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.

One of the first things I did in my last role (as HR and Business Strategy Manager at a social housing company) was to attend a conference on homelessness. Living and working in a fairly rural area meant that this was an issue I was aware of, but wasn’t faced with on a daily basis (in fact far less often than that). Despite this lack of real-life experience, I’ve always believed it was a worthy cause. I was inspired to write a blog following the event on what I believed HR could do to help the homeless.  Continue reading

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?”

The Dark Side of Personality Testing

A few years ago I attended a short course in coaching. The trainer was  a certified practitioner in Neuro Linguistic Programming and had included some of these techniques within the course. However, he imparted this knowledge with a warning – that these “powers” could potentially be used for evil. Continue reading “The Dark Side of Personality Testing”

Creative Conformity

I’m one week in to my new role and my transformation from HR practitioner to HR Lecturer. Within my first few days the stand out difference between practice and academia was revealed to me. This is the freedom to have, and explore, your own opinions.  Continue reading “Creative Conformity”

A Tale of Two Recruitments

The good the bad

When I tell people I’m leaving my current job, the question they tend to ask (normally following a sharp intake of breath) is, “how long have you been here?”. The straightforward answer is that “here” is the only place I’ve ever worked. That sounds very old fashioned. Like I’ve been stuck in a rut for nearly half my life. But that’s very far from the truth. I believe I’ve spent my time fruitfully, undertaking several different roles and grabbing every development opportunity that came my way. Continue reading “A Tale of Two Recruitments”

Is Auditioning the New Interviewing?


No. No, no, no, no. Dear God No.

This was my initial reaction to the question emblazoned across the front of People Management magazine. Is auditioning the new interviewing? As if an interview wasn’t bad enough anyway, someone decided to add into the mix a requirement to prove, on the spot, some kind of “talent” (I use the word lightly). Continue reading “Is Auditioning the New Interviewing?”

Recruitment: Not Exactly What it Says on the Tin


I’ve been a little obsessed with eBay lately. I’ve been finding random things around the house to sell and exchanging my profits for fabulous shoes (those of you who met me at #CIPD14 may have realised my passion for heels, no matter how painful!). Whats not to like! Continue reading “Recruitment: Not Exactly What it Says on the Tin”

Confidence in Careers

I was recently tasked with simulating interviews for a group of school leavers. To start with I wasn’t too enthralled about going. I was there on behalf of a colleague who’d had a better offer – I was sure I would rather be at a corporate bash sipping champagne too! But on reflection, perhaps it was actually her who missed out and not me. Continue reading “Confidence in Careers”

Modern Day Mastery


You could be forgiven for thinking that nothing ever endures amongst the fast changing fads and fashions of modern living. It’s not just talk that’s cheap. Clothes, cars, cash are all consumable clutter used to communicate status. Money, people and even love, are a means to an end. Everything is temporary and we can always get more, more, more.

But there’s one thing we can’t control. It’s infinite, yet we can never get enough. We try to  apportion it, manage it, record it and analyse it, yet it continues on regardless. It is both a harsh mistress and heals all ills. We spend it more freely than money. We can’t stop it, or turn it back. Yes, our time is precious, ticking away towards an unknown end as sure as the sun rises. Yet how many of us can say we use our time wisely, doing something worthwhile.

Of course defining a good use of time is extremely subjective. Time is constant, yet how we use it is infinitely variable. Some of these uses are dictated by government policy, employers, family and cultural norms. The vast majority of us attend school, college and work as regular as clockwork in order to avoid punishment for non compliance. Whether we engage fully in that time by concentrating, learning and performing is a different matter. There’s always choice.

Just as one person’s trash is another’s treasure, one person’s time well spent is to another wasted. As employers we want our staff to conform to our definition of a good use of time, and we’re paying them to do so. As recruiters we pass judgement on whether a candidate’s life up until that point has been used wisely. We question whether their time spent in a job is too long or too short. Whether they’ve spent enough time doing academic training. Whether they’ve spent any time doing nothing and what that means. If we conclude they’ve made good use of that time, we ask them to commit their future working time to us and reward them with a job and salary.

It takes a significant investment of time to master a skill – according to Malcolm Gladwell, 10,000 hours. This is much longer than a typical modern day apprenticeship or degree and implies sustained dedication towards a singular goal. It’s easy to see how this lengthy time period could lead to mastery of a physical skill with measurable tangible improvements demonstrating competence. But for many modern job roles, focussed on gathering and assimilating knowledge, time is a poor measure. Neither is mastery as whether what we know is correct is subjective, may have little impact and changes quickly. Think of technolgy – we might invest a significant amount of time mastering certain digital processes – only for them to be obsolete tomorrow.

So modern day mastery is not just about learning, it’s about looking ahead to see what we don’t know now, but might need to know in the future. But how have our recruitment and development processes evolved to identify the presence of indicators of this behaviour, such as potential and talent? The answer is, they haven’t. And that’s a problem.