HR must ignore populist management fads from self-proclaimed business gurus

The toxic 'leadership BS' movement is harming HR departments' credibility and effectiveness.

by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
Last Updated: 29 Apr 2016

The history of HR management could be summed up in three phases. First, Taylorisation or scientific management, which viewed each employee as a different part of the same machine and attempted to boost productivity by structuring work more efficiently and quantifying performance objectively. Second, the bureaucratic phase, which equated HR to legal processes akin to a health-and-safety of people. Third, the talent management phase, which began with McKinsey's war for talent, postulating that attracting and engaging talent should be the main function of HR.

Despite the recent rebranding of this phase as 'people analytics' - a term that has only further tarnished the image of traditional HR - most organisations are still trying to work out how to do talent management well. The recent euphoria about big data and talent analytics has only added to the confusion, though the upside is that more and more organisations feel the need to be more data-driven or evidence-based (even if they haven't quite worked out how).

In our view, conversations about what HR should and could be are pointless unless we can identify the exact processes by which HR could achieve that. The goals are clear, namely to turn HR into an engine of growth and organisational effectiveness, and to upgrade its image with the C-suite (and the rest of the world). The most successful companies get this right; that's why they are also the most desirable places for employees to work.

Yet to achieve this, HR must learn to defeat - or at least ignore - its main enemy, the 'leadership BS' industry: the intellectual tumour that obstructs scientific facts with populist and feelgood fads. That is, the majority of content that the average HR practitioner can retrieve on talent, leadership and management, is the product of intuitive ruminations by self-proclaimed business gurus (many of whom are failed leaders) and the American self-help movement.

Eliminating this toxic industry may be as hard as finding the cure for cancer, but HR must try to develop the necessary expertise to resist its influence. Just as hospitals don't prescribe homeopathic medicine, HR departments should not base their talent management practices on the strengths movement, the MBTI assessment, or the latest Malcolm Gladwell book. Unless they are not interested in demonstrating ROI or appearing more credible to the rest of the organisation.

Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority in psychological profiling, people analytics, and talent management. He is the CEO of Hogan Assessments and professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University. Follow Professor Chamorro-Premuzic on Twitter: @drtcp

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