Research World, Volume 1, 2004
Online Version

Report R1.12

Research in Human Resource Development (HRD)

Seminar Leader: Udai Pareek, IIHMR, Jaipur and University of North Carolina, USA

Udai Pareek is one of the respected figures in the area of HRD. He has been in the forefront of the HRD movement in India, and has conceptualised,designed and implemented HRD systems for many organisations across the country. A behavioural scientist, he has remained primarily an academician and researcher. Thus his thoughts and reflections on issues that arise with prevalent research in the HRD area were not only interesting but very thought provoking as well. Although the talk was about research in HRD, it has relevance for anyone interested in doing research in an applied field, in which qualitative data makes more sense.

The seminar was mostly freewheeling with Udai Pareek presenting his thoughts and viewpoints to the group, in a fairly unstructured manner. He focused on three major areas: (a) the human resource (HR) profession is facing a lot of challenge and is under threat, (b) the problems with present day HR research, and (c) what HR research should be like to become more meaningful and relevant. I have briefly summarized the discussion in each of these areas below:

HR Under Threat

The roles played by HR managers in organisations are changing very rapidly. Organisations are gradually moving to a model in which more and more of the tasks that have traditionally been considered as belonging to the HR function are either being outsourced or are being moved on to the line managers. For example, recruitment and training are being outsourced, while performance management and subordinate development are becoming line manager responsibilities. Thus the very role of an HR manager in an organisation is in a state of flux.

The HR area and the HR manager have to shift focus. From playing a largely administrative role, one must move to managing organisational change and to the design and development of organisational systems. To be able to do this, two skills are paramount -- a strong theoretical base and a strong research base. It is in this context that the kind of research that is being done in the HR area needs to be discussed.

HR Research

* Most research is irrelevant or unnecessary. It is done only to meet a requirement, for example, to get a doctoral degree, or because one has to meet a required number of papers one has to publish. Thus research is rarely done to extend existing knowledge in a field.

* Research has become ritualistic. A certain process has been mapped and all research done follows the same process. Thus creativity gets lost.

* There is not enough in-depth understanding and internalising of the data. Thus the insight that comes from just being with the data and studying it is lost.

* High dependence on computerized statistical programmes has made 2 things happen: (a) an obsession to collect more and more of quantitative data, (b) a loss of the qualitative nature of the data, which means a loss of a lot of he nuances present in the data, which come to the fore only by looking at the data in all its richness and detail.

HR Research Needs

* HR research needs a lot more creativity. The approach to research and the process followed must move away from standard, laid-down processes. It should be based on theory and should lead to more insights into the theory. A suggested approach is to do some initial research and develop a tentative heory. Then one can test it on others and develop the theory.

* Research should look outside the pattern. An interesting idea was that real research happens when a researcher looks outside the pattern. In research today, a researcher collects a lot of quantitative data, puts it through a computerized statistical package and looks for patterns. However, this merely summarizes and reproduces the data. One needs to look for the more subtle nuances that get lost in the statistical analysis.

* More qualitative data need to be collected and studied. The insights that come from "outside the pattern" happen with qualitative data rather than quantitative data.

* A need to focus on secondary sources of data. When a researcher focuses on primary sources of data, there is the danger of getting "socially desirable" responses. Therefore, look at secondary sources as well.

* Research needs mindfulness and not mindlessness. Related to the comment that research is done in a ritualistic manner without any creativity, mindfulness in research is important. In her book on social psychology, Mindfulness, Langer notes, "stressing process over outcome, allows free rein to intuition and creativity, and opens us to new information and perspectives."

* Research needs a multi-functional approach. There should be less of "inbreeding"; one must get people from other areas. This would enlarge the field and bring in fresh ideas and different perspectives. In the process, both the research and the theory would get enriched. Research would become more holistic, as there would be greater linkages to other organisational processes.

Suggested Readings

Webb, Eugene J. (1966). Unobtrusive measures: Non-reactive research in the social sciences. Chicago: Rand McNally.

Langer, Ellen G. (1990). Mindfulness. NY: Perseus.

McClelland, D. C., & Winter, D. G. (1970). Achievement motive and entrepreneurship. In G. M. Meier (Ed.), Leading issues in economic development. NY: Oxford University Press.

Reported by Snigdha Pattnaik, with inputs from M. N. Tripathi, Amar K. J. R. Nayak, and M. G. Jomon. (January 5, 2004)

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