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Time for a human resources credo?

An enterprise realizes fully that its workers are not accompanied by a manufacturer's manual as an operating guide as are its capital tools. Yet, the productive contributions of workers are critical to the success of the enterprise. So, human resources professionals spend much of their time with the processes and practices designed within the enterprise to harness these productive contributions. They assist the enterprise in substituting judgments for the missing operating manual.

The HR Professional in an Enterprise

An HR staff is expected to have in place effective recruiting, testing and interviewing, and selecting processes. Training programs are expected to help the workers achieve and maintain productive levels. Benefits and compensation administration consume much of the human resources staff's time. Effective record keeping of time and performance records, as well as personnel files, fall upon the staff's shoulders. Complaint systems and personal assistance programs are administered through the staff. Legal compliance processes have risen to high levels of importance with laws such as the National Labor Relations Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Economic Opportunity Act, Civil Rights Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act, Social Security Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, workers' compensation statutes and the Family and Medical Leave Act. The personnel manual falls under the jurisdiction of human resources professionals, as do many of the communication instruments. An enterprise, in practice, constructs its own manual or operating guide for productive workers. It looks to its human resources professionals to keep this employee manual up-to-date.

With the variety and volume of necessary practices and processes in daily HR operations, these professionals can easily get overwhelmed in reacting. Further, HR professionals have traditionally been expected to weather any change in management thinking. Yet, the HR professional likely did not move into this field out of love for administrative activities. More likely, HR professionals were attracted by the prospect of making some worthwhile contributions to the enterprise by assisting in the design of programs that address people issues. Reaction to short-run situations is expected to be necessary in their work. But the professional likely hopes to contribute proactively to the longer-term issues involved in the effective employment of an enterprise's workforce.

Lately, many enterprises have fulfilled these aspirations by including an HR professional in policy discussions. This professional is called upon for insights in the areas of organizational and individual development. The professional's views are solicited in reexamining incentive systems as well as sanction systems. The professional's analyses are expected in reconstructing compensation and benefit systems, as well as time-use systems. Commensurate with this growth in responsibilities have been improvements in title and compensation of the principal HR professional.

Value of a Human Resources Credo

Whatever their own blends of reactive and proactive efforts, human resources professionals likely share one judgment. In today's world, it is far better to operate from a planned approach to human resources issues and problems than to spontaneously respond to issues and problems. Within its employee handbook, an enterprise delineates its judgments about both short-run and long-run issues through its statements of human resources policies, programs, processes, and practices.

However, one thing still seems to be missing in the typical employee handbook. This is the enterprise's statement of its human resources credo. It is not that an enterprise does not have a credo; probably all enterprises operate on the basis of some implicit human resources credo. But by failing to clarify its credo, the enterprise deprives itself of a valuable unifying influence in its policies, programs, processes and practices. The HR professional is in a critical spot to assist an enterprise in transforming its implicit credo into an explicit one.

A human resources credo is simply the set of basic judgments or beliefs about the character of people in the enterprise. A credo expresses the clear, brief, intelligible statement of beliefs about what people mean as productive resources to the enterprise. These judgments apply across the enterprise regardless of the functions, levels, divisions, titles, or responsibilities of individual employees. In its credo, the enterprise expresses its view about the quid pro quo of employment. This credo does not substitute for technical proficiency in the human resources activities; rather, a credo underlies the enterprise's purposeful behavior in the employment of its workforce. Whether it is explicit or implicit, this credo underlies the human resources policies, programs, processes and practices of the enterprise. It defines the enterprise's expectations about the productive role of human resources. It articulates what employees mean to the enterprise.

Clarifying a human resources credo fits in with current developments in management thought. "Missioning" and "visioning" are recognized as valuable tools for the success of an enterprise. To "mission" involves clarifying the idea of what the enterprise is all about at the present time. To "vision" involves clarifying the idea of where the enterprise would like to be some years down the road of a dynamic future. In both, a common good in terms of customer interests serves as a cohesive bond within the enterprise. Essential to both the performance of its mission and the movement toward its vision are the human resources of the enterprise. The productive services of the workforce are essential keys in the organizational culture and the internal environment of the enterprise as the performance of its mission carries it towards the fulfillment of its visions.

An explicit human resources credo clarifies the meaning of people to the enterprise within its mission and vision. The credo serves as a civilizing influence within the organizational structure. It underlies human resources policies, programs, processes, and practices. It specifies the enterprise's beliefs about the character of people as they perform their productive roles within the mission. With a credo, an enterprise is in a position to harmonize its human resources policies, programs, processes and practices. Of even greater importance, these can be effectively integrated with the institutional objectives, structure and culture in the successful pursuit of its mission and vision.

Types of Implicit Credos

Numerous types of implicit credos can be found within contemporary enterprises. This essay does not attempt to advance one over the other but rather addresses the values of clarifying an implicit credo. Clearly, each enterprise bears the responsibility of defining and promulgating its own credo. The HR professional can play an integral role in this process, for he or she can help the enterprise see how its choice of a particular credo can enhance the productive employment of its workforce.

