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Role and Contribution
Human resource management (HRM) practitioners had been seen for a long time as performers of administrative support roles, but the vision of the profession has changed within recent decades. There is currently a shift in progress toward HRM as a sphere that should be more strategic and more proactive, and the professionals working in this sphere can be seen as business partners to those organizations in which they work (Johns & Perkins 2016).
However, to be seen as such, HRM professionals should adopt certain roles that will bring them to a new level of contributing to the success of their organizations and the profession in general. Three types of professional roles should be discussed: administrative, advisory, and executive; also, the ‘thinking performer’ model paradigm should be explored.
The first role is administrative, and this role has been incorporated in the work of personnel department employees for a longer time than other roles. According to Ulrich’s human resources business partner model, the administrative role occupies an area of HRM practices in which the processes component of the profession meets the operational focus (Bratton & Gold 2012); in other words, the administrative role is associated with the procedures that a practitioner should perform to ensure the proper functioning of the department and other departments in terms of those parts of their activities that are connected to HRM.
Also, it should be noted that ‘the administrative role provides the processes to ‘re-engineer’ the organization towards great efficiency’ (Bratton & Gold 2012, p. 26). An example of knowledge that a practitioner should have to carry out this role successfully is understanding how these processes work both in theory and in practice.
The second role is advisory, and it has attracted the particular attention of HRM theorists and practitioners within recent decades. The trend is to enable and encourage HRM professionals to not only advise their organizations on the processes that are part of those professionals’ primary responsibilities (an example of such a process is the hiring process) but also advise different departments of organizations on issues in which HRM practitioners have expertise, e.g. efficiency.
From this perspective, HR managers assume the function of providing constructive feedback in addition to the evaluation function. Keegan, Huemann, and Turner (2012, p. 3097) suggest that ‘[t]here is a potentially powerful advisory role for HR specialists in [project-oriented companies],’ and the skill that those specialists should have to assume this role successfully is communicating with other departments so that the advice they provide is supported with evidence, reliable, persuading, and feasible.
The third role is executive, and it is often overlooked in analyzing the work of HRM professionals. Armstrong (2015) notes that, in the reorganization process, HR managers may be unwilling to take an executive role; this example demonstrates one of many situations in which HRM practitioners’ executive function is undermined either by their lack of understanding of how they can affect their organizations or by organizational limitations. To assume the advisory role, HR managers should adopt certain behaviors, such as proactive decision making, coordinating the activities of the HRM team, and co-operating with organizations’ executives as with partners.
Finally, there is the ‘thinking performer’ model that describes the changing understanding of the role and contribution of HR managers. Rae and Rowland (2012, p. 4) explain that this paradigm ‘[places] the emphasis on efficiency versus effectiveness.’ This is to stress that the role of an HRM practitioner is not only to perform all the functions listed in his or her job description but also to strive to perform them faster and better, i.e. ensure better results with the same resources. Acting as a ‘thinking performer,’ the practitioner can influence the corporate strategy of the organization for which he or she works.
This process requires constant learning and specific feedback practices, such as formative assessment, i.e. the practice that establishes an open dialogue between those who provide feedback and those who receive it, and the goal of providing the feedback is not as much evaluating the successfulness of certain activities as suggesting particular measures that can be taken to achieve improvement (Bednall, Sanders & Runhaar 2014). Therefore, the main types of behavior’ thinking performers’ should adopt are active learning and active involvement in giving and receiving feedback.
Project Management Techniques
It was established in the previous section that the work of HRM practitioners can go beyond functional tasks to contributing to the overall improvement of organizations. To enable practices that would allow such contributions, HRM departments may adopt the project approach. This approach is based on recognizing the needs for improvement or positive changes, identifying methods through which such changes can be achieved, planning necessary activities, implementing the plan, monitoring the compliance of activities with clearly defined goals, and evaluating the success of those activities.
In the context of managing human resources, Turner (2016) stresses the people component of the project approach; this component refers to assigning people to projects, designing reward systems for them for the period of implementation, planning their development, and dispersing them from projects. However, it can be argued that a more important element of the project approach is the application of particular project management techniques, and two of them will be explored more closely: setting objectives and defining deliverables.
All projects have goals; however, a goal is rather something abstract, and its wording may not contain a particular action plan. This is why, for each goal, objectives should be set, i.e. activities to be performed to help an organization achieve the goal (Menezes 2015). Setting objectives is a project management technique of translating desired outcomes into concrete actions. In this regard, diagramming can be a helpful tool for project managers: it allows listing all the planned activities, assigning them to particular goals, and seeing how those objectives are interrelated and how each of them can be met without undermining the possibility of meeting other ones. However, it should be constantly ensured on all the stages of a project that objectives are aligned with established goals.
Another technique is defining deliverables. Menezes (2015, p. 8) argues that ‘HR professionals must focus on defining deliverables from people’s work instead of focusing on work itself.’ This vision corresponds to Ulrich’s human resources business partner model mentioned above (see Role and Contribution). Deliverables are unique results of someone’s work on a project or its part; according to Yakubovitch (2015), to define deliverables more successfully, project managers can use observation, classifiers, and process modeling.
Problem Solving Techniques
As has been shown, a major advantage of the project approach is developing a plan of how organizational goals can be achieved. However, there is a vast array of factors and changing influences that prevent practitioners from following their plans precisely, and strong plans contain considerations of risks and proposed risk management techniques. Indeed, sometimes risks turn into actual problems, and professionals—HR managers particularly—need to master certain problem-solving techniques to ensure the success of their work.
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Problem-solving is a complex concept, but the main idea of it is that there are particular techniques for managers to decide on the actions that should be taken to address a particular problem or a certain type of problems (e.g. related to resources, planning, unexpected events, and so on). Examples of problem-solving techniques are situational analysis and testing the validity and reliability of the information.
