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I have followed the CIPD’s recent attempts to describe a new purpose for HR with sceptical interest. On the institute’s website, it says: “Our aim is to drive sustained organisation performance through HR” and “HR is changing; there’s been a shift from a primary focus of supporting line managers to manage their people well, to one of delivering sustainable organisation capability and performance.”
Both are close to a practical definition, but the first doesn’t explain HR’s role, and the second gives HR too much power – other professions contribute to “delivering sustainable organisation capability and performance”.
The article by Lee Sears (“Insight-led HR”, PM April) suffers from the same problem. He concludes: “HR needs to see its purpose as supporting sustainable performance… which means being prepared to run a very clear and challenging commentary… in areas that may sit way outside the people heartland.” (My italics). I have two concerns with this. First, it would be more relevant to have a definition where the management of people is core to how HR supports an organisation’s sustainable performance. Second, if we trumpet Sears’ vision, I fear organisations will turn away from the profession.
However, Russell Connor and David Price (Letters, PM May) go too far the other way. HR must be about more than ensuring, says Connor, “that the right people are in the right place now and in the future”, or that, as Price writes, we should be looking only to tap into employment “market segment(s) previously unexploited by the organisation”. Both are valuable remits, but they only address one aspect of the resourcing side of HR and ignore the reward, development, relations, OD and other disciplines of our capability.
Much as I dislike Sears’ conclusion, his basic premise of insight-led HR is closer to the mark. With the addition of a “management of people” phrase, I think a workable and lasting purpose for HR will at last have been defined.