HRD is an emerging concept to distinguish between strategic and business-oriented learning from traditional learning and development (Sambrook, 2004). HRD is generally focused on three areas in organization, viz. “training and development, career development and organizational development” (Fenwick, 2004, p.193). According to McCarthy et al. (2003, p. 58), the purpose of HRD is to foster the process of training in a company and to facilitate the organizational learning process.
Despite with history of about fifteen year, HRD is remains as a vague and poorly defined concept (Garavan et al., 1999; Sambrook, 2004; Stewart, 2005), partly due to the difficulties in defining the scope for the concept and lack of a unified definition (Garavan et al., 1999). The concept of HRD is interrelated with a wide range of disciplines such as “economics, sociology, psychology, strategic management, leadership and human resource management” (Stewart, 2005, p.91). Definitions are therefore varies with different perspectives adopted by different authors (Garavan et al., 1999).
Most HRD literatures are performance-oriented or learning-oriented as pointed out by Simmonds and Pederson (2003). For instance, Sambrook (2004, p.611) defines HRD as “all those activities that seek to facilitate all forms of learning and development at all levels within organizations”. On the other hand, Slotte et al. (2004, p.485) defines HRD as “covering functions related primarily on training, career development, organizational development and research and development in addition to other organizational HR functions where these are intended to foster learning capacity at all levels of the organization, to integrate learning culture into its overall business strategy and to promote the organizations effort to achieve high quality performance”.
According to Hatcher; Kalra (cited in Hatcher 2003), HRD has been attacked for treating human as resources which to be manipulated or used to achieve organizational goal. The authors further argued that the HRD definition emphasis too much on “resources” while overlook “potential” (Hatcher, 2003, p.1). According to the Hatcher (2003), there are potential in each employee which exceeds the economic value. Therefore, treating human as resources “places them in a subservient and compliant position to organizational goals and limits our ability to be in harmony with nature (Hatcher, 2003, p.1).
On the other hand, Sambrook (2004) added to the critiques of HRD by arguing that most HRD literatures generally emphasis on performance outcome and neglect the organizational issues concerning the marginalized populations. According to Bierema (2002, p.245), the issues of “diversity, equality, power, heterosexism, discrimination, sexism, racism, or other issues of oppression in organizations” are ignored by current HRD literatures. Bierema and Cseh (2003) further argued that these “undiscussable” issues are ignored but yet, have significant impacts on both individual and organization. To address such issues, Rigg et al. (2007) had argued that it is necessary to think HRD from a critical stance. They argued that there is a need for “critical turn in HRD” (Rigg et al., 2007).
2.0 Critical Approach to Human Resource Development
Before discussing on what is critical human resource development (CHRD), it is necessary to understand the term “critical”. Antonacopoulou (cited in Fenwick, 2004, p. 195) defines critical as “providing voice for the repressed and marginalized, exposing assumptions and values, revealing the use of power and control, and challenging inequalities and sacrifices made in the name of efficiency, effectiveness, and profitability through a self-reflexive critique of rhetoric, traditional, authority, and objectivity”. On the other hand, Burrell (cited in Sambrook, 2004, p. 614) suggested that “critical theory is associated with challenging “rational” organizational practices and replacing them with more democratic and emancipatory practices”.
The two definitions implies that being critical mean to challenge unjust practices in the organization and to pursue a more democratic and justice practice. Hence, according to Kincheloe (cited in Fenwick, 2004, p.198), critical approach to HRD is dedicated to change organizations and their HRD practices towards a more “just, equitable, life-giving, and sustainable workplace”.
However, Francis (2007) argued that critical approach to HRD is not opposed to traditional HRD. In fact, it seeks to help practitioners and academics to better understand and aware of the ambiguities in current HRD (Francis, 2007). Besides, it also seeks to demonstrate how inequalities and shift in power can affect the abilities to “control the production, distribution and “consumption” of HRD practices” and ultimately, the effects of these inequalities to the individual development and participation of employees (Francis, 2007, p.84).
After understanding the meaning of critical in the context of HRD, then how to be critical in HRD? According to Antonacopoulou in his definition of “critical”, being critical can be achieved through self-critique on “rhetoric, traditional, authority and objectivity”. On the other hand, Burrell (2001) proposed that a critical approach should comprise of six components, viz. “political, iconoclastic, epistemological, investigative, revelatory and emancipatory” (Burrell, 2001 p. 14-17). Sambrook (2009) applied Burrell’s framework in the HRD context and outlined the attributes that distinguish CHRD from traditional one, which presented as follow:
Political. Burrell (2001) argued that political perspective of critical approach is to understand the use of power in an organization and how political forces in organization can shape or influence human life. Hence, CHRD seek to identify the key stakeholders and influencers of HRD and examine their influence on the HRD activities (Sambrook, 2004; 2009). Unlike traditional HRD where employees and trainees are suppressed and excluded from giving their opinion, CHRD aware of the need for the shift of power to allow traditional oppressed groups to have more freedom and voicing opportunities (Sambrook, 2004; 2009).
