Comparative analysis of two theoretical foundations of HRD


Human resource development involves the process of improving the skills and knowledge of individuals in an organization - Comparative analysis of two theoretical foundations of HRD introduction. The improvement of skills is done through learning. There exists different modes of learning and the organization is at liberty to choose method of learning that is cost effective to the organization. The two theories of social learning theory and resource based theory underlie the human resource development practice and show the benefits to be gained by adopting the practice. This paper will show in detail the concepts and elements of the theories, their implications on the HRD and their strengths and weaknesses.

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Organizations operate in an environment that is subject to changes that can be caused either internally or externally. Internal disturbances within the organization can be as a result of a change in the mode of operations of the company. External disturbances can be caused by changes in the external environment that the organization is related to. These disturbances are not within the control of the organization as opposed to internal disturbances that the organization has full control over. These changes in the internal and external environment give rise to opportunities that influence the activities of the company either negatively or positively. It is therefore prudent for the organization to identify these opportunities or threats and direct the operations of the company in the right direction. This will enhance the continued survival of the firm as it adjusts to these changes thus avoiding the risk of halting its operations.

These changes affect the company as a whole and streamlining of the company’s activities should be done in all the departments. The company should ensure that its workforce is equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills that will fully exploit the opportunities and avoid the threats. The adaptability of the organization depends on the quality of its staff. A capable workforce leads to the efficiency in the operations of the organization and is able to steer the activities of the firm towards achieving its objectives. The human resource department is charged with the responsibility of ensuring the organization has the right skill and knowledge in its workforce. Employees within the company undergo the recruitment and selection process that is conducted by the human resource department. The process starts with the identification of the vacant positions in the organization. The relevant skills and knowledge are then identified that will ensure the company’s operations are efficient. This is then followed by making the vacancy public so as to attract prospective candidates. This is done by use of the media or involvement of recruitment companies to scout for the candidates.

Once the applications have been received, the department begins the short listing exercise to identify individuals who meet the requirements of the company. The short listed candidates are invited for interviews that are meant to test their skills and knowledge. Thereafter the organization conducts the selection exercise where individuals who passed the interviews are recalled for another and final round of interviews. After the interview, the decision of the panel is made known to the successful candidate(s). These processes ensure that individuals have the necessary skills and knowledge that will meet the operating demands of the company (Swanson & Holton, 2001, p157).

The capabilities of the workforce have a direct impact on the company as they give the company a competitive edge against its competitors. Due to the environmental changes, the company has to adapt to these changes to avoid the loss of revenue in the organization. To adapt to these changes, the human resource department conducts a training exercise that aims at improving on the capabilities of the employee. The changes in the environment maybe technological or managerial and employees need to understand the requirements of these changes. This training is referred to as the human resource development and is aimed at improving the competencies of the employee. Human resource development is the activity of improving the skills and knowledge of the employees towards achieving the objectives of the company.

Theories, Propositions, Elements and Concepts.

Human Resource Development is founded on theories that aim at showing its relevance in the organization. Among the many theories that the exercise is founded on, this paper will discuss on two theories. These theories are resource based theory and the social cognitive theory.

The Social (Learning) Cognitive Theory.

 The social theory is concentrates on learning within the social environment. It states that individuals within an environment can learn through a number of ways including observation to influence their behavior. By watching the behaviors of other individuals, one can be able to learn the required character that is accepted within the environment (Hatcher & Hatcher, 2002, p76). The social learning theory encompasses both the cognitive and behaviorists ideas to determine the behavior of an individual. The theory assumes that people can learn by way of observation. By watching people perform their tasks, individuals can also learn to perform the task. The outcomes of the way people perform their tasks give the individual the chance to decide if the method is beneficial or otherwise. Therefore the individual has the freedom to choose their behaviors within the social environment.

