Does HR need a more artful approach?

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With a lot of recent focus on data analytics and HR as a science, is the profession missing a trick by ignoring its artful side? Jon Ingham thinks so, and advocates a more balanced approach to HR that combines art and science.

One of the most prominent themes in the HR profession over the past decade has been the development of HR as science based upon data, analytics and advanced technology to make what we do more rules-based, consistent and controlled.

However, there is an alternative, or at least complementary, perspective which also deserves attention. This is HR as art - based on meaning, intuition and deep relationships.

In many areas of life and work, science and art are integrated and inseparable. In fact, the higher the level of skill or proficiency, the more closely connected they usually become.  

Many people will know the stories of Einstein developing his theory of special relatively by visualising himself travelling on the end of a beam of light. 

There are also accounts of Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel in such a frenzy of inspiration that he hardly spoke to anyone, rarely changed his clothes or took a bath, but he would still stop work for several days at a time for careful inspection of perspective, human anatomy and lighting effects.

We can see the same integration taking place in organisations too; individual managers and employees may specialise, but all employers need both science and art to be effective.  

So, does HR need a more balanced approach? And if the function does want to specialise, should it really lean mostly towards science, or would we do better to focus more on art?

From my perspective, data science is important, and will become even more so, but this does not mean we need to build our own ideology upon this.  

After all, organisations already have finance functions to give us consistency and control, but few businesses pay much attention to even more important capabilities such as connection, passion, inspiration and fun. 

I think many HR people know intuitively that our profession is an art, but I worry that we sometimes allow ourselves to be seduced by the hype of software vendors and IT based consultancies. 

There is also concern that we need to be more science-based to be credible. 

But if HR is an art, at least in part, then ignoring this fact is going to reduce our effectiveness and impact, which will detract from our credibility in the longer-term. 

It would surely be better to challenge any inflated scientific expectations or anti-art sentiment upfront.

In addition, I also believe that many business leaders already realise that much of business and particularly people management is an art and are already in the process of making their organisations more artful. 

We need to make sure that HR does not miss out on this recent trend in our current attempts to be more science based as we surely must want to avoid ending up withf taking responsibility for meaning, passion and inspiration?

I would, therefore, encourage all HR practitioners to take a look at the Art of HR conference, participate in our survey, which is designed to help us find out more about HR's artful role, join our Linkedin group and, most importantly, think about and invest time in the artful side HR's role in your own organisations.

HR is a media partner for the Art of HR conference and will be featuring the results of the current survey in the October issue of the magazine. HR will also be providing one survey respondent free entry to the Art of HR conference.

Jon Ingham is the executive consultant of Strategic Dynamics and programme director of the Art of HR conference

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