Iconoclastic. According to Burrell (2001, p.15), being critical involve “breaking down the solidity of dominant imagery and icon”. Therefore, CHRD attempts to challenge current perception of HRD and seeks to identify the purpose underlying each HRD activities (Sambrook, 2009). HRD suppose to serve the purpose of employees’ development or merely focus on performance-outcome? Asking such question will then lead to the exposure of weaknesses in current HRD activities which is performance-oriented (as argued by most critical HRD literatures) while the development of individual in organization is neglected (Sambrook, 2009).
Epistemological. Sambrook (2004, 2009) argued that epistemological perspective is concerned with understanding of the foundations of HRD and the methodologies used in the construction of the knowledge about HRD. CHRD challenges currently dominant positivism and quantitative approaches in the construction of the knowledge about HRD and to adopt a more qualitative methods which will enable more in-depth study on the “values, morality and ethics” in HRD (Sambrook, 2009, p.66).
Investigative. Burrell (2001) argued investigative perspective of critical approach try to challenge something that others have taken for granted. Being investigative in the context of HRD concerns with surfacing the social equality issues in organization which have been neglected in current research and practice of HRD (Sambrook, 2004). This maybe include an investigation of why certain groups of people having the priorities in receiving training than the others. Besides, investigative perspective can also include the investigation of the difference between what is HRD (in the eye of practitioners) and what actually been done by them (Sambrook, 2004).
Revelatory. Burrell (2001, p.16) argued that, “by attacking illusion, there can be a concomitant demonstration of what is illusion and what is truth”. Given the difficulties and ambiguities in defining the term HRD, revelatory perspective of CHRD attempts to challenge current understanding of HRD in order to find the “truth” of HRD and to unified the different discourses which currently regarded as HRD (Sambrook, 2004; 2009). However, Burrell (2001) argued that it is difficult to practice revelatory perspective as it is problematic to distinguish between illusion and truth.
Emancipatory. According to Sambrook (2009, p. 67), there are arguments on whether HRD should serve the purpose of freeing employees from “capitalist exploitation and employment degradation”. However, Burrell (2001) argued that it is difficult to achieve emancipatory as organization system always involve control and the effect of power is unavoidable.
From the above attributes, it is noted that these strands are interrelated (Sambrook, 2004). Sambrook (2009) argued that individual awareness of the attributes of CHRD is important for CHRD to be put into practice. In addition, individual antecedents such as “understanding and acceptance of one’s role, recognition of the boundaries of one’s profession, political awareness, excellent communication skills, respect and trust” are also essential for the success of CHRD (Sambrook, 2009, p.66). In addition to personal antecedent, organization antecedents that involved include organizational culture of “participation, democracy, learning and personal development” (Sambrook, 2009, p.66)
3.0 Contributions of Critical Human Resource Development
Sambrook (2009) mentioned in her article ” Critical HRD: a concept analysis” that the practice of CHRD will result in a “more democratic work production, improved (working/learning) relationship, more effective and relevant learning, enhanced transfer of learning, improved creativity and productivity, and an acceptance of alternative approaches to knowing” (Sambrook, 2009, p. 68).
3.1 Political Perspective
Contributions to Individual
As mentioned above, political perspective of CHRD aware of the needs for the shift of power in an organization to allow traditionally oppressed groups to voice out their opinion. In line with that, Lowe (cited in Fenwick, 2004) argued that CHRD plays the mediating role to allow employees unions and management to collaborate in designing jobs, training and working condition. He further argued that CHRD can help to “counter management push for new HRM practices that undercut the union, could champion a people-centered agenda and help leverage management collaboration” (Lowe cited in Fenwick, 2004).
Besides, the shift of power also related to the concept of empowerment. Empowerment is the shift of decision making power to employees (Erstard, 1997). According to Zeithamal; Berry and Parasuraman (cited in Ravichandran, n.d., p.2), employee empowerment is proven to have positive impact on job satisfaction and reduces role stress. It is also suggested that empowered employees experience lesser job ambiguity and have quicker response to problem as they can avoid wasting time referring the problem to their superior (Singh cited in Ravichandran, n.d., p.2). In addition, empowered employees are also demonstrating greater commitment and loyalty to the organization (Greasley et al., 2008).
Contribution to Organization
Employee empowerment as mentioned above also has its positive impacts on the organization effectiveness. According to Ladden (n.d.), empowerment can improve the productivity, decision making process and quality of service. The improvement of decision making process is due to the fact that decisions are made by employees who have the most appropriate information, expertise needed (Ladden, n.d.). Besides, empowered employees will also likely to have greater commitment to the decision made, thus, enable product or customer problem to be dealt more quickly which in turn will have positive impact on productivity and customer service quality(Ladden, n.d.).
