Answers to Questions on Strategic Human Resource Management
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
Due to changes in business environment, the Human Resource gained more roles and activities in the shaping of the strategy of management in organisations. The contemporary literature review provides a number of various definitions for strategy. James Brian Quinn’s definition of strategy focuses on the integration of goals, policies and practices: “A strategy is the pattern or plan that integrates an organisation major goals, policies, and action sequences into a cohesive whole” (Grees 2003, p 207).
The Human Resource Management in organisations has been fully integrated with their business strategy. The strategy aims at providing a framework of directions, coordination as well as decision making.
Besides, strategy may also have the role of allocating resources. According to William Henn: “Strategy is the concentration of resources on selected opportunities for competitive advantage” (ibid). William Henn’s definition refers to the making of crucial decisions that consist of moving resources from less promising projects to areas where the organisation can have more strategic and competitive advantage. Therefore, the Strategic Human Resource Management’ importance relies largely on its role providing competitive advantage through the effective use and implementation of such resources in such a way that enable the organisation to achieve its strategic requirements and goals. Patrick Wright and Gary McMahan summarise the Strategic Human Resource Management as “the pattern of planned human resource deployments and activities intended to enable an organisation to achieve its goals” (ibid).
Edward et al (2003, p10) highlights the importance of Strategic Human Resource Management by emphasising on the variety of its roles and functions that include: managing change, contribution to strategy, managing the outsourcing of human resource, and operating shared services units. For instance: S.H.R.M is playing a great role in delivering changes in organisations that aspire to reposition itself in the face of changing competitive conditions. This often involves new structuring and new training that deliver the shift to new business context.
1.2. Purpose of SHRM in John Lewis
As we briefly discussed above the significance of Strategic Human Resource Management in corporate world, the following analysis will attempt to identify the purpose of S.H.R.M practices in organisations but more specifically as it will examine those practices particularly in one organisation which is John Lewis. However, no doubt that the main purpose of Strategic Human Resource Management in John Lewis may largely apply to any other organisation.
John Lewis as being one of the UK largest cloth retailer as well as an upmarket food retailer is always concerned with maintaining a steady growth by adding more value to the services it provides.
Hence, for this purpose John Lewis has managed to successfully use the Strategic Human Resource by strongly linking its function with the competitive advantage and that is because all the employees within the company are part owners of the company [i] 1.
The overall purpose of Strategic Human Resource Management in John Lewis can be summarised in the following points:
Developing highly skilled employees: John Lewis’ eagerness to competitiveness and an awareness of the increasing demands for technologically advanced environment showed the company’s recognition that distinctive competencies are obtained through developing highly skilled employees. This requires programs of training and development that solidify the employees’ contribution to the company.
Controlling labour costs: S.H.R.M function in John Lewis is very effective when it comes to controlling the company’s total expenditure like: wages, training costs, compensations…etc. This function is very important to the company as argued by Edward et al (2003, p204) “the pressure to control costs increased general managers awareness of the impact of inefficient use of human resource”.
Performance motivation: as mentioned above, John Lewis’ employees are part owners of the company. This strategy aims at pushing employees to become more committed and highly motivated towards their company. Besides, the company’s strategy is to address all employees’ needs whether by rewards or other means.
1.3 Contribution of S.H.R.M to the achievement of John Lewis goals:
John Lewis has set its S.H.R.M goals and studied the tools to achieve them. Yet, the remaining question is whether the strategies adopted have contributed to the achievement of these goals.
According to John Lewis interim report 2010, the company seems to have achieved a significant growth even within a tough economic environment. We can argue that part of the success is largely owed to the integration of human resource’ activities within the company’s strategy formulation and planning process.
John Lewis provides an exemplary practice with respect to the functioning of its human resource. Having its employees as part owners, this strategy has allowed them or rather pushed them to contribute more towards improvement of their company’s performance. The Strategic Human Resource Management at John Lewis may represent its main key strength. Through its skilled work force, the company has managed to distinctively position itself in the UK market.
