Meet the editor of... the Human Resource Management International Digest
An interview with: David Pollitt
In this interview
David Pollitt is a freelance writer. In a journalistic career spanning more than 30 years, he has been a sub-editor for local, evening and national newspapers and has written on topics as diverse as local government and leisure. He has been the editor of Human Resource Management International Digest (HRMID) since 1995.
David is a much valued contributor to Emerald's information services, having edited a range of journals in the areas of strategic management, human-resource management and training. He also writes Emerald's management podcasts.
HRMID provides case studies of leading-edge HR practice in some of the world's best known companies. It also reviews some of the most topical and interesting HR articles from around 400 top management journals. In addition, it contains interviews with HR gurus, viewpoint pieces from important figures in the industry, legal updates from a UK employment law specialist, book reviews and a round-up of HR websites and forthcoming HR events. Among the topics most commonly covered are HR strategy, managing employees in mergers and acquisitions, recruitment policies, succession planning, employee retention strategies, managing change, leadership and employee development.
"Offering key information on HRM issues in bite-size chunks to busy professionals" – does this sum up your mission?
Up to a point. The journal carries articles of between 900-2,000 words. The average length of a piece is around 1,250 words. Is this "bite-size"? I am not sure. And although I have busy practitioners in mind when I commission or write articles, our download statistics show that the top ten users last year were all academic institutions. The growth of case study-based teaching and learning in business schools is probably the reason.
How international is your readership?
From what we can tell, just under half our readership is from the UK, with the rest from countries as diverse as Australia, Malaysia, the USA, India, Iran, Thailand, South Africa, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand and Switzerland.
Why do you think that the literature of human resource management is going through such a boom period?
The most successful organizations in the modern economy are those employing people who are motivated to perform well. Take British Airways. When other airlines depended for their survival on state aid, BA was flying high. The self-styled "world’s favourite airline" was expanding and profitable, not because it flew better aircraft than its competitors, or because it flew to different places, but because of its people. Cabin crew, ground staff, pilots, engineers, salespeople, managers – they were all pulling together to make flying with BA a pleasant experience. The passengers noticed, and kept coming back. Then a number of things happened to sour industrial relations at the airline, weakening it in the face of industry consolidation, changes in regulation, the rise of low-cost airlines and the fall in premium traffic brought about by the recession. The problems at BA are now many and diverse, but reviving that sense of pulling together will be fundamental to solving them. HR is therefore crucial in BA's battle for survival. And the BA experience is mirrored in many other large organizations.
Would you say that yours was a unique service in that no one else seems to be covering the literature in this way?
Plenty of HR journals present case studies, but I think that HRMID is unique in devoting so much space to them.
Can you say a bit about your own background and how you became editor of the journal?
I am a journalist by trade. For the first ten years of my working life I was a staffer on a range of local and evening newspapers in Greater Manchester and worked as a freelance sub-editor on the northern editions of a couple of nationals. More recently I have combined freelance journalism with working one day a week as information officer at the University of Bradford’s European Briefing Unit. I’ve also done a bit of public relations work for Bradford University and others. Editing HRMID has been a significant part of my work for the last 15 years, since Eric Sandelands, at Emerald, first offered me the job when I was writing reviews for Strategic Direction. I also edit Training and Management Development Methods and the news and reviews section of Industrial and Commercial Training, and compose Emerald's management podcasts.
Editing a digest must be very different from editing a conventional academic journal, with its peer review process etc. How do you go about deciding what will go in a particular issue?
One edition a year is themed. In recent years these have covered, for example, workforce diversity, HR outsourcing, teamwork and strategic HR. For the rest, I simply look out for the articles, topics and reports that interest me most. I think I have developed a fairly sensitive "nose" for a story, over the years.
You say you scan "the best 400 management journals in the world" – how do you do this in practice and do you look at other information sources?
I do rely a lot on Emerald's management reviews, but I also use information sources such as web portals and the trade press. In addition, I have good links with UK Skills, which organizes the National Training Awards. I often interview the national and regional winners, for case studies.
Your editorial formula combines a couple of viewpoint pieces, several case studies, an employment law briefing, several abstracts, and reviews of print and web resources. How did you decide on this formula, and do you see it changing in the near future?
This editorial formula has emerged over the journal’s 17-year life and is under constant review. The early editions, for example, contained no viewpoints, employment law briefings or, of course, web reviews. I work closely with my colleagues at Emerald to ensure that we provide subscribers with what they value most. I don’t envisage any major changes in the years ahead – but who knows?
Why did you decide to focus on case studies, rather than, say, summaries of key research?
Martin Fojt was the journal’s original managing editor in the mid-1990s. He strongly favoured the case study approach for all the company’s business strategy titles, on the grounds that organizations want more than abstract theory – they also want examples of how the theory has been applied in practice. In that way, you could say that we give subscribers "research +".
What makes a good case study?
Well, I admit that one is more likely to find out about successful initiatives than unsuccessful ones. A good case study doesn’t simply say what the organization did right, or what went particularly well, but also sheds light on some of the difficulties encountered. How were they overcome? What would the organization do differently if it could start from scratch? Answers to those sorts of questions are invaluable to organizations considering change themselves.
Is there a way in which your editorial coverage overlaps with the trade press, e.g. Personnel Today will have employment law briefings, reviews, viewpoints etc.?
Yes, there is some overlap with what the trade press provides. But I haven’t come across any other journal that gives such detailed case studies on such a wide range of HR topics. I think that is our niche.
You say you commission the content yourself. How do you go about this?
The journal contains three basic types of substantive article:
- Articles I write myself, based on my own interviews and research.
- Reviews of interesting articles from other publications. My colleagues, Brian Beal and Amanda Kirby, who are both freelance journalists, write most of these.
- Articles I commission from others, based on what I have learned about them and their work through my own research.
That gives the journal three distinct "voices", which I think that subscribers are fairly familiar with, by now.
What is the role of the board of editorial advisers?
Very much a guiding role. I contact board members, usually at the end of a particular year, when a complete volume has been published, to ask for their feedback and, in particular, their ideas for improvement. Board members also write viewpoints and other articles, from time to time.
David Pollitt was originally interviewed in March 2007. The interview was revised in July 2009.
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