What I’ve Learned from HR: The Link to Learning
Feature Story – By Ranieka Weston
It was up to me to learn more about HR, and training was a sure answer.
After a successful commercial career, I am now in my dream job in the HR team. The change in the role was exciting. I had experienced working on various training initiatives as a part of the commercial team, but this opportunity has afforded me the chance to build a strategic partnership with many other sectors of the business.
The Importance of Partnership
In my new role, learning about the various roles and responsibility in the HR department was critical. But obtaining that knowledge can be difficult if the role is not directly tied to recruitment, human resource information systems, benefits, employee engagement, unions, workers’ compensation, etc. In other words, if you are not in an HR role, it can be difficult to become an expert or increase your level of expertise in these areas.
Initially, I struggled to have in-depth conversations with my HR colleagues. Truthfully, during my days in commercial learning and development, I avoided HR interactions at all cost. Once I moved to the department, I knew I needed to connect with the team, but I felt like there was something missing. There was what I referred to as the “HR badge of honor” they held based on years of HR experience. I felt that I would never really understand HR unless I had a role directly tied to HR. I decided that it was up to me to learn more about this new team and HR operation. I knew training was the answer to help me gain a better understanding.
Credentials Are Good
I decided to jump in feet first. I signed up for a nine-week, three-hour, online course that would prepare me for the Professional Human Resources (PHR) exam. I had successfully completed many product and disease state exams throughout my sales and sales training career, so figured, “How hard could this be?”
I remember the first day of the on-line course the instructor informed everyone there was a 59 percent pass rate on the first attempt. We were also told, “The most important difference between the HR certification and the exams you’ve taken in school was that you can’t memorize your way to a successful outcome.”
Wow! I thought about all the previous exams I had created for new hire training, national sales meetings or new product launch meetings. Memorization of the material had served me well, but this was different. Applying the knowledge to actual real-world scenarios would be a new challenge.
A New Resource with Familiar Concepts
As I studied for the exam, I discovered a book entitled, The Seven Princes by David Siler. Covering seven principles of HR management, this book was written to help HR professionals pass the PHR and other HR exams. The concepts in the book were quite simple and I read it several times in preparation for the exam. These seven simple principles would truly serve me well in this new role. Let’s look closer at these principles:
Step back, slow down, and study the situation prior to committing company resources when a change or an initiative is mandated. Ask yourself, “What is the goal?” Focus on, “What do people have to do to reach the goal and then choose one high priority task or behavior?“ I had to admit, there were times when I was guilty of not stepping back and focusing on improving one thing.
Top Management Commitment
Once you have the results of the needs analysis, you can use that information to help sell top management on the necessity of the activities or proposition. If the plan is turned down or if management expresses verbal support, but hedges on providing resources, or the support is shown only in the conference room and not throughout the organization, you may want to rethink the initiative. It is also critical to have support throughout the life of the program.
Being invited to the strategy planning table is the goal. You don’t want to just attend strategy meetings to take orders, but instead you want to be an active part of the strategic discussion. To reach this goal, HR must align all its actions toward the accomplishments of the defined business objectives. My focus had always been on the sales enablement and product priorities on the commercial side and now as a member of the HR team I realized a key concept for HR is also to ensure alignment with the overarching corporate strategy.
The Bottom Line
HR must have a business justification and have the potential to positively impact the bottom-line. This is priority number one on the commercial side of the training and development, and it was no surprise to see it as a key principle for HR professionals, too.
The Most Valuable Assets
An organization is only as good (or bad) as its workforce. The organization does not generate ideas, provide expertise, or form relationships with customers. An organization’s people ultimately determine the effectiveness of strategy development, implementation and competitive success.
Honesty and transparency are the key to building a good foundation for communication. Communication is not always polite conversation. In HR, it is often about the difficult messages, employee feedback, guiding principles, compliance with employee policies or performance improvements. New programs and initiatives do not usually fail due to poor design. They usually fail due to poor execution. Poor execution is often a result of poor communication.
The path to ingenuity, efficiency, productivity, motivation and commitment starts and ends with employee involvement. My list of subject matter experts changed when I moved from commercial to corporate learning, but I will always ensure that employees are involved in the planning of all learning initiatives.
The exam was grueling. I passed the PHR and SHRM-SPR exam with only a nine-week course and my humble years of experience as a learning and development professional. While the world of learning is continually changing and evolving, one of the things we as training professionals must do is to continue to seek ways to demonstrate our value as we seek other roles and opportunities within our organizations.
Moving from the commercial organization to a corporate learning role in HR is not for everyone, but I would encourage everyone to reach out to your HR colleagues and look for synergies in your people development programs.
Ranieka Weston is head of corporate learning and development for United
Therapeutics and is a member of the LTEN Board of Directors. Email Ranieka at