Monday, 29 March 2010

Why clever HR people believe stupid things

Like, I suspect, many readers of HR Case Studies, I have been particularly impressed by Ben Goldacre's book Bad Science. Goldacre, who is also the author of the 'Bad Science' column in the 'Guardian,' studied Medicine at Oxford and now works full time for the NHS as an academic and hospital doctor, seeing patients and "explaining difficult ideas to difficult people."

As a lifelong fan of Robert Pirsig's seminal work "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," I was drawn to Goldacre's quoting of Pirsig:
The real purpose of the scientific method is to make sure nature hasn't misled you into thinking you know something that you actually don't know
Or, to paraphrase Goldacre's much more pithy language: Why do clever people believe stupid things?

Goldacre's book is targeted at the plethora of 'complementary' therapies such as Homeopathy and Nutritionism, together with dodgy educational fads such as The Brain Gym ("a series of quick, fun and effective activities designed to enhance performance in all areas by assisting whole brain integration") but it seems that it's time for someone to turn the spotlight on a few areas of Bad HR: those HR practices that many clever HR people accept as given without questioning their inherent stupidity.

Areas such as:
Forced-ranking appraisal systems which reward those at the top, but fire those at the bottom.

Believing that outsourcing transactional activities has positively and universally transformed Human Resource Management.

Swallowing the Ulrich pill that convinces you that organisations want Business Partners, not HR Managers.
Sounds like there's a series of HR Case Studies blog items here, doesn't it!


  1. Graham

    I am an HR person, and I don't believe any of these things, not sure I know any HR people that (if being honest) would say the HRBP model in particular, does work. Look anywhere in public sector, you'll find many HRBPs quietly thinking "this isnt what I thought the job was".

  2. Great post Graham and an interesting topic. I'd be keen to see how many HR bods you could find that would agree to take part in a case study on this!