Several months ago, I followed a thread on the HRNET (an electronic forum for the discussion of issues pertinent to Human Resource professionals) concerning the relevance of scholarly HR research to HR practice. The membership of HRNET includes several thousand HR professionals world wide, both academic-based researchers and company-based practitioners. I anticipated a lively exchange and I was not disappointed. In the end, I was left with two impressions: a) HR practitioners do not see scholarly research as meeting their needs; and b) consequently, they do not see much value in reading research-oriented HR journals.
These impressions disturbed me. They emphasized once again the enormous difficulty in attempting to tie theory to action, research to practice. Although not really at odds, the worlds of the researcher and the practitioner necessarily have different tempos and different orientations. For practitioners, the focus is often on day to day issues that must be solved now. Their important questions always seem to begin with, “How do I...;” and “What is the best way of...” For researchers, the focus is often beyond the horizon, on issues that might tie together whole sets of disparate ideas and findings. Their questions usually begin, “Why does...;” and “I wonder if...” With such differences, is it any wonder the two groups often appear to talk past each other?
Nonetheless, these differences are not fundamental. For every practitioner who wants to know how to set up an effective merit pay scheme, a researcher exists who wants to know whether and why incentives motivate, and under what conditions. For every practitioner who wants to know the best way of reducing turnover, a researcher exists who wants to know why some firms consistently outshine competitors in retaining personnel. Although the focus of the practitioner and researcher is different, their basic concerns are identical.
Thus, it seems to me the question is not whether HR research is relevant to HR practice – certainly it is. The question is whether researchers and practitioners will tolerate the other’s point of view, at least long enough to benefit from it. Scholarly research is not immediately irrelevant just because it is theoretical and a bit removed from the fire-fights of daily practice. Similarly, practitioner problems are not immediately trivial just because they sometimes appear narrow, with little significance for general understanding. Like it or not, HR scholarship and practice are tied together, and both camps need to be open to the other. When this occurs, each profits.
Along these lines, this fourth issue of RPHRM continues in its tradition of thoughtful pieces for both segments of our dual readership. In the volume’s Main Section, contributions range from stress, to strategic HRM, to creativity training. This section’s lead article examines some factors that influence a person’s judgment of whether a given situation is seen as stressful. The findings have some interesting implications for stress alleviation strategies in organizations. Stress is also the subject of the volume’s second article, with a specific focus on Singaporean social workers.
Strategic HRM is a topic of increasing interest to both researchers and practitioners. In the journal’s third piece, investigators examined the commonly held belief that service firms have a more strategic HRM practice orientation than manufacturing firms. The study’s findings did not uphold conventional wisdom, suggesting that researchers may want to take another, closer look at the usefulness of the strategic HRM construct. In the section’s final piece, investigators explored the important topic of creativity. Although creativity is often viewed as a fixed personality characteristic, some evidence suggests that individual creativity can be enhanced and developed through training. The present study examined the factors that affect a manager’s attitudes toward such training. For firms considering creativity training, the article highlights some individual and environmental issues that are important in determining the acceptance of such programs.
In the journal’s Practitioner Focus section, three articles emphasize different aspects of organizational change and improvement. The first suggests that more successful TQM implementation might be possible if such programs took into account the career stages of the individuals involved. In spite of its speculative nature, the piece provides much food for thought for firms contemplating organization-wide quality initiatives. In the second piece, performance appraisal in the Singaporean context comes under scrutiny. For organizations wanting to improve what is often the firm’s most troublesome sub-system, the authors provide some useful suggestions. In a closely related area, compensation is the topic of the next article. This special report summarizes the findings of a benchmarking study of executive compensation systems in Singapore. For our Singaporean subscribers, the topic will undoubtedly make this report a “must read”!
Under Review and Commentary, Volume 4 ends with a book and two software reviews. The book review provides an overview of Professor Tan Chee Huat’s new work on Singaporean labour relations; while the software reviews each critique impressive, full featured HR packages. As a whole, I think this issue provides convincing evidence that good HR research and good HR practice are not always mutually exclusive.