By devolving responsibility of Human Resource to managers, organizations are expecting to create a closer relationship between managers and employees which will be achieved by quick decision making and effective problem solving at workplace. Some organizations however have both the HR specialists and the managers who work together by bringing in expertise from their own areas. This report identifies the context, enablers and inhibitors of the involvement of management in HR function. In conclusion, the report identifies that adequate training and expert knowledge support must be provided to managers if they are expected to integrate HR responsibilities within their managerial function.
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Human Resource Management (HRM) refers to a collection of policies used to organise work in the employment relationship and centres on the management of work and the management of people who undertake this work (Claydon 2010). (Storey, 2007) states that HRM plays a pivotal role in strategically deploying highly capable and committed workforce by using human resources expertise to achieve competitive advantage.
“A strategic approach to managing employment relations which emphasizes that leveraging people’s capabilities is critical to achieving sustainable competitive advantage, this being achieved through a distinctive set of integrated employment policies, programmes and practices.” (Gold 2007)
Human Resource Management ensures the productive use of people in an organisation to achieve the organisation’s strategic business objectives. Human resource management also involves maintaining a healthy employer-employee relationship and the satisfaction of the individual employer needs (Stone 2007)
Human resource policies and the business policies have been integrated together with the management function rather than a separate entity to achieve the organisation’s objectives more efficiently.
Discussion of the context
(Wilkinson M. M., 2002), states that many criticisms concerning the lack of contribution by HR specialists to organisational performance have come from line managers. The four main criticisms are first, personnel practitioners are regarded as out of touch of commercial realities and unable to comprehend much about the nature of the business, its customers, or its corporate goals. The allegation is that HR professionals base their decisions upon a set of principles and ideas, such as welfare and employee rights which have little relevance for competitive prospects. Second, HR is often thought to constrain the autonomy of managers to make decisions that they feel are in the best interest of the business. These are mainly the legal constraints of equal opportunities or individual rights and the involvement of union representatives. The third criticism is that HR managers are slow to act, always wanting to check the options thoroughly (Cunningham and Hayman, (1999). Finally HR practitioners are criticised for promulgating policies that may be fine in theory but hard to put in effect or unsuitable to their particular requirements.
Legge (1995) argues that HRM is caught in a vicious circle because senior management do not involve them in the business decision making and planning as ‘people’ issues are not considered at this stage of decision making. But in due course problems arise due to non involvement of HR such as poor recruits, inadequate training of staff or work disruption. When such problems are brought to HR’s attention they have insufficient time to resolve the issue which in effect results in short term solutions with detrimental long term effects. HR function gets the blame for inefficient problem handling and continues to be excluded from decision making, thus completing the vicious circle.
As line managers work closely with the people they manage, the problem solving can be immediate and relevant rather than having to wait for the HR department to get back to them. The solutions provided by these managers are also likely to be in congruence with the organisation’s goals and business requirements.
Ulrich (1998) hence recommended that HR should be ‘reconfigured’ so as to highlight what it delivers rather than what it does. The four recommendations for HR are, to become a ‘partner’ with business and line managers for strategy formulation, to become an ‘expert’ in the way work is organised and executed to reduce cost and to increase efficiency, to become a ‘champion for employees’ by acting as a medium between the employees and the senior management to increase employee contribution and finally to become an ‘agent of continuous transformation’ by shaping processes for successful implementation of change.
The CIPD research on employee well-being and the psychological contract (Guest and Conway, 2005) established that too many managers are failing to motivate and improve the performance of people they manage.
Due to the devolution of HR function to managers, their responsibilities have increased and their role in the organization has become more important. HR initiates policies and practices but it is the management which is responsible for implementing them. ‘HR proposes but the line disposes’ (Armstrong 2006). It is hence important that the policies are well communicated to the manager who will implement it if it is perceived to be in the interest of the business. If managers are unaware of any laws requiring the implementation of those policies then it is up to the HR to educate the managers about this. (J.Purcell 2003) noted that well conceived HR policies and practices didn’t automatically result in organisational performance improvement but the difference was made by the way in which those polices were implemented by the managers. If they used discretion in implementing HR policies then some policies will just be a set of useless ideas (Armstrong 2006)
(H.H.Larsen 2003), pointed out the five main reasons why organisations want to integrate these functions;
Pressure on firm costs to integrate HR function in line management role
To provide a more comprehensive HRM which is achieved through this integration of line management and HR functions
The growing influence of service industries where line managers are responsible for customer management
HR specialists may take too long to resolve HR issues
Devolution may be considered as an alternative to outsourcing the entire HR function resulting from changes in philosophy and organisational structure.
