What is HRD? A definitional review and synthesis of the HRD domain

Bob Hamlin, Jim Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose The aim of the paper is to present the findings of a definitional review and comparative study of HRD definitions. It also reports the results of comparing and contrasting a synthesis of the “intended purposes” and “processes” constituting these definitions against various definitions and conceptualisations of organisational development (OD) and coaching. Design/methodology/approach A targeted literature review was conducted to identify and collate a comprehensive range of HRD, OD, and coaching definitions/conceptualisations. These were then subjected to forms of content and thematic analysis in search of similarities and differences. Findings The literature review has revealed many “contradictions”, “confusions” and “controversies” concerning the identity of HRD. Results from the definitional review suggest two or more of four synthesised “core purposes” of HRD are embedded explicitly or implicitly within the respective HRD definitions examined. Furthermore, these HRD “core purposes” and “processes” are virtually the same as those associated with OD and coaching Research limitations/implications The definitions used in the study were limited to those that define HRD practice at the individual, group and organisational level, and are based on conventional and predominantly western conceptualisations. A challenge and dilemma arising from our findings bring into question the notion of HRD, OD, and coaching as unique and distinct fields of study and practice. Rather, the evidence implies there may be a compelling logic for these three fields to converge into a unified disciplinary domain concerned with “people and organisation development”. Originality/value The paper is particularly relevant for scholars interested in HRD theorising and/or developing HRD theories on the basis of empirical evidence. This is because they need to know whether the foci of their studies lie inside or outside the boundaries between HRD and other related domains. It may also be of interest to practitioners who wish to identify themselves as HRD professionals, as opposed to OD or coaching professionals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)199-220
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of European Industrial Training
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Business development
  • Coaching
  • Human resource development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Development
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)


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