Challenging basic assumptions of identity

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  • EDITORIAL

    Challenging basic assumptions of identity

    Devi Jan kowicz

    Who are we, and what do we do? The debate on these questions, under- standable enough in a one-year-old journal, but significantly characteristic of a discipline whose development reflects, and influences, emergent views on the nature of corporate strategy in a wide variety of organizations, continues.

    In this issue, Grieves and Redman develop our recent editorial debate on the nature and provenance of HRD through a full-length article which examines the intensity and extent of the shadow which, they assert, O D casts over our discipline. In doing so, they add to the list of metaphors which gives this debate its particular charm: to the notions of HRD as a three-legged stool and as a multi-limbed octopus (see HRDI 2.1), they contribute the image of a wagon train making a linear journey through time and space, while suggesting that patchwork images of discontinuity and episodic trench-warfare may also have a place. Or perhaps, as far as the practitioner is concerned, HRD is a kind of construction site: the infrastructure which supports a technology for building organizations as knowledge-based communities. While examining a variety of perspectives based on the experience of HRM, OD and HRD world-wide, they draw on UK experience to suggest definitions which they juxtapose with the US view that HRD encompasses OD, as presented in our last issue.

    Matters of identity can be examined at many levels. Issues of identity also characterize the paper by Hill and Stewart, though in this instance they present at the level of the individual company. For the small to medium- sized enterprise (SME), identity may be compelled by outside forces, rather than being espoused and enacted by the company as an independent agent. The authors suggest that the ways in which small and medium enterprises characterize themselves in contrast to their larger counterparts may reflect an accommodation to, and acknowledgement of, the particular external pressures that impinge on them, rather than being an expression of an ideal of fluidity and flexibility to which they aspire. They also draw our attention to the rhetorical aspects of self-definition that contribute to the enactment of HRD within SMEs. The companies they studied define this role very much in terms of their involvement in employee training and development. At times, this involvement departed from nationally based prescriptions of 'good practice', for reasons which they elaborate in detail.

    HRDl 2:2 (1 999), pp. 77-79 O Routledge 1367-8868

  • 78 Editorial

    Turnbull directs our attention to the individual within the organization, and to the pressures that certain interpretations of H W have created for the typical management-role holder. She addresses the first principles involved in role performance in organizations. In their search for corporate excellence, the role playing in whch managers engage is not simply a surface self-presentation required by role senders, but involves deep challenges to self-concept, the management of which may result in substantial costs, to both the individual and the organization.

    In their article under our 'advanced practice' heading, Short, Collinson and Scrivener also provide an analysis at the level of the individual. They describe the impact of US-originated training programmes on the role defhtion of statisticians in the UK government's statistical service, completing a description they began in an earlier issue of our journal. They report that, quite apart from the particular expertise made available by using distinguished foreign nationals to staff the programme, the use of overseas st& served to signal the importance of the training programme in the eyes of the sponsoring body. I t demonstrated a public intent to challenge existing assumptions about the role of the statistician in government service, and underlined a wish to - develop statisticians as reflective practitioners, through experimentation with alternatives to conventional practices in the training setting. These are tactics, they suggest, which others could emulate whenever their teaching strategy requires an examination of professional identity.

    If this issue reveals a variety of perspectives on our identity, and on the nature and practice of HRD perspectives which are, in part, nationally based then the international scope of our journal is well served. A good instance of this variety is provided by the book reviews we present in this issue: Miao Xhang's review of developments in China; and a major review article by Morris. The latter is particularly relevant to this matter of the identity ofHRD. What should we notice when we look to our organizational environment? Is national education policy of any interest to the corporate MRD department? Since the recessions of the 1970s and 1980s, corporate HRD policy in many European countries has reflected a concern for the availability of skilled labour, following a proactive labour-market policy in which national vocational education and training policy has formed part of the HRD renlit; a theme which the review presents and reflects.

    Now, if I were asked to define 'identity', I would do so in terms whch focus on the individual style in which organizations, people and journals express a thread of continuity during times of change, while adaptively accommodating and responding to a variety of circumstances. This same continuity applies to our editorial arrangements during the convalescence of our Editor-in-Chief, Monica Lee. My own role as Acting Editor-in-Chief for the remainder of volume 2 is very straightforward in this regard, for we share many ideas about the mission and policy of thls journal.

  • Jankowicz: Challenging basic assumptions of identity 79

    Perhaps the most important of these is to encourage a diversity of styles and perspectives in the articles which appear. This may be achieved in a variety of ways. One style of writing which is (according to recent reports in the UK Times Higher Education Supplement) tending to disappear under the pressures of national, citation-count-based research-assessment exercises that devalue scholarly monographs and other book-length presentations, is the conceptual account: the expression of some thesis which is designed to challenge existing categories and move our thi~lking forward in new, and perhaps radical, ways.

    While we retain our commitment to the variety of expression outlined in the journal policy statement presented in our back pages, and insofar as it is possible in the length of a journal article, we would particularly welcome contributions of this kind. Aspiring authors are invited to stimulate, no, inflame our imagination; to shake our categories about the theory and practice of HRD.

    School of Business and Mana~ement University of Teesside

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