Enablers for integrating management and HR functions
Managers play an important role in implementing the HR policies (Gold 2007). ‘Research has revealed that line manager behaviour has a significant impact on employee commitment, which in turn has an impact on customer commitment, which has an impact on business performance’ (Lazenby quoted in Purcell 2003).
The enrichment of line manager roles within the organisations and their greater involvement in HR decision-making has arisen due to the increase in customer service demands and the resulting time pressure in decision making. Increasing performance requirements, transparency, flexibility and accountability has increased the importance of this dual role. Involving line mangers in HR functions can be seen as a strategic approach to managing people.
(Renwick 2003), has listed the main benefits that organisations can derive from such integration;
HR problems are solved at source saving vital organisation resources
Better change management is achieved through manager participation in policy implementation
Closely working managers can make decisions at increased speed
Greater scope for HR managers to focus on strategic importance of HRM
HR issues get a business focus before they are implemented hence those policies will no more be created in isolation from organisational goals
Since managers are aware of HR issues they can’t ignore them hence leading to a better employee manager relationship
Managers are more likely to be committed to their ‘own’ HR decisions rather than having to implement due to compulsion from HR department
Promotes local management accountability and responsibility for HR issues
Reduces costs due to integration of functions
Promotes the case that HRM can’t always be transferred to specialists
Line managers occupy an important position in the organizational hierarchy and they can directly affect the level of service delivered. Entrusting line managers with HR responsibilities will add to their existing pressures, increase workload and the need to deliver on short-term priorities. Formal administrative approaches within the departments would require line managers to display a high level of HR competence. This signifies the need for high-quality training programs for line managers to ensure that they feel confident in discharging their new HR responsibilities. Money invested in training management personnel can result in saving company from expensive litigation and in maintaining a god corporate reputation. Providing line managers with such training is very important as they are not naturally trained to deliver HR duties, which are quite different to making business decisions.
Inhibitors for integrating management and HR functions
(Renwick 2003), has given the following inhibitors to HR and management integration;
Increased pressure to train and/or re-skill managers in HRM
A need for strict HR auditing
Problems and maintaining consistency in decision making
Risk of falling standards or abuse of position through discrimination
Problems in maintaining balance of power between management and HR specialists
Potential for the HR/ER management role to be marginalised
Low line capability/commitment when doing HR work
Little time for managers to perform HR duties well due to operational demands on them
Risks of job overload/stress as manager workloads are increased
Harrison (2009) supports the argument in favour of management staff by saying that, line management is mostly faced with situations pressurising them to achieve objectives resulting in the increase in profitability or in the reduction of costs resulting in less dedication to support human resource development apart from the basic tasks. If line managers are faced with a decision to prioritize between making a key business decision or to formulate policies and procedures to improve the working conditions of employees, the priority would normally be the business decision as that would be considered as their primary responsibility and also more business focussed.
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Brewster and Soderstrom (1994) say that before delegating tasks or entrusting people with more responsibility in different areas, it must consider the level of knowledge possessed by the individual and the willingness of such individual to train to learn new competences, since they could already be overburdened with their current tasks making it uncomfortable for them to absorb more responsibilities.
In order for the line managers to deliver their HR tasks they need to maintain a good relationship with HR specialists which could be complex at times. According to (Thomas N Garavan 2006) while the line manager is a key stakeholder in the training and development process, their relationship with the function and/or the specialist can often be negative. This could result in issues arising from lack of good communication and understanding between the departments.
According to Grace and Straub (1991) training specialists often exclude line managers from training the reason for which is mainly the threat of being substituted.
Some such instances as noticed by them are;
Excluding line managers from the needs assessment process/program;
Unwillingness to consider line managers as subject matter experts;
Unwillingness to utilize line managers as instructors for training duties.
This could also be due to the resistance on part of the line mangers to take initiative to train as this could entail more responsibilities for them. As (Thomas N Garavan 2006) continues the argument by saying that the issue is due to the lack of trust between the line managers and the training and development specialists. Line managers refuse to co-operate with the training specialists who makes an attempt to offer advice to improve work operations because they consider training specialists as staff as providing a service in accordance with line manager requirements and expectations. Efforts to change this role are often perceived by the line managers as an attempt to thwart line authority with the generation of better ideas. Sometimes HR professionals were even seen as policing line managers. This perception leads to inflexibility and negative responses aimed at demolishing the strengths and foundations of the training specialist.
