Credible evidence is a real problem for the very body that exists to maintain the highest professional standards – the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development). Jackie Orme, Chief Executive, declared that ‘there have never been enough good people working in HR’ and the CIPD Board, in buying The Bridge Partnership in 2009, tacitly admitted they do not possess the requisite credibility, capacity or capability either . So in one fell swoop the chartered, ‘professional’ body has written itself off along with the expertise, skills and experience of its entire 130,000+ membership. Meanwhile it is creating something called “Next Generation HR” (for an update on how this is doing see here) with a ‘thought piece’ that is totally devoid of any coherent thought and without a single, new idea to distinguish it from whatever ‘last generation HR’ was.
So what is “Next Generation HR” and what is so exceptional about The Bridge Partnership that led the CIPD to seek it out in an attempt to bolster its own credibility? How would the objective observer know they are not just another bunch of psycho-babbling charlatans? A visit to Bridge’s website says it “harnesses strategy, business insight and psychology to breathe leadership and new life into organisations.” – something the CIPD definitely needs. However, the one thing on which credibility is built – evidence – is conspicuously absent. So ‘Next Generation HR’ practitioners are unlikely to be any more evidence-based than their conventionally-trained predecessors.
Having a professional body run by evidence-based professionals is the only way out of this impasse: so how are the Board members of the CIPD currently performing against this higher standard?*
- The current Chair, Dean Royles, is Director of Workforce and Education at the North West Strategic Health Authority of the NHS and controls a budget of £650 million and yet, according to his own ‘Education and Learning Strategy’ he openly admits that “Organisations will need a better understanding and application of educational evaluation methodologies to appreciate the impact of education and learning activities.” In other words, he accepts the principle of evidence-based practice but does not know how to produce the evidence required.
- Another Board member is a past president of the PPMA (Public Sector People Managers Association), Stephen Moir, who as Director People, Policy & Law at Cambridgeshire Council has produced an HR strategy with all the latest buzzwords (“employer of first choice”, “celebrate diversity”, “competence framework”) but no sign of an evidence base for these policies.
- Then there is Gill Rider**, holding potentially the most influential ‘HR’ job in the UK Civil Service as Head of Profession, who has not provided any evidence that she is making any progress after four years at the helm.
The rationale behind this site therefore is a vision of a future in which HR and learning professionals earn their rightful place alongside the medical profession in terms of evidence-based best practice and alongside senior operational managers in terms of management expertise. In fact, as the concept and practice of evidence-based management is currently challenging all management functions, evidence-based HR professionals do not need to make any apologies while they learn how to get up to speed with this new way of thinking.
Let no one be under any illusions though. If HR and learning practice is not already evidence-based it won’t suddenly become evidence-based overnight. Evidence-based HR is primarily about high impact, strategic solutions to difficult organisational issues and requires cooperation from everyone involved; it cannot and should not be imposed by, or reside exclusively with, the HR team. So, for example, if Dean Royles wants an evidence-based, quality assured learning system in the NHS, the first thing he will have to do is learn about evaluation, re-visit expensive schemes such as his Leadership Academy and make a conscious decision to build it on a solid foundation of evidence-based practice.
Alternatively, he should call a halt to wasting huge amounts of money on an edifice that cannot produce any evidence that it represents a sound investment. There is no room any longer for hype or psycho-babble in this new, evidence-based management (EBM) universe.
*The issues outlined above have been raised directly with the CIPD Board members referred to before publication – to date no responses have been received but they have another opportunity here to respond to these challenging questions.
**Update June 2011 – After 5 years at the helm Gill Rider left the Cabinet Office having only “concluded the development phase” but predicting”anticipated savings of £300 million and a best in class staffing ratio of 1:100.” After such impressive results it is no surprise to hear she has become CIPD President.