· 2 min read · Features

Do you want an honest opinion?


Who better than your peers to judge how effective your HR organisation is and how to improve it.

Performance management process looms for many at this time of year and, given the economic outlook and the need to rein in costs, many organisations tell me they are looking at this year's round of reviews to make some tough people decisions. One senior executive put it to me that with the labour market likely to be boosted by the addition of hundreds of thousands of people, it is the time to look at shedding poorer performers and attracting the stronger.

On the basis of what most of us know to be the effectiveness of the average performance review I'm not sure I would use such data to make critical decisions about the future. We also know that, if they were able, peers of real poorer performers would be quicker to comment and far more demanding of change than many line managers.

This brings me back to the need to introduce a far greater element of peer and customer review than exists today in the vast majority of performance management schemes.

We have the distinction of being one of only a small number of business schools worldwide that have gained quality accreditation from the professional bodies in the UK, Europe and the US. To achieve this requires an audit against the relevant standards for each body. The principle underpinning these assessments is one of peer review. Heads of other business schools in Europe plus a customer from corporate life visit the school concerned and get access to your students, your corporate customers, your performance data, your staff, your faculty and you.

This has its challenges and imperfections but it does put customers and the customer experience at the centre. For all of us, regardless of sector, this is a critical element missed from many appraisals.

For this reason I believe that with some adapting peer review could be useful in improving the practice of HR management. However long you have been in the job the learning, coaching and advice from peers is invaluable.

Benchmarking has always felt slightly inadequate. Often you have to employ the services of an intermediary to help you understand how 'company A' went about doing better than you in a particular area. They are always focused on 'best practice' and you are never really sure how much is real and how much is presentation.

Peer review looks at you, your strategy, your challenges and your opportunities. It gives you the benefit of the views and experience of others in the context in which you operate. Where you have difficulties you can explore similar challenges and look for examples from your reviewers of what they have done. The advice you get is set in a relatively sound understanding of who you are and what you are trying to do.

It clearly needs some basic rules of engagement. There have been peer reviews in our business which have not been either positive or helpful. However, the basic proposition is sound: your best rated professional colleagues spend two and half days with you exploring what you do and how you do it with the shared objective of improving your practice and performance.

For HR professionals this may be an approach that could finally take the function out of the ghetto. What we need is a quality movement that improves the HR organisation as a whole: processes, people, use of technology and structures. It should involve peers, line customers and employees. Investors in People is a bureaucratic process: an audit of activity that doesn't drive HR excellence. The CIPD is an individual badge that fails to assess impact and business ability. It's time we drove quality across the function as a whole and looked at how effective our HR organisations really are. And there's no one better than a peer to give you an honest view.

Respect from your peers is, after all, the greatest accolade one can have.

Chris Bones is dean of Henley Business School, chris.bones@haymarket.com.