Personal Development in Human Relations
Is Human Relations (HR) an art or a science? Personally, I believe that HR is a science that must be artfully managed to utilize lessons learned and best practices for improving the well-being and effectiveness of employees within the organization. As our planet becomes interconnected, via satellites and the internet, it is now just as easy to communicate with someone across the globe as it is someone across the street. Therefore, it becomes increasingly important to gain a better understanding of the different people and different cultures that enrich our every shrinking planet. HR professionals have the very important task of gathering, training, and organizing the human assets who make the difference for an organization’s success or failure.
According to DeCenzo and Silhanek (2002) “Human Relations is the composite of interactions that exist between people in all aspects of their personal and professional lives” (p. 2). This broad and all-encompassing definition provides a general baseline for the study of HR and its guiding principles. However, it is necessary to dig deeper in order to understand the connections and relationships between the people and the organization. In doing so, it becomes possible to unlock the maximum effectiveness of both.
“The history of Human Relations, or Human Resources, can be traced back to England, where masons, carpenters, leather workers, and other craftspeople organized themselves into guilds They used their unity to improve their working conditions” (Ivancevich, 2010, p. 5).Â The industrial revolution brought about a significant change to the work environment and shifted the demand for the workforce. The introductions of machines in manufacturing propelled the need for workers, supervisors, and employers to build the complex new society. Time, efficiency, and productivity became the only metrics of concern in the workplace.
As the population increased so did the demand for mass produced products which propelled the demand for the labor force. The people moved from rural and agricultural areas to fill jobs in the growing cities. The economic growth spurred the production requirements. As a result, in 1878, Fredrick Taylor, an engineer in Philadelphia began to study worker efficiency in an attempt to find the fastest and best way to do a job. His efforts summarized scientific management, the focus of job efficiencies (DeCenzo & Shilhanek, 2002, p. 12)
The manufacturing processes brought about bigger organizations which required increasing the number of workers. The workers, in turn, organized and formed unions to communicate their needs to the managers and owners for better pay, benefits, and working conditions. Ivancevich (2010) observed that in the 1920s, more firms began utilizing personnel departments to bridge the gap between management and workers.
Researchers from Harvard, Elton Mayo, and Fritz Roelthisberger, started a series of experiments to research how physical working conditions affected worker productivity. Over the course of a decade, their observations led them to shift their focus to interpersonal relations among workers and management. Sundstrom et al. (2000) documented the Hawthorne studies research and found that employees’ needs and desires to belong to a group proved more influential than monetary incentives and good working conditions at improving employee productivity. This investigation into human factors and the work environment began human relations movement.
Much like the advent of machines during the industrial revolution, today’s technology pushes change to organizations and the labor force they employ.Â The need for HR is vital now more than ever for firms that want to remain relevant in the global economy. Globalization has forced the business environment to evolve, thus strongly influencing the organizational behaviors of managers and workers of today.
Laptops, iPads, and smartphones have mobilized the workplace. In addition, the immediate ability to connect has abolished the notion of managing locally. Firms now have offices around the globe and supervisors, are no longer limited to their geographic location. They must know and understand their new workforce who live in different countries, practice different religions, and come from vastly different cultures. The HR professional is key to bridging the new geographic, cultural, communication gap that now separates employer and employees. The valuable human relations information necessary to aid organizational communications both linguistically and culturally, flow is the responsibility of the HR team who must shape and develop the most valuable asset to the firm; people.
Technology is forever advancing and pushing economic growth. Therefore, change will always be a part of the organizational structure. This means future workplace will be vastly different than what previous generations could have ever dreamed. Meister (2010) predicts that the next decade will usher in companies and business models that are unimaginable today, and will dramatically change how we live, work, learn, communicate and play. However, people will still be at the core of the company. HR will be needed to continue aiding in the interpersonal relationships necessary to make everything and everyone work together.
