The LaboRH Chair, created eight years ago, is a unique entity at UCLouvain aimed at helping scientists and companies collaborate to create tomorrow’s world of work. The Presses Universitaires de Louvain has just published Vers un Management humain ? making it a good time to revisit this new kind of laboratory.
‘In June 2012, when we officially created the LaboRH Chair, I never imagined leading human resource managers in writing a book, which is a typical university medium’, says Laurent Taskin, professor of management and LaboRH Chair founder-holder. But that’s what happened: Vers un management humain ? was released on 6 December. It’s the result of a unique meeting of minds that don’t necessarily have the habit of collaborating: the academic world and the business world.
A human management laboratory
LaboRH: behind the name are eight years of exchange and much more. The LaboRH Chair is a collaborative research and innovation laboratory in the field of human resources management and work transformation. A laboratory is a place of experimentation, where knowledge is created and research thrives. ‘Human management’ refers to two elements: the end and the means. Because managers manage people more than they manage resources, they must do it in a more humane way than ever before. ‘LaboRH’ refers to a laboratory, to labour, to humans. ‘Today, we can’t think of people management in an organisation independent of the transformation of the world of work," Prof. Taskin says. Since 2012, companies have been pledging to participate for three years in university research and teaching.
From field questions to researcher answers
What’s the role of a manager today? What are the alternatives to assessing the individual performance of workers? What are the expectations in terms of working conditions for future generations? What makes the HR post legitimate in a company? These are all questions that members of a human resources team ask themselves today. When meeting with the university via the LaboRH Chair, human resource directors express their concerns about managing people and organisations. UCLouvain researchers answer(1) their questions based on their expertise. ‘This is a very unique process’, Prof. Taskin says. ‘We start with challenges and observations in the field to formulate real research questions. Companies learn a lot from our work, and they teach us a lot about their practice.’
A place for nine companies to emulate each other
This collaborative laboratory is the country’s most successful in the humanities. It’s the only multi-company chair at UCLouvain. It’s a real place of emulation where—and this is rare in Belgium—the university is seen as a partner in understanding concrete current issues. Thus among the 18 public, private and non-commercial companies that have participated since 2012, AGC, AXA, the National Bank of Belgium, BNP Paribas Fortis, RTBF, Ores, the Walloon Water Company, Solvay and UCLouvain are its current partners. For three consecutive years, each company has worked hand-in-hand with researchers using a variety of tools such as quantitative and qualitative surveys, observations, prospective approaches, company visits, expert panels, and so on, carrying out a total of 33 research projects, mobilising more than 80 experts, hiring a dozen researchers over the period and training 120 master's students in human resources management.
Leave a trace
From this long-term work, three themes that are at the heart of the forthcoming book emerged repeatedly: new forms of work organisation (participation, workspaces, self-management, ‘New Ways of Working’, etc.), humanisation/dehumanisation at work, and the transformation of the profession of manager. On this last theme, for example, the researchers produced a reference source documenting the likely changes in manager activities, roles and skills. ‘The idea was born of a concern in the field: in the media, it’s clear that many professions will disappear, including that of manager’, Prof. Taskin says. The reference source allowed partner organisations to feed their action plans and reflections. In particular, these results are at the origin of Carmeuse ‘manager 2.0’, a major support project for company executives aiming to anticipate changes in their business. By way of introduction, the authors detail what is learned from this unique collaboration between businesses and the university. Finally, the book addresses how research has had an impact on management.
New ways of working
To keep up to date, many companies are introducing ‘New ways of working’, that is, the transformation of work organisation, including workspace, and management practices toward more participatory methods. LaboRH Chair research has allowed companies such as Axa, RTBF and Solvay to adjust their plans and integrate certain elements, including workspace occupation.
Impact through research
Beyond this book, for Prof. Taskin, the LaboRH Chair is an adventure that enriches his academic work: ‘It makes a lot of sense in my job as a teacher-researcher because I’m in direct contact with questions that arise in the field. In my classes I can illustrate real and concrete examples that my students will face tomorrow. In addition, the LaboRH Chair makes it possible to have a concrete impact, beyond research. In the current social transition, we researchers feel we’re useful in bringing our expertise to companies and our students, while fuelling research into these lived realities that we observe.’ At the end of June 2020, the LaboRH Chair as conceived in 2012 will end. With the book and the changes undertaken in these companies, the LaboRH Chair will have left a unique framework to replicate in other areas. But fuelled by this dynamic and its impact on management science research, it’s said that a new lab focused on innovation in people management will be created in September 2020(2).
Notes (1) The LaboRH Chair Scientific Committee is composed of Evelyne Léonard, Anne Rousseau, Florence Stinglhamber and Laurent Taskin; Marine De Ridder and Charlotte Rodriguez Conde are researchers.. (2) According to the Fondation Louvain (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A glance at Laurent Taskin's bio
Laurent Taskin is a doctor of economics and management, and professor of management at the Louvain School of Management (University of Louvain), where he is responsible for the Department of Strategy and Organisation. A recognised expert in the field of human resources management and work transformations, he is the LaboRH Chair in Human Management and the editor-in-chief of International Journal of Work Innovation.