Why do we clutch at academic musings?

first_imgAfter more than 20 years as an HR practitioner, one thing that has alwaysstruck me as odd is why we so often look to academics for new ideas. Ourprofession is fundamentally a job of dealing with everyday issues, with realpeople in real situations, so why do we look to HR academics and their researchas a means of legitimising our methodologies? Rather than formulate new HR strategies in the crucible of the workplace –where theoretical shortcomings and implementation problems are readily apparent– we still seem to clutch at the musings of academics as a foundation for thenext big initiative. Don’t get me wrong, HR academics have their place – but it is called auniversity rather than a workplace. Beware of ever letting them loose in thereal world. After all, academic research was quite clearly to blame for theplague of competence frameworks in the 1990s that infected so many HRinitiatives and rendered them ineffective. One piece of beloved research by HR academics is the Sears-Roebuck employeesatisfaction/customer service/profit chain case study that everybody seems tobe quoting these days. It is popular because it appears to support what allgood HR people want to believe: good HR practices lead to good business. One little-quoted aspect of this study is that Sears employedeconometricians to prove the correlation. Why? Is it not that obvious to thenaked eye? As an ‘economist’ myself I must say I have never felt suchtechniques were designed or appropriate for the HR field. Senior HR professionals who understand the real strategic issues have beenagreeing for some years now that there has to be a paradigm shift in HRthinking. This is partly why the whole debate about harnessing human capitalhas moved to the front of the new concept queue. Yet, if there has to be ashift from existing models, what use is academic research based on existingorganisational HR practices? When such HR professionals are asked which HR paradigm they want to move tothey invariably refer to Dave Ulrich’s change agent/business partner model. Butdoes this particular paradigm have a solid theoretical foundation. Has it beenproven? The ‘HR Scorecard’ (Becker, Huselid, Ulrich, Harvard Business SchoolPress, 2001) which tries to show HR how to align itself strategically appearsto be trying to move HR further down the road to complex answers based onarcane regression analyses, rather than common sense solutions to difficult HRissues. Do we really need academics to tell us how to get the best out of people? Ifthat is their forte would they still be working as academics? Answers on apostcard (failing that e-mail) please. By Paul Kearns, Senior partner, Personnel Works Why do we clutch at academic musings?On 4 Jun 2002 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos. Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. last_img read more