The theory considers learning as an internal process where individuals have control over their mode of learning. The individual can choose the best method that will ensure they understand what is required of them. Learning being an internal process may influence the behavior of an individual or not. This will depend on the outcome of the lesson learnt by the individual and their attitude towards it. Learning within this theory is only done through observation therefore it does not have to necessarily lead to behavior change.  Individual behavior is directed towards achieving a particular goal. Individuals will only adopt those behaviors that are in line with their goals. With time, behavior becomes an internally regulated process that is determined by the individual depending on its ability to meet their goals. Punishment on an individual may positively or negatively change their behavior. To ensure punishment positively impacts on the behavior of an individual, it should be administered in a fair manner such that the individual views it as a correctional process.

There are three concepts underlying this theory which are; learning through observation, self-belief and self-monitoring. These three concepts define how an individual’s behavior is changed and maintained. This theory states that an individual learns only through observing how people behave and replicate the same in their lives. This gives the individual the freedom to choose which behaviors they would like to adopt. Individuals need to believe in themselves that they can change and display the required character in the environment. To change a behavior, the individual needs to be self motivated on the need for behavior change. This will ensure the individual will go to all lengths to change their behavior. The individual should perform self monitoring activities to evaluate their progress on their behavior change. The self monitoring activities should also evaluate on the attainability of the individual goals and how the behavior change is bringing them closer to achieving their goals (Ward, 2008, p176).

Resource Based Theory.

This theory states that the efficiency of any organization can be achieved by the efficient utilization of its resources. Organizations consist of resources which they employ in ensuring the continuity of its operations. These resources may be in the form of financial and human capital, raw materials and suppliers among others. These resources should be utilized in an efficient manner towards achieving its objectives. This theory makes the assumption of instability of the business operating environment. This assumption is realistic since the operating environments are dynamic and the organization has to conduct analysis of the internal and external environment. This will assist the organization in identifying opportunities and threats and initiate the necessary changes. The theory further assumes that cognitive abilities are limited thus individuals are unable to adequately identify opportunities in the environment. The organization therefore allocates its resources to ventures that seem profitable and do not identify opportunities that they will use the resources to exploit. With this theory individuals do not display opportunistic behavior where they identify opportunities in the environment. Individuals are not involved in the exploitation of opportunities that are gainful to the organization.

            “The main elements of the resource-based theory …. are enterprises are    collections of resources and capabilities; the effectiveness of an enterprise          depends on the balance between resources and capabilities, on one side, and         customer demands, on the other; the growth of an enterprise is limited by its             resources and capabilities…” (Enders, 2004, p109).

The resource based theory concentrates on the resources and capabilities of the organization and the customers of the organization. The organization does not aim at increasing its market share but rather retain its market. It defines that resources and capabilities are the core components of an organization’s competitive edge.

Similarities and Differences.

            The two theories exhibit similarities since they both address the issue of improving the capabilities of individuals. Both the social cognitive and the resource based theory address the issue of improving individual capabilities by way of learning. Learning is at the centre of these theories and it provides the best way in which an individual can increase their skills and knowledge. The theories also state that capabilities can be transferred among individuals through learning. This is made possible by the art of imitation where an individual copies the acts of the other thereby improving on their skills. The skills can then be replicated to various individuals within the environment and as a result the skill is widespread.

            The theories approach the improvement of capabilities issues differently. The social cognitive theory states that individuals can improve their capabilities through observation. The theory provides for observational learning where individuals have to view a task being done and then be able to do it. The resource based theory states that individuals can learn through both observation and training. Individuals need help to ensure that they acquire the skills and knowledge required. Easy skills can be acquired through observation but the technical skills can be acquired through undergoing training. The social cognitive theory focuses on the improvement of the individual by change in behavior. To acquire the necessary skills, the individual needs to change their behavior and become self regulated. The resource based theory focuses on the resources of the company that should be increased through improving the capabilities of the individuals. The resources and capabilities form the competitive edge of the organization and should thus be considered carefully. The resource based theory assumes limited cognitive ability where individuals cannot be able to fully learn through observation. These theorists assumed that the organization was insensitive to changes within its environment and that the core activity is the protection of its capital.

Implications for Research and Practice in HRD.

