From Personnel Management to HRM: Key Issues and Challenges

Abstract

This paper examines why and how government department personnel functions should reorient their activities to take a more strategic and developmental approach to human resource management (HRM). Currently, human resource (HR) policies are, in the main, centrally determined and developed. There is a commitment to decentralise and devolve HR responsibilities. Allied with this more strategic focus is the concept of devolution of responsibility for day-today human resource matters to line managers. The need for informed research in relation to the professionalisation of HRM and the devolution of HR responsibilities has been given particular emphasis by the recent publication of the fifth national social partnership agreement, the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (2000). This programme identifies the need for a more strategic approach to HRM issues in the public sector, with greater involvement by line managers in the management of their staff. A detailed review of the relevant HRM literature highlights a range of issues and challenges associated with the process of developing a strategic approach to HRM: · HR strategies should be devised during the process of business strategy formulation. · The devolution of appropriate HRM matters to line managers can free up resources in the personnel section to develop strategic policies. Such a development requires that line managers be equipped with the appropriate skills, knowledge and attitudes to effectively manage and develop staff. · The selection and development of personnel staff with appropriate expertise is crucial in ensuring that the personnel section is equipped to take on its strategic role. · Overall, the change process must be planned for and carefully managed. It will require a change to the organisation's existing culture. Lessons are also drawn in the paper from international experience. Developments from a number of OECD countries that have embarked on the professionalisation of HRM are explored. These suggest that the key challenge lies in granting departments adequate freedom to manage financial and human resources. This facilitates the development of best practice HRM, while at the same time retaining appropriate control of the essentials at the centre, in relation to overall running costs. The paper also outlines findings from in-depth interviews conducted with a range of key informants at central, line department and trade union level. Overall, the findings indicate a general view that limited progress has been made to date in reforming HRM in the Irish civil service. At the same time, there is a considerable …

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