3.2 Iconoclastic and Emancipatory Perspective
Contributions to Individual
From the iconoclastic perspective, the breakdown of the dominant performance-oriented purpose of HRD activities and the recognition of “true” purpose of HRD will lead to individual development in an organization. Fenwick (2004) who examines the practices of CHRD in workplace suggested that one of the CHRD practices in organization takes in the form of emancipatory action learning where employees learns as a team and collaborate to solve a problem through direct experimentation, critical thinking and communication. According to Lanahan and Maldonado (cited in Spence, 1998), action learning can help participants to solve problems more effectively compared with simple training and at the same time, develop leadership in them.
Marquardt (2000) in his article “action learning and leadership” added to the point of leadership development by arguing that action learning can help improve individual effectiveness by developing good leadership attributes such as system thinking; risk taking and innovative; openness and share decision making; and become teachers, coach and mentor to others. Participants can develop system thinking skill through the process of asking new questions to gain better insight of a problem before coming out with its solution (Marquardt, 2000). This will in turn increase their ability to “handle complex, seemingly unconnected aspects of organizational challenge” (Marquardt, 2000).
Besides, action learning can also increase the ability of participants to think in new ways rather than following the traditional route which will then improve their innovativeness and willingness to take risk (Marquardt, 2000). Furthermore, participants in action learning program can also learn to accept others’ opinion, learn from others’ perspective and to provide valuable feedback which will then help to create a culture of openness among participants and leaders are learning how to share their decision making power with others (Marquardt, 2000).
Contributions to Organization
York et al. (cited in Spence, 1998) suggested that action learning can also help to facilitate the transfer of learning as participants are able to take immediate action, thus making changes to the practices in an organization. On the other hand, Alvesson and Willmott (cited in Fenwick, 2004, p. 203) argued that emancipatory action learning can help employees to develop critical assessment about unfair practices in organization and then helps to improve the organization through actions to address such issues.
According to Fenwick (2004), another practice of CHRD is in the form of emancipatory project- a small projects aims at addressing a specific oppressive issue. Meyerson and Kolb (cited in Fenwick, 2004, p. 204) has conducted such project and found that the project can yield a fruitful result to initiate changes in organization. On the other hand, Tosey and Nugent (cited in Fenwick, 2004, p. 204) demonstrated another example showing “critical inquiry-focused form of action learning help transform management team of a failing small manufacturing company to think creatively about strategy and change the way they related to one another to be more supportive, caring and challenging”.
Challenges in Practice
Despite the fruitful benefits of emancipatory action learning as mentioned above, Fenwick (2004) argued that the practice of the approach was proven to be difficult. Difficulties arise as emancipatory action learning should involve employees at the lower level of hierarchy and punitive actions from managers when the project failed to achieve expected result may caused further oppressed or violence of employees in the organization (Fenwick, 2004). Therefore, to avoid that to be happened, Fournier and Grey (cited in Fenwick, 2004, p.203) argued that the intention of emancipatory action learning should not be emphasized on performance outcome. Contrary, emancipatory action learning should emphasize on dimensions such as “equality, fairness, job condition and politics of knowledge legitimation that are embedded in problems of organizational bottleneck and communication blockages” (Fenwick, 2004, p. 203).
However, the non-performance intention is apparently contradict with the traditional business objective that pursuing business performance, efficiency and productivity. Fenwick (2004) argued that performance is arguably the purpose of organizational existence and the original purpose of HRD is to enhance performance. The practice of CHRD that emphasize on promoting equality, fairness and emancipatory of employees condemned the hierarchical management of human learning and the productivity-driven purposes of business (Fenwick, 2004). This becomes a great challenge for practitioners in their efforts to adopt critical approach in HRD.
3.3 Epistemological Perspective
Contributions to Individual
From the epistemological perspective, the challenge of the methodologies used in the construction of the knowledge about HRD is related to the concept of critical reflection (Sambrook, 2009). According to Brookfield (1988), there are four major activities in critical reflection, viz. “assumption analysis, contextual awareness, imaginative speculation and reflective skepticism”.
Van Woerkom (2004) who studies about the effects of critical reflection on HRD argued that critical reflection in HRD will helps to facilitate more effective learning of individual in an organization. Employees who engage in critical thinking are likely to display critical reflective behavior of “reflecting, career awareness, experimenting, learning from mistakes, critical opinion sharing, invites others for feedback, and challenging groupthink” (Van Woerkom, 2004, p. 187). The author argues that the adoption of critical reflective behavior has proven to have positive impacts on both the individual as well as organization. In the individual level, the adoption of critically reflective behavior will increase employees’ self-efficacy and participation in the workplace (Van Woerkom, 2004).
