Cranet is now the largest HRM network in the world and the only one that has been collecting comparative data on HRM in different countries for more than two decades. Articles based on the Cranet data have been published in some of the world’s best journals and presented at some of the world’s most prestigious academic conferences. But Cranet is also proud to have presented its data at practitioner conferences around the world and to have had it published in local journals, on newspaper and through the broadcast media.

The purpose of the network has not changed. The objective was and is to gather hard evidence, in the local language, about the way that HRM policies and practices varied between countries and to see how they were changing over time. As far as possible the questionnaire collects facts rather than opinions.

Cranet started out as an idea of Gavin Adam, a partner in the HRM practice of Price Waterhouse (as it then was). He contacted Cranfield School of Management and together they managed to persuade prestigious Universities and Business Schools in five countries (France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the UK) to conduct the survey.

Initially the survey was conducted every year, but it quickly became clear that there was not enough time to carry out properly rigorous analysis between the rounds – and that HRM policies and practices did not change that fast. The survey was switched to its current three/four yearly cycle.

After the first three years, Price Waterhouse withdrew their support. And the academic partners decided to find their own funding in each country and to continue the project. The number of partners grew each year. At the beginning partners had to be persuaded to join but relatively quickly countries started applying to join and the problem became one not of finding partners but of applying rigorous standards to make ensure that the applicant partners matched those already in the network

The increasing number of countries brought changes. First, when the number of countries involved was relatively small, the questionnaire was designed and varied each round by all the members. This became unwieldy, however, and each questionnaire is designed now by a multi-cultural volunteer working group representing all the members. Second, a threshold for respondents of 200 employees plus had been chosen because the literature said that was the size below which organisations tended not to have specialist HRM departments. It became clear that that was not the case and the smaller countries pressed for the threshold to go down to 100 employees. Third, there was much discussion about the nature of the network: as it has developed Cranet is very much a “club”: each member owns their own data and can only work with the other countries data with permission; no-one can be coerced to do the work – it is effective because the partners all share a common curiosity about comparative HRM and are prepared to work together and to compromise to make the Cranet work.

The number of countries continues to grow, and the academic work on the data gets ever stronger. However there is evidence that such a lengthy and complex questionnaire is generating fewer respondents and the current economic crisis may exacerbate this. The network has proven its value but, as ever, challenging times lie ahead.