An Introduction to HRD

Human Resources Development (HRD) refers to the function (or discipline) that focuses on the people who work for a company. HRD specialists (both internal employees and external consultants) use a variety of performance assessment and management tools to help the company’s workers improve their job skills, increase their job satisfaction and plan for a full and rewarding future.


The term “Human Resource Development” was coined by Leonard Nadler, professor emeritus at George Washington University and author of "The Handbook of Human Resource Development." Nadler first publicized the term at the 1969 American Society for Training and Development conference in Miami. With his wife, Zeace, Nadler has since written many books about training and development, including “Every Manager’s Guide to Human Resource Development."


To improve the working life of the company’s employees, HRD specialists use a variety of tools and techniques:

• Assessments and surveys (to determine what gaps exist between the employee’s ability to do the work and what the job requires). • Training programs to improve job performance. This training can be offered face-to-face in a traditional classroom setting, or as an online course. It can also be group-based or self-paced. • Analyses of the current business situation and projections for how much “human capital” will be necessary to meet future needs. • Strategic plans for hiring the best workers and dealing with under-productive employees. • Consultations with upper management and coaching of supervisors.


The concept of Human Resource Development is no longer unique to the United States. Since 1974, HRD has been studied and implemented in India, where the National HRD network continues to promote research that examines the dynamic among personnel matters such as recruitment, retention, appraisal and training. In both Russia and China, the transition from a state-run economic system to a market-run economy has created a need for ongoing HRD research and application. In 2002, a symposium, “The Impact of Globalization and Human Capacity Building," was held in Taiwan and attended by delegates from Australia, Canada, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Chinese Taipei and the U.S.


HRD specialists cannot “cure” all organizational ills. Too often managers forget this point and send under-performing workers to the HRD staff to be “fixed.” Or they approve large-scale training initiatives that give employees a couple of days or a week off work to attend, say, a team-building workshop, and then are disappointed when work groups are just as dysfunctional as they were before the training. Instead, managers should explore (with the HRD staff’s help) a variety of performance improvement interventions (such as coaching or counseling) that will add measurable impact to the company’s bottom line.


Employees who feel valued will add more value to their organization. A well-thought-out and well-run HRD plan will achieve measurable positive outcomes for the company. An effective safety training course, for example, will lead to fewer safety violations. A manufacturing skills course of study will result in decreased down time and increased output. A customer service training program will produce (and retain) more customers.


  • The Handbook of Human Resource Development; Leonard Nadler; 1990 (2nd edition)
  • Human Resource Development; John Wilson, editor; 2005 (2nd edition)
  • Every Manager’s Guide to Human Resource Development; Leonard and Zeace Nadler; 1992


About the Author

Ellen Dowling, Ph.D., is a communication skills trainer and consultant based near Albuquerque, N.M. She has published many articles on training and development, and was formerly a writer for the Motley Fool. She is also a visiting professor at the University of Beijing, China, where she teaches business communication courses to international MBA students and Chinese business and government leaders.