• Monday, March 04, 2024
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Human Resource Management: The need for robust engagements between academics & practitioners

Human Resource Management

Before veering off into the human resource management (HRM) practitioner space, I was an academic researcher — a job position I got after my postgraduate training (i.e. masters programme) in Industrial-Organizational Psychology. I was into qualitative research — I designed frameworks and models from analysed transcripts (interviews) and field notes (observations).

Also, I assisted with writing articles for academic journals. It was tough yet mentally rewarding…at the same time it seemed a bit too perfect because it was all on paper. I saw that approach to life as suspect. I say suspect because I constantly wondered if these things held up in real world as perfectly as they were scribbled on paper…I wondered because I realized over time that lots of data used in research works are derived from self-report measures–people tell you what they choose to tell you, right? Does it always reflect the reality? Would implementations of recommendations from such yield optimal results? Are the problems on paper really the problems in the real world? A thousand and one questions, right? Well, I needed a practice experience in order to have a balanced view of issues in my profession — I had always craved to stand in that space where I can fully integrate theory and practice because I consider that the real deal, a professional experience second to none.

Upon getting into the practice domain, I experienced a severe shock, a rude awakening of some sort. I saw the divorce between theory and practice. Most of what I read in books were seldom practised (not because they were not practical) but due to an over reliance on experience which is often heavily subjective as I have stated in my opinion editorial on BusinessDay titled A critical look at work experience. Now, this article is not aimed at establishing if theory is superior to practice or vice-versa. The goal is to make a strong case why academics and practitioners in the HRM space need to have more robust engagements.

On the one hand, HRM practitioners must realize that having lengthy experience does not amount to or serve as a substitute for theories. To assume that the HRM profession would grow by merely relying on experience without any recourse to theory is illogical. The converse holds true too. Immanuel Kant said: ‘Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play’.

It is important that practitioners dismiss the misconception that theories are divorced from reality and embrace the reality that theories aren’t postulated in abstraction; rather, they are drawn from happenings in our environments…as the world becomes more complex and advanced so do existing theories become less potent in explaining things hence the need for reviews, expansions and updates.

Yes, theories aren’t perfect; nonetheless, they serve as descriptive, explanatory and predictive resources for the discharge of professional duties while experiences serve as verifications of those theories.

On the other hand, academics in the HRM space (and other domains) need to understand that many of the things they write about in their academic works are inapplicable in the practice domains owing to the fact that outcomes are a function of so many factors not captured in the research — factors that may never be captured in research owing to their sensitive nature.

Furthermore, academics must realize that conducting research to simply publish and rise up the ranks without having robust dialogues with the practice community (in order to obtain feedback on research recommendations) is nothing short of mediocrity. Both domains (i.e. the academic and practice communities) exist to collaborate in the advancement of the profession and by extension, society at large. Theory and practice are inextricably linked.

Theories are improved with feedback from experiences (i.e.practice) while practice experiences are deepened and made more meaningful with refinements of theories. To dismiss these is a subtle endorsement of a fragmented and uncoordinated profession.

HRM scholars and practitioners need to have regular conferences/symposiums aimed at discussing challenges and opportunities for growth of the profession. Dialogues should be frank, respectful and matter-of-factly. This partnership should extend into areas like curriculum development; writing of books etc that show an integration of practice and scholarly thinking. A partnership of this nature fosters a sense of unity and purpose. It will set the foundation to properly groom upcoming scholars and practitioners.

Academics and practitioners in the HRM space (and by extension, other domains) need not see one another as competitors. rather they should see one another as companions on the journey towards professional advancement. There cannot be a coordinated profession if no recourse is made to theory. There cannot be advancements in theories if experiences are not looked at from time to time. These can only be realized through meaningful and engaging collaborations.

Advancing the human resource management profession is a collective responsibility of academics and practitioners. Both groups with their unique world views are complementary, nothing like inferior or superior.


Jude Adigwe