Human Resource Management in context
As an organisation constantly interacts with and relies on its environment, change can be seen as one of the main threads running through the evolution of Human Resource Management (HRM) (Burke and Ng, 2006; Gratton, 2015; Truss et al., 2012). Indeed, as research confirms, external trends such as new technological developments, ongoing globalisation, changing demographics and increased attention towards wellbeing are important predictors of how work is managed today (Burke and Ng, 2006; Friedman, 2007; Gratton, 2015).
Considering the evolution of HRM overtime, it is apparent that both its roles and responsibilities in organisations have changed significantly. Within the context of organisational change this essay aims to critically evaluate HRM’s roles and responsibilities.
Early theories suggest that HRM is as a necessity to reassess how to manage people and their welfare at work (Crawshaw, 2014). During the industrial age the Principles of Scientific Management by Frederick Taylor (Taylor, 1911) proposed that efficiency and productivity could be achieved best of all through rationalised modes of production. It was during that time, that the importance of HR and people management as a profession grew considerably (Crawshaw et al., 2014). By the middle of the 20th-century academic research in the fields of psychology, anthropology and sociology began to emphasise the behavioural and emotional context of the employment relationship, leading to an understanding of HRM as a more holistic perspective (Crawshaw et al., 2014; Redman and Wilkinson, 2012; Torrington et al., 2008).
Given this context, Story’s (1995) commonly cited definition of HRM shall apply to this text:
HRM is ‘a distinctive approach to employment management which seeks to achieve competitive advantage through the strategic deployment of highly committed and capable workforce using an array of cultural, structural and personnel techniques.’ However, this definition reflects a very unitaristic view of the employment relationship, which in terms of the fast and ever-changing environment of a company and the greater importance of different stakeholders must be reviewed critically. Nevertheless, by differentiating HRM clearly from personnel management, contrarily often said to be the more operational, administrative and employee-focused form, this definition provides the basis for a strategic and business-focused management approach of HRM (Crawshaw et al., 2014; Storey, 2007). Following that shift, research on the relationship between HRM and business performance has been conducted intensely in recent years (e.g., Boeselie et al., 2005; Buller and McEvoy, 2012; Guest, 2011). Evidence shows the link of HRM to strategic objectives of an organisation and thereby linking it directly with performance outcomes. As working towards strategic goals in a managerial context is summarised under the term of strategic management, consequently HRM dealing with those HRM activities used to support the company’s competitive strategy by pursuing to achieve the objectives through people, can be summarised under the concept of strategic HRM (SHRM) (Armstrong and Long, 1994; Crawshaw et al., 2014; Wright and Snell, 1989). The resourced-based view (RBV) is one of the two theoretical frameworks which mainly dominated research in the field of SHRM recently. It argues that HR provide a competitive advantage to the organisation, as long as they are unique, and competing businesses cannot copy nor substitute for them (Buller and McEvoy, 2012; Crawshaw et al., 2014; Torrington et al., 2008). However, the evaluation of HR and therefore the measurability of HRM outcomes remains difficult (Boeselie et al., 2005; Ekuma, 2015; Guest and King, 2004; Torrington et al., 2008). This is mainly based on the fact that HRM outcomes are dependant on the skills, attitudes and behaviour of employees, also referred to as the black box (Boeselie et al., 2005; Crawshaw et al., 2014). Certainly, these attributes are shaped by external change factors, which in summary sets the complex baseline from which HRM roles and responsibilities have to be evaluated.
Handling change within different models of HRM roles
In line with the change from HRM to SHRM, different models of HR roles have evolved. Karen Legge’s HR innovator model (1978) was one of the first and still widely referenced models to explain how HR professionals could effect and face organisational change (Guest and King, 2004; Legge, 2005; Truss et al., 2012). Although further research on that model conducted by Guest and King (2004) showed that the HR function has increasingly become aligned with organisational goals and therefore been given a greater importance, it was also found evidence that HR plays no leading role in organisational change (Caldwell, 2001). Despite that fact, change as an impact factor is being pictured in each of the main models, gaining in importance in recent ones even more (Caldwell, 2001; Truss et al., 2012). This greater emphasis might be caused by the fast pace of change within the business environment.
Supporting this assumption by beginning with Storey’s strategic/tactical model (1992), wherein HR is broken down into four main roles, namely Handmaiden, Advisor, Regulator and Changemaker, only the latter deals with change. Though, characterised as a strategic/ interventional role it is seen as central to the attainment of a company’s performance and therefore given an emerging significance (Caldwell, 2011; Crawshaw et al., 2014; Story, 1992). However, building this model only examining 15 large organisations, validity can be questioned. Following this, Caldwell (2001) retesting Story’s model found that the proposed roles have changed substantially. Hence, he brought up an own model with amended roles, namely Champion, Adapter, Consultant and Synergist (Truss et al., 2012).
