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The Living Science of HR Is About Practice Over Theory

In any sphere of business, you won’t last long if your head is forever filled with untested hypotheses and pie-in-the-sky strategies. “If x happens, then we should do y” is a great starting point if “x” is a likely scenario, but we all spend far too much time thinking about contingencies to events that are unlikely ever to come to pass.

This is especially important in a function that has the immediate needs of people at its core.

For me, the most successful HR professionals never forget that their main task is to make a difference to those around them – right here and ideally right now. Every great undertaking starts with a theoretical plan, but until that plan is brought to life, you never quite know how things will develop when other people get involved. People are (obviously) at the centre of the HR function, and their unpredictability makes relying on any sort of theory entirely impossible. You just have to see what works and amend things as you go along.

There is a good reason why they are called “HR Practitioners.”

A / B testing different compensation schemes with a cross section of your sales teams might be taking the experimentation theme a step too far, but you will never truly know how something will work out until you have started the process to make it happen. Then, as is the science lab, you have to react to the various outcomes that you observe.

Observation is a key skill for any scientist, and it is crucial for any HR Practitioner to understand what is truly going on. Talking to people about how they feel is critical if HR are to gain genuine perspective. Evaluating exactly how results have been achieved is far more important than taking them at face value. Adjusting goals based on a newly understood reality is what sets the truly astute HR professionals apart. There is very little that is constant when people are concerned, so acting according to the current “lie of the land” is the only way forward.

Rinse, repeat, and always keep the wellbeing of your people at the front of your mind.

I suppose that this all makes it sound very complicated. It really isn’t. I am just suggesting that it is worth spending a little less time hiding behind spreadsheet and presentations, and a little more time front and centre with your colleagues and employees. Practicing HR means being at the very centre of events, and if you put yourself there, you will have little time for theoretical musings. Business will take over and it will be time for practical steps – the very best “strategic” HR people base their vision on a deep and personal understanding of what is going on at any given time.

If they don’t understand the practical issues of the day, their theoretical strategy won’t be worth much, no matter how compelling it sounds.

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