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Correspondence between Research and Practice
HR PROFESSIONALSâ?? BELIEFS ABOUT
EFFECTIVE HUMAN RESOURCE
Sara L. Rynes, Amy E. Colbert, and Kenneth G. Brown1
Five thousand human resource (HR) professionals were surveyed regarding the extent to
which they agreed with various HR research findings. Responses from 959 participants suggest that there are large discrepancies between research findings and practitionersâ?? beliefs in
some content areas, especially selection. In particular, practitioners place far less faith in
intelligence and personality tests as predictors of employee performance than HR research
would recommend. Practitioners are somewhat more likely to agree with research findings
when they are at higher organizational levels, have SPHR certification, and read the academic literature. Suggestions are made for more effective dissemination of HR research findings. Â© 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Accumulating evidence suggests that certain
human resource (HR) practices are consistently related to organizational productivity
and firm financial performance (e.g., Arthur,
1994; Becker & Gerhart, 1996; Huselid, 1995;
U.S. Department of Labor, 1993). For example, Welbourne and Andrews (1996) found
that new companies that placed a high value
on HR (as assessed by content of their prospectuses) and that included high levels of
organizationally based pay-for-performance
had a five-year survival rate of 92% as compared with 34% for companies that were low
on both dimensions. Similarly, Huselid (1995)
found that a one-standard-deviation increase
in scores on a â??high-performance HR practicesâ? scale (which included such practices as
regular attitude surveying, paying for performance, formal communication programs, and
use of employment tests) was associated with
a 23% increase in accounting profits and an
8% increase in economic value. In addition,
Terpstra and Rozell (1997) found that companies whose HR professionals read the academic research literature have higher financial performance than those that do not.
Nevertheless, it is a well-known fact that
organizations often fail to adopt practices that
research has shown to be effective (e.g., Johns,
1993; Rogers, 1995). One potential reason for
this may be a lack of practitioner awareness
of research findings (Gannon, 1983). For example, a variety of business and personal factors (such as increased competition, new
legislative requirements, and dual-career families) may leave HR professionals with little
time for reading. In addition, research journals have become so technically complex that
they are nearly inaccessible to individuals without a doctorate degree. Moreover, previous
research suggests that many of the questions
that academics find interesting are viewed as
rather unimportant by practitioners
(Campbell, Daft, & Hulin, 1982). For all these
Human Resource Management, Summer 2002, Vol. 41, No. 2, Pp. 149â??174
Â© 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com).
HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, Summer 2002
extent to which
practice are the
result of lack of
lack of doing
requires, as a
first step, explicit
reasons, managers may be largely unaware of
recent advances in HR research.
An alternative possibility, however, is that
managers and professionals are actually aware
of research findings, but for one reason or
another fail to implement them. For example,
Pfeffer and Sutton (2000) have argued that
the research-practice gap is primarily a â??knowing-doingâ? gap rather than a â??knowingâ? gap.
As with knowledge gaps, failures of implementation may occur for a variety of reasons, such
as overwork, risk aversion, political considerations, or organizational inertia (Johns, 1993;
Determining the extent to which gaps between research and practice are the result of lack
of knowing versus lack of doing requires, as a first
step, explicit investigation of what practitioners
do know. Surprisingly, there does not appear to
be much evidence concerning this question. As
such, existing research does not allow us to pinpoint where the biggest gaps currently exist between research findings and practitioner beliefs.
The present research was conducted to
remedy this gap. Specifically, we surveyed a
large sample of HR practitioners with respect
to their beliefs regarding various research findings. In this way, we were able to identify those
practices for which there is the greatest (and
least) consistency between research findings
and practitioner beliefs. In addition, we examined the various ways in which HR professionals obtain information about HR practices.
The purpose of this latter step was to determine how research findings might be more
effectively disseminated to HR professionals,
and whether some sources of information provide greater research accuracy than others.
