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Avoiding the predictive sins of our fathers

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Speech

Publication date4/08/2012
<mark>Original language</mark>English
EventAcademy of Management - , United Kingdom
Duration: 4/08/2012 → …


ConferenceAcademy of Management
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Period4/08/12 → …


I should thank the organisers for inviting me to contribute to what will be a watershed debate in our field. Given my perspectives outlined in previous work, especially in Explaining the Performance of Human Resource Management (Cambridge University Press, 2010), I rather suspect that I have been chosen as the Panel’s sacrificial lamb! My contribution to the symposium focuses on four primary departure points each of which I hope will prove for fruitful discussion between symposium participants. First, what might Michel Foucault have made of our debate over knowledge domains? On the one hand he would certainly have applauded an attempt to trace the progress of discovery and an analysis of the internal economies of different theories at work in our field. He would also have been in favour of an archaeological analysis of the various scientific representations or products of knowledge in their specific locus. He would, no doubt, also have be keen to point out that our historical analysis of such domains ought not to merely focus on knowing our subject but rather presenting a theory of discursive practice. Foucault would surely have pursued the question of how far such knowledge domains (or co-citations) actually represent as opposed to constitute the financial happenings within the business world which we seek to understand. Second, following the above, there is an element of the HRM-Performance knowledge domains being captured by their own discourse leading to various methodological pressure points (see Hesketh and Fleetwood, 2006; Fleetwood and Hesketh, 2006; Fleetwood and Hesketh, 2008; Fleetwood & Hesketh, 2010 for a discussion). What is striking about Robert’s analysis of the knowledge domains through time is an apparent lack of clustering around methodological reflection. A second departure point, therefore, revolves around how far our understanding of HR’s role in unlocking financial performance can develop by simply doing more empirical work with the same ontological, epistemological and meta-theoretical assumptions imported from a largely “scientisitic” meta-theory. Third, examining Robert’s results revealing the current cumulative state of knowledge domains, and those emerging recently, clusters together those papers myself and Steve Fleetwood were keen to point out belonged to the same logical song of predictive science, albeit with minor variations, hence our identification of the Russian Dolls, Black Box, Rubik’s Cube and Kaleidoscopic schools of thought within the HRM-Performance field. However, that they should all be clustered closely together does not constitute their epistemological justification but reveals particular orders of discourse within the management research community. Academic researchers in our field, as in others, clearly hunt in packs. But safety does not come from numbers, and I mean this both in the plural and quantitative form! A third departure point, therefore, revolves around how we as a community of scholars might breakout of our current methodological approaches to engage with alternative ontologies in order to create new perspectives on performance in general and “the people contribution” in particular? Finally, to the future, the current meta-theoretical weaknesses of the HRM-Performance knowledge domains of the past are unlikely to be solved by the same thinking that contributed to their creation. In seeking to avoid the sins of our (predictive) fathers we need then to address a final departure point: what might a new paradigm of performance look like? For example, will it be one that recognizes that there is room for financial as opposed to quasi-financial analysis? Must we acknowledge, and thus accommodate, that organizational performance is not a predictive but largely a retrospective, hence retroductive, form of analysis through the rear-view mirror of financial reporting? Should we discard the dummy variables we use as a suitable straw man for the complexity and intangible assets comprising the remaining financial value of the organizations we seek to better understand, manage and lead? And what might we replace them with? How do practitioners react to, and crucially, deploy our offerings in their activities?

Bibliographic note

Invited contribution to the Learning about the Future of the HRM-Performance Debate by Exploring Its Knowledge Domains