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Revitalising HR research: The Sri Lankan way


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I was very relieved to see the successful completion of the National HR Conference 2014. One key feature of it was the launch of the 2014 volume of the HRM Perspectives Journal (HRMPJ), the annual research publication of the Institute of Personnel Management (IPM). Today’s column is a solemn reflection of the contents of it from an editor’s point of view. Overview I was the editor-in-chief for the HRMPJ for the third time. It is indeed challenging to sustain a research initiative, particularly if it is of complex multi-dimensional nature. Revitalised HRM Perspectives Journal (HRMPJ) has reached its third year of publication. It coincides with the National HR Conference 2014 of IPM with the theme ‘Redefining HR for Boosting Performance’. We felt it is an opportune time to reflect the need to revitalise HR research as an essential companion towards redefining HR for boosting performance. As we are aware, research on human resources falls into the broader category of management research, which in turn, is a part of the wider array of social research. Whilst positive initiatives are being taken, current situation with respect to research in Sri Lanka is far from a satisfactory level. We have an acute gap to bridge with regard to the current and desired levels of engaging in HR research. Hence, we need a rigorous drive in search of HR research excellence. Two years ago, we took a small but a significant step in publishing the research of IPM students and members alike. It was the first revamped issue of HRM Perspectives, containing articles that offered insights into human behaviour in organisations with social, cultural, economic, political and environmental aspects aptly blended with people management practices. We made further strides with HRMPJ 2013 with improved quality and enhanced quantity. Glimpses of HRMPJ 2014 “Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought,” said Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, a Nobel Prize winning Hungarian psychologist. It is, in fact, developing a third eye to see beyond what is obvious. The field of HR in Sri Lanka can immensely benefit if more insights beyond mere information would be the norm in making people related decisions. HR research is of utmost importance, in this sense, globally and locally alike. HRMPJ has been able to fulfil a void in Sri Lankan HR circles during the past three years, in attempting to develop depth and breadth of HR research. This is primarily due to three reasons. First, it has been inviting learned academics to contribute their HR related research towards a readership of HR practitioners. Second, it has been maintaining a subtle balance between academic rigour and industry relevance. Third, it has been able to highlight emerging researchers through its ‘student papers’ section. No other research journal published in Sri Lanka has diversity of this nature with enhanced quality and enriching quantity. Whilst the journey of revitalising HR research is moving ahead, the required enthusiasm and effort from the HR community is much required. We see a key challenge here. Several Sri Lankan HR academics based on their sheer passion have been able to publish their HR related research in reputed international journals. Also, several HR professionals have embarked on joint research studies with academic counterparts. Several student research work related to HR have also seen encouraging. These positive trends speak of better times of HR research in time to come. This issue of HRMPJ emerges in a context where there is an increased commitment from IPM towards HR research. It has recently launched a definition of HRM for Sri Lanka, and we have one concept paper with the details and the deliberations of it. IPM is also planning to elevate itself into Charter status in offering Chartered HR Professional status to those who comply with a strict, internationally accepted, criteria. This endeavour requires a high research orientation with deep analysis and broad synthesis. Sponsoring HR related research with national significance in assisting upcoming researchers with potential is also on the cards. We are confident of the renewed interest on HR research among the “thinking” HR professionals, who consider themselves as continuous learners. We see this new emerging tribe who go beyond surface level memorising in study programs, in searching for deeper answers. There is a warm invitation readily available from HRMPJ for all of you. Join us in making a difference in the field of HRM. Then revitalising HR research for “redefining HR” would slowly but surely be possible. Impetus from discussions We used to meet as the Committee for Upliftment of HR Profession (CUHRP) once a month at IPM. It was the occasion where we brainstormed the concept and contents. Also, one key evening presentation we organised also gave us much motivation. Research related to human resources (HR), and its ‘how, when and why’ was the topic in discussion at the recently held panel discussion titled ‘Conducting HR Research.’ The main focus of the panel discussion held in early May, and the topic in discussion, was to enhance the quality of research of the institute’s students and to contribute towards progress of the profession through research. IPM being the pioneer in establishing a modern HR culture in the country has made bold strides towards the enhancement of the quality of HR practice, teaching and training in Sri Lanka. The main discourse on the topic ‘Conducting HR Research’ was provided by Prof. H.H.D.N.P. Opatha, Senior Professor, Department of Human Resource Management, and University of Sri Jayawardenapura. The panellists at the event were Dr. M.A. Shantha Wijesinghe, Senior Lecturer in Statistics and Research Methodology, University of Sri Jayawardenapura, and Dr. Udaya Mohan, Senior Lecturer, University of Kelaniya; and I was the moderator at the panel discussion. I recall how Prof. Opatha provided the audience with insightful information on research, particularly related to HR, focusing on the ‘how, when and why’ of HR research. The different types of research, the need for research and how to conduct research, was elaborately explained by him. The panellists drew attention to imperative aspects of HR research discussed and further deliberated upon the different aspects of proper literature review in conducting research. The panel also exchanged views on the different sources for literature which are ideal for HR research. Key contents Like in the previous issues, the authors with diverse backgrounds representing professionals from both public and private sectors have contributed to the informative and insightful nature of the magazine. As such, papers from academics and practitioners alike have been accommodated, in order to maintain healthy balance of depth and breadth. Several papers by IPM students also have been included in order to ensure the opportunity to showcase their contributions. We took steps to ensure strict adherence to the globally accepted APA referencing guidelines. This issue of HRMPJ has 15 research articles under three broad categories, concept papers, empirical papers and student papers. I feel it has grown in its volume and value. In addition there is a book review on the book titled ‘HR Challenge’ edited by late Prof. Sudattha Ranasinghe and me. The demise of Professor Sudatta Ranasinghe, who was our advisor, deprived us of including another prolific paper to the journal. His research contribution to the Sri Lankan HR community is indeed commendable. In writing on his last publication, he stated as follows: “The students as well as practitioners of HR are convinced that there is a dearth of research-based literature on theory and practice of HR in the context of development challenges faced by Sri Lanka. In particular, issues pertaining to performance management and rewards, employer- employee relations, attraction and retention of competent people, carrier opportunities for women, employee motivation and commitment, etc., which affect people’s productivity and organisational performance are not sufficiently researched and discussed.” HRMPJ has so far been able to pledge its readers that Professor Ranasinghe’s insightful intentions will be continued to fulfil at least in a limited manner. He was an inspirational icon to us at the Research and Publication Committee (RPC) of IPM in 2011-12 and the National Issues, Stakeholder Relations, Research and Publication Committee (NISRRP) of IPM in 2012-13. The wide assortment of papers you find in this issue, ranging from theoretical to practical aspects is a fitting tribute to him. Way forward We would invite our readers to join us in creating a renewed enthusiasm on HRM research. HRM Perspectives will continue to provide a platform for practitioners to publish their work, whilst appeasing academics. It being published by a professional body itself highlights the value in bringing knowledge creators and knowledge appliers together in a much meaningful manner. We will strive for continuous improvement in embarking on more national level research which will have wider socio-economic implications. (Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri works at the Postgraduate Institute of Management. He can be reached on ajantha@pim.lk or www.ajanthadharmasiri.info.)

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