Paul Kearns

Regardless of whether you think practices such as competencies and 360 work, or not, the bigger question to consider is what comes first – the HR practice or the business objective? Do you run a competence framework and then try to demonstrate some results (i.e. managers working more effectively)? Or do you first articulate where business results are not being achieved (e.g. lower sales, higher costs, poorer quality or service), due to managerial ineffectiveness, and then try to develop them into more effective managers? This is called the question of causality and these are fundamentally different approaches. So which way do you believe the arrow of causation points?

The popular theory of the employee-customer profit chain suggests that if you improve employee satisfaction you will eventually improve customer satisfaction. This has led to a significant growth in the use of the HR practice of annual employee attitude surveys in the hope that a rising trend will lead to a similar trend in business results. Those who subscribe to this theory suggest the arrow points from HR practice to results.

My own personal belief system does not subscribe to this theory. In fact, for me, the arrow points in completely the opposite direction. HR professionals need to be absolutely clear what their business needs are, and the added value measures to be used, before they embark on any practices, whatsoever. The desire for improved business results will dictate the HR practices required. Moreover, these HR practices have to be designed to suit the context in which they are to be used. There is no room here for off-the-shelf or generic solutions. In 25 years of following this view of causality I have never recommended to any client that what their business really needs is a competence framework or 360 feedback. I only try to develop managers when each one of them has accepted a baseline business measure which will be used as an indicator of their personal improvement.

This is a key question for all HR professionals and you cannot sit on the fence. It is an either/or question. Either you believe that HR practices come first or that the business needs come first – you cannot have it both ways. So let us hear some views from both sides of the fence.

Have your say – simply click on ‘add comments’ below.

New HR Charter series

You can also read all the debates around the New HR Charter and add your own comments by clicking on the links below.

New HR Charter series
You can also read all the debates around the New HR Charter and add your own comments by clicking on the links below.

The New HR Charter – Introduction

The New HR Charter Part 1 – Does HR have a reputation problem?

The New HR Charter Part 2 – What does best practice mean in HR?

The New HR Charter: Part 3 – Do competencies and 360 work?

The New HR Charter: Part 4 – The opposite of best practice?