HR Most Influential 2012 Top 25 UK Thinkers


Unsurprisingly, the HR Most Influential UK Thinkers 2012 are well represented on external bodies. Will Hutton, chair, Big Innovation Centre at The Work Foundation, and principal of Hertford College, Oxford University (3), is one who is regarded as hugely influential at government level. “His involvement in major governmental studies propels him to the top. And he has not shied away or become a government lackey at all. Top class influencer and thinker,” says one person who voted for him, while another says: “He has innovative solutions to people problems.” 

Hutton is one of a number of thinkers on our UK ranking who have strong influence in a particular field, in this case, the economy. As one respondent says: “He always has a view and is not afraid to say what he thinks, even if it is not the popular view. I always listen to his views of the economy, in particular, as he is a thoughtful and considered spokesperson for the wider people community.” 

Seventh placed Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge, founder of Quality & Equality, ninth placed Dame Carol Black, national director for Health and Work, and David Clutterbuck (15), David Clutterbuck Partnership founder and visiting professor of coaching and mentoring at Sheffield Hallam and Oxford Brookes universities, are also recognised for their influence in specific areas. 

Cheung-Judge is admired for her ability to make organisational development (OD) accessible and link it to HR thinking. “The best OD practitioner in the UK,” according to one respondent, she “is an inspirational thinker and presenter who brings an impressive experience and wisdom to bear in making OD accessible, pertinent and practical.” “She is driven by the desire to create systemic change within the HR function and business, there is no personal agenda,” adds another, who voted her number one. “It is this integrity and the profound effect she has on the individuals and organisations she works with that puts her at the top of this list.” 

Black is regarded as putting health and wellbeing on the HRD’s agenda, thanks to her dedication and political influence. While her work on sickness absence is seen as contentious in some quarters, those who vote for her agree it is having an impact in organisations. “Although the initial report on health and wellbeing at work is now some years old, the impact of this and introduction of fit notes is still having a major impact on the ability of organisations (and individuals) to take a more proactive approach to managing health, wellbeing and absence in the workplace,” says one. Another adds that Black is “using her platform to challenge and encourage thinking about what is called for – whether you agree with it or not, it generates comment”. 

Clutterbuck is lauded for his influence in the field of mentoring and coaching, with voters mentioning his simple and easy-to-understand delivery. “He is fascinating on ‘dialogue’,” says one, while another loves his “humour and his down-to-earth approach on HR-related matters”. 

Also noted for particular work is joint 14th place Andrew Kakabadse, professor of international management development, Cranfield University School of Management. He has “massive influence on board attitudes to people” is one comment about him. 

David Denyer, professor of organisational change at Cranfield University School of Management, jumps straight into the top spot, thanks mostly to his “outstanding work on high reliability and safety leadership” and “pioneering evidence-based management worldwide”. Off all those in our UK Thinkers ranking this year, Denyer appears to have had the most profound practical effect. 

“I have changed the way that I approach organisational change within my organisation and it has provided fantastic results, in particular to the recent realignment of the business and restructuring, making a major contribution to our ROI,” says one respondent, a view echoed by another: “Denyer has helped us look at the way we view the changes required after major events. The perspective he has brought has influenced our future approach.” 

While being ranked highly by both private and public sector HR directors, Denyer is particularly influential in the latter. “Denyer has been influential in helping trusts understand and develop change following incidents. His challenging, radical approach to organisations’ behaviours pre- and post-major incident will surely have a great impact on the NHS,” says one respondent. 

Another adds: “Denyer has worked with hospitals and other public services in developing models for high-reliability organisations. He has been influential in helping our trust consider and develop future models for managing change following major incidents. His rapid understanding of issues and ‘deep dive thinking’ make him a valuable asset to the organisations he works with.” 

The application of theory into practice shines through in those who make the grade in this year’s ranking. Cary Cooper, professor or organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School (just pipped by Hutton into fourth place), is hugely admired for this. Described as “an iconoclast” and “far more than an academic”, Cooper is “peerless in making often complex issues accessible to the wider public and media. He brings HR management challenges to the widest possible audiences.” 

Cooper’s ability to communicate to Joe Public on issues around health and wellbeing, workplace flexibility and organisation performance is widely regarded. As one respondent puts it: “He is fantastic, really authentic and the one the TV programmes want on their sofa, as he can communicate difficult and complex views and ideas in a straightforward way.” 

Lancaster University Management School is well-represented in this year’s ranking, with Cooper’s colleagues Mike West, professor of organisational psychology, and Paul Sparrow, director of the Centre for Performance-Led HR, in positions five and joint 14 respectively. West is noted for his rigorous research, which genuinely sets out to measure the impact of different approaches to people management on employee motivation and company performance. He is “one of the few researchers producing a steady stream of new data linking workforce issues to organisational outcomes – always accessible, relevant and challenging to practitioners”, according to one person who voted him top. Sparrow, meanwhile, is noted for his focus on performance-led HR and for being a good bridge between academic and practitioner-friendly research. “He forces HR practitioners to exercise their grey matter” was one comment about him. 