My coursework in Human Relations provided a solid foundation of the three primary areas of study. I found the organizational module particularly interesting and selected it as my literature area of emphasis. The organizational aspect of Human Relations provides a significant challenge to the HR professional. Large or small, simple or complex, the HR department must understand completely the company and its mission in order to recruit, train, and employ the best most efficient workforce needed. Ultimately, people make the organization and it is the job of the HR team to fit people into work an environment that will motivate them to work together harmoniously.
As a field of study, there are many different facets to the organizational setting that must be considered. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has developed a competency model which details the knowledge requirements the HR professional needs to help meet the needs of the company (SHRM, 2016). The organizational behavior, structure, culture, strategy, diversity, and quality of life are just a few of the areas of competencies the HR team provides guidance on to the management team when they are strategically managing people as business resources.
According to author Stephen Robbins (2014), the goal of studying organizational behavior is to understand and predict human behavior in organizations.Â Several different specialties, such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology, contribute to the comprehensive literature for human behavior. While they are not as concrete as the laws of physics or chemistry, understanding these disciplines allow the HR professional to generalize about human behavior and how it will impact the organization.
The organizational structure is identified by Hitt, Ireland, and Hoskission (2015) as the formal reporting relationships, procedures, controls, authority, and decision-making process. The U.S. military has a very ridged and formal chain of command organizational structure; however, human behavior still drives the culture and customs. If change is to be made within the organization, it must begin with the people.
“HR is one of the central vehicles for creating culture change” (Grundy and Brown, 2003, p. 171). Many organizations focus on changing the organization’s culture in order to improve performance and becoming more competitive in the marketplace. This is best accomplished by aligning the HR strategy with the organization’s overall strategy for the business culture. Edgar Schein (2010) defines culture as
“A pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, which has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems”.
An organization determined to change their current culture will often release a large number of employees such as CSX laying off 1000 managers or Hershey terminating 2000 employees (Utermohlen, 2017, Wattles, 2017) These drastic changes should be made with the HR team in full understanding of the personnel requirements desired for moving forward. They must get the people part right; then the strategy and execution will happen.
A diversity strategy is another important consideration for today’s global organizations. As companies branch out into new developing countries, it is important to consider the idea of differentiation and integrations. Morgan (2006) refers to this as requisite variety; “the internal regulatory mechanisms of a system must be as diverse as the environment in which it operates” (p. 44). Basically, the employees of a multinational company should reflect the suppliers with whom they work and customers whose business they wish to attract. Humphrey and Stokes (2000) predicts that twenty-first-century caliber supervisors must understand the purpose of building a dynamic team is to enhance performance and to grow a successful organization of the future.
Diversity is a complex and challenging strategy for the HR leader to manage. Some of the employees within the company will be unwilling to see the need to integrate as well as to see the discriminatory nature of their actions. HR must be proactive in protecting the organization from individuals who fail to understand Federal Employment Laws and potentially jeopardizing the company with potential litigation. “Employers must be careful when they treat similarly situated employees differently because discriminatory intent can be proven by either direct or circumstantial evident” (Muller, 2013, p. 152). Legal ramifications due to discriminatory practices can destroy an organization. The HR professional should be proactive in training all staff members on the importance of diversity, acceptance, and inclusion as well as the dangers of discrimination.
“Organizations often depend on human resource professionals to help maintain positive relations with employee” (Noe et al., 2016, p. 10). I believe the art of human relations management relies on the knowledge, experience, and competence of the HR team and it is a major function of what makes a business work. A stable and appealing workplace with a content workforce are more likely to attract and retain the best employees, maintain loyal customers and adjust to the ever-changing marketplace.
These concepts were very apparent in the organization I was fortunate to work for during my internship. The personnel were very well trained, the work environment provided a comfortable place to work with challenging tasks that made a difference on the world stage. The communication both up and down the chain was clear and effective without being condescending or overbearing. Workers were allowed to have meaningful input on assignments and feedback from supervisors was timely and on target. The training and skills I learned both through my classroom literature and my internship experience, prepared me very well for the international relations challenges that I will discuss in the next section.
