Performance management, values and purpose at work will dominate the conversation this year, writes Duncan Brown                                                                                                                                      

With economic forecasts looking increasingly uncertain, strategic long-term HRM looks set to be replaced by tactical, pre-budget cost and risk management.

Managing HR in this environment of uncertainty is the focus of the Institute for Employment Studies’ (IES) new collection of essays on strategic but practical HR issues and challenges, IES Perspectives on HR 2015.

First up, for those of you seduced by the literature of engagement survey suppliers and notions of ‘millennials’ and ‘Gen Y’, our director, Penny Tamkin, presents a coruscating critique of the evidence on generational differences, concluding that it boils down to “good management and leadership… that would help employees of any age bloom”.

Rather than just demolishing current fads, our mission at IES is to put our HR research into practice. In Performance management, a tale of two practices we put some sensible balance back into the current trend of kicking the “soul-sucking monster of HR”, pointing out the strong correlations with organisational performance and concluding that “for most organisations the answer is not to jettison the performance management system, but to step back, consider what you really want, and focus on making sure every bit of it delivers that”.

Wendy Hirsh’s Can values add value? perfectly illustrates IES’s combination of the philosophical and the practical, with critical challenge and supportive suggestions. Although, as she observes, “the volume on values is turned up” in our contemporary businesses, “the average organisation’s values are just a list of words”.

While asking “is it really practical for organisations to tell employees what to believe?” and showing the difficulties of changing values, Hirsh advocates that they should be “messed with as little as possible and supported as much as possible” as “a way of creating more meaningful alignment”. Well-designed HR practices, she says, can really make values count.

Following on from practical pieces on gender pay reporting, meaningful work and whistleblowing, our final essay discusses the need for HR to lead in providing deeper meaning and purpose for people in our organisations. Contrasting the history of business wrongdoing right up to the Volkswagen emissions scandal with the raft of evidence demonstrating that ethical leadership is essential, we note that it is “a no-brainer for the HR profession to play a key role in helping organisations confront these difficulties”, yet “the profession appears depressingly reticent to come forward”.

The latest CIPD survey on the future of the profession rightly concludes that we need to “prioritise future-focused HR capability development” and “enhance two-way learning and insight-sharing”. I hope our Perspectives help you to do both of these activities, which are critical for the productivity of our economy and the wellbeing of our people.

Duncan Brown is head of HR consultancy at IES