After the change of management thinking, the discipline of human resources (HR) management changed from the earliest single administrative role towards a more complex and multiple functional role. In the evolution of these various roles, the advent of the role of HR strategic partners is in line with the changing needs of enterprises.
In my last column article, I have discussed about the findings of a survey where it showed that “strategic partners”, “human capital leaders” and “talent developers” are three influential roles towards enterprise performance. However, enterprise HR personnel are still lack of knowledge and skills to prepare for these three roles. Thus, these shall be the emphasis for developing future human resource practitioners where it also present both opportunities and challenges in professional HR career development.
Providing Assistance and Support to Employees
In the evolution of management thinking, the main prevalence of scientific management theory, such as Taylor’s scientific management during the period of 1890-1940, and administrative science management theory popularized by Fayol’s 14 administrative principles during the period of 1900-1950. Under the aforementioned two main management theories, the main task of HR management is to improve the labor relations (with focus on the management of trade union and group affairs) and industrial relations (emphasizing on labor conditions) between 1900 and 1920. Such period is the starting point of modern HR management where HR personnel play an administrative role in labor relations and industrial relations.
Between the period of 1930s-1970s, a new school of thought on human relations are popularized, such as the famous Hawthorne experiment that led managers to gradually understand the subtle relationship between people in organizational and productivity. Later, “Theory of Needs” as proposed by Abraham Maslow and Fredrick Herzberg divert managers’ attention to the psychological needs of their employees. Under such theory, personnel management emerged in periods of 1940s to 1960s, where the main focus is on how to manipulate or to meet the needs of employees for improving the productivity and profits of enterprises. Staff support elements are key enablers of personnel management, which include recruitment selection, performance management, payroll management, and employee safety and health.
Employee Professional Skills and Knowledge Enhancement
Resource-based theory and human capital theory are the two most representative theories since the 1980s. The resource-based theory indicates that unique resources of the organization are important factors in the development and maintenance of competitive advantage. Therefore, having excellent employees is an important factor of maintaining the competitive advantage of an organization. On the other hand, human capital theory is more focused on employees with skills, experience and knowledge. It advocates that an organization is portrayed by the economic value of the staff, where the skills and knowledge of employees can improve productivity, and therefore is regarded as a form of capital.
The emergence of these new management thinking has gradually change the organizational thinking on manpower value, where employees play an active instead of passive role in achieving the organizational business objectives. The concept and practice of human resource management began to emerge in the early 1980s and early 1990s, where the main feature was the assumption of human resource as a value-added capital. During this period, the role of administrative personnel began to strengthen in the field of employee recruitment, empowerment and training.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, companies were facing challenges, where human resource is given high expectations during organizational restructuring exercise such as cultural integration, organizational design and work design. Under such a background, the role of HR management is to increase the added value through a link with the corporate strategy and to implement HR tasks through cooperation with senior management, which forms the key of strategic human resource management. In this period, the human resources department began to participate in strategic and competitive planning, i.e. actively set the purpose of various HR activities, continuously improve the quality and competitiveness of HR and promote the strategic objectives of the organization.
From Basic Role to Strategic Partners
In order to achieve strategic human resource management objectives, traditional management experts and employee supporters role are inadequate to meet the challenges. A new role, “human resources strategy partners”, is re-focused and re-positioned where enterprise knowledge and human resources management skills is applied to achieve strategic business partners organizational goals. After 2000, the role of HR strategy partners is continuously emphasized. In 1997, McKinsey & Company published a “talent battle” report where two new roles, human capital developers and human capital leaders, have emerged.
In overview, due to the changes in management thinking, the role of HR professionals are changing in line with working environmental changes. From singular administrative roles (e.g., labor relations) towards a more complex role of talent management, the time and resources involved in managing personnel records and employee behavior has significantly reduced. On the other hand, there is a significant increase of time and resources involved in designing the HR system, development of human capital and the role as a strategic partner. Such a role evolution has its significance in modern organizational perspectives, as it is in line with the changing needs and objectives of companies. In future, we can foresee that it is fast replacing traditional way and role of HR, and the evolution cycle will become much shorter.