The HR professional must be prepared to utilize a wide array of skills, techniques, and competencies to meet the organization’s needs for a stable work environment. They should also continually add to their toolbox by remaining current in new trends in the human relations field. However, they can never forget at the end of the day, it is all about the people. The human talent that makes the company great.Â Authors Sartain and Finney (2003) noted that “companies depend more than ever on the unique contributions, passion, commitment, and heart of every single individual within them” (p. 104). I am excited about the HR community and its future.
This country recently completed a presidential election that will have social repercussions for years to come. The shift in our new government is having a tremendous social impact, both domestically and abroad. It reverberates around the globe as so-called enemies and allies work to determine exactly how to reestablish their relationship with America.
During my internship, I experienced first-hand America’s political and social interactions with many other nations; learning how critical the human element is to the negotiation and agreement on issues important to the national security of our country and its allies.
Understanding and relating social theory to actual social practice is critical when working with the delicate intricacies of human relationships in a highly charged political environment. This is perfectly illustrated by the situation faced by former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn. He ultimately resigned because he allegedly overstepped in his discussions Russian leaders, and his behavior potentially violated the Logan Act (Miller & Rucker, 2017). This will be discussed later.
Over my 26-year military career, I have held a wide range of positions; from Dental Assistant to Helicopter Pilot. However, my brief internship in the Foreign Affairs Office for the Commander of Naval Forces Europe has had a profound impact on my understanding of human relations. In my primary function as a pilot, I naturally held leadership positions that correlated with the rank that I held.
My aviation units did not have HR departments to hire, train, and help manage workers. As leaders, we simply did it all. I grew accustomed to taking care of my people and for the most part always giving orders. When a new person reported on board, I reviewed their records and arranged for the training they needed. If they had pay or benefits problems, I sent them to our administrative department to get them fixed. All basic HR functions were handled in-house.
Although we had general leadership training, we did not have formal training in human social relations. I gave orders and they were obeyed, if not then the offender was disciplined. Sounds a little draconian, but military units are focused on accomplishing a mission that often puts lives in danger, not for sensitivity groups wanting to get in touch with our feelings. So I grew accustomed to dealing with people in a certain way. This mentality would rapidly change as my internship progressed.
Lacking a formal HR department, I chose to do my internship with the local Foreign Affairs Office. The Foreign Affairs Officer (FAO) is a specific career path in the U.S. Navy. The officers are specially trained to for a variety of diplomatic assignments around the world.
Navy FAOs maintain knowledge of political-military affairs; familiarity with the political, cultural, social, economic, and geographic factors of the countries and regions in which they are stationed; and proficiency in one or more of the dominant languages in their regions of expertise. (Navy Personnel Command, 2017)
These skills I would have to learn through on the job training.
The function of the FAO office in Europe is to plan and execute operations, provide liaison with foreign militaries operating in coalitions with U.S. forces, conduct political-social-military activities, and execute military-diplomatic missions. This is known as Theater Security Cooperation.
I was assigned to help in the Black Sea department of the FAO office during a unique time. Russia had recently annexed the Crimean Peninsula by force from the Ukraine. Many of our NATO allies were deeply concerned that President Putin would not stop there and continue to push his forces into other neighboring nations and eventually occupy the entire Black Sea region (Treisman, 2016). The FAO office was tasked with coordinating meetings and activities to reassure our allies of America’s commitment and support to NATO.
In the beginning, my role was to coordinate simple maritime interactions with Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania. I learned to work with our embassies in those countries to set up port visits by U.S. ships. Having our troops in their cities was a big boost of confidence to our partner nations. I also organized Passing Exercises (PASSEXs), these are maneuvering drills that the ships do together to render honors to each other as they pass. This seemingly simple activity required considerable coordination as numerous messages must be sent back and forth from our commanders to our embassy over to their embassy to their commanders. However, these engagements provide a sense of comradery. In my opinion, it is reflective of the findings from the Hawthorne studies mentioned in earlier which show the strong intrinsic desire for human beings to belong to a group.
