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A comprehensive view of roles for human resource managers in industry today.

Human resource managers play important roles in industry. They are influential because their activities and contributions are relevant to all aspects of the organization and have a definite impact on various organizational processes. These professionals do more than just keep records and create policies and procedures. They are involved in the strategic aspects of the business as well as the legal and operational aspects of managing an organization's most valuable resource, the human resource. Their main goal is to maximize the organization's potential through its human resources. Without the activities they supervise, companies could not function successfully or fulfill their goals.

These activities involve staffing, training and development, compensation and labor relations, to name a few. The various roles associated with these activities can be classified under three categories: the strategic process, the legal aspects and the operational aspects.

The strategic process

All organizations are involved in some sort of strategic planning. However, human resource professionals historically have not been viewed as players in this arena. Perhaps this is because of their previous role as personnel administrators, responsible for implementing operational decisions made by executives and other line managers. As their organizational role has expanded, however, so has their involvement in the planning process. Factors contributing to this trend including corporate satisfaction with the results obtained from using the internal organization development capabilities of the human resources (HR) department. Human resources departments also are better organized, more aggressive about the critical role they play and are building their own track record as planners. As such, various HR roles can be classified under the strategic process. These include: consultant, assessor, diagnostician, innovator/change agent, catalyst, business partner and cost manager.

In strategic planning, the mission statement defines the company, noting what makes it unique from its competitors. Flowing from this statement are objectives, usually stating where the company hopes to be at some point in the future. The HR professional, in this regard, assists management in the process of getting ideas out onto the table and in reaching a consensus. Such a consultant role advises management at all levels, and is used to develop objectives for specific business strategies. For example, a top HR executive might work with management to develop a plan that will support a specific business strategy. An organizational development specialist might advise management on how to bring about change. And, a compensation specialist might develop an incentive plan for a business unit manager.

The role that complements the consultant role is that of assessor. In an assessment role, the HR staff analyzes the internal and external factors operating in the business environment to contribute facts and figures about the work force. For instance, a company establishing plans to market itself on a global scale will use the HR staff to assess the educational background, foreign language skills and international experiences of its managers. The results of their assessment would answer questions such as how ready the company is for global activity and what it will take to get the company operating on a global scale.

To be successful in the assessment role, HR professionals must have ready access to key information. Once the organization knows its strategic objectives, it will envision what kind of people will be needed. The HR staff then must assist management in assessing or taking an inventory of the talent available within the organization.

After strategic planning, there is a need to deal with the problems and challenges of implementation. The application of problem-solving techniques depicts the HR manager in the diagnostic role. In this role, HR practitioners apply the appropriate personnel research methods to distinguish the symptoms from the causes and to develop alternative solutions. Successful HR managers should be able to apply the diagnostic process to qualitative or quantitative problems and achieve results. The expertise of the HR specialist as a diagnostician facilitates effective leadership and goal setting. Moreover, the diagnostic role provides a foundation for the innovator/change agent role.

The innovator/change agent analyzes the organization's problems to anticipate external trends and fluctuations that may directly or indirectly affect operations. The information collected by the HR manager in this role will aid in developing programs and procedures that establish a basis for the strategic planning process. The work accomplished by the innovator/change agent, in turn, creates the need for the catalyst role.

Company policies and procedures supporting strategic change affect relationships between line managers and employees. The HR manager serves as a catalyst in proposing human relations policies to be implemented by line managers. They develop the policies and procedures, then serve as a catalyst and energizer of the relationship between line managers and employees at different levels within the organization. While the culture and climate of the company is directly controlled by management, HR professionals in the catalyst role help managers maintain a desirable company environment. This collaborative endeavor places HR squarely with the management team. As a catalyst on the management team, HR staff answer questions concerning the future direction of the organization, including its values and concepts.

Companies that encourage HR managers to become a part of the management team position them as business partners. The results of a 1988 study by Globe Research Corp. indicate that personnel departments are represented on 84 percent of the management committees established by organizations. The business partner role brings HR perspectives to the general management and encourages team or participative decision making among the line and staff. Team members share responsibility for various business matters, and usually one of these matters is cost containment.

