Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

Elements of Partnership between HR and Learning and Development: Create a Win/Win

Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

Elements of Partnership between HR and Learning and Development: Create a Win/Win

Article excerpt


The relationship between the learning and development (L&D) and human resource (HR) functions in the independent corporations that make up the American Cancer Society are not consistent. In order to be as effective as possible, one Division has developed a list of elements that support the strategic partnership between the HR and L&D.

While the structure in this Division included L&D as part of HR, we believe these elements will apply regardless of structure and reporting relationships.


The American Cancer Society (ACS) is a nationwide, non-profit organization with 13 Divisions, made up of one or more states, and a National Home Office all operating as independent corporations, but aligned under the ACS name in a formal chartering process. Because they are separate corporations, there is no organization-wide required business structure. Within the ACS, the 14 separate entities have various structures in place to provide human resource (HR) and learning and development (L&D) support to the organizations. In some of the 13 Divisions, HR and L&D departments report to a field operations executive as co-equals, while in others, the L&D function reports directly to the HR leader.1 With such a diverse structure, there is not a single "best practice" defining what the disciplines do and how they should interact. The opportunity to create a new structure emerged when, in 1998 six separate ACS organizations in New York and New Jersey merged to become a single entity, incorporated as the Eastern Division. The entity that resulted from this merger created staff of approximately 550 employees, with a senior management team led by the CEO and COO and made up of the heads of Finance and Business Services, Cancer Control, Communications and Marketing, and Income Development departments, along with the Executive Vice Presidents who lead three geographic areas (upstate New York, metropolitan New York and New Jersey.) At the time, the human resources functions were included in the Business Services Department, with the HR VP reporting to the Chief Financial Officer. In early 2006, the HR function was separated from Business Services, the VP elevated to Senior VP level with a reporting relationship to the COO. From the beginning of the merger, lacking an organizational template, the Eastern Division held the premise that Learning and Development is a part of the Human Resources team. As the department evolved within the structure, the strong strategic partnership between traditional human resources functions and learning and development has proven effective.

Following are business and personal practices in place in the Eastern Division of the ACS that are used to build a strategic and operational partnership between HR and L&D for the benefit of both the staff and the mission accomplishments. Discussions with cohorts from other Divisions in the ACS suggest that these elements apply to building strategic partnerships regardless of the actual structure and reporting relationship.

Element 1 - Commitment to an employee-centered focus.

Our work is only important in the context of our constituents, the employees. With that as an overarching principle, conflicts over which program or service element is more important are unnecessary. To the employee with an insurance problem, benefits is the most important area. For the motivated staff member who wants to grow in the organization, it might be the learning function. It has been our experience that every organizational issue that occurs has a learning opportunity, and every learning program must link to an organizational issue in order to be relevant. When we are not concerned about which function is more important, but know that it is the employee who most important, we understand that the activities in all of the areas within HR and L&D must work together to support those employees. According to James McGovern, Chief Financial Officer of the Eastern Division of the ACS, "The leadership of the ACS, Eastern Division, recognizes that its primary offering to our constituents is the expertise, influence, compassion, energy and leadership provided by its workforce, both paid and unpaid. …

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