Constructing the HR professional: a critical analysis of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's 'professional project'

Sarah Gilmore, Stephen Williams

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    With a membership of over 110,000 the dramatic growth in membership of the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) shows no sign of abating. It is Europe’s largest professional body for individuals specialising in the management and development of people with the stated objective of 'promoting the art and science of the management and development of people for the public benefit.' But whilst its stated mission might be 'to uphold the highest ideals in the management and development of people' this paper will argue that an alternative perspective exists – one that places the activities of the CIPD in four key areas as being interwoven with the emergence of 'an "audit society" where surveillance in the interests of performativity forever broadens its scope and sharpens its focus' (Lyon as cited in Legge, 2001:33). It will be contended that the outcomes of such audit activities not only operate as a form of Weberian social closure, allowing the formation of a quasi-professional elite within the HR/personnel domain, but they also let down those whose interests and professionalism the CIPD is claiming to enhance. Through a documentary analysis it will be demonstrated that the CIPD is engaged in a process of constructing a model of the HR professional in a manner consistent with its own unitarist preferences. This is being done by means of the deployment of highly technical processes of quality assurance that govern the delivery of its education programmes; the articulation of tightly defined professional standards that drive CIPD’S 'syllabus'; the insistence that its own books, which incorporate these standards, are the principal texts that students and practitioners need to understand human resource management; and the promotion of its own commissioned research (e.g. Patterson et al 1997). This project for constructing the HR professional is facilitated by academic institutions who provide the courses leading to graduate membership of the CIPD and thus the gateway to this career. Those academics in the UK who seek lectureships in the organisational behaviour or HRM fields are increasingly required to either denote experience of teaching or managing these programmes, or to provide evidence of CIPD membership at corporate (not just at graduate) level. Those seeking to publish in areas such as training and development, employee relations or employment resourcing find that reviewers evaluate their texts in terms of their application to the CIPD's professional standards and their relevance to these programmes – even if the author’s intentions are to aim for an alternative audience. Thus, it could be stated that academia has and continues to be drawn into a Faustian pact whereby it adheres to an unreflexive, unitarist conceptualisation of the human resource management domain in return for inclusion within a professional framework that denotes status ('Centre of Excellence' is awarded to the elite corps of providers) and provides income generation possibilities through programme development at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Given this scenario, the effectiveness of such a unitarist and uncritical approach is questionable given the large extent to which workplaces are characterized by the operation of power, politics, plurality and conflict. It is therefore timely to subject this concept of the HR professional to critical scrutiny and thereby open up a space for deconstruction and critique.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2003
    EventCritical Management Studies 3rd International Conference - Lancaster University, Lancaster
    Duration: 7 Jul 20039 Jul 2003


    ConferenceCritical Management Studies 3rd International Conference
    CityLancaster University, Lancaster


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