Taken together, we hope these findings will
provide a base for future efforts to reduce gaps
in knowledge and beliefs through improved
information dissemination, more useful research, or both.
Members of the Society for Human Resource
Management (SHRM) comprised the sample
for this study. SHRMâ??s database manager selected a stratified random sample of five thousand members with the titles of HR manager
or above (e.g., director, assistant or associate
director, vice president or senior vice president). Surveys were sent to 2,600 HR managers; 1,200 directors, assistant directors or associate directors; and 1,200 vice-presidents or
associate vice-presidents. This sampling strategy was designed to ensure that respondents
would be generalists rather than specialists,
and that they would have significant responsibilities for HR policy and implementation.
To examine the extent to which the beliefs of HR professionals are consistent with
established research findings, a thirty-nineitem questionnaire was constructed. Survey
content was based on five of the seven dimensions covered by the Human Resource Certification Instituteâ??s â??Professional in Human
Resourcesâ? (PHR) exam. The included dimensions were: Management Practices (motivation,
leadership, performance management, employee involvement, and HR roles); General
Employment Practices (legal issues, performance appraisal and employee attitudes);
Staffing (recruitment, selection, and career
planning); HR Development (training and development, evaluation of training effectiveness), and Compensation and Benefits (job
pricing, pay structures, compensation strategies and effectiveness). The dimensions of
Safety and Labor Relations were not included
because many HR departments do not have
responsibility for these particular functions.
The initial questions were developed by
having each of the authors construct contentrelevant research items for areas in which he
or she had particular research expertise. We
were able to generate items for most content
areas on the basis of our own familiarity with
these research areas. For the few topics on
which we had little expertise, we examined
research-oriented textbooks and research
handbooks for leads to relevant research citations. In this way, we created thirty-nine initial items, sampled in roughly the same
proportions as their coverage on the PHR
exam. By linking our item sampling strategy
to this well-established prototype of the HR
body of knowledge, we attempted to create the
best possible opportunity for HR practitioners
to demonstrate their awareness of the relevant
Although the general content categories
were modeled around the PHR exam, the ac-
Correspondence between Research and Practice
tual nature of the questions was quite different. Specifically, in contrast to the certification exam (which tends to focus heavily on
legal, definitional, and procedural issues), the
present survey focused on research findings
regarding the effectiveness of particular practices. Items were constructed to be either true
or false, based on previous research results.
Respondents were asked to indicate whether
they agreed, disagreed, or were uncertain
about each item, allowing us to determine
content areas where practitioner beliefs diverge most sharply from research findings.
The original questionnaire was pretested
on a sample of fifty-nine highly prolific researchers in HR and industrial/organizational
psychology. On the basis of these researchersâ??
responses and feedback, problematic items
were either reworded or replaced.
In addition, we collected information
about what types of reading HR professionals
do, where they go to get help with HR problems or issues, and attitudes toward various
sources of HR information. Lists of common
informational sources were provided, and respondents indicated the frequency with which
these sources were used. Both archival (e.g.,
Web sites, journals) and social (e.g., consultants, academics, other HR practitioners) information sources were assessed.
The purpose of collecting this information
was twofold. First, knowing where HR professionals go for information is useful for future attempts to disseminate research findings
and other types of information. Second, by
Figure 1. Histogram of knowledge scores.
comparing methods of information search
with practitionersâ?? knowledge of the research
literature, we can assess whether some sources
of information appear to be more effective at
disseminating research findings than others.
Results: What HR Professionals Believe
Responses were received from 959 participants, for a response rate of at least 19.2%
(we do not know how many surveys were undeliverable). Nearly half the respondents
(48.5%) were HR managers, while the rest
were either directors (26.1%), vice presidents
(18.0%), or other titles (7.4%). Perhaps not
surprisingly (given our sampling strategy), the
average respondent also had considerable experience in HR (13.8 years, SD = 7.9). Testretest reliability for the questionnaire was assessed using an independent sample of fortyeight mid-level general and HR managers enrolled in an Executive MBA Organizational
Behavior class. Over a six-week time span, testretest reliability was found to be .70.
