Sabbatical Post – Doing the Basics

HRM received bad press recently with many commentators questioning its value to organisations. The resignation of the HR Director of the BBC has raised questions over the efficacy of the discipline. Why the resignation of one person should spark calls for a review of the area or even questions over the feminsation of HR is anyone’s guess. But harm us it has and we need to think hard about how we got here and more importantly how we are going to get away from this negative spotlight. This is important for all of us as we go through the ‘Ulrichisation’ of the profession – a time of great change. But it’s also important not least women, because HR has been one of the areas where women have succeeded most in achieving management positions.

Last week in this blog I suggested that academics and practitioners needed to do something about the schism that exists between them. I propose to address this issue in detail as this blog evolves. And we could begin by looking at the basics. Taking the HR cycle as an example, we have HR Planning, Recruitment, Selection, Onboarding, Learning and Development, HR Management, Rewards and Performance and Decruitment. We can see that the lower administrative functions will evacuate to specialist outsourced organisations. But like automation, there are some tasks that are difficult to outsource effectively. Such tasks require not just professional competence but also corporate knowledge, wisdom and memory. One of these tasks is Training Needs Assessment. (TNA).

TNA is one area where academics have largely abandoned the field and left the practitioners to get on with it. And when you look at practice here, the signs are on it that serious attention is required. When academics suggest that 90% of all training is wasted they are also quick to point out that some of this (a significant amount in my view) is due to poor needs assessment. This foundational part of our discipline is poorly served by academics and poorly executed by practice. Few resources are invested by organisations in getting the assessment right and ensuring that the learning and develoment activities which are undertaken are timely and appropriate. As a result many HRD activites are reactive and ill planned. Accordingly, one can have little confidence in the brave but futile attempts at evaluation. If the training was wrong in the first place, evaluation is pointless.

Getting back to basics would include a research agenda that put TNA high on the list. It’s tragic to look at the bank of HRD theory and and realise that most of our principal theories are quite old and in need of revision. The exception could be the are of learning but hey, don’t we borrow all that stuff from psychology. We need to revisit TNA to see how we can help develop sound approaches for practice which are solidly grounded in theory but really useful for practioners. I will come back to this idea in future blogs.