Highlighting HRM ’ s roles in the context of organisational change
Caldwell’s model also takes in account the first model of Ulrich (1997), wherein amongst four roles the so called ‘Change Agent’ has been introduced. Caldwell argues that to access the complexity of organisational change there is a need to devise more multidimensional roles, which is why his model particularly focuses on HRM’s role in managing organisational change. Therefore, every role is defined assessing its responsibilities within a change process, consequently leading to an increased importance of change factors in general (Caldwell, 2001; Truss et al., 2012).
HRM in its role as a strategist and leader
Whilst Caldwell focuses solely on organisational change, Ulrich and Brockbank (2005) highlight in their updated version of Ulrich’s initial model the leading role HRM has to play within the development and sustainable growth of a company. Similarly to Story’s model the five herein proposed roles, namely Strategic Partner, Functional Expert, Employee Advocate, Human Capital Developer and HR Leader recognise the complex mix of operational and strategic roles (Crawshaw et al., 2014). However, by positioning the former Change Agent under the role of the Strategic Partner, the role HRM plays in terms of change processes has been given an enhanced strategic value (Caldwell, 2008). Despite the greater importance HRM is being granted in this model, due to the only consideration of the impact of change within one role, it could be argued that Ulrich and Brockbank’s model does not grade the importance of change as too greatly, especially in comparison with Caldwell’s model (2001). On the contrary, it could be also argued, that positioning change processes solely under the strategic role reinforces the importance change plays within business development (Caldwell, 2003; Truss et al., 2012). The latter argument is further supported by the fifth role Ulrich and Brockbank introduced: The HR Leader exists, as Truss et al. (2012, p.72) state ‘in recognition of the importance of HR providing a role model in the way that it leads its own department’. This puts emphasis on the leading role HRM plays in corporate governance (Crawshaw et al. 2014). Consequently, HRM is given a vital role in combining and balancing all of the other roles by being responsible for an enhanced holistically leadership approach.
Taking in consideration all of these models it becomes apparent, that the HR roles and responsibilities cannot be defined clearly by any means. In fact, they are substantially dependant on each other as well as on external factors. Moreover, they include in themselves role conflicts and ambiguities (Francis and Keegan, 2006). For instance, with a view at the current CIPD Profession Map (CIPD, 2016) the vast scope of roles and responsibilities HRM does address simultaneously is being demonstrated impressively. Although strategic roles and an exertion of influence and its power gains, as seen from the wide emphasis on SHRM, significantly in importance, HRM is found to be still mainly operational (Caldwell, 2003; Guest and King, 2004; Wright and Boswell, 2002). Despite that, Francis and Keegan (2006) argue that HRM needs to reflect on the consequences a dominant strategic framing and solely unitaristic view would entail. As HRM historically always dealt with human and economic concerns, the focus on the welfare of the employees (e.g., work-life balance) must not be forgotten about to guarantee organisational effectiveness and hence contribute positively to the performance outcome (Ekuma, 2015; Gratton, 2015; Kochan, 2004; Jiang and Liu, 2015). Finally, the case study of Omega supermarkets (Hutchinson, 2009) shows that the implementation and consequently also the impact of strategically planned HR policies and practices on performance is ultimately dependant on the line manager’s competency to implement them effectively. Thus, role pluralism can lead to ambiguities and therefore lessen the overall HRM outcome.
The importance of HRM roles and responsibilities in ever-changing environments As business in the 21st century is highly competitive, HRM plays a vital role in achieving organisational goals through a vast scope of responsibilities. Unarguably, HRM’s roles and responsibilities have undergone a significant change over the past century, becoming more and more complex. Hence, different models of roles endeavoured to propose the most applicable picture by taking in account the diverse environment HRM interacts in. As the pace of external change factors accelerates steadily, the ability to proactively react and adapt swiftly and efficiently to these changing environments becomes a crucial skill to survive (Crawshaw, 2014). Consequently, HRM roles and responsibilities will be influenced by change in an even greater manner. In addition, questions about the strategic alignment of HRM and likewise about the link of HRM and firm performance still remain unanswered (e.g., Boeselie et al., 2005; Buller and McEvoy, 2012; Caldwell, 2003; Guest, 2011; Guest and King, 2004). Thus, further research and hence findings in that field will as well effect the modelling of HRM roles in the future significantly.
To conclude, managing organisational change can without doubt be seen as one of the most critical roles and responsibilities HRM is facing nowadays (Truss et al., 2012). Whichever approach is lately considered to fit best, effectively and strategically leveraging human capital through an enhanced focus on the uniqueness, the value and development of the capabilities of the workforce will lead to enduring and competitive advantages. Finally, it is therefore increasingly important to develop a critical awareness of the ongoing necessity to constantly review and adjust the roles and responsibilities of HRM proposed in the literature, in order to make sure they suit the changing environment adequately.
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- Nina Vöge (Author), 2016, Critical evaluation of the roles and responsibilities of Human Resource Managment in organisations, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/368478