We continued to plan activities to reassure our allies. I took on the daunting task of arranging and organizing a Secretary of the Defense to visit Constanta, Romania. Another task that sounds simple, however, requires a tremendous amount of preparatory work to execute smoothly. The diplomatic coordination required was astounding to me. Especially in light of the recent Russian and Ukraine hostilities. The detailed attention to social protocols and customs were particularly challenging.
The visit extremely well, projecting the desired effect of NATO unity. However, I was admonished by my supervisor for failing to delegate. Due to the sensitive nature of the information, all the details were reviewed by the senior officers before approval. Trying to do everything myself, and lacking formal diplomatic training, I happen to miss a few necessary items that could have impacted the trip. Fortunately, my supervisor caught my errors before they became an issue.
Official diplomatic negotiations were another aspect of the FAO liaison duties I was able to observe. The United States and Romania agreed to build a U.S. military installation in Romania. The specific details required for construction had to be discussed at length in very formal diplomatic meetings. I was fortunate to attend two of these meetings.
The process is long and drawn out with extensive cultural activities that must be considered and observed. Our European hosts enjoyed visiting and drinking coffee before a meeting started. It would be offensive if we did not partake in this ritual before getting down to business. This was a big part of the social theories that I had to put into practice.
It was interesting that while a lot was said during the official meeting, the real agreements were worked out during the breaks when counterparts could talk offline and come to an understanding. However, as Mike Flynn learned, you have to be very careful what you discuss during these moments. The Logan Act basically forbids any citizen of the United States, from promising or influencing any foreign government or agent thereof, any disputes or controversies without proper authority (Legal Information Institute, 2017). Our partners always want more than we are able to give and it is imperative that we refute them without insulting them. Communicating skills are vital for building successful professional relationships.
My final major event was planning, directing, and executing all aspects of the Eurasian Partnership Dive exercise (EP Dive).Â EP Dive is a multilateral interoperability event, involving over 30 Officers and Sailors from Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Romania, and Ukraine. The goal is to promote Theater Security Cooperation as well as increased maritime stability within the Black Sea Countries.
This exercise demanded all of my leadership, communication, and human relations skills without being in a combat environment. I led a team of 4 junior officers. We obtained approval and funding, then planned the facility, the equipment, the translators, and the rooms. We enabled over 30 divers from different countries, with different languages, and different cultures, to conduct coordinated, military, deep sea dive exercises for a week without incident or injury.
The EP Dive engagement exemplified the purpose of the Foreign Affairs Office; to build cooperation and interoperability while enhancing theater security. This is done by engaging the human element in the spirit of friendship and not battle. As an organization, the FAO office faces many challenges, however, through creative use of human relations skills, they work to resolve issues in the European community. Cooperating with diverse international staffs, U.S. Embassies, and U.S. State Department personnel, the organization meets the ever changing demands of our partner nations.
It is difficult to be critical of this organization as I was completely impressed the FAO department. They are well suited to meet the needs of the international community with whom they work. The staff is exemplary, and they are managed and trained very well in the art and science of human relations.Â It was a pleasure getting to know some of the smartest people I have ever met. I was immediately accepted as part of the team even though I lacked their formal training and language skills. My supervisor provided solid guidance while still allowing me to learn and operate independently. The demands of the job are never ending as the political climates around Europe change almost day to day. They must continually adapt to fluctuating needs of the partner nations. Therefore, my only recommendation would be for more exceptional personnel to help relieve the stress. Otherwise, they are successful at accomplishing a difficult mission.
I truly enjoyed learning by doing. I made my fair share of mistakes, but I learned from them. Fortunately, the lessons I learned in Grad Studies, the techniques acquired in Stress Management, and the understanding I gained in Organizational behavior helped me adjust quickly to the international relations community. I interacted well with foreign counterparts and gained a breadth of experience in relating to a diverse community. I did not cause an international incident, so I would say this internship was a very successful venture. I can now see myself potentially working for the State Department in the future by using the human relations skills that I have learned in this program to make difference help our allies. The European Foreign Affairs Office for Commander of Naval Europe is an organization I would be happy to work for again and one that I would highly recommend as an internship opportunity to future Oklahoma University HR students.
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