Human Resources professionals play an integral role in the success of an organization. But “Human Resources” is a broad term — there are a variety of career paths that fall under the umbrella of HR, including HR management (also known as HRM) and HR development (also known as HRD).
HRM and HRD are both key elements of a successful Human Resources operation. But they’re also very different, and if you’re considering pursuing a career in HR, it’s important that you understand the differences between the two.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at HRM and HRD, and examine what HRM and HRD are (and how they’re different), the day-to-day responsibilities of each function, and how to determine which career trajectory is the right one for you.
What Is HR Management (HRM)?
As the name suggests, HR management is “all about managing the people who work for your organization,” said Jen Patterson, HR consultant and owner of Patterson Consulting Group, which offers a variety of HR consulting services, including HR leadership coaching and training design and development.
“HR Management…manages the organizational strategies for enhancing and maximizing employee performance, engagement, and experience through talent acquisition, hiring, onboarding, training, salaries and compensation, incentives, and more,” added Sally Cornet, executive counselor at global HR advisory firm McLean & Company.
If there’s a task that’s related to managing people within an organization, that task is covered by HRM professionals (for example, an HR generalist or HR manager). “This includes things like hiring and firing, setting salaries, creating job descriptions, and dealing with employee discipline,” Patterson said.
What Is HR Development (HRD)?
While HRM is a broad term that covers a large variety of HR-related tasks, HRD is a more niche area of Human Resources.
“HR Development…is a narrower and more focused discipline that prioritizes the training and development of an organization’s workforce,” Cornet explained. “HRD is dedicated specifically to developing the skills and capabilities of employees, either formally through training and education, or more casually through coaching and mentorship efforts.”
“The Human Resources development approach is all about developing the people who work for your organization,” Patterson echoed. “This includes things like training and development, career planning, and succession planning.”
What Are the Differences Between HRM and HRD?
While there’s no denying that HRM and HRD are related, there are very clear differences between the two — starting with their primary goals and focus.
“The main difference between HR management and HR development is that HRM is focused on managing the current workforce, while HRD is focused on developing the future workforce,” explained Patterson.
There are also significant differences in the responsibilities for each type of role. According to Cornet, the main difference between HRM and HRD is that HR management is a broader organizational function that tends to be more transactional, varied, and task-based, whereas HR development is narrower but deeper, and focuses on job enrichment and organizational effectiveness. “These are important differences to consider when deciding to pursue a career in HR, since the day-to-day structure and skills needed in HRM versus HRD can be a bit different,” she added.
“HR management tends to be more transactional while HR development is more transformational,” agreed Patterson. So while HRM is focused on concrete tasks associated with managing the team (like running payroll or processing PTO requests), HRD can be more conceptual, focusing on how to help team members grow and evolve within the organization (for example, by developing and launching a learning and development initiative).
What Does a Career in HRM Look Like?
Now that you know what HRM and HRD are (and the differences between the two), let’s take a deeper look at what a career in each might look like, starting with HRM.
“A career in HR management typically involves working in a Human Resources department and overseeing the daily operations of the department,” said Patterson. “This can include things like managing employee files, conducting performance reviews, and handling employee discipline. Additionally, HR managers may also be responsible for developing and implementing policies and procedures related to Human Resources.”
Because HRM is responsible for managing such a broad range of HR-related tasks, in most cases, no two days are the same. “Day-to-day responsibilities are much more varied in HRM…because of its broader function within the organization,” Cornet said. “While most HRM professionals have an ongoing task list, their workdays can be a bit spontaneous as they may be pulled in different directions without much notice due to the nature of managing people — and the unexpected situations that come with it.”
The career path for HRM professionals is generally more of the traditional “ladder” structure. For example, said Cornet, you might start as an HR generalist and then work your way up to HR manager, HR director, and then VP of HR, with your responsibilities increasing with each vertical move.
What Does a Career in HRD Look Like?
Now, let’s take a deeper look at what a career in HRD might look like.
“A career in HR development typically involves working in a Human Resources department and focusing on the long-term development of employees,” Patterson said. “This can include things like designing and implementing training programs, developing career paths, and creating succession plans. Additionally, HR developers may also be responsible for conducting research on new trends in Human Resources and developing strategies to implement those trends.”
Unlike HRM — where tasks and responsibilities can change day to day (or even hour to hour!) — professionals in HRD are generally more focused on long-term projects and initiatives. “A typical day in HRD is more project-driven, with the work often being pre-planned and more structured compared to HRM,” Cornet explained. “HRD professionals typically know which specific project or task is on the docket for the day or week as they work in a very strategic space and spend a lot of time planning projects and outcomes.”
The career trajectory for an HRD professional may also be different; instead of making vertical moves (or “climbing the ladder”), HRD professionals often start off in a different department or capacity to gain insight into the organization and employees’ needs before moving into HRD. “In HRD, one may start as a project manager or analyst and grow their knowledge, expertise, the number of employees they manage, or the number of clients they support, eventually moving into a more focused HRD role,” Cornet said.
How to Choose Between a Career in HRM or HRD
If you’re not sure whether a career in HRM or HRD is right for you, there are a few different factors you’ll want to consider, starting with how you like to work and what types of tasks and projects you want to be working on.
“People who really enjoy working closely with business leaders and being stimulated by a wide variety of different activities on a day-to-day basis, and who are really looking at the organization as a whole — and examining how the HR function fits into and supports the organization as a whole — tend to do well in HRM,” said Cornet.
On the other hand, “in a more specialized function like HRD, more time will be spent working on projects in project teams, doing research, writing, and conducting program management,” she said. “If that’s something [you] enjoy and are good at, HRD is a great fit.”
The skills, passion, and experience you bring to the table can also dictate whether HRM or HRD would be a better fit. “Candidates who thrive in HR development typically have a passion for helping people grow and develop,” Patterson noted. “They should also be creative and forward-thinking, as they will need to come up with new ideas for developing employees. Additionally, candidates who thrive in HR development should be excellent communicators and able to effectively collaborate with others.”
On the flip side, “candidates who thrive in HR management typically have strong interpersonal skills and are able to effectively manage people,” added Patterson. “They should also be well-organized and detail-oriented, as they will be responsible for managing a lot of data and paperwork. Finally, candidates who thrive in HR management should be able to think critically and solve problems quickly.”
If you’re still torn between pursuing a career in HRM and one in HRD, don’t worry. “The good news is that whether someone chooses HRM or HRD as a career path, they can always expand, specialize, learn, or make a switch,” Cornet said. “If they start in HRM, they can later specialize in HRD. If they begin their career in HRD, they can always pivot to HRM.”
Ultimately, both paths are rewarding and come with their own unique challenges and opportunities — it just comes down to which one better aligns with your particular interests, strengths, skills, and goals.