            The social cognitive and resource based theory aims at improving the capabilities of individuals for the survival of their organization. Both theories aim at improving individual capacities to ensure their efficient operations in the organization. By practicing the HRD, these theories provide that the individuals are able to learn through observation of the operating environment (Deckop, 2006, p65). Most changes within the environment can be observed and the necessary recommendations made. Changes like increased competition need not be highlighted for individuals to note. This increases their awareness and response to changes of the events surroundings them. This facilitates human resource development that aims at improving the capabilities of individuals towards realizing the organizations objective.

The resource based theory ensures that the organizations resource structure does decrease and that the organization is able to meet the requirements of its operations. The resources of the organization ensure that the firm has the ability to ensure its operations flow smoothly. However, this theory does not advocate for the identification of opportunities that will result into the growth of the organization (Fahy, 2001, p121). The social cognitive theory, insists on the need for the individual to improve on their awareness skills. This allows the individual to learn on their own initiative and draw the necessary conclusion. The individual makes it a behavior to identify changes in the environment therefore increasing their efficiency in the organization. The behavior is directed towards the achievement of the organization’s goals.

            The resource based theory assumes instability in the business operating environment therefore the need to protect the resources of the company. by protecting the resources of the company, the organization will be able to conduct its operations efficiently in harsh business environments. These organizations tend to adopt rigid operations where they aim at protecting their resources instead of employing the resources to increase the organizations operations. The social cognitive theory encourages individuals to identify opportunities within the environment which the organization can exploit to increase its growth. This method of learning imposes the behavior of analyzing environments to identify opportunities and threats. This increases the abilities of the individual towards achieving the organization’s goals and therefore contributes enormously to the operations of the organization.

Application to HRD, Research and Practice.

            The theories contribute immensely towards the practice of human resource development. Their distinct views in addressing the environmental changes allow the organization to carefully consider exploiting any opportunities in the environment. While the social cognitive theory advocates for opportunistic behavior, the resource based theory does not allow for this behavior. The organization should carefully analyze the benefits to be derived from the exploitation of the opportunity or if the organization is better with its current operations. The theories allow for the diversity of the organizations workforce who may have differing views on how to go about an activity (Woodall, Lee & Stewart, 2004, p172). The workforce may comprise of creative and concrete thinkers who approach issues differently. These two categories of thinkers may need different methods of learning which the theories provide for.

            The social cognitive and resource based theory ensure that individuals learn skills that will be beneficial to them and to the company. by employing both the observation learning method and the training method, the organization ensures the full learning of the required skills by the individual. The individuals also conduct themselves in the right manner that identifies with the values of the organization. The human resource development is based on equipping the individual with the skills and knowledge required for the achievement of the company’s objectives. With the improved ability of learning by the individual, learning becomes a continuous process (Gilley, Eggland & Maycunich, 2002, p156). Individuals are able to learn freely by having the tendency of regularly analyzing environment at their free time.

            Through the analysis of the theories that constitute the human resource development practice, the organization is able to identify the importance of identifying the benefits of improving the capabilities of individuals. Individual capacity should be increased as the environment changes thereby requiring more knowledge and skills to remain relevant in the business environment. Instead of hiring new individuals, a process that will be expensive, the management can decide to improve the skills and knowledge of the current workforce. The method of improving will consist of learning at its heart. Learning can be done through various channels for example enrolling for lessons and observations among others. Depending on the skills required, the organization chooses the right and cost effective method to ensure the employees acquire the skills.

            The theories ensure that organizations remain profitable in conducting their operations by enabling individuals to improve on their knowledge, skill, know-how and talent. The theories acknowledge that human capital is the largest resource at the disposal of the organization (Boxall, Purcell & Wright, 2007, p79). Efficiency in their operations results to efficiency in the utilization of the organization’s resources. Human resource development therefore aims at improving the capabilities of individual employees through learning.


            Learning can be conducted effectively through other methods apart from observation. Observation does not provide an effective method of learning since individuals choose what to learn and not what to learn. They may choose to avoid the difficult skills and only learn the simple skills. Individuals have the tendency to avoid the hard tasks and it will only be prudent for the facilitators to be involved in the learning process. The human resource development program can improve on the individuals’ skills and knowledge by enrolling them in learning institutions (Elliott & Turnbull, 2005, p45). This will ensure that the learners comprehensively acquire all the necessary skills to increase their efficiency in the organization.

