The HR Canon, a sneak preview

hr canon
Illustration: Studio Fee Overbeeke

The HR Canon

The curators of the Museum of HR (planned opening in 2022) are working hard on the HR Canon. The HR Canon will be the core of the exhibition, and it will contain 50 pieces, that are representative for the development of Human Resources Management / Personnel management, from late 19th century to today. Not an easy task, and I am sure the wisdom of the crowd will be called upon at a later stage.

In this blog post you can see a sneak preview, showing 22 of the items considered by the team, without too much explanation. Your suggestions are very welcome of course, please mail them to

1. Frederic Taylor

Frederic Tylor

Frederic Taylor (1856-1915) was one of the first management consultants. His book The Principles of Scientific Management was very influential, and many of the roots of Personnel Management can be traced back to this book. Therefore, Taylor deserves a big statue in the Museum of HR.

2. The Org Chart


org chart

Supposedly the first org chart was designed by Daniel McMallum around 1854. Where would HR be without org charts? Example: even the most modern HR Information Systems are lost without org chart. We need a name, postion and boss, otherwise we can not enter a new employee into the system.



The best icon for the org chart might be the pyramid. If you ask people to draw an organisation, they often draw a pyramid.

3. The Forced Distribution

forced distribution

The forced distribution was popular in the 1980’s, promoted by GE and Jack Welch. It was introduced to get rid of poor performers, and to force poor managers to rank their staff, whether they wanted it or not. The story was, that at GE, managers had to get rid of their bottom 10% performers every year. Assumption: performance follows a normal distribution.

4. The Employee Lifecycle

instroom doorstroom uitstroom

The Employee Life Cycle is a dominant concept in HRM. Above you can see the most simple representation (in Dutch, I could not find a good English example). The lifecycle has three phases: inflow, throughput and outflow.

stages of employee life cycle

Over time, the representation became more sophisticated. The picture above (looking a bit like a conveyor belt) is an example.

employee journey

In the 21st century, the Employee Lifecycle evolved into the Employee Journey. Looking more attractive, but in essence still: in-through-out. You can find an extensive overview of employee journey maps in: Trends in Employee Journey Maps.

5. Career Ladders

career ladder

If you ask designers to design a visual to illustrate a career path, their first choice is a ladder, or stairs. Hardly ever a real path, hardly ever escalators (a career is too easy, if you use escalators). There is only one way careers can go, and that is up. For an extensive collection of Career Paths go to A collection of 31 different Career Paths.

6. The 9-grid


The 9-grid is one of the typical HR tools designed in the last century. I think it was designed by McKinsey for GE, probably together with the famous principle: always get rid of your bottom 10% low performers (see Nr. 3). The 9-grid is a favourite of many HR professionals. Read: Get rid of the 9-grid. 

7. The Ulrich Model

ulrich model hr canon

In his book Human Resource Champions Dave Ulrich introduced a model to map the different roles of HR. This model was embraced by the HR world. Many HR professionals have not read any of the great books Dave Ulrich wrote, but just took a picture of the 1997 model and tried to implement it, using their own interpretation. Please watch my little video with some more background:

8. Competency Frameworks


Competency Frameworks  will certainly get a lot of attention in the Museum of HR. For many years HR consultancies have earned a lot of money by helping organisations to create extensive competency frameworks. The key question: what are the behaviours we expect at different levels in different roles throughout the organisation? Especially Leadership Competency Frameworks have gotten a lot of attention (Change starts at the top, Leading by example).

Have a look at: Nearly 100 Leadership Models.

9. The Iceberg Metaphor

These days in many presentations I see the VUCA slide: We live in a VUCA world! In my working life I have also seen many icebergs in presentations. The iceberg is a metaphor loved by HR-professionals and many others. Does the iceberg deserve a place in the Canon of HR? Maybe. Above you see the “Culture Iceberg”. Below the “Competency Iceberg”.

10. 70:20:10


70 20 10

In the 1980’s McCall, Lombardo and Eichinger introduced the 70/20/10 model. Learning is most effective if it is divided as follows:

  • 70% from challenging assignments
  • 20% from developmental relationships
  • 10% from coursework and training

Scientific evidence for the model seems to be poor, but in learning & development circles it is one of the pillars of todays practices.

11. “Only 30% of the employees are engaged”

The Gallup engagement surveys certainly deserve a place in the HR Canon. How often have you heard the question: “Did you know that only one/third of the employees is actually engaged?”. If you look at the data, there is good news: the facts show, as far as the Gallup US survey data shows, it is actually around one/third (in fact 34% in 2018). More good news: the percentage is increasing.

12. The War for Talent

The term the  “War for Talent” originates in 1997, when it was first used by Steven Hankin of McKinsey. Ed Michaels, Helen Handfield-Jones and Beth Axelrod published a book with the title “The War for Talent” in 2001.

war for talent

More than twenty years later, the term “the war for talent” is still used often. What you also hear often: “The war for talent is finished. Talent won”.

13. The ADDIE Model

A quote from : “The ADDIE model is the generic process traditionally used by instructional designers and training developers. The five phases—Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation—represent a dynamic, flexible guideline for building effective training and performance support tools”. The ADDIE model was nominated for the HR Canon by Mohamed Azaddin Khalifa.

The ADDIE model

14. The Sandwich Feedback Method

“The sandwich feedback method consists of praise followed by corrective feedback followed by more praise. In other words, the sandwich feedback method involves discussing corrective feedback that is “sandwiched” between two layers of praise.” (Nagesh Belludi on Right Attitudes). This item was kindly suggested by Sandra Verheugen.

The sandwich feedback method

15. SMART objectives

If you set objectives, they should be SMART: Specific, Measurable,  Achievable, Realistic (Relevant) and Timebound (Timely, Time-Limited). Thanks Bruno Cehevolet for your suggestion.

SMART objectives

16. Leonardo da Vinci, the inventor of the cv

Pamela Palmer kindly suggested Leonardo da Vinci for the HR Canon. Supposedly Leonardo invented the curriculum vitae in 1482.

Read more:


17. MBTI

The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) deserves a place in the HR Canon. The MBTI personality test was first published in 1962, and has been widely used since. The use of MBTI shows that HR professionals are not so concerned about scientific evidence. Science is sceptical about the MBTI, but this hardly seems to influence its popularity. We could add many popular test with low validity to the list (think about the colours red, green, blue and yellow), but for the moment we will stick to the MBTI.



18. We live in a VUCA world


The acronym VUCA was supposedly first used in 1987 (Source: Wikipedia). First the military world embraced the concept, later it moved on to be a popular term in the business world. Still many people dare to include a slide in the pack with the title: “We live in a VUCA world”.

19. The Cycle of Acceptance (the Kübler-Ross model)

Kubler-Ross model

Change management is a science. Or not? In 1969 Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in her book On Death and Dying, introduced a model describe the phases people who are diagnosed with a terminal illness are going through. Since then the model has also been used in the business world. Scientific evidence for the model seems to be thin.



20. The performance management cycle

Performance management is one of the favorite processes of HR. Many HR professionals have designed and implemented performance management cycles. They hardly ever work well.


21. Situational Leadership

The famous model of Hersey & Blanchard deserves a place in the HR Canon.


Read: Kendra Cherry: The situational theory of leadership.

22. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, often pictured as a pyramid, is one of those iconic frameworks. The scientific foundations seem to be poor, but who cares. Don’t spoil a nice model by looking for scientific evidence.



Updated: February 14, 2021

Watch a video about the HR trends for 2021

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