In 13th place, Wendy Hirsh, independent consultant and visiting professor, Kingston University and principal associate, Institute for Employment Studies, is another who delivers solutions that work in practice, our survey shows. As well as being a “fantastic researcher” she is “also grounded in practicality and always mindful of the implications and applications of her research for HR practitioners” and, for one who voted for her, is the “most thorough and insightful researcher in evidence-based HR in the UK today”, able to “articulate complex organisational problems and solutions in a way that resonates with practitioners”. 

Sixth placed David Guest, professor of organisational psychology and HRM at King’s College, London, is also admired for demonstrating how to put theory into practice. He is noted for being wise, trusted and sensible, communicating through his weekly blogs and “always giving food for thought”. He has a “long and distinguished track-record of writing books and articles that deal with the everyday concerns of senior HR practitioners and that are grounded in empirical evidence”. 

This practical focus is also evident in eighth placed Nick Holley, director of the HR Centre of Excellence at Henley Business School. Regarded as “very commercial” and “refreshingly direct”, Holley is noted for his “strong practice focus, making him a stand-out thinker” and a “thought leader who brings a business focus to HR, driving a value-added approach. He delivers excellent workshops that are short, focused and high quality.”

 Denyer tops the ranking for receiving the highest weighted score, but if the ranking were based on number of people who voted then second placed Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School, comes out top, proving her far-reaching influence. Gratton is recognised for her many strengths, from global reach and consistently fresh thinking to her thought-provoking, entertaining speeches and inspirational approach. However, the one area in which she shines is her thinking on the future of work. 

She is “always ahead of the game and her ideas can be used in business settings, which puts her ahead of many thinkers who have great but unimplementable ideas,” says one fan. Another sums up many respondents in saying: “Gratton continues to push the needle to encourage us all to think about the future of work and what is called for – very necessary provocation if we are to be effective HR practitioners.” 

Gratton’s original insight, clear understanding of the dynamics and issues playing out in today’s business world and leadership are all commented upon. As one respondent says: “It is always good to find a professor in a business school with an interest in making a difference – there are normally so few of them and Gratton has consistently, over the years, committed herself to this mission.” 

Also admired for their innovative and pioneering work are Gillian Stamp, director at Bioss the Foundation (Brunel Institute of Organisation and Social Studies), in 21st place and 11th-ranked Veronica Hope-Hailey, professor of strategy and HRM, head of strategic and international management group, School of Management, University of Bath. Stamp, a “creative thinker”, is described as having work that has “real traction” while Hope-Hailey’s work on trust in organisations has “caught the mood and feelings of the time”. “Trust is such a critical value for businesses to have today. Hope-Hailey’s research has helped to provoke the HR community to think differently about this,” says one respondent. 

Writing seminal books is another key quality of the most influential thinkers. Among those noted for this are: Rob Goffee, professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School, up from 22 to 10 this year with his writings on authentic leadership and managing knowledge workers; Adrian Furnham, professor of psychology at University College London (12), with his “brilliant pragmatic blend of scientific research and common sense” and “insightful, well-evidenced, and brilliantly well written work in tell-it-like-it-is language”; and Chris Brewster, professor of international HR management, Henley Business School, University of Reading (19), with his recent publications on international HR research.

HR Most Influential 2012 Top 25 UK Thinkers
2012 2011 Name, title and organisation
1 New David Denyer, professor of organisational change, Cranfield School of Management
2 1 Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice, London Business School
3 3 Will Hutton, chair Big Innovation Centre, The Work Foundation, and principal Hertford College, Oxford University
4 5 Cary Cooper, distinguished professor of organisational psychology and health, Lancaster University Management School
5 New Michael West, professor of work and organisational psychology, Lancaster University Management School
6 6 David Guest, professor of organisational psychology and HRM, King’s College London
7 New Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge, founder, Quality & Equality
8 16 Nick Holley, director, HR Centre of Excellence, Henley Business School
9 13 Dame Carol Black, national director for Health and Work
10 22 Rob Goffee, professor of organisational behaviour, London Business School
11 New Veronica Hope-Hailey, professor of strategy and HRM, head of Strategic and International Management Group, School of Management, University of Bath
12 8 Adrian Furnham, professor of psychology, University College London
13 New Wendy Hirsh, independent consultant, visiting professor Kingston University and principal associate Institute for Employment Studies
14= 12 Paul Sparrow, director, Centre for Performance-led HR, professor of international HR management, Lancaster University Management School
14= New Andrew Kakabadse, professor of international management development, Cranfield University, School of Management
15 21 David Clutterbuck, David Clutterbuck Partnership and visiting professor of coaching and mentoring, Sheffield Hallam and Oxford Brookes University
16 New Mick Marchington, emeritus professor of HRM, Manchester Business School, professor of HRM, Strathclyde Business School
17 New Rob Briner, professor of organisational psychology, School of Management, University of Bath
18 New John Benington, Institute of Governance and Public Management, Warwick Business School
19 24 Chris Brewster, professor of international HR management, Henley Business School, University of Reading
20 New Tim Morris, professor of management studies, University of Oxford
21 New Gillian Stamp, director, Bioss the Foundation
22 New Mike Pedlar, professor, Henley Business School, University of Reading
23 New Nic Beech, professor of management and dean, faculty of arts, University of St Andrews
24 New Jonathan Gosling, professor of leadership, Centre for Leadership Studies, Exeter University
25 New John Purcell, associate fellow, Industrial Relations Research Unit, Warwick Business School