Between the time of survey administration and preparation of this article, four of the
original thirty-nine items were eliminated from
the survey.2 Of the remaining thirty-five items,
the average respondent answered twenty
(57%) of the items correctly (Figure 1). However, there was great variability in the extent
of agreement, with one subject agreeing on
only nine of the items (26%) and two agreeing on thirty items (86%). In addition, there
was enormous variation in the extent to which
HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, Summer 2002
respondents (as a group) agreed with particular items, ranging from a low of 16% for one
item to a high of 96% for another (Table I).
The first column of Table I shows the
thirty-five retained items. Column 2 indicates
whether each item is true or false, the percentage of respondents who agreed with the
item, and the percentage of respondents who
were uncertain (the percentage who disagreed
can be calculated by subtracting the sum of
these two numbers from one hundred). The
third column summarizes the nature of the
research findings that support each item, along
with sample research citations. (Additional
citation information for each item can be
found in the Appendix). Finally, the fourth
Items, Responses, and Supporting Evidence
1. Leadership training is
ineffective because good
leaders are born, not
Field study evidence that leadership
behaviors and effectiveness increase
following training (Barling et al., 1996).
Evidence that leadership behaviors are
only weakly predicted by dispositional
characteristics (Judge & Bono, 2000) that
are heritable (Loehlin et al., 1998;
Reimann et al., 1997).
This kind of personality is, on average, an
asset for leadership. A recent meta-analysis
estimates a corrected validity coefficient of
.31 between extraversion and leader effectiveness (Judge et al., in press). However,
intelligence has an even higher correlation
(.52; Lord et al., 1986). Also, some highly
effective leaders are distinctly introverted
(Bennis & Nanus, 1997; Collins, 2001).
2. The most important
requirement for an
effective leader is to
have an outgoing,
3. Once employees have
mastered a task, they
perform better when
they are told to â??do their
bestâ? than when they are
given specific, difficult
4. Companies with
perform better than
those without them.
Employees reach higher levels of performance when they are given difficult-yetattainable goals rather than told to do their
best. This is one of the most robust
findings in all of industrial/organizational
psychology (Locke & Latham, 1990).
Baum et al. (1998) found that growthoriented visions and strong vision communication produced significantly higher firm
growth rates. Hoch et al. (1999) found
that 93% of the most successful software
firms had clear and ambitious visions, as
compared with 25% of the least successful.
The importance of having a product vision
for successful product development has
also been reviewed by Brown & Eisenhardt
Although it is unlikely that any
future variables will produce
higher validities than intelligence, work on leader
behaviors (such as visionsetting and communication
skills) is just beginning, so
little is known about their
average effect sizes. We do
know (e.g., Barling et al.,
1996; Baum et al., 1998) that
leadership success can be
affected by leadersâ?? behaviors
and not just their traits, so
future research would be
(continued on next page.)
Correspondence between Research and Practice
5. Companies with very
low rates of professional
turnover are less
profitable than those
with moderate turnover
Bain & Company (Reichheld, 1996) has
analyzed the economics of professional
turnover in several industries. For example,
in brokerage firms, they calculated that an
increase in broker retention rates from 80%
to 90% results in an increase of 155% in
the average net present value of a new
broker. A general model of the â??economics
of employee loyaltyâ? is also presented.
6. If a company feels it
must downsize employees, the most profitable
way to do it is through
targeted cuts rather than
7. In order to be evaluated favorably by line
managers, the most
for HR managers is the
ability to manage change.
8. On average, encouraging employees to
participate in decision
making is more effective
for improving organizational performance than
Morris, Cascio, & Young (1999) tracked
changes in employment of the S&P 500
companies over a 12-year period. They
found that companies whose downsizing
was associated with sale of assets (i.e.,
strategic or targeted downsizing) had
improved their return on assets by the
second year after downsizing. In contrast,
pure â??employment downsizersâ? still had
lower ROAs two years later than they had
before downsizing. See also Cameron et al.