As a minimum implicit credo, an enterprise might view its employees as entities with legally enforceable rights. Such an enterprise adopts the posture of meeting all of its legal obligations in the employment of its human resources. Policies and programs are designed to insure compliance. Proactive human resources professionals in such an enterprise are expected to anticipate developments in the legal arena. Processes and practices are expected to generate a continuing flow of adequate productive workers within the legal structure.

As a second type of implicit credo, within similar legal parameters, an enterprise might simply see its employees as productive units. Such an enterprise seeks productive efforts from the workers to meet its mission or role at the present time. Because such employment is a cost-driven process, the enterprise views its workers as economic resources which must be attracted through compensation and benefits. The HR professional must stay on top of labor market conditions so the enterprise can get and keep the necessary skill mix. Practices and processes are steered by this controlling financial interest. In its short-run processes and practices, human resources management focuses on economic costs; in its long-run programs and policies, human resources management focuses on economic investments. In all instances, the financial statements of the enterprise permeate the views about uses of human resources.

Many versions of an implicit Taylor-like credo also seem to exist today. Legal parameters are accepted as thresholds. Beyond these, human resources are viewed as productive agents. When they are properly placed, they can increase the quantity and/or improve the quality of outputs or services in the mission as well as continuously improve the cost and profitability picture of the enterprise. Unlike capital and material resources, however, these human resources themselves can undergo change and directed growth. Proactive policies and procedures are geared towards improving these productive inputs.

Other implicit credos might be characterized as Pavlovian or Maslovian. Within the legal parameters, an enterprise asks how it can solicit the appropriate productive responses from its human resources. The key assumption about people involves their apparent ability to adapt to their environment. Hence, the enterprise must construct a work environment which is conducive to desired productive responses. Conceivably the old Theory X-Theory Y thinking accepted these kinds of assumptions. Human resources professionals are expected to exert an appropriate proactive influence in developing policies and programs designed to achieve the preferred responses from the employees.

Lately, another type of implicit credo has found its way into management thought. Starting with legal parameters, it further assumes that workers must be productively employed to be warranted. But, it accepts that workers are special and important in themselves as well as special and important in the achievement of the common good or mission of the enterprise. Satisfied and productive worker is not an oxymoron; it is a central premise of the organizational culture of the enterprise. On a common sense basis, the personality of a worker is assumed to bring certain specific powers to the enterprise. Among these are the powers of creative and critical thinking, the powers of emotional responses, and the powers of free choice. All of these can simultaneously serve the productive interests of the enterprise and the personal interests of the worker. If the worker cannot find productive fulfillment during working hours, these powers can be turned into counter-productive activities or turned off entirely through loss of interest. In this view, human resources policies and programs take on a new dimension. Such policies and programs are expected to vitalize the internal culture of the enterprise. They are founded on premises that workers can be respected, trusted, and held responsible for their behavior. They are founded on judgments that a harmony between a worker's personal goals and an enterprise's productive goals can be attained and is preferable. Such an enabling credo is counted upon to unleash the creative talents of the workers in pursuit of the mission/vision of the enterprise.

To Clarify a Credo or Not to Clarify

For an enterprise to clarify or make explicit its current implicit human resources credo involves challenges similar to those in missioning and visioning. The HR professional is strategically located to address these challenges and to lead the enterprise in clarifying its credo. "Credoing" also needs the same type of commitments from an enterprise's executives as do missioning and visioning. Without the support and encouragement of executives, an enterprise lacks the purposefulness and commitment to carry through on this process. To the extent that other employees were involved in missioning and visioning, they belong in the credoing process. The HR professional can help others realize the likely consequence of different credos upon policies, programs, procedures, and practices.

An enterprise might prefer a path of least resistance and leave its credo implicit. In so doing, the enterprise would be accepting as given whatever motives and reasons workers might have for employment. It would accept as unimportant whatever views workers hold about the enterprise's beliefs concerning its workers. Or an enterprise might fall short in clarifying its credo because it fails to listen to the workers' expressions of their expectations about employment. Other enterprises might prefer an implicit code because an explicit credo could prove embarrassing. An enterprise might want to avoid the risk of developing a credo and not living this out in its policies, programs, procedures, and practices; such a condition could unleash the counterproductive forces of cynicism. With possibly contrary and conflicting beliefs about workers among critical decision-makers, an enterprise could simply find the process too cumbersome.

Yet, with all the efforts and attention to missions, visions, and total quality management, an enterprise leaves unaddressed a potentially powerful source of productive contributions without an explicit human resources credo. It refuses to clearly recognize its own assumptions and parameters for setting expectations about its workers. As a result, human resources policies and programs can remain out of tune with the enterprise's objectives and common goods of its missions. The enterprise fails to provide for itself a fundamental internal criterion for addressing and resolving conflicting human resources practices and processes. Finally, it commits itself to a reactive set of human resources policies, programs, processes, and practices. Without an explicit credo, the enterprise leaves blank the first page of its human resources manual.

Lawrence I. Donnelly

Former Professor of Human Resources/Economics

Xavier University, Cincinnati

Deceased, April 9, 2005
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Author:Donnelly, Lawrence I.
Publication:Business Forum
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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