‘Independent’ HR research fails to enhance our image

Your headline ‘100% proof: good HR will boost your company profits’ (Personnel Today, 26 February) should sound like a ringing endorsement of HR so why does it come across as such a sad act of sheer desperation?


The sponsors of this research by the IES/Work Foundation are a group of organisations with a vested interest in trying to ‘prove’ their worth, including Investors in People, the Sector Skills Development Agency, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (more desperate than any other organisation to gain some business kudos) and the Department for Education and Skills (which buried research by professor David Storey of Warwick University many years ago that showed a negative correlation between training spend and business performance). So much for independent research from a totally impartial perspective.


So what about the claim of 100% proof? The study itself asks whether meaningful correlations can be drawn knowing full well that correlations are never proof. It also asks ‘what methodology should be adopted to assess a causal link in the future?’, thereby openly acknowledging that their research cannot show any causality.


In the absence of a robust methodology though they retreat, as all social science researchers do, back to their arcane world of ‘regression techniques’ which are, in simple terms, a statistician’s way of trying to cheat by making correlations look like causal factors (ie, successful companies might have ‘engaged employees’, but that doesn’t prove that engaged employees caused the companies’ success).


Any intelligent HR person knows the difference between damned lies and meaningful statistics. Those of us who know what works in HR and are entirely confident about its significant contribution do not need this sort of pseudo-academic claptrap or the PR hype beloved by government agencies, quangos and ineffectual professional bodies.


It does nothing to enhance the image of the profession at large, and seriously dents any reputation that the IES and the Work Foundation might once have had.


Paul Kearns
Director, PWL

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