and has begun to move from being an 'administrative' function (one that is seen as just being there to prevent lawsuits) towards more of a 'strategic' function with a mandate to nurture the skills and capabilities of the workforce. As HR becomes more strategic, there is an overlap in roles and skill sets with OD / L&D. Activities like performance management, talent management, engagement, team building and coaching are now strongly associated with HR.


“The HR business partnering concept developed by Dave Ulrich, with its inherent shift to a strategic dimension, is now widely adopted in major organisations, so the boundaries between OD and HR are increasingly blurred.”

— Bath Consultancy White “HR is more and more doing OD-related work, like capability strategies, change planning and facilitation, management team coaching and organisation design.”

— Tiina Takala, VP of OD and Change, Nokia

White "Strategic HR is much more like OD than traditional HR."

— Terrance Seamon, OD Learning and Development Consultant



If you do a search on job boards, you'll find that advertisers often group the terms together. Here are four real examples from SEEK.com:

L&OD Consultant OD HR Lead Advisor HR Talent and Change Manager HR Learning and OD Manager White Of the three roles, OD is usually the one where the most confusion centres.


Organisation Development (OD): OD is a data-driven practice that investigates ways for the organisation to achieve its people and business goals, and to be aware of what it needs to change in order to sustain itself over the long-term.

The field of OD has yet to come to agreement on a shared definition.

OD professionals traditionally come from backgrounds in the behavioural sciences.

OD initiatives are often referred to as 'OD interventions.'

OD consultants are sometimes called 'change agents.'

Words like People, Culture, Leadership, and Change are central to OD.


"First and perhaps foremost, OD is fundamentally a data-driven process; diagnosis and intervention are based on some form of behaviourally relevant data (such as observations, assessments, and surveys) collected through a process known as action research."

— Organization Development (Hardcover, 2001), Janine Waclawski

White “At their heart, I think OD are kind of 'diagnosticians'... Some of the best OD practitioners act like an early warning system to the organisation; finding a way of keeping them alert."

"... You can’t just be interested in all the kind of sexy stuff in the L&D agenda, without wanting to really understand what it will take for this organisation to deliver success. So you need to be interested in both. You can’t just be interested in the kind of people stuff; you have to be interested in business as well."

— Lee Sears, Director, Bridge OD Consultancy



How is OD Different to Change Management (CM)?

"OD is primarily concerned with the overall functioning of the organisation, and not necessarily any particular issue."

"... You might therefore say that OD in principle is concerned largely with matters of organisation design and structure; the system in which people are embedded, and diagnostic tools and approaches are fundamental to it. CM in principle is concerned with helping an organisation move from state A to state B, how that can best be managed and carried out, which are, at root, process issues."

— Barry Stein, President, Goodmeasure, Inc.


"The challenge that has contributed to this confusion (between OD and CM) is that organisations have considered calling on board OD specialists only in times when they desire support in managing change. OD in its entirety speaks to support organisations in all situations."

— Francis Kahihu, OD Consultant


Further Differences Between HR and OD:

“HR's purpose leans toward organisational maintenance, while OD's leans toward organisational performance and renewal.”

— Terrance Seamon, OD Learning and Development Consultant White

“There are instances when OD should be working in partnership with the HR function; and there are instances when the OD and HR functions ought not to be working together at all, such as when there are conflicts of interest… What staff member in her right mind would say something critical of their manager to someone from HR?”

— Matt Minahan, OD Consultant White

"OD is a set of principles and practices; HR is 'Human Resources', which is usually the title of a department in which all employment-related matters are administered. A lot of companies local OD within HR — and whether that works or not depends entirely on the organisation."

— Cindy Myers, Ph.D.


White podcast (CIPD is the UK equivalent of AHRI in Australia) White (CIPD Podcast) "HR and OD: Separate Past, Joint Future?" For additional insight into OD, we would highly recommend this CIPD podcast.

Full Duration: 25 min Date: 23 June 2010


Philippa Lamb (Host): "I asked Ed Griffin, former CIPD advisor and development partner at OD consultancy D3 Partners, for a definition of Organisation Development and as it turns out he finds it simpler to use a different phrase altogether."

Ed Griffin: "Well, the phrase we’re starting to use is actually just 'Total Business Management' because what we’ve found is that people get so confused about those two letters ‘OD’ that for some people it means organisational design; some people are talking about organisational effectiveness; sometimes people are talking about training and development activities. I actually think that organisational development is about contributing to the sustained success of the organisation through the involvement of the people in that organisation at all levels. That is simply how I see it. In practical terms, I think that means you involve all levels of the organisation wherever you can in developing strategy and in implementing strategy. So it’s about genuine employee engagement rather than say, just having a staff survey."



If you work in one of these roles, we'd love to hear your thoughts about how they are similar/different.



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