Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The 10 most common responses upon reading a list of the 20 most influential HR Thought Leaders

Following the publication earlier today of yet another list of the (apparently) most influential HR Thought Leaders, the editorial team of HR Case Studies has undertaken an in-depth and independently verifiable study of the 10 most common immediate responses upon reading such a list.

The results, dear reader, are presented below for your enlightenment and education. And perhaps also for your amusement.
  1. Who?
  2. Influential? They've got fewer twitter followers than me!
  3. Well if they are on that list, there's hope for me yet.
  4. No, it's not sour grapes and no, I'm not jealous, but why am I not on that list?
  5. Oh look! The guy that has pulled the list together has put himself on it!
  6. Top 20 Global Thought Leaders? List created by an American? Oh look! Everyone on the list is American!
  7. I wonder why the guy who has created the list has selected predominantly blonde women aged 25 - 35?
  8. Well at least the list gives me a good reason for unfollowing 20 people on twitter
  9. Thought Leaders? 12 of the names on the list are recruitment consultants!
  10. Oh for heaven's sake! I give up! What purpose are these lists actually supposed to serve anyway?

Monday, 22 September 2014

HR Models? Who needs them anyway?

Just what is it about British HR people that makes them so averse to adhering to any form of theoretical model ?

Or, as John Lewis puts it much more eloquently in my well-worn 1962 edition of his History of Philosophy: 

It is a characteristic of the British tradition to be highly suspicious of the theory underlying practice.

Recent discussion on Dave Ulrich's recent book has flushed out the usual HR suspects chanting the mantra of "Oh I don't subscribe to any of this HR model malarkey. I think it's much more important to find out what works for you and the business you're in. None of this one size fits all for me."

It's as if models and theories are some form of dirty word. (And as for paradigm ... well, wash your mouth out with soapy water!)

But ...

Picture this: 

"Hey", says Bobby Moore to Sir Alf Ramsey, "When we're playing in Mexico, are we sticking to the 4-4-2 formation that contributed to us winning the World Cup in 1966?" "No" says Sir Alf; "I've given up on all that stuff. Just hoof the ball all over the place when you're in Mexico and find what works for you. Make sure you're engaged with Mullery and Hurst and we're sorted." 

Or this:

"What key do you want me to play Straight No Chaser in?" says Coltrane to Miles Davis. "Hey", says Miles; "Key signatures are so unhip, man. Just play in whatever key you want. It'll sound fine. You listening too, Philly Joe? Don't bother with that time signature shit any more. If you think six in a bar works, then go with the flow."

Or this:

"Can you give me a few tips on perspective" says Da Vinci's apprentice to his master. "Actually", says Leonardo, "I'm not bothered about perspective any more. Or composition to be honest. Just paint how you feel you should paint. No need to stick to the rules or the models. Perspective is just so 1511."

Be it football, music or art, there are conventions, paradigms, structural approaches and (shh!) models that are there for the simple reason that they work. They are there because they deliver the goods, and to ignore them is to court disaster.

So why our reluctance to profess allegiance to any particular model of HR?

One reason is probably down to the lack of understanding of what a model is. One rather excellent text-book definition describes a model as an "imaginative mental construct invented to account for observed phenomena. Its chief use is to help one understand the world." Put like that it doesn’t sound quite so scary, does it? It just tells us what generally works in a given set of circumstances.

Right: time to get provocative!

I suspect that a more significant reason for the readiness with which we dispense with (in particular) the Ulrich model is that to enter into an informed debate on the subject requires you to have actually read his stuff in the first place! Let's face it, many of us just can't be bothered to put the intellectual investment into ploughing through the 261 (count 'em!) pages of his recent book, can we? Basically, it boils down to laziness!

So, where does that leave us?

Yes, there are shifts in what is popular: for every 4-4-2 formation in football there is a Total Football model to replace it; for key and time signatures there's always an Ornette Coleman or a Schoenberg waiting in the wings to usher in something new; for every Leonardo there's a Picasso or a Dali to offer a new way of looking at reality. But rarely in life does a complete iconoclast come along and destroy everything that went before and offer nothing in return.

But in HR, before we throw out the Ulrich baby with the bathwater, let's at least make sure we fully understand what we are discarding.

After all, as has been observed before: Nothing is quite so practical as a good theory