• Paul Kearns’ column (7 December), although provocative in tone, lacks
substance. His claim that the IPD has only recently recognised the importance
of relating the professional body of knowledge to the wider business context is
The IPD professional education scheme has, for a long time incorporated
mainstream business issues. As an example, IPD students learn to assess and
cope with situations of ever increasing turbulence and uncertainty.
For many years a major focus of the institute’s activity has been how people
(professionals) can add most value to the development of people and the
performance of organisations. Let me remind you that it was the IPD which first
introduced business strategists such as Michael Porter, Gary Hamel, CK Prahalad
and Sumantra Ghoshal to HR audiences and went on to relate their thinking to
the practice of people management.
The particular project, "People Management and Business
Performance" which Kearns singles out for criticism involves a long-standing
investigation involving academic research and practical evidence. If Kearns had
read the material relating to this project in any depth he would know that a
primary aim is to address the very issues of causality and practitioner
relevance which he raises.
All research undertaken by the IPD comprises theory and practice.
Practitioners who have a high level of input into all projects, both in
steering investigations and in the design of re- search tools and outcomes,
favour the case study approach. Is Kearns saying theory is irrelevant? If we
are to build our knowledge and understanding in this crucial area we must have
sound linkages between both theoretical and empirical data.
We must also find different ways of evaluating the contribution people make
to organisations that go beyond short-term results and cost control. If we do
not, people will continue to be seen as low value, expendable assets and this
will not be in anyone’s long-term interest.
It is of concern that Kearns should comment without properly evaluating the
work and evidence available. Constructive criticism and debate is always
welcome and enhances the work. Unfounded, opinionated sniping helps no one.
Letter of the week
The real value of HR to business
• Regarding the ongoing discussion in your pages about HR expertise versus
business acumen, several of your correspondents (30 November) were discussing
the role of HR within business. They left me with quite a negative impression
that HR exists merely to prevent business managers from tripping up over
That is such a limited view of the real value that HR adds to business. And
it does nothing to try to persuade business managers that they should view HR
in a more positive light.
But what do I know, I’m not an HR person. Well, recently I found myself
working with the HR team of a blue-chip organisation, and I witnessed a bunch
of professionals working in partnership with the executive team to help their
company compete in a very aggressive marketplace. It was a revelation to me
about the real role of HR within industry, and I think it would be a revelation
to a few more business managers if it was actually communicated.
How to change the perceptions of managers about HR? Try emphasising how it
adds value to the organisation – as a key to competitive advantage, say.
People are a fundamental source of competitive advantage. Whether it is to
be able to make things faster/cheaper/better, or design products at the leading
edge of technology, the company will not have it without the right people in
HR is the team with the responsibility for ensuring the organisation has in
place the right people with the right skills, motivated to do the right job.
And HR therefore has a pivotal role in creating the competitive edge that will
enable business to succeed.
Not that the logic follows that, to succeed in this role, HR people must be
experts in their field and up to speed with the objectives and strategies of
the business. But I will leave it to others to discuss whether the IPD
qualification is a demonstration of ex- pertise in the field of HR.
But it is not much use having a highly qualified HR team that is finely
tuned to the needs of the business if the other people in the business have
little idea about what the HR team can do.
So we come back to communication. Internal communication is vital if
business managers are to recognise the role HR plays in the organisation.
Marketing In Control