Thursday, 19 November 2009

Reflections on the CIPD Annual Conference and The Future of HR

I've just spend an enjoyable and highly informative two days attending the CIPD annual conference in Manchester as one of their guests. The invitation to spend time with the senior team of the CIPD was, in part, a result of my involvement as a judge on the technology and HR awards. So, first of all, I've want to congratulate the team at Intercontinental Hotels for their leadership learning portal and two extremely able guys at Beds and Bars - both of whom read this blog - who have created something new and practical in the field of e-HR and Web 2.0 with very limited resources and good use of iPhones.

My involvement, along with some good academic colleagues, was also to provide academic input and feedback into the CIPD's future initiatives and suggest ways in which the academy and HR professionals can get the best from each other. Again, this was a very welcome and excellent initiative on behalf of the CIPD. So with this last point in mind, I suggest that one of our most important jobs is to act as 'critical friends', though there are additional roles for us in helping contribute to 'thought leadership' (I'm not keen on that term), as advocates of rigour as well as relevance in producing actionable knowledge about HR , and in helping ask the right questions for the CIPDs future research and knowledge agenda. On this last point, for the most part we're typically dealing with 'wicked' problems for which there is no real solution, programme or end point; instead we are only able to resolve inevitable tensions, especially at the strategic level (see earlier post on leadership and negative capabilities) by distributing ownership to those people who have either a better grip on the issues or who have to live with the consequences.

So with the critical friend role in mind, I would like to offer some comments on two very important initiatives launched by the CIPD and one that they actively support. The first was the launch of the HR Profession Roadmap, which is one of the most important exercises in competence mapping and building HR capability ever undertaken - at least as far as I'm aware - (download here). The launch breakfast meeting was poorly attended because of heavy rain in Manchester but deserves greater publicity (which I'm sure it will get) because of its potential impact on shaping thinking and practice in HR and building current and future capabilities of the profession. My advice is that any organisation seeking to build HR capacity, and there can't be many not seeking to do so, would be well advised to take advantage of the thinking, frameworks and evidence produced by this project team. I'm working with a number of organisations on capacity building in HR projects and I know I'll be using these standards to help build strategic leadership capacity among senior HR people. Which is where I want to begin my critical friendship!

In a piece of work we completed recently on developing a model of strategic leadership for HR directors in NHS Scotland, we cautioned senior HR directors on the limitations of 'atomistic lists of competences. To paraphrase Henry Mintzberg, even when joined up in a circle (or triangle or other geometric shape)', competence models do not provide testable models of relationships among the complex range of factors that produce effective strategic leadership in HR. This is an important cautionary note for practitioners because it is really only by devising causal models (or, dare I say it, theories) of effective leadership that you can truly evaluate the impact of competences, knowledge, attitudes, EQ/ IQ etc) on performance. These causal models should show how,why and what people bring to a job, the styles of leadership they choose, the attitudes and behaviours they demonstrate, etc., result in effective performance (itself a contestable issue). In addition, practitioners also need to understand the complex range of so-called moderating factors which influence this line of sight. By moderating factors I mean how market or stakeholder context, business models of how to create value, values and leadership aspirations, HR architectures, and the capacity of the HR team to create and leverage networks for innovation, combine to influence the process of strategic leadership in HR.

Sarah Miles, Organizational Effectiveness and Development Director, and her team at the CIPD have done an excellent job in bringing us so far with the new mapping exercise but were ready to admit they don't have all of the answers. If they are able to build on what they have achieved so far by devising better causal models and setting out the full range of contextual factors organisations need to take into account when implementing them, they will do the profession an even greater favour - a direction we're certainly travelling in.

The second major initiative, discussed by Jackie Orme and Lee Sears at the conference and on a recent CIPD podcast, was the results of the Next Generation HR Study. Again this initiative is extremely important because it aims to build a picture of future strategic leadership in HR based on research into what leading firms in the UK are thinking and doing. You can read about it in People Management in the November 19th edition or download reports/listen to discussions from the above links, but basically the project has highlighted three trajectories along which organisations are moving - creating greater organisational agility for sustainable performance, (re)building a culture of authenticity and trust, and demonstrating a balanced approach to risk management.

Again, I'm really pleased to see this work because it is important for the profession to understand its role in resolving the tensions created by shaping the innovation or 'agility' agenda while focusing on the legitimacy agenda. We've been researching and writing about these agendas and tensions for some time now, and these have been the subject of a number of posts, our book on corporate reputations and HR, a forthcoming one with Ron Burke and Cary Cooper on corporate reputations, some academic papers, and a new chapter on HR's role in contributing to better staff, innovation and financial governance. Our approach has been to discuss them in terms of the wealth creation role of corporate governance (innovation by doing different things and doing things differently) while managing the wealth protection role of governance (developing corporate reputations for being excellent and trustworthy employers, providing effective and ethical leadership and governance, and exercising corporate social responsibility).

In other words, both the CIPD and our agendas seem to converge on issues that strategic HR leaders need to address, which is both comforting for us and, if they ever needed it, a degree of validation for the CIPD Next Generation project. Furthermore, I suspect our agendas are likely to become even more important because HR has not only to find ways of adding strategic value but also contributing longer term reputational value to the nowadays somewhat tarnished business sector and its senior leadership teams (at least in the eyes of many). It also has to find ways of contributing to public value in an under-threat public sector, which is having to deal with decreases in public spending because parts of the financial sector have been unable to manage the tensions between the wealth creation and wealth protection roles of governance.

I'm going to leave the third sets of comments on the engagement agenda and the McLeod report to a separate post. This one is getting far too long!


CV said...

Hi Graeme-

The idea of HR scholars being the "critical friends' who can help to advocate both rigor and relevance seems like a very useful and 'strategic' posture.

From this posture, the HR Profession Roadmap sounds even more intriguing.

Will you be posting to describe the roadmap and give us some of your thoughts on what makes it innovative? I'd be very interested in hearing more about it, as I'm sure would other readers. Tell us more?!

Jon Ingham said...


Sorry I missed you in Manchester. Someone did tell me you were there, but I ended up being to busy to find you.

I'm afraid my reaction to Next Generation HR wasn't as positive as yours - I'd use the response you do in your next post - what's new?

I've posted in more detail here:

Graeme's HR Blog said...

CV, will do. Its on their website but I'm not sure how much is public.

Jon, I think it is a move in the right direction and has real merit - in the spirit of being a critical friend. However, I appreciate what you are saying, so will look out for your post

Graeme's HR Blog said...

CV. I've included links to the Roadmap, and next generation project, which seem to be free to non-members. Hope this is more useful.