HRD as Action Research

HR Professionalism Implies HRD as Action Research 

Some have argued for “splitting” HR (see Ram Charan, 2014) and creating a functional division between the administrative and leadership & organization missions of Human Resources. No matter where you stand on this argument, I’d like to suggest that the “thought leader” and “sounding board” roles that CEO’s value in their senior leaders and want top HR leaders to play requires more than business savvy alone. Let me explain.  

Sources of Credibility, Confidence, Innovation, and Judgment 

No doubt having line management experience in other disciplines (as I can personally attest) does give us a step up when addressing leader development and organizational performance. It provides us with the contextual knowledge, instincts, and judgment to discern practical business relevance and anticipate pragmatic impacts in talent selection, deployment, and development. And for that reason, I have long advocated a rotational approach to developing HR leaders. But there’s more…. 

Great leaders also have sound management skills. In any business discipline this managerial skill involves a rational rigor of fact-finding and balanced use of analytical and creative thinking to formulate solution strategies. It also includes a practical way of testing and validating solution strategies before deploying them on a broader scale, especially if they are seen as critical to achieving strategic aims. This applies not only to the physical systems of manufacturing and operations, and the technical solutions of IT, it’s equally relevant to the human resource development systems we rely on to build leadership capacity. 

With this in mind, I submit that in order for human resources, and, more specifically, human resource development (HRD) professionals, this implies a need to incorporate into the HRD discipline an action research mindset and discipline.  

Action Research – proving impact in development and business results 

Like any kind of applied research in a live business operating environment, action research causes us to do our homework, study an issue, but not perseverate or indulge a paralysis of analysis. Rather, we take what we believe are well-reasoned ideas (practical theories and hypotheses), design a pilot project or program to implement the ideas in a business relevant manner, and then learn from the experience of applying our ideas, translating insights about self-others and our situation into leadership action. 

Based upon a design, we identify observable indicators that can give us some sense of how our design and our approach to implementing it are working. We persist in our actions long enough to observe if they show efficacy an impact. We also look for feedback along the way that suggests needs for adaptive shaping of our action strategies. Rather than unfolding in fits and starts, it’s a deliberate approach with intervening moments of reflection, perspective-taking, and incremental adaptive moves. 

Because of its more systemic nature, a pilot program of this sort quite naturally involves interdisciplinary sponsorship under the leadership of HRD professionals. I suppose you could frame this as taking a more visible place at the “management table,” but I think it may also be appropriate and empowering to think of it as making a place at your table (the HRD table) that attracts and engages non-HR management. If this is something you wish to explore, you will want to approach your first steps with care and support. 

Join Us to Learn About One Concrete Example of How to Get Started 

This kind of action research is something I have done in my prior career (in Sales & Marketing with IBM and Cisco) and for over 15 years in my career as a management psychologist. So, I believe in it and have seen it work as a consultant.

What we are offering now is an opportunity for HR leaders and HRD professionals to join a group of professional peers to conduct a shared pilot program in Emerging Leader Development. Each participating company will concurrently develop a small cohort of emerging leaders from their organization, while also validating and shaping a solution strategy that meets the specific needs of their business.  

To learn more about this program and how it may be something of interest to you, please click here. We’d love to have you join us.