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The convergence and divergence of HRD, HRM & OD

July 29, 2009

If one were to survey practitioners in the HRM and HRD fields they would find an important distinction in the way they compared themselves to one another. HRM practitioners are quick to point out their domains of knowledge and practice is different from HRD practitioners and seemingly those differences facilitate job satisfaction to the extent they enjoy the specificity of what they do. From personal experience, however, it can be quite frustrating to try to point out the differences between the functions of HRM and HRD to someone who is either disinterested or apathetic in the manifestations of the differences. Nonetheless, the question of why and how HRM and HRD differ is an important one. Further, as the fields continue to develop the question of whether or not the lines are blurring in contemporary industry practice is an important one. A third type of discipline, organization development (OD) also comes into play and when looking at the roles and responsibilities of HRM, HRD and OD in a Venn diagram configuration there are areas of overlap and areas where the three fields are distinctly different.

Ruona & Gibson (2004) point out that “Contributing strategically to organizations demands that HRM, HRD, and OD coordinate, partner, and think innovatively about how they relate and how what they do impacts people and organizations” (p. 49). The authors assert that the distinctions between the three fields are continuing to blur and that the synthesis of the full gamut of competencies accompanying each practice empowers HR to be a powerful strategic partners (Ruona & Gibson, 2004). Sambrook (2008) expresses concern that HRD is being “stretched too far” in having to deal with issues that, when viewed on the rhetorical Venn diagram proposed above, fall outside of the scope of what HRD practitioners can and should be addressing. While Watson, Maxwell & Farquharson (2005) and Mankin (2003) agree that the line of demarcation between HRD & HRM is becoming less discernable, they also agree that a strategic partnership between all of these practices be formed for the collective success of the organization.

The Dictionary of Business and Management (2006) defines HRM as “The management of people to achieve individual behaviour and performance that will enhance an organization’s effectiveness” (n.p.) and states that “HRM was traditionally called personnel management and involved such responsibilities as interviewing job applicants, providing training, and storing personal data on employees” (n.p.). The same reference, however, does not define HRD individually but notes that current trends in HRM are more focused on employee engagement and development to facilitate and enhance the organization’s competitive advantages, including training and development activities. The lack of clarity in definition and contrast between HRD and HRM is not surprising or unsupported by the literature as Chalofsky (2007), Storberg-Walker & Bierma (2008) and others have pointed out, ambiguity in scope and definition exist due to the ongoing development and convergence of the respective fields.

Summarily, between the clarity and confusion exists and emergence of practitioners who are being expected to respond to a continuously changing business environment which demands they expand their skills and responsibilities. Roles and duties are no longer limited to either strictly tactical or strategic limitations and practitioners are and will be expected to develop a wider array of tools and domain knowledge which synthesizes the breadth and depth of HRM, HRD & OD simultaneously and seamlessly. It is becoming more and more rare, based upon the literature, that practitioners can stay entirely within one domain or another and that trend seems likely to continue given the downturn in the economy and the increasingly scarce resources organizations will be forced to “make due” with until the trends once again turn upward. Until then, flexibility might become the most important skill a practitioner in any of the three domains can carry.


“human-resource management.” A Dictionary of Business and Management. Oxford University Press. 2006. Retrieved January 19, 2009 from

Mankin, D.P. (2003), “Ambiguity and elusiveness: the principal characteristics of the relationship between HRM and HRD”, paper presented to the International HRM Conference, November, Enschede.

Ruona, W., & Gibson, S. (2004). The making of twenty-first-century HR: An analysis of the convergence of HRM, HRD, and OD. Human Resource Management, 43(1), 49-66.

Sambrook, S. (2008). People, organizations and development: Is HRD being pushed too far? Human Resource Development International, 11(3), 219-221.

Storberg-Walker, J., & Bierema, L. (2008). A historical analysis of HRD knowledge. Journal of European Industrial Training, 32(6), 433-451.

Watson, S., Maxwell, G., & Farquharson, L. (2005). Line managers’ views on adopting human resource roles: The case of Hilton (UK) hotels. Employee Relations, 29(1), 30-49.

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