January 10th, 2018
Function of the HR Department
The function of the HR department has undergone a significant transformation as entities attempt to achieve efficiencies and move various functions towards value-adding capabilities. In this respect, an approach to HR management in organizations where the department is getting integrated into business strategy is gradually replacing the traditional approach where HR function was restricted to administrative aspects (Lawler 1995; Beer 1997; Haines & Lafleur 2008). In the traditional, administrative approach, HR function aimed to free up business functions involved in line management, from administrative aspects so that they could concentrate on the business and, to minimize the wastage of internal energy (Lawler 1995). Accordingly, HR departments were solely concerned with processes such as personnel administration, labour relations, and establishing policies, rules and systems that were aimed at creating equity within the organization (Lawler 1995). In line with this role, HR function was not considered to be a core contributor to the planning process, rather was only involved in implementing plans developed from other business functions (Lawler 1995).
Various forces however have necessitated the transformation of the HR function from such an administrative focus to a strategic one. For instance, Beer (1997) argued that increasing competition, globalization and dynamism in both technology and market aspects, necessitated the HR function to change its role into a more strategic one. Such a strategic role of the HR function involves being a “business partner and change agent” (Haines & Lafleur 2008, p. 527). With respect to becoming a business partner, the HR function aims would be to assist in the achievement of the goals of the organization, to engage actively in the process through which business strategies are defined, and working more on strategic rather than administrative issues (Haines & Lafleur 2008). Although the role of a change agent may be perceived as a dimension of a business partner, it has enhanced aspects that ensure the business remains competitive in a dynamic business environment. As a change agent, the HR function is engaged to assist the firm adapt to changes, establishing and re-inventing HR processes and programs that enhance the firm’s capability to change, and creating an avenue for development of new behaviours that ensure the firm remains competitive (Haines & Lafleur 2008).
According to this new role, the characteristics and nature of activities that the HR function engages in and profile of HR professionals has also become different. For instance, where traditional approach was based on a responsive (taking initiatives after occurrence of a particular event), the strategic roles envisages a proactive approach (Lawler 1995). Similarly, where the traditional HR function existed to serve the internal aspects, the strategic approach is aligned towards the needs of the society (Lawler 1995). Further, where the HR department had full responsibility for the HR policy, modern approach envisages sharing of such responsibility between HR and line managements (Lawler 1995). Accordingly, the HR function under current approach has a more flexible structure as compared to the traditional structure that was oriented towards a functional structure (Lawler 1995).
With respect to the HR professionals’ profiles, whereas the traditional HR professional only required specialist skills, the current HR professional requires generalist skills to ensure ones contribution to the decision-making arenas is valued (Lawler 1995). Additionally, with cost efficiency being a core consideration in the modern business environment – the concept of providing value for money – the modern HR professional has been necessitated to be an expert in financial aspects, as opposed to the traditional function where limited financial skills would suffice (Lawler 1995). Finally, the profile of HR professional has changed with respect to focus (the current HR professional is required to be more visionary i.e. having a focus of the future) and scope (Lawler 1995). The scope of current HR professionals is globally oriented with aspects such as globalization easing labour mobility thus necessitating such HR professionals to have multicultural management skills. Such a multicultural perspective has also meant that an individual with multilingual abilities is better suited for the current HR roles than a monolingual individual (Lawler 1995). go to part 3 here.