Situational analysis generally refers to a critical examination of given circumstances relevant to a decision to be made; however, in the context of HRM, it can refer to a set of more specific actions. Pande and Basak (2012) list situational analysis as part of the diagnosis phase of the strategic management process.
In this phase, it is the primary necessity to define the mission properly; particularly, it is necessary to “[do] an analysis of the internal environment of the organization, including identification and evaluation of the current mission, strategic objectives, strategies, and results and an analysis of the external environment” (Pande & Basak 2012, p. 36). Specific instruments that can be used for such an analysis are the SWOT framework and scenario planning.
However, whatever instrument a practitioner may use, the information used in the process of problem-solving must be accurate and complete. For this, practitioners should master the technique of testing the validity and reliability of information (Salas Pilco 2013). Attention should be paid properly to the sources of information, the channels through which it is conveyed, and possible interpretations of it. Unless the HRM department has employees whose responsibility it is to collect information and fact-check it, every member of the department should engage in testing information through comparing it to information from different sources or using it in test projects with predicted outcomes: if the outcomes are not achieved, it may indicate the invalidity of information.
Today’s HRM pays remarkable attention to the individual characteristics of employees, and it is recognized that HRM is unlikely to be effective and successful unless the systems of hiring new employees, training them, managing their work, and evaluating their contributions are flexible enough to detect individual capacities for contributing to the operation of an organization. However, it should not be overlooked that individuals still work in groups, and the combination of their efforts can be different from the mere sum of their contributions because this combination is a resultant force.
To consider this in HRM planning and activities, practitioners should pay attention to the notion of group dynamics, i.e. a set of developments occurring within a group of interacting employees. Gold et al. (2013) refer to the model of group development designed by Tuckman; four stages of it are forming, storming, norming, and performing.
First, members of a newly created team agree on common goals and face their first tasks (forming); then, there is the active process of resolving conflicts as per possible approaches to problem-solving or decision making (storming); once the members overcome their conflicts or develop mechanisms to resolve those effectively, the spirit of co-operation arises (norming); finally, as an established group capable of working together, the team can successfully solve problems (performing). Undoubtedly, not all groups develop like this, and some may fail to achieve effective co-operation, but this model describes how successful groups develop, and HR managers should promote this pattern of group development.
Among the negative aspects of group dynamics, there is the phenomenon of groupthink. It occurs when decisions are made in a group without much creativity or enthusiasm for improvement; personal responsibility is reduced, and activeness is discouraged (Shirey 2012). To avoid such developments in teams, HR managers should promote critical approaches to situational analysis and problem-solving. Team members should be encouraged to share independent opinions to diversify the pool of possible solutions, and this is part of the work of HRM practitioners to create group environments in which groupthink is unlikely to occur.
Conflict Resolution Methods
As it has been demonstrated, conflicts are likely to occur in groups of people working together; for example, Johns and Perkins (2016, p. 84) state that this can happen when ‘individuals have competing agendas.’ However, the strategic approach to conflict resolution suggests that conflicts are not something HR managers should avoid completely among the members of an organization; instead, it is a more favorable practice to develop effective methods of resolving conflicts and learning from them so that improvements follow, prevent further similar conflicts, and contribute to the overall development of the organization. Examples of conflict resolution methods include communication and active listening, using compromise, and using accommodating.
First of all, it should be acknowledged that communication is crucial in conflict resolution; each party should manage to deliver its positions and arguments effectively. Professional practice confirms that, sometimes, properly described agendas from two parties may turn out non-conflicting, and it is the work of HR managers to create environments in which such proper descriptions can be presented. To promote ‘open and honest conversations’ (The CIPD profession map: our professional standards 2015, p. 36), practitioners can use active listening; a listener who uses this approach adopts the speaker’s perspective and tries to help him or she develop his or her points.
Another method is using compromise: in case a conflict is detected upon having each agenda properly described, an HR manager should identify what concessions each party is ready to make. In most cases, a solution can be found that will satisfy all the parties. For this, however, it is necessary to establish an environment that is not hostile and invites honesty and the free exchange of opinions. To achieve it, an HR manager should use accommodating.
Sometimes, conflicting parties need time to evaluate their positions and the positions of other parties; to give them this time, managers should provide temporary relief from conflict by comforting all the individuals involved. This will make resolving conflicts more effective. As an HR Assistant, I find calm communication and active listening to be effective methods. What I find especially helpful is proposing solutions instead of referring to problems, complaining, or blaming anyone (Jackson n.d.). The language of solutions are always more effective in terms of resolving conflicts that the language of problems.
Influencing, Persuading, and Negotiating with Others
In my current position, I have come to see several ways in which I can influence, persuade, and negotiate with others. Although a remarkable part of my responsibilities is associated with paperwork, there is also an important component of communicating with people, both internally and externally.
The position of an HR Assistant provides several opportunities for influencing others, and if I use those opportunities, I will be prepared for more responsible positions. For example, it is my responsibility to arrange a pre-deployment briefing session and provide validated data for it. The more attention I pay to prepare data for sessions, the more informed the decisions made during those sessions will be, and I recognize it as an example of my influence.
Concerning persuading, part of my work is advising the deployment team, and if I have a strong opinion on something the team is involved in, I should not simply express it, but I should support it with arguments and evidence.
This is my opportunity to practice my persuasion abilities. Concerning negotiating, I act as the first point of contact for insurance claims, and from this perspective, it is explicitly my duty to negotiate with others to achieve mutually beneficial conditions. In this part of my work, I actively use problem-solving techniques described above. Negotiating and persuading are efforts aimed at influencing the decision making of others and gaining their willing cooperation, which is why I engage in these activities actively and recognize them as an important part of HRM work.
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