By Mahesh Subramony, SIOP Blogger
In December 1912, a group of managers with different backgrounds, but with a common interest in systemizing the discipline dealing with the ‘handling of employees’ formed the Employment Managers’ Association in Boston. Their aims included “to discuss problems of employes (sic); their training and their efficiency”, and “to compare experiences which shall throw light on the failures and successes in conducting the employment department (Bloomfield, 1916; p.77). Within the next decade, similar associations had formed in most large cities in the US, and the profession of employment management – a precursor of modern day HRM – was born.
In the century since its inception, this profession has grown from the initial 50 or so employment managers to over 250,000 professionals worldwide. However, the issue of legitimacy or more precisely, ‘value’ appears to continue haunting this profession. For instance Keith Hammond’s 1997 article provocatively titled ‘Why we Hate HR’ characterizes this profession as “at best, a necessary evil -- and at worst, a dark bureaucratic force that blindly enforces nonsensical rules, resists creativity, and impedes constructive change”. Similarly, several HRM thinkers have criticized HRM departments as being overly tactical, as opposed to strategic, and a recent text urges HR and line managers to put “strategy (not people) first” in order to contribute to business success.
Most professionals would agree that the creation or at the least the addition of value are central to any profession and few would proudly declare their adherence to a ‘value subtraction’ code. HRM is no exception. The difficulty appears to be with regard to the definition of value. Specifically, who defines value (employees, Line managers, HR employees, shareholders)?, is value organization-specific (and therefore variable) or is it universal?, how is value measured?, and how should the HRM professional proceed when confronted with conflicting value-definitions? As you will see, these are important questions that require clarity if not, resolution.
I am a management academic who is responsible for preparing students for careers in HRM, creating HRM knowledge as a scholar/researcher, and providing evidence-based advice to practitioners. I have worked as an I-O psychologist within 2 fortune 500 companies, and trained Masters level I-O psychology professionals. In all these ‘avatars’, I have struggled with the issue of value-creation. The aim of this blog is to discuss these struggles and collectively seek the aforementioned clarity. I plan to do so, by discussing my thoughts (mostly backed by empirical data), recent studies, and through interviews with HRM thought leaders.
I invite you to share your thoughts, experiences, and experiments. If you are an HR or I-O profession, I would like to hear what you have been up to, and what you have learned regarding the value of HRM in your organization. If you are a researcher, please treat this blog as a sounding board for your ideas. Finally, if you are a student, tell us more about what you are reading and working on.