The HR manager is responsible for reducing costs when necessary and staying within budgets. However, employee costs are continuing to rise. HR activities in the cost-management role, then, directly affect wages and salaries, pension plans, sick leave and vacation time. In this role, HR professionals perform quantitative analyses to compare the actual cost with the strategically set organizational goals. The purpose is to apply cost-containment strategies to one of the most valued as well as one of the most costly business items -- human resources.
Strategic Legal Operational
Consultant Consultant Consultant
Assessor Auditor
Change Agent Facilitator Change Agent
Business Partner
Cost Manager
 Employer Advocate
 Policy Formulator

The legal process

There also are legal issues that HR managers must face. The deluge of government regulations and laws has placed a tremendous burden on HR managers. New regulations are issued in the areas of safety and health, equal employment opportunity, pension reform, environment and quality of work life. Throughout the 1970s, nearly 8,000 regulations were added by the federal government. The majority of these pertained to human resources. Thus, HR managers must stay informed concerning new laws and provisions protecting employees. The HR manager also has to know the manner in which administrative agencies and the courts enforce employment laws.

The organizational roles that the HR manager plays in regard to legal matters include: auditor/controller, consultant, provider and conciliator.

The role of auditor/controller is also known as an assessment role. This role pertains to monitoring and evaluating personnel policies and activities for effectiveness. One of the more common personnel audits involves a statistical analysis of employees by occupational level and minority category. This audit helps determine whether a company is meeting its equal employment opportunity goals. Therefore, HR auditors/controllers ensure that managers adhere to the company's policies and procedures, which in turn reduce employee-related lawsuits. As auditors/controllers, HR managers set the standards, measure progress, compare results and take corrective action. Moreover, they design, establish and monitor onsite audit systems to enforce corporate personnel policies.

A corollary to the auditor role is the consultant role. Once audits have been conducted, advice follows. In legal matters, a consultant is the one who offers advice, information or guidance on company practices as they relate to employment laws. Affirmative action and other employment and incentive programs are familiar topics of concern in the consultant role.

In the provider role, the HR professional facilitates the actual accomplishment of personnel policies and procedures and must stay current on the legislation. Issues related to equal employment opportunity (EEO) and government contracts, as well as human resource planning, are addressed under the provider role.

When the goals of employment laws and the business conflict, there is a need for conciliation. In the conciliator role, the HR professional is a peacemaker, assembling and making decisions based on their relative impact on the entire organization. In carrying out this role, personnel representatives must acknowledge the existence of various interest groups and power structures within and outside the organization.

The conciliator role also is very useful in interacting with labor unions and in negotiating contracts. There are two key principles of fairness that the conciliator can use as guidelines. The first principle emphasizes attaining a proper balance between the conflicting needs and rights of both parties. The second principle stresses decision making based on facts and issues, not personalities.

The operational aspects

In the third category of roles, the HR manager functions similar to a personnel specialist in three aspects. One aspect deals with daily operations that require expertise in six categories: staffing, development, appraisal, rewards, organization design and communication. A second aspect involves discussing employee relations practices and policies with managers of other departments. The third aspect is coordinating and motivating employees to function as a significant force in fulfilling the organization's goals. Roles important to business operations include: firefighter, innovator/change agent, employee advocate, facilitator, policy formulator and consultant.

In the firefighter role, HR professionals react to the demands and actions of others. Employee relations, such as absenteeism or turnover, are common areas where "fighting fires" occur. Moreover, those in employee relations, like those in employment, compensation and industrial relations, deal with situations and problems at the request of others. An expert firefighter stands up to the pressures, maintaining direction and purpose. Fire fighting, however, does not encourage proactive management, but rather, a reactive stance.

Opposite the reactive stance, the HR manager takes on a proactive, creative management style in the innovator/change agent role. The innovator/change agent analyzes past experiences for trends and establishes plans that may successfully lead the company into the future.

