ADVO Group interviews Edward Houghton, Research Advisor, CIPD


The CIPD is the professional body for HR and people development. It has over 130,000 members internationally – working in HR, learning and development, people management and consulting across private businesses and organisations in the public and voluntary sectors.

As an independent and not for profit organisation, the CIPD is committed to championing better work and working lives for the benefit of individuals, business, the economies and society – because good work and all it entails is good for business and society at large, and what is good for business should also be good for people’s working lives.

The CIPD brings together extensive research and thought leadership, practical advice and guidance, professional development and rigorous professional standards to drive better capabilities and understanding in how organisations of all kinds operate and perform, and in how they manage and develop their people. A Royal Charter enables the CIPD to confer individual chartered status on members who meet the required standards of knowledge, practice and behaviours.

Edward Houghton is the CIPD’s Research Advisor for Human Capital Metrics and Standards.  He is responsible for leading the organisation’s human capital research work stream exploring various aspects of human capital management, theory and practice; including the measurement and evaluation of the skills and knowledge of the workforce. He has a particular interest in the role of human capital in driving economic productivity, innovation and corporate social responsibility.

Before joining the CIPD in 2013 Edward completed a number of research roles in government and higher education. Most recently he was a Knowledge Transfer Associate at the University of Bristol leading an innovative knowledge exchange programme between the university and Barclays bank. Over 3 years he managed research investigating business culture, corporate social responsibility and community investment. In this role he specialised in qualitative and quantitative social research techniques and strategic project design, developing metrics for the organisation’s flagship community investment programme in the UK. Prior to this Edward held a number of research analyst roles in regional and local government as well as the private sector, including at the East Midlands Development Agency, Leicester City Council and the Transport Research Laboratory.

In the latest in ADVO’s interview series we discuss with Edward the CIPD’s fascinating ‘Value Your Talent Challenge’.

Tell us about the ‘Valuing your Talent’ challenge from it’s beginnings as the initiative through to its open invitation stage and final report.

The Valuing your Talent Challenge is an online engagement process through which we’re bringing HR, finance and the wider business community together to tackle the challenge of measuring and understanding human capital. We’re asking business leaders and practitioners to come online and share their insights about human capital in their workplace, and their approach to understanding it according to whatever business context they’re in. HR leaders from FTSE100 corporations will have the opportunity to share their insight with SME leaders and innovators; something we hope will kick start the debate about human capital, and push HR and finance towards thinking more strategically about how they value the human resource in the organisation.

The theory behind the social innovation activity comes from the importance of including HR practitioners in the human capital debate, and providing them with the opportunity to share their real insight and experience of HR practice. We’ve done a lot of the leg work already for the community – as part of Valuing your Talent we’ve spoken to 30 organisations about their approach to valuing human capital so that the final framework is being built around practice today. The challenge is asking two things of the community (1) do the guiding principles and framework for measuring human capital make sense? and (2) can you do something neat with the framework, or principles, for your organisation so you can push the human capital debate forward. If you can, then we’re willing to seed fund your idea, and we’ve got a pot of £10k that is up for grabs. The first phase “Insight” runs through until the end of March, and we will then move in to the “Innovation” phase, which will continue until the 12th May. We’ll then judge the best ideas, and announce the winners publicly at the launch of the research on the 25th June.

Why is it so important for businesses to be able to construct this human capital framework? 

Modern business is composed of intangible assets which for most organisations makes up the majority of value within the organisation. Human capital is one of these intangible assets which is highly valuable but difficult to measure. Business leaders often note the importance of understanding the value of people when they speak about people as the “business’ greatest asset”, but because its intangible they struggle to measure it in a robust or meaningful way. There are also wider business concerns for sustainable business’ of tomorrow – driving performance, managing people risk, and investing in future skills-needs, are all issues that are top of the agenda for business today and to which leaders need help making strategic decisions. This isn’t just the domain of the FTSE 100s, but also SMEs building their HR function and investing in their people – it can be hard to know where to start, and often the first thing they need to understand is who their people are. The framework will help to clarify exactly what the makeup of their workforce is, and help them to invest in building their capability and talent.

Why do you think a framework of this nature has hitherto been missing for organisations?

Frameworks exist, but what we’re doing is building this one from the knowledge of the practitioner community. Because its crowd sourced it will be useable to all organisations – and because it is designed to be flexible and is fundamentally non-proprietary, businesses can build and use it however they see fit. We want business to use it according to their own context and needs, so it may be that the framework sparks a conversation in a business about data analytics, or workforce planning – these small conversations might nudge a small business along the right track to thinking more strategically about its workforce needs and give a lone HR manager the right ammunition to raise big questions of the management team. Or it may be that a sophisticated organisations frame their own people strategy around our framework and measure accordingly. The main purpose is for it to be accessible and valuable as a methodology for helping organisations measure human resources more coherently and to a higher standard. 

How valuable is it to be able to utilise social media technology in the ‘Valuing Your Talent Challenge’ for generating feedback on the framework?

Social media allows us to bring a whole set of stakeholder groups together to collaborate on solving the human capital challenge and it lets us do this in an open and innovative way. We’ll be able to get great ideas from anybody who wants to participate, and will mean that because its a social tool, the development of the idea is transparent and visible to everyone.

Social media is helping us to link many different professions and seniorities, and by doing this the framework will become owned by those who develop it. The importance of this is that when it comes to using the framework, it will have already been road-tested to some extent, and will be grounded in real-practice.

How important do you think it is to get feedback from such a diverse mix of business professionals and industries in the development of the framework? 

Its hugely important to get feedback from a diverse mix of professionals because human capital is relevant to all. It forms such an important part of our local, national and global economies, that any business and any profession has an interest in it. We are therefore making sure we’re listening to the voices of a variety of professional backgrounds and building the framework accordingly.

What will be the future plans for the framework once finalised? Will it be built upon further in the future?

We have always said that this is only the beginning of our work on human capital, so the framework we present will be the first iteration of a number of future versions. We want to build on it few further research and refine it, but I anticipate that the core structure and theory for it will not change too radically. When you look at the detail of the framework, for example where it started to reference the different types of data sets and measures, we may want to nuance it accordingly, or suggest specific metrics that businesses can use, but I would say that our immediate plans are to share the framework far and wide and road-test it, to explore how best it can be applied.

When will we next be able to find out more about the development of this process?

The Valuing your Talent Challenge will now be live until we launch the research on the 25th June – you will be able to get involved and follow the conversations and projects on the Valuing your Talent Challenge website, and you can also follow our CIPD Twitter, and #valuingyourtalent, which will continue to update you on the ideas coming out of the community.


For more information on the CIPD visit