Also Storey (1992) points out that lack of training and education of line managers hinder the smooth delivery of new HR practices. Those line managers simply underestimate the need for investment in the training of their subordinates. Developing and implementing HR initiatives can become a difficult task for the managers to incorporate in their regular management function.
Suggestions to improve managers as people managers
(J.Purcell 2003), have suggested that managers can improve their people management skills, to deliver their HR responsibilities, in following ways;
Senior management must understand the prioritisation issues that managers may face when both management and HR issues arise at the same time. Pressurising from the top will not help in such circumstances
Managers must be selected considering the behavioural requirements and competencies expected from them as they would be doing HR function as well
Managers need to have a clear understanding of the organisational values, goals and culture for efficient people management.
A good working relationship needs to exist between staff and their manager
Managers must be provided with the necessary training to enable them to deliver their HR functions such as performance management, grievance and complaints handling
Although line managers can be trained to an extent to carry out the HR function, there are several key competencies possessed by HR professionals that might be difficult to incorporate in a line manager function as per (Armstrong 2006).
There has been a significant change to the way in which organisations manage their business in the recent years and hence there has been changes in the way different departments operates within it. Changes to work demands have made it difficult for the HR department to find people with required talents for the organisation. HR department is required to keep up to date with the HR requirement of the departments and ensures the human resource is able to meet new challenges and demands (Wright, 2003)
A human resource manager must consider the nature of external and internal influences before selecting a particular course of action. Internal environmental influences involve the factors that are found within the organisation such as the organisational strategies, organisational culture, organisational structure and organisational systems. Several external factors influence the formulation and requirements of HRM policies. Some of the external factors facing organisations are changing nature work force, technological changes, globalisation and labour force demographics. (Stone 2007)
CIPD has presented a list of core functions delivered by HR professionals as below;
Business and cultural awareness: understand the business environment and the competitive pressures in the market facing the organisation, the key business activities, culture and the impact of HR policies on the business performance
Strategic capability: seeks involvement in business strategy function, develops coherent HR strategies which are aligned with business strategy, understand the importance of human capital measurement to ensure efficient utilisation
Organisational effectiveness: contributes to the analysis of people issues and proposes practical solutions, develops resource capability by ensuring that the organisation has the workforce with required skills, process redesigning for better utilisation of staff, contributes in the development of knowledge management processes
Internal consultancy: proposes practical solutions by providing expert advice and coaches management on dealing with their department specific problems
Service delivery: delivers appropriate services promptly and efficiently to requests for HR services and advice and provides guidance in HR decisions as required
Continuous professional development: continuous development of skills and knowledge, to deliver the HR duties to high standards by updating the new HR concepts, practices and techniques
As discussed above HR function is far more specialised in its core activities and many of its functions need specialist expert knowledge which is difficult for management to keep up to date with.
HR Outsourcing has become more common in the recent years as the companies are relying on them for HR related matters. A good human resource outsourcing deal is to ensure that nearly all your transactional and basic advisory services are outsourced and that the jobs of the HR teams are redesigned so that they no longer focus on the operational level decisions but the focus would be on more complex business challenges and strategic needs. (Hunter 2007). But many organisations may choose to rather incorporate the HR function within their management functions rather than outsourcing.
HR can be seen as an integral part of a managerial post, as a manager is responsible for the performance and job satisfaction of his staff. There have been several factors over a period of time that has had an impact on the role of HR managers and practitioners. If an employee in a management positions accepts to deliver HR duties it is possible to achieve a higher level of efficiency. However, the success of any change process involving line manager HR participation will ultimately depend on striking a balance between factors favouring devolvement and those inhibiting HR involvement. While making line managers more responsible for HR may bring about a speedier resolution to workplace conflicts, clear structures need to be implemented to allow line managers seek guidance and advice, but also allow employees to repeal decisions made. In this regard, HR specialists need to proactively engage with line managers and bring about partnership HR approaches to managing employees.
There are however certain boundaries to such a devolution. All of them lie either in line managers’ lack of specific knowledge and expertise or in their conflict with HR specialists. As devolution of HR responsibilities are taken for granted it is suggested that it is HR specialists who need to re-consider their role within organisations, while line managers are to be given an appropriate training.
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