Role of HRM

How do you think that the changes in work organisations are and will affect the role and purpose of HRM? Consider what new challenges will this new function create for the HRM practitioner?

The changing role of HRM is attracting an enormous amount of critical attention of late. Since its conception, HRM has had a difficult journey, often being perceived as just tea and sympathy for unhappy employees, HRM practitioners have long struggled to establish their role as a legitimate business requirement. An increasing trend in business has been to replace HRM departments with new technology or outsourcing its administrative functions to a vendor who can provide a perceived ‘higher-quality’ service at a lower cost. Although this may first appear to be a pessimistic view on the future job security for HRM practitioners, this trend simply demonstrates that HRM departments need to ensure that they are adding value for the organization. As organizational trends and requirements are constantly evolving; new means of thinking and functioning are required. HRM practitioners are no exception to this, and the HRM function has undergone a dramatic shift within the organization of business. However with this change in function, new roles, responsibilities, demands and expectations are being placed on the HR practitioner. HR professionals must partake in broader applications within the business; today many organizations are linking HR strategy to the business strategy. This is a dramatic shift for the HRM function to undertake.  The following paper will discuss the nature of these changes in work organisation and how this new approach will affect the role and purpose of HRM? With these new changes, a series of challenges will present themselves both to the business organization and to the HRM practitioner. How will these new challenges emerge and how will HRM professionals adapt to meet these new changes.

With no real status or power HRM has had a long struggle for legitimacy. HRM’s peripheral role within the organization of business often meant that HRM practitioners were viewed only as administrative staff, and as such often viewed negatively even hostile by other employee’s within the organization e.g. line managers. The lack of centrality in the business decision making process marginalised an already peripheral department. The result of this positioning meant that the HRM department was not viewed as business focused function. Unable to shape management thinking damaged the status of the HRM role, leaving the HRM department in a reactive state unable to fully plan and organize for new challenges ahead. The positioning of the HRM department within the business organization has not previously endeared itself to understanding the exact goals and strategy of the business. John Murabito, the executive vice president and head of HR and Services at Cigna, says that “HR executives need to understand the company’s objectives and strategy and then supply the employees with the skills required. Too often, HRM executives get wrapped up in their own initiatives without fully understanding how their role should be contributing to the organization. That is dangerous, because when it comes to the HR department, anything that is administrative or transactional can and probably going to get outsourced” (David A Dye, p.24). In order to avoid outsourcing, HRM is required to constantly adapt and justify its position within the department. To do so HRM needs to become strategically aligned with the organisations business strategy and the need to maintain the focus on performance measurement and outcomes.

                        In order to survive HRM has undertaken this whole new role within many business organizations. HR is now being utilized as “a distinctive approach to employment management which seeks to achieve competitive advantage through the strategic deployment of a highly committed and capable workforce, using an integrated array of cultural, structural and personnel techniques”(Storey, 1995). This new role has emphasised the importance of HR decisions to business outcomes & need to integrate HR policy into business strategy. However what consequences does this type of change have for the employee’s, senior management and the HRM practitioner?

For the senior management HRM is now taking a leading role in the strategic implementation of the organizations goals. HRM practitioners will become both strategic partners and change agents within the organization. HRM’s previous function, should give the HRM practitioner the necessary knowledge and ability to be a champion of change. The execution of any change within the organization is extremely important. Knowing how to link change to the strategic needs of the organization will minimize employee dissatisfaction and resistance to the transformation. “HRM identifies the organizational mission, vision, values, goals and action plans. Finally, the HRM practitioner will help to determine the processes that will inform his/her organization how well it is progressing in all of this” (David A Dye p.27).

With Human Resource Management now being integrated into policy and business strategy, the role has taken on a whole new function and authority. However this new role creates diverse and sometimes competing expectations from multiple stakeholders. HR Professionals are still caught between doing the right thing & doing what’s best from a company perspective. There is a certain amount of confusion about who they should be representing. Financially profitable HR strategy is not necessarily the most employee friendly approach. It would be flawed to assume “what’s good for company is good for employee and vice versa”(David A Dye p.27). These competing objectives, between people and performance are a great source of ambiguity. The new position of HR within the business may cause a certain degree of mistrust to develop. Employee’s may no longer feel that the HRM practitioner is someone that they can speak openly with. Employee’s may now feel that the HRM practitioner is no longer unbiased or impartial.