On the other hand, according to the classical human resource approach, any company’s structure is affected by certain situational factors such as: technology, size and environment. As demonstrated by Pfeffer (1994), best human resource practice should have a structure that places staff members into groups that should have the ability to make their own decisions. John Lewis has adopted this structure by the division of the company into departments. These departments work together as teams to achieve goals and the company gives almost equal rewards to all members of the team. Therefore, adopting a strategic structure of the human resource at John Lewis has enable the company to achieve its objectives and gain more competitive advantage.
2.1 The Business factors that underpin human resource planning at BT:
Human resource planning in current organisations is subject to constant change and development due to the influence of various internal and external factors.
For BT, the industry of telecommunication is very challenging from many aspects e.g.:
Business changes: BT’s human resources has to adapt to the changes of the mature voice and connectivity market which is characterised by a high competitiveness and an increasing demand for reduced operational complexities.
Employees’ development: as technology is at the heart of BT’s telecommunication services, there is a constant need for developing highly skilled employees in order to better serve the customers. For instance, BT is working to grow from being a telecommunication company to become a 21st century software-driven organisation  which requires the development of new capabilities.
Economic fluctuation: BT has suffered from an unbalance of financial resources due to the global economic slowdown, which had adversely impacted its human resources performance. As a consequence, BT has reduced last year the number of indirect employees working through agencies or third party contractors by around 1100 and full-time employees by 9000.
2.2 The human resource requirements in a given situation:
Due to the complexities facing the sector of telecommunication (discussed above), human resources at BT needed to adopt a new culture of what is known as mobile and flexible working. The key driver behind the new strategy is to reduce operational costs and improve employees’ efficiency:
Cost transformation: through mobile and flexible working, human resources at BT should be able to reduce property, accommodation and travelling costs.
Employees’ efficiency: flexible working can reduce absenteeism, increase demand for new hires and offers employees a better work-life balance which meanwhile helps boosting their efficiency and productivity.
2.3 A human resource plan for BT:
If the H.R new plan of mobile working at BT is to be successful, it should provide appropriate tools and set clear objectives. Peter Drucker (1950) used the SMART acronym to define goals that are: “specific, measurable, agreed, realistic, time related”  .
The H.R should deploy necessary efforts to up-skill employees through:
Introducing the plan of mobile working using presentations, reports, web applications…etc, taking into consideration that the more employees to choose mobile working, the greater the benefits of productivity for the organisation.
Designing a process to support the transition: it could be done through 12 weeks of training programs including: skills to use visual display equipments, virtual offices, capability to access automating health and safety systems…etc
Ensuring that the management has the appropriate tools to monitor and measure the performance of mobile workers.
2.4 Contribution of a human resources plan to meet BT’s objectives:
Human resources functions are tied to organisational strategies and must be designed to support the achievement of the business objectives.
The new orientation of mobile working that H.R followed at BT reflects new elements of success that can massively contribute to the growth of the company. At this stage, the H.R is not only controlling and mentoring but rather adding value and responding to the global business changes. Besides, the approach has proved beneficiary across different organisations.
BT’s main objectives are targeting tow areas: the quality of services and the cost transformation. Relatively, human resources at BT have been working in the same context. Their new approach can accelerate commercial benefits that are necessary for BT to take leading position within the highly competitive market of telecommunication.
2.5 The purpose of human resource management policies in organisations:
Human resource policies are codified rules and guideline that organisations establish to run their businesses  . The policies reflect the organisation’s culture and cover a set of procedures such as: hiring, employee relations, managing risks, corporate governance…etc. through a comprehensive human resource policies, organisations are able to build up their reputation and save valuable resources in case of any emerging crisis within the business.
In the UK telecommunication industry for instance, organisations’ performances are critically dependent on the Data Protection Act (1998) which is concerned about “the regulation of the processing of information relating to individuals, including the obtaining, holding, use or disclosure of such information”  . This Act helps organisation to build up trust with their stakeholders and demonstrate commitment to protect their information.
On the other hand, many issues related to employees are drawn upon the Employment Act (2008) which deals with “procedures for the resolution of employment’ disputes, compensation for financial loss, application of minimum wages legislation, the right of trade unions, enforcement of offences under the Employment Agencies Act 1973  ..” and many other connected purposes.
