HR professionals in organizational changes

Compared with traditional HR professionals, current HR managers have been more and more involved in organizational activities beyond their own function. The aim of this essay is to discuss the role HR professionals in organizational changes.

Alfes, K., Turss, C., and Gill, J. (2010) The HR Manager as Change Agent: Evidence from the Public Sector, Journal of Change Management, 10,1: 109-127.

In this article, Alfes et al. argued that how human resources department contribute to day-to-day management of change program is still unclear. Thus, the author used data from two public sector organizations, including a borough council and a general hospital in the UK to investigate the HR practitioners’ involvement based on two axes, including process and content, and proactivity vs. reactivity. Their study identified four key roles of human resource managers, including Change Driver, Change Focused, Human Resources Focused and Responsive. This article is helpful to my study since it provides solid evidence about the role of HR manager as change agent. The main limitation of this study is that only two cases are involved. Therefore, the authors suggest further studies that test how their framework can be applied to a wider range of cases. This study forms the basis of my study, since my topic is the HR managers’ role in managing changes.

McGuire, D., Stoner, L. & Mylona, S. (2008) The Role of Line Managers as Human Resource Agents in Fostering Organizational Change in Public Services, Journal of Change Management, 8,1:73-84.

In this article, McGuire et al. reviewed the role change of line managers during the process of commercialization of the public sector. The authors try to develop a model describing the content, inhibitors and enablers of line managers’ role as HR agents in organizational change. This article reviewed a wide range of studies in this field and identified a series of enablers and inhibitors of line Manager’s involvement in HR process. This article is useful to my study, since McGuire et al.’s findings suggested that HR functions are not only performed by staff in HR department, line managers also contribute to HRM in organizational changes. The main limitation of this study is that it does not provide any real cases showing the application of their model. Therefore, whether this model is applicable to real case analysis is still unknown. This article will not form the basis of my study. However, it provides me important clue about the role change of managers.

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Francis, H. (2003) HRM and the beginning of organizational change, Journal of Organizational Change Management, 16, 3: 309-327

In this article, Francis suggested that human resource (HR) is closely associated with polices and performance issues of an organization. The author examined the role of HRM in regulating changing based on Ford and Ford’s (1995) conceptual framework. This study focuses on the role of HRM in generating conversation during the process of changes and applied the framework into analysis of a large UK manufacturing firm. This article is helpful to my study since it provides me a real case to understand how HRM contribute to shift of conversation during the process of change. The main limitation of this study is that it did not suggest sequential movement under different types of conversation. Therefore, the author suggested that further study can be conducted to discuss the how “hard” or “soft” change mechanisms can be applied to different situations in order to achieve successful organizational change. This article forms the basis of my study and provides me important information about how to initiate changes by using HRM tools.

Truss, C. (2008) Continuity and change: the role of the HR function in the modern public sector, Public Administration, 86,4: 1071-1088

Truss argues that the New Public Management in the UK may bring significant changes to the role of human resource management. Therefore, the author examined whether the HR management has become more strategies based on data collected from 134 interviews with senior and middle line managers in six public sectors organizations in the UK. This study typically distinguished the differences between administrative and strategic HR functions and assessed the extent to which the managers in the organizations play the roles. This study is helpful to may study, as Truss found that new strategic role and conventional role of HR managers are both required for managing changes. The major limitation of this study is the small sample size and the associated possibility of the generalisability of the findings. Besides, not all categories of public organizations were involved in this study. Thus, the author suggested larger scale studies in the future. This article forms the basis of my research. It offers important clue about the extent of change of HRM in the UK public sector.

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Guest, D.E. and King, Z. (2004) Power, innovation and problem-solving: the personnel managers’ three steps to heaven? Journal of Management Studies, 41, 3: 401-423.

Guest and King (2004) argued that the environment changes during the past 30 years have made Karen Legge’s (1978) analysis of personnel’s role (conformist innovator, deviant innovator and problem solver) more limited to current organizations. Thus, the authors try to explore the extent to which the role of HRM has altered. They conducted interviews with 48 senior managers in order to identify the changes. Typically, they focus on changes in features of vicious circles and the ambiguities and found that a large proportion of current HR managers failed to conquer the problems identified by Legge’s (1978). The major limitation of this study is also the small sample size, only 48 interviews were conducted. Thus, further study based on a larger scale is required. This study will not form the basis of my study. However, it provides me important comparative information about how HRM’s roles in the past and in current business organizations.

Alfes et al.’s (2010) review of previous studies found that HR managers may play four different roles including Change Driver, Change Focused, HR Focused and Responsive within an organization. However, their own data showed that in organization A, HR managers’ role can be quite proactive since they are involved in all aspects of change process, such as help design the program and provide advice to line managers. Truss (2008) also suggested that HR managers’ role has become more strategic and diversified. Compared with traditional HR managers, current HR professionals are more involved in organizational changes. Since organizational change is a complex process that requires efforts from all functions of an origination, a part of the responsibility of HR managers also shift to other functions. McGuire et al.’s (2010) study supports this point of view. They provided evidence about how line managers contribute to HRM and also discussed the enablers and inhibitors of this role sharing. Based data of organization B, Alfes et al. (2010) suggested that the role of HR managers is more responsive in this organization. They are not involved in all aspects of organizational changes. Even involved, they largely play a role as advisor, rather than change driver. The role difference of HR managers is due to different requirement of different organizations. According to As Legge (2005), HR managers can play both roles as ‘conformist’ innovators and ‘deviant’ innovators. The former role requires them closely follow organizational parameters, while the later role requires them to drive change within an organization through challenging prevailing norms. However, in reality, Guest and King (2004) argued that the proactive role of HR managers is less acceptable in some organizations. Guest and King (2004) found many line managers are reluctant to accept HR managers’ involvement in their work. And the HR department interventions can even lead to timeconsuming procedures resented by the line managers. Thus, this requires skills of HR managers to handle the relationship appropriately. Francis (2002) argued that power relations between different functions of an organization which is based on disposable resources of the parties can significantly affect the conversation during the period of change initiative. Inappropriate manner of conversation initiated by HR managers can become a barrier to organizational change. They further argued that conversation across different functions and levels of managers should be used as a medium by HR managers in the process of negotiation. However, the author did not provide suggestion about how the “hard” or “soft” HR interventions can be applied. Becker and Huselid identify the key challenges associated with development of strategic human resource management (SHRM) through reviewing a wide range of empirical studies, they emphasize the importance of the nature of fit and contingencies in SHRM and argues that SHRM, which was initially an HR-centric paradigm, has gradually become a shared responsibility of HR professionals, line managers, and senior executives. The role of HR professionals in organizational change resembles to a contributor, rather than a leader.

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To sum up, HR managers’ role in organizational change can be both responsive and proactive according the demand of an organization. Geneally, HR managers’ role has become more strategic no matter they are proactive or responsive to organizational changes. However, to play the proactive role that gives interventions to other department or functions successfully, HR managers should pay attention to the manner of conversation.

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