What is HRM? 2018

It’s that time of year again when I ask students to submit their comments and ideas about the fundamental basis of HRM. It’s pretty hard to believe that my last posts on the blog were of the exact same questions last year – that’s PhD life for you! At least this gives us an interesting ‘baseline’. Here’s a direct link to last year’s blog on the question of ‘What is HRM?’.

Saying that, this is obviously not an academic study; more like a barometer of the opinions of the HR professionals and managers of tomorrow. The group have mixed experiences of HR – from undertaking a year-long placement in industry, to only learning about it from a textbook.

There are some key similarities to last year, but also some differences as well. First with the similarities.

HRM is there to ‘manage people’

As with last time, comments alluding to HR’s role in ‘managing people’ were a prominent theme, being referred to in at least 10 comments (some comments could be related to more than one theme). This year it was more expected, after last year I expressed surprise that students would see HR as undertaking this role, rather than line managers. Some of the comments even referred to HR ‘using’ employees, including;

“humans need to be run and managed, same as other processes”, and;

“[The role of HRM is to] organise an effective way of using employees”

Let’s hope we can develop a more critical perspective on this via this week’s lecture on HR Ethics, where I outline Greenwood’s critique that to treat people as resources, in same way as furniture or computers, is unethical.

However, what distinguished these comments from last year is that some of them had a much more strategic dimension, although this was often related to performance, for example;

“HRM is an approach to employment management that seeks to use the workforce in a way to gain competitive advantage.”

It would be interesting to see whether the ‘managerial’ perspective is affected if the ‘M’ was dropped from HRM, leaving the question as, ‘What is HR?’.

HRM does Admin

Similar to last year, a large number of comments referred to what HR ‘does’. Again, training and development was one of the main functions mentioned. Recruitment also got a lot of mentions. Interestingly, ‘motivation’ was frequently mentioned within this category. Perhaps this is indicative of a perceptible shift this year towards HR being seen as the “people service”, which I discuss below.

Noticeably absent this year were references to HR as a strategic function per se. Yes, we don’t cover HR strategy until the following lecture, but this is exactly the same as last year. Instead, there were a few comments related to strategy being something that HR does, or produces, for example, HR undertakes, ‘Strategic Business Planning’. There were a couple of comments about HR’s role in aligning people with business objectives;

“[HR’s role] is to support people to deliver business objectives” and;

“Look after employees to ensure alignment with business objectives”

But this wasn’t enough to make it a theme in it’s own right this year.

HRM looks after employees

Building on that last comment above, a key theme this year is HR as ‘the people service’. That HR’s role is to ‘support’ employees was mentioned in 5 comments. That HR was there to support the business was only mentioned in one. HR’s role in ‘looking after employees’ also got a couple of mentions. I find this interesting, as this was relatively absent last year. Hopefully is an emergent trend that will challenge the perception that HR manages and uses employees.

The Balanced Perspective

The lecture went on to question how HR balances the often contradictory organisational demands with employee demands. Obviously no matter how sympathetic HR is to employee concerns, they remain on the organisation’s payroll. Some students were already thinking in this vein before the lecture commenced;

“HRM [is the] people function [and] the balance between the organisation[‘s] strategic goals and its employees”, 

“[HR’s role is to] support people to deliver business objectives”, and;

“HRM manage employees but also support the business”

The management perspective showing itself again there in the last comment. Let’s finish, though, with the inspirational thought that HR(M) is the;

“Backbone of business”

Thanks to all the students who took part in this exercise and for agreeing that this could be discussed on the blog.

Woman gets top job

The news that Theresa May has been appointed leader of the Conservative Party, and tomorrow will Prime Minister, brought back to my mind some research I came across while developing my new module. She is adamant she will make a success of Brexit; that which has been called the poisoned chalice, and long “May” she succeed (the pun headline writers will surely be having a field day after Cameron). Continue reading “Woman gets top job”

No Going Back

The small, now defunct, local authority at which I started my career had a room termed “the bunker”; a veritable treasure trove of dusty government papers, untouched by data laws, hidden behind large metal locked doors. For young apprentices like me, a shift in the bunker was like some sort of initiation. It was here we found old sets of 1970s committee minutes. Continue reading “No Going Back”

Failing businesses owe multiple debts

It’s unfortunate, but not unexpected news that retail giant BHS has had to call in the administrators – an all too common trend among time served retailers. Of those who haven’t crumbled like C&A or Woolworths, many (WHSmith for example) have been close. Understandably, a common pressure placed on businesses to perform is that of its shareholders. They’ve made a financial investment which failure will see them lose, and conversely if the business is successful they may make significant gains. But what about other types of investments made in businesses – of time, of careers, of people? Retail workers don’t deserve to be mistreated, as has been the case in the past, or to be tainted with the mark of failed enterprise. They certainly do deserve our sympathy. Continue reading “Failing businesses owe multiple debts”

Have you got the skills? #TagTeamBlog2

Here it is folks, the second Tag Team/Co-blog from myself and my “spiritual partner in HR”, the one and only Mr Perry Timms (@PerryTimms). This time we’re discussing skills and to resolve the UK conundrum of skills being viewed as a social and economic panacea (a point raised by Keep & Mayhew back in 2010). Continue reading “Have you got the skills? #TagTeamBlog2”

Job Loss: Wishing you were somehow here again

“Too many years fighting back tears
Why can’t the past just die?
Wishing you were somehow here again
Knowing we must say, “Goodbye”
Try to forgive, teach me to live
Give me the strength to try
No more memories, no more silent tears
No more gazing across the wasted years” Continue reading “Job Loss: Wishing you were somehow here again”

Who started the War for Talent?

I’m not the first to decry the use of the phrase “War for Talent” (see for example this blog by Workable). While I’m sure nobody wishes to downplay the true horror and suffering that is war through the use of such a metaphor, it is rather an apt one for the current recruitment market. I’m referring not only to the blatant mistreatment of undervalued candidates, but the lengths that the “top” organisations will go to in meeting their objectives of hiring only the best talent. Continue reading “Who started the War for Talent?”