2.6 The impact of regulatory requirements on human resource policies in BT:
Human resources policies at BT span the complete business circle, from healthcare and safety of employees to security and copyright. The H.R policies at the organisation ensure the safety of employees and the public exposed to BT operations. BT is also critically concerned with the secure operation of its information systems, networks and data which are part of its major responsibilities as a telecommunication organisation. For this purpose, BT developed a set of policies and measures designed to deal with any catastrophic event such as: cyber-attacks, industrial failures, terrorist attacks…etc. human resources management at BT realises that any significant failure to protect the company or customers data could ruin the business’ reputation and lead financial losses ( e.g. cancellation of contract, penalties…etc).
3.1 The impact of the organisational structure at M&S on the management of human resources:
Salamen, G and Asch, D (2003, P20) assume that organisational structure refers to “the shape of the organisation, the number of levels of management and the nature and number of jobs”. Any alterations to any element could lead to a structural change which itself impact on the human resource management.
At Marks and Spencer, changes were introduced in the past years in order to keep up with the intense competition in the retail industry. Thus, the company refocused its business on three business values: quality, value, and services  . The new business strategy has created more challenges for the employees especially when the management opted for a more flatter structure by skipping some layers of authority, placing high centralisation on staff and supporting better coordination between the senior management and the business units.
The process of delayering at M&S created more business units and assigned more responsibilities to the employees. Therefore, human resources management introduced more programs of training and development. As the flat structure was giving employees more jobs, the management had to ensure that they possess the required technical skills and business competencies to manage ambiguities, and take wise decisions.
In sum, the case of M&S highlights the link between organisational structure and human resource management. The structure of any organisation has its own needs and requirements that the human resource should work towards fulfilling them.
3.2 The impact of M&S organisational culture on the management of human resources:
An organisational culture encompasses shared systems of meaning and values  . As mentioned earlier, M&S eagerness to reposition itself in the retail market has led to major organisational changes. M&S was determined to change the basis on which it competed by rebranding itself as a service based organisation  . The key focus of M&S cultural change was on changing employees’ attitudes which clearly represents a strategic issue for the human resource management.
Reinforcing desired behaviours requires big efforts and well studied actions. Human resource at M&S focused on three key areas:
Creating willingness to change among employees by raising the awareness about the necessity of the change, its benefits as well as the pressure that might be associated with the transition process. Communication at this stage is very important and an ongoing process of feedback is essential.
Involving people: senior managers need to provide guidance and understand employees’ concerns.
Sustaining the change: through continuous support, increased pay or bonus, develop new competencies…etc
Cultural change at Marks and Spencer was dependent on the efficiency of its human resource planning. The H.R management in any organisation plays a great role in the achievement of organisation’s objectives and depends in the first place on the employees to make that happen. However, introducing any organisational changes always puts H.R management under substantial pressures.
3.3 How the effectiveness of human resources management is monitored:
Human resource effectiveness monitoring is essential to enable the employees to focus on their next target role. Marks and Spence has successfully monitor the human resource performance through:
Performance appraisals: employees discuss their development with their line managers who decide whether there is a need for further training. Every employee should make a personal development plan to set objectives on the basis of the appraisal feedback.
Competency profiling: it also examines skills required for effectiveness as :communicating and influencing, decision making, business leadership, innovation and change, people and resource management, technical skills…etc.
3.4 Recommendations to improve the effectiveness of human resources management:
The following is list of recommendations that aims at improving the effectiveness of human resources management in organisations:
Promote diversity: which is very important especially for businesses that are growing globally and need to deal with different mindsets. Besides, diversity reflects the commitment of the organisation to its corporate social responsibilities.
Support equal opportunities in job descriptions: in order to promote social inclusion.
Clearly align the strategies with the organisation’s objectives: human resource should develop policies and practices that support the achievement of business goals.
Develop a well designed pay and reward plans according to exceptional performances and meanwhile recognise the value of all the staff making significant efforts.
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