This was found by Ulrich et al. (1995),
based on more than 12,000 peer and
supervisory assessments of the performance
of nearly 2,000 HR professionals. Ability to
manage change explained 41.2% of the
variance in supervisorsâ?? and peersâ?? evaluations of HR professionals, as compared
with 23.3% for HR knowledge and delivery
and 18.8% for knowledge of the business.
Meta-analytic evidence that the effects of
participation are weaker (< 1%) than the effects of goal setting (20%; Locke et al., 1980). These effects also hold at multiple levels of analysis. Further evidence shows that the effects of goal setting are robust (Locke & Latham, 1990), while the effects of participation are highly variable (e.g., Wagner, 1994). General Employment Practices 9. Most managers give employees lower performance appraisals than they objectively deserve. False 94% (3%) Possible Contingencies This finding might not hold true in certain types of internal labor market contexts â??e.g., organizations with strong employment â??guaranteesâ? (e.g., government employment), or organizations with very strong contingency reward systems or â??up-or-outâ? promotion & partnership systems. More contingencybased research would be useful. Appraisal leniency is much more common than stringency (Jawahar & Williams, 1997; Longenecker et al., 1987) (continued on next page.) 154 â?¢ TABLE I HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, Summer 2002 (continued.) Items Answerâ??% Correct (% uncertain) Research Evidence 10. Poor performers are generally more realistic about their performance than good performers are. 11. Teams with members from different functional areas are likely to reach better solutions to complex problems than teams from a single area. False 88% (3%) Primary study evidence that poor performers are less accurate about their relative performance than are good performers (Kruger & Dunning, 1999). True 88% (5%) 12. Despite the popularity of drug testing, there is no clear evidence that applicants who score positive on drug tests are any less reliable or productive employees False 57% (21%) 13. Most people overevaluate how well they perform on the job. True 54% (4%) 14. Most errors in performance appraisals can be eliminated by providing training that describes the kinds of errors managers tend to make and suggesting ways to avoid them. False 25% (5%) Multiple studies on cross-functional teams have shown positive outcomes for product and project quality (e.g., Keller, 2001; Lutz, 1994; Northcraft et al., 1995; Pelled et al., 1999). At the top management level, Hambrick et al. (1996) found that more heterogeneous teams (with respect to functional area, education, and tenure) made bolder (although slower) competitive moves, causing an overall net positive effect on firm market share and profits. Norman et al. (1990) drug tested more than 4,000 applicants and then followed them through more than 1 year of employment. Those who tested positive had a 59% higher absenteeism rate and a 47% higher involuntary turnover rate. Parish (1989) found significant results for disciplinary actions, and Winkler & Sheridan(1989) for vehicular accidents, absenteeism, and medical costs. See also McDaniel et al. (1988). Meta-analytic and primary study evidence that self-ratings have higher means than peer and supervisor ratings (e.g., Brown, 1986; Harris & Schaubroeck, 1988; Mabe & West, 1982; Thornton, 1980). Most performance appraisal errors are extremely resistant to change (Latham & Wexley, 1994). In addition, training to eliminate one kind of error often introduces other types of errors (e.g., Bernardin & Pence, 1980). Many managers are well aware that they commit errors, but continue to do so for personal and social reasons (Longenecker et al., 1987). Training & Employee Development 15. Lecture-based training is generally superior to other forms of training delivery. False 96% (2%) Possible Contingencies Although product outcomes are generally positive, psychosocial outcomes such as member satisfaction or stress are frequently negative. Also, it is possible that at very high levels of multiple types of diversity, interpersonal conflict might overtake the performance benefits of diversity. Meta-analytic evidence that computerbased instruction is slightly more effective than traditional ins ... Purchase answer to see full attachment
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