Sunday 24 January 2010

Insight and pragmatism


   The last area I want to discuss in my summary of the HR Directors Business Summit is the need for new insights in HR.

One of the key themes that seemed to me to be coming through from the presentations (despite Julian Birkinshaw’s input) was that HR is simple and that we don’t need any new ideas.  This theme seemed particularly strong in the panel session on the Tuesday afternoon, and in Martin Tiplady’s presentation on Wednesday morning looking at HR at the London Met Police and elsewhere:

“HR’s not rocket science – it requires speed and pragmatism.”


(Tiplady also seemed to question some of our existing ideas - “What was ever the point of competency frameworks?”.  It’s not a question I’m going to attempt to answer because I do struggle to get excited about competency frameworks myself, but this isn’t to suggest that they don’t – or at least can’t - provide a very sound basis for a company’s overall HR architecture.)


I think this push back against new ideas is a bit sad actually (I could see Tiplady’s 19th century policemen resisting progress in the same way – and look how far we’ve come in that profession).


HR isn’t just about good management

I completely support Ulrich’s point that HR is provided through line management, and that our people’s experience of HR is mostly down to to the way their manager line manages.  But even if we could do something to get every line manager to spend time with, be interested in, support and grow their people, there’d still be a need for more.


We need good HR strategies

Even with the best line managers in the world, there’d still be a need for HR professionals to develop strategies, tailoring these approaches in the right way according to their own business (their own capabilities, their own management models etc).  If you’ve got the wrong strategic approach (and let’s face it, in this area at least, most organisations don’t have much that’s right) then the best, most pragmatic execution in the world, isn’t going to get you very far (at least down the road you want to go).


You need some new ideas

On this blog, you’ll find new ideas from Dave Ulrich on leadership brand and HR transformation, John Boudreau on talentship / beyond HR, Henry Mintzberg on communityship, Lynda Gratton on hot spots and glow, Gurnek Bains on meaning, Gary Hamel on management innovation, Peter Cheese on talent powered organisation, CK Prahalad on innovation at the bottom of the pyramid, Peter Cappelli on talent on demand, Jac Fitz-Enz on HCM: 21 measurement, John Kotter on a sense of urgency, Ed Lawe on talent-centricity, Dicky Beatty on differentiated workforce, Tony Buzan on mind mapping, Andrew Mayo on HCM measurement, Nick Baylis on happiness, Emmanuel Gobillot on leadership, Jim Collins on greatness, David Guest on HR measurement and many more besides.

Some of these ideas I agree with and some I don’t.  Some of them agree with other ideas but most of them don’t agree with all.  Ed Lawler’s and Peter Cappelli’s ideas on talent for example, are very different things.

This is important.  If you’re going to optimise the strategy you develop for your business, you need to understand these ideas, and know which ones best fit your particular organisation’s needs.

And you need to be on the look out for new ideas which can help give you additional competitive edge.

It’s time for new thinking.  It’s time to take note of new ideas.


Talking of time, I’ve now run out of time to post on anything else from the HR Directors Business Summit!  But thanks to Tim Taylor from TUI, Allison Campbell from Bacardi, Stefan Tonnon from Progress Software and Jacqui Summons from Intec for your time, and for sharing your own ideas and experiences with me.  It’s much appreciated and I hope I can return the favour some day.


Picture credit: Met archives


  • Consulting - Research - Speaking  - Training -  Writing
  • Strategy  -  Talent  -  Engagement  -  Change and OD
  • Contact  me to  create more  value for  your business
  • jon  [dot] ingham [at] strategic [dash] hcm [dot] com



  1. Hi Jon,

    >It’s time for new thinking. It’s time to take note of new ideas.

    Absolutely, although I have a feeling that we'll be having the same discussion in 10 years time, bar the impact of social media, which will disrupt HR and other functions and likley end up being owned (if at all!) by Ops, IT or maybe Comms...

    I've tried to crytalise some of my thoughts as to why here but I think shifting the practicioner's paradigm is the first step...

  2. Interesting that people still think like this. HR is difficult - the problem is that many people think that it's simple. HR is about people and unlike Finance, Logistics etc (all good professions), people are complex, different. Our profession still fails to recognise this which as Bruce suggested requires a paradigm shift.

  3. Thanks, great comments.

    Of course it doesn't help that the head of our professional institute thinks that HR Strategy doesn't mean anything - see my comment on "The Changing Role of HR" (select from topic menu) at


Please add your comment here (email me your comments if you have trouble and I will put them up for you)