Research Note: Concrete vs. Abstract HCM: The Power of “And”

Concrete vs Abstract HCM The Power of And ThumbnailWe launched the 2021 Research Agenda for the human capital management practice area at 3Sixty Insights with an exploration into a new way of looking at HCM. The idea we advanced resonated deeply with vendors and users of HCM technology alike—that HCM has two hemispheres, the concrete and the abstract. To thrive, employers must appreciate and embrace both these understandings of HCM (3Sixty Insights BWSRP20111 Concrete vs. Abstract HCM: A New Way for Organizations to Look at HCM, November 2020). Accountants and others focused on the nuts and bolts of business understand concrete expressions of HCM such as gains in efficiencies and productivity. Others gravitate to abstract expressions of HCM, which comprise employees’ feelings and focus on the tributaries and outcomes of employer culture.

Reality is more complicated. All of HCM—even and especially payroll—is in fact fully concrete and fully abstract at the same time. This is where the power of “and” comes into play. Employees’ feelings, the abstract, are at times easy or tough to translate into the concrete, something measurable. Every instance of what seems solely concrete has a corresponding abstract dynamic. An employee receives a wage to feel like working in the first place. How motivated she feels must be quantifiable too, but how?

Organizations that fail to grasp that all of HCM is an abstract exercise in considering employees’ feelings, always in need of translation into something concrete—a number, such as pas, or a measurement, such as employee morale—will struggle. They’ll pay attention only to abstract HCM that most easily translates to a number—readily apparent things such as salary, productivity gains. Some will fail in the palpable sense; they’ll fall into financial ruin. Others will fail by way of a lousy employer brand, the loss that follows of top talent, and a resulting relegation to the slums of their market spaces.

In speaking with leaders who use HCM technology, 3Sixty Insights has observed several examples of employers realizing success in the abstract (e.g., employee engagement, employee morale, employer brand) and measuring concrete results too. Most appreciated both even as they recognized or focused on one more so than the other. This report documents these examples and presents our evolving thesis regarding the symbiotic oneness of the concrete and abstract in HCM.

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