For example, if past incidents show that some department managers are not adhering to the payroll policy, the innovator/change agent creates new procedures to alleviate future difficulties.

In a companion role, the facilitator uses human relations theory to apply techniques and methods for constructive changes. By using counseling skills, the facilitator works with employees to help them adjust to major changes such as work reduction. In addition, the facilitator role is useful in implementing changes throughout the organization. In a survey conducted by Arthur Andersen & Co. concerning HR roles in the workplace, 88 percent of the respondents -- senior HR executives -- said they have become to some degree change facilitators.

Another role that the HR manager plays is the employee advocate role, also known as the corporate-conscience role. Along with responsibility for interpreting and implementing new government regulations, HR departments also must deal with a work force that is becoming more demanding with regard to job satisfaction and the quality of work life. Moreover, the increasing numbers of women and older workers in the work force are having a significant impact on the role of HR managers.

In coordinating and motivating employees to work toward meeting the organization's goals, the policy-formulator role is needed. It serves to maintain consistent policy across the board and thereby minimizes liability costs. HR managers frequently initiate internal changes as a result of the external changes in industry and government regulations. These changes must be translated into company policies. Therefore, for up-to-date human resource policies, the policy formulator role is a necessity.

The final role utilized in business operations is the consultant role. In this role, understanding the firm's environment and culture are critical to success. In the consultant role, the HR professional exercises an unbiased, objective management style to assist HR operations in functioning as part of the whole. The consultant role must consistently offer advice and take into consideration the affects of that advice on other divisions of the organization.

By playing each of the roles described, HR managers facilitate the improvement of daily operations, the communication of policies and practices and the coordination of functions in support of operational success.

The role of HR has evolved from personnel administration to management crucial to success. With the assistance of HR professionals, the strategic, legal and operational aspects of the company are coordinated for a positive outcome. Specifically, the roles of the HR manager enable each of these three aspects of the business to function in coordination with the overall company's goals. However, the roles in each of the three categories are not entirely different. Rather, there is overlap, indicating that under each of the categories there is a need for HR managers to play many roles (i.e., consultant, assessment and change agent) to ensure organizational success.

Carolyn Wiley is currently an associate professor of management at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Wiley received her doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles and is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Academy of Management. Her current research interests are HR certification, ethics in HR management and the changing HR function and roles.

For further reading

Andrews, J. R., "Where Doubts About the Personnel Role Begin," Personnel Journal, 1987.

Anthony, P. and L. A. Norton, "Link HR to Corporate Strategy." Personnel Journal, 1991.

Brandt, E., "Global HR," Personnel Journal. 1991.

Brockbank, W., D. Ulrich and A. Yeung, "HR Competencies in the 1990s." Personnel Administrator, Vol. 34, no. 2.

Byars, L. L. and L. W. Rue, Human Resource Management (2nd ed.), Homewood, IL: Richard D. Irwin Inc., 1987.

Dye, C., "10 rules Define HR's Role," Personnel Journal, 1990.

English, J. W., "The Road Ahead for the Human Resources Function." Personnel, 1980.

French, W., Human Resource Management (2nd. ed.), Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990.

Hackett, T. J., "The Real Role of Personnel Managers," Personnel Journal, 1988.

Holley, W. H. and K. M. Jennings, Personnel/Human Resource Management: Contributions and Activities (2nd ed.), Chicago: CBS College Publishing, 1987.

Magus, M.," Personnel's Increasing Management Role," Personnel Journal, 1989.

Mondy, R. W. and R. M., Human Resource Management (4th ed.), MA: Allyn & Bacon, 1990.

O., J., "Changing Role of the HR Executive," Training, 1989.

Quinn, M. A. and J. A. Segal, "How to Audit Your HR Programs," Personnel Administrator, 1989.

Thornburg, L., "HR Executives Focus on Strategic-partner Role," HR Magazine, 1991.

Ulrich, D., W. Brockbank and A. Yeung, "Beyond Relief: A Benchmark for Human Resources," Human Resources Management, 1989.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Human Resources
Author:Wiley, Carolyn
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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