The improvement in self-efficacy is due to the fact that employees need to have a certain degree of competency and risk-taking behavior to display critical reflective behavior in the workplace (Van Woerkom, 2004). They have to withstand social pressure and be critical instead of following the traditional ways or practices (Van Woerkom, 2004). Van Woerkom (2004, p. 187) argued that critical reflective behavior not only allow employees “to develop their own competences and to connect their working life to personal development, but it also enabled them to optimize or to critically analyze and try to change work practice”. In addition, Van Woerkom (2004) further argued that employees who adopt critical reflective behavior are likely to have a steeper learning curve and this will have positive effect on their self-efficacy.
On the other hand, the increase in participation is due to the fact that the adoption of critical reflective behavior requires employees to get involved in the organization and to understand the work practice at different level of organization as well as the scope to solve problem and learn from mistakes (Van Woerkom, 2004). According to Van Woerkom (2004), employees that display critical reflective work behavior are more often being invited to participate in organization.
Contributions to Organization
In the organizational level, Van Woerkom (2004) had conducted investigation in two organizations (a textile painting factory and a forensic psychiatric clinic) and found that critically reflective behavior is effective to transform organization from “Taylorism to a modern organization, with participating and self-managing workers” (p. 187). Van Woerkom argued that to achieve this, employees have “to reflect on their own current and future position in the organization and to reflect on their own behavior, instead of blaming others for mistakes” (Woerkom, 2004, p. 187).
Besides, the practices of challenging groupthink, ask for feedback, critical opinion sharing will likely to stimulate double loop learning in organization (Van Woerkom and Croon, 2008). According to Argyris (2002), “Double-loop learning occurs when errors are corrected by changing the governing values and then the action”. By practicing critical opinion sharing, ask for feedback and challenging groupthink, employees are able to share what they have learned with others, thereby facilitate the effectiveness of learning and working of the organization (Van Woerkom and Croon, 2008).
Furthermore, Natale and Nicci (2006) in their research of critical thinking in organization pointed out that low level of conflict can help to stimulate the quality of decision making of a team. Therefore, conflict that resulted from critical thinking of individual in organization is useful to stimulate the performance of the organization (Natele and Nicci, 2006). However, the research also revealed that when conflict intensified, its positive effects will diminishes and team performance will deteriorates (Natele and Nicci, 2006).
Challenges in Practice
Despite the benefits of practicing critical reflection in the workplace to both employees and organization, Sambrook (2009) argued that individual and organizational barriers may arise in the effort of organization to implement CHRD which caused by “dogma, misunderstanding, and perceived threat of loss of power”. Particularly, the implementation of CHRD requires the shift of power which will may causes authority or management to resist the adoption of CHRD because the fear of losing their power (Sambrook, 2009). Besides, Reynolds (cited in Rigg and Trehan, 2008, p.378) argued that dissonance resulted from challenging status quo and questioning their position may cause individual to resist engaging in critical thinking.
Current HRD is emphasis on the learning and performance while ignore the issues of “diversity, equality, power, heterosexism, discrimination, sexism, racism, or other issues of oppression in organizations” (Bierema, 2002, p. 245). Therefore, CHRD is emerged to address these issues. Sambrook (2009) using Burrell’s (2001) framework of six strands to a critical approach has constructed the attributes of CHRD, which are: “political, iconoclastic, epistemological, investigative, revelatory and emancipatory”. Generally, critical perspective of HRD is about “challenging contemporary practices, exposing assumptions, revealing illusion, and questioning tradition” (Sambrook, 2004, p. 614) in the objective to create a more just, equitable, discrimination-free working environment and to contribute toward human capital development.
CHRD facilitates more effective learning of individual which will then increase the competencies and self-efficacy of individual (Van Woerkom, 2004). It is also argued that critical thinker in an organization are more often being invited to participate in the organization (Van Woerkom, 2004). Furthermore, the practice of CHRD can help individual to develop leadership as argued by Marquardt (2000). On the other hand, empowerment of employees helps to increase the productivity and responsiveness to problem while reducing the job ambiguity and work stress of employees (Ravichandran, n.d.).
In organizational level, CHRD can facilitate double-loop learning which will help to change the practice of the organization (Van Woerkom and Croon, 2008). Besides, CHRD can also help to create a company with independent and participating workforce as suggested by Van Woerkom (2004). In addition, the effect of employee empowerment can also help to increase the productivity, service quality and decision making process as argued by Ladden (n.d.).
However, the practice of CHRD will meet certain challenges in term of contradiction between the objective of CHRD and performance purpose of business objective (Fenwick, 2004) and the reluctance of individual to engage in the practice of CHRD (Sambrook, 2009). Therefore, Sambrook (2009) argued that organizational and individual antecedents as mentioned above are crucial for CHRD to be put into practice.
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