The trend to include human resources management in the strategic decision-making process is a relatively new phenomenon. Only a relatively small number of organizations have yet to implement this system. If more organisations fail to follow this lead the future of HRM departments in organizations could be in danger of down seizing or indeed become victim to outsourcing practices. To consolidate their position HRM practitioners must be change agents within the organization. Now more than ever it is imperative that HR personal understand the goals of the organization. The HR person must continually contribute to the strategic plan of the organization in order to add value while still being reactive to both the internal and external environment. While the HRM department is undertaking this new role, it must remain a catch all department, dealing with so called menial issues such as vending, security, lunch breaks, timetable issues, parking and social outings. In order to facilitate such issues the HRM practitioner must increasingly rely on proactive rather than reactive solutions. The role has always been an uncomfortable conflict between being an employee of a company and an employee advocate. This issue has been well documented in the past. However now with HRM practitioners taking part in the organizational strategic planning this should allow the implementation of any changes to be as employee friendly as possible. The HRM practitioner should know and understand the interests of the employees and the plans of the organization. Often senior executives can ignore or genuinely forget how new initiatives may affect employee’s. Now HRM practitioners should be able to foresee any issues which may arise with any new initiative and be able to adjust it accordingly before it leads to a larger problem.

The advent of Strategic HRM has created as many questions as it has answered. Arguably the most important of these asks; how should strategic HRM be integrated into the ‘new organisation’? The theory of Strategic HRM does not; in fact advocate a single way of linking HRM to strategy. “Two leading theory’s have emerged. The ‘best fit’ school argues that HR all firms will be better off if HR strategy must be appropriately integrated into the specific organizational and broader contextual environmental context. The other model advocates universalism, which argues that firms should adopt best practice in the way it manages people” (Peter Boxall & John Purcell, p 47). This is not as straight forward as it seems and raises with it a whole new set of questions such as; how do we define best practice? What is best practice for one may not be best for the other, and if we accept this, how then do we go about objectively deciding on which is most appropriate?

           Today we must offer products with the highest quality, to do so the organization must maintain a high caliber of people to both achieve and maintain this. HR practitioners are in the ideal position to retain their place as a valuable department within the new organization. Previous HRM models fail to acknowledge inherent tensions in the employment relationship. The previous focus on employee-centred outcomes may or may not relate to the organizations performance. There is a fine line between securing Profits with People rather than securing profits at the expense of People.  HRM’s new function must remember this if it is to continue to champion the employee cause. In the past HRM was considered to be a support function, HR is now becoming a strategic partner in helping a company achieve its objectives. ‘A strategic approach to HR means going beyond the administrative tasks like holiday’s and sick leave and payroll. Instead, “HRM practitioners need to think more broadly and deeply about how employees will contribute to the company’s success. Human resources management is becoming increasingly imperative in organizations because today’s knowledge economy requires employees to contribute ideas and be engaged in executing the organizations strategic policy” (David A Dye p.30). HRM is thus becoming a strategic partner by identifying the attributes that employees need and then providing workforce with the education and training needed to develop and deploy their new skills. “All the elements of HR—selection, placement, job design, and compensation—need to be strategically aligned with the company’s strategy so that the right people are hired for the appropriate jobs and are rewarded aptly for their contributions to furthering the company’s goals”(Susan M. Heathfield). However with this dramatic shift from functional practices to strategic organizational planning, the HRM practitioner must maintain integrity and a degree of independence if he/she is to continue its function as employee advocate. One envisions that the transformational role of HRM will assume more importance during the current recession as well as during and after the upturn. The current economic climate means that the HRM practitioner needs to examine how to optimise costs while both securing and retaining staffs that are vital to the survival of the organization. In order to facilitate this shift both HRM departments and the new organization will meet various hurdles along the way. This new changing role will not be easy. Executives will now be forced to partake in discussions at a whole new level with HRM personal. Due to difficult external economic factors organizations are being forced to scrutinize, rethink and re-examine the theory of the business, however the changing role in HRM from transactional to transformational will ensure the survival and validity of the HRM practice into the foreseeable future.




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