            Individuals also have to be motivated and goal oriented. This will assist in directing them in their learning to ensure they achieve their objectives. The learning process should be directed towards achieving an objective and equipping themselves with the relevant knowledge and skills (Reid, Barrington & Brown, 2004, p89). Mostly individuals are not adequately motivated and they therefore lack goals which they set to achieve. This may be as a result of inadequate remuneration for the identification of opportunities and threats which benefit the company. These theories do not operate effectively where the individuals are not motivated. Motivation serves a key role in the effectiveness of the human resource development program where individuals understand fully the importance of improving their skills and knowledge. Therefore, motivation is very crucial in the process of human resource development so as to level the expectations of individuals and those of the company.

            There exists barriers to the learning process and they should be at their minimum for effective learning to occur. This ensures that individuals concentrate on the learning process without divided attention. By learning through observation, individuals are subject to interruptions from the environment and therefore hinder the comprehensive acquisition of the relevant knowledge and skills. Individuals on the other hand have varying learning abilities and while for some it is easier to learn through observation, others require mentor to guide them through the learning process (Hatcher & Hatcher, 2002, p56). Therefore learning through observation may not be an effective mode of learning as it is easily distorted.

            By learning through observation, individuals learn almost on everything both positive and negative. The negative aspects of the environment could easily influence the behavior of individuals resulting to inefficiency in the operations of the organization. Learning should also be a guided process directed towards the achievement of goals both at the organization and individual level. Negative behavior brings about a negative attitude in the organization which leads to inefficiency in the operations of the organization.

Strengths and Weaknesses.

Learning through observation is cost effective for implementation of the human resource development program. Individual goals are identified and learning is directed towards their achievement (Wilson, 2005, p56). Individuals are informed of what is expected of them and they are let to conduct the learning process on their own. The organization therefore expects results from the individuals by testing their skills and knowledge after a stated duration of time. Individuals on the other hand can learn on almost anything in their environment. They are able to identify changes in the business environment and find ways in which to exploit the opportunities and avoid the threats poised by the changes.

The theories ensure that the organizations’ competitiveness is maintained by improving on the skills and knowledge of the individual employees. The employees acquire the behavior of analyzing their environments and identifying opportunities that the organization can capitalize on. Both theories ensure the learning process is undertaken by individuals therefore increasing the wealth of their skills and knowledge. The company through the enlightened workforce will be sure not to miss on any opportunities identifiable in the environment and therefore increase its growth prospects (Ward, 2008, p24).

Individuals adopt the culture of learning that increases their productivity. As the process of learning is undertaken, individuals are required to provide solutions to problems existing in the environment. By providing the solutions, the individual increases their problem solving skills and therefore improve on their productivity in the organization. This will result to increased output by the organization which leads to the improvement in the welfare of the individual employees.

However, observational learning is subject to disturbances from the external environment and internal operations. These disturbances distort the learning process such that the required skills and knowledge are not fully achieved. The individual may not be in a position to learn through observation due to limited learning abilities. These individuals should be provided with other learning methods. Learning through observation may not be effective as individuals may not understand complex systems especially where the subject is technical (Stewart, Rigg & Trehan, 2006, p98).

The art of punishment should be avoided since it can negatively impact on the individuals character. This will hinder the effective learning process by the individual because they will view the learning process as an obligation towards the organization. This can also be hazardous where individuals are not adequately motivated on their learning abilities. Individuals do not have to conduct self tests that will analyze their progress towards achievement of their individual goals and those of the organization.


Human resource development is done through improvement of skills and knowledge of individuals. The improvement of skills can be conducted through learning where individuals aim at increasing their capabilities. The learning process is conducted through different modes of which learning through observation is cost effective in the organization. These learning however, should be regulated to ensure that it is directed towards achieving the goals of the organization and those of the individual. Increasing the skills and knowledge of the individuals increases the efficiency of the organization and increase the competitiveness of the organization.

Paper summary

Total world count: 3600

1 page = 250- 275 words (international standards)

Number of pages: 3600/275= 13.1 pages.

Comment: 1 page in excess (bonus)


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