The New Human Resource Department: A Cross-Functional Unit

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1 FORUM The New Human Resource Department: A Cross-Functional Unit Joan F. Marques As new trends in business operations take hold, the need for a redefined human resource department, including what it should look like and what functions it should perform, seems imminent. HR departments are moving toward a stronger involvement in strategic decision-making and an attunement between a worker s and an organization s needs and the worker s work-life balance. The result of this new HRD-focused perception will be the hiring of new workers with a consideration of current and future needs and a streamlining of processes and applicable skills. As we move steadily moving toward new trends in almost every facet of business operations, particularly in human resource development (HRD), influenced by the stimuli received from increased global involvement, the need for a redefinition of what the human resource department should look like and what functions it should perform seems to become more urgent. Hilborn (2004) claims that fifty percent of large US companies are in the middle of an HR transformation, another 25 percent recently completed one and 8 percent plan to initiate a transformation effort in the near future (p. 36). HR departments that emerged from the early personnel departments are increasingly moving toward more and deeper involvement in strategic decision-making processes and improved HRD, which translates into enhanced attunement between workers and organizations needs and workers work-life balance. The future HR department may very well resemble the trend of successful operations best described as intertwined. Such a department will no longer exist as a mere division with a few HR employees but rather will be a cross-functional unit consisting of one HR specialist, managers from all main departments of the organization as the directing core, and a few HR coworkers HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT QUARTERLY, vol. 17, no. 1, Spring 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com) DOI: /hrdq

2 118 Marques to execute the administrative part of the job. The result of such a new perception of the HR department will be that new workers will be hired with immediate foci on current and future needs and a consideration for greater streamlining of processes and applicable skills, which is the ultimate application of HRD. Current HR Departments For too long HR departments have functioned to fulfill a formal task in organizations. Although gradually progressing from personnel departments to the more distinctive human resources, the real position of this department has thus far not been used to the degree it could be. Human resource departments usually consist of a team of workers focused on facilitating paperwork, administering recruitment advertisements, and maintaining files of performance histories of current workers, not on the implementation of human resource development as a means of enhancing the overall quality of life and quality of organizational output. Yet as almost all organizations are undergoing drastic redefinition because of increased global competition businesses are revamping HR technologies, processes, and organizational models in an effort to strengthen the HR function, better link it to the broader business, and yield the greatest results from steep investments in human capital (Hilborn, 2004, p. 36). Contemporary workers increasingly express the need for a more rewarding work environment, which in HR terms starts with appropriate hiring practices. These practices should be in harmony with both the company s current and future needs and workers perceptions of a satisfying work environment and gratifying tasks. Stanley (2005) wrote, The rugged nature of our ever-changing global economy necessitates continuous organizational transformations in decisionmaking, out-sourcing, employment empowerment, information technology, and the flattening of organizations (p. 6). Stanley emphasizes the importance of trust in the new workplace, asserting, Trust is a relationship. Supervisors striving to maximize their human resources and boost productive outcomes realize the importance of building and maintaining a trusting relationship with employees. Successful supervisors know organizational advancements will depend upon trust, a management essential (p. 6). The model presented in this article was developed with this idea in mind: the realization that trust is a management essential, particularly focused on HRD practices, and can be fully used only by involving departmental and strategic management more intensively in the HR activities of the organization. Reeves (2005) stresses the transformed needs of workers who are increasingly in search of job autonomy (p. 25), which he explains as a greater say over how, where, and when their job is done, and, perhaps above all, for expanded opportunities for learning (p. 25). He also notes that the role of work in human development needs to be urgently re-evaluated.... For most

3 The New Human Resource Department 119 people, work is not just a way to pay the bills but an opportunity to associate with others in a joint endeavor, to define ourselves, and develop new skills (p. 25). Reeves provides yet another way of describing a better perspective on what work means for people and how this meaning can be implemented in a developmentally responsible way such that it benefits workers and the organization. HR Focus, a practitioner-based journal on HR-related topics, reported that the four top priorities for HR in 2005 were: Talent management. This pertains to the basics that are currently expected from HR: hiring, training, retention, and all activities that relate to developing and growing [a] workforce (The top HR issues, p. 1). According to HR Focus, talent management, if executed well, can lead to greater attention and recognition for HR s achievements, because this department will be seen for what it should have been a long time ago: the executive in charge of what is undoubtedly your organization s most valuable asset its people (p. 1). Technology as enabler. Technology is viewed as a vehicle for HR to communicate with various constituents and enhance its effectiveness and efficiency in the implementation of services to workers. Benefits. This pertains to the problems related to the ever-increasing costs of fringe benefits and how to communicate these problems effectively to the workforce. According to HR Focus, HR representatives must search out more options for cost savings, [and] be involved in vendor negotiations (p. 2). Progress. The focus here is on the evolution that HR has gone through in the past decades. In addition, suggestions are offered for more radical progress for HR in the future. Edwards and Kuruvilla (2005) list three important conceptual weaknesses [that] have restricted research progress in the field (p. 1): The inadequate conceptualization of national effects, which results in culture being used as an unsatisfactory catch-all for national differences (p. 1). An obvious interpretation is that culture is blamed for many adversities in an organization. The lack of attention to the influence of internal organizational politics (p. 1). There are still too many globally operating organizations that blunder when it comes to preventing the negative effects of internal organizational politics. The absence of focus on the internal division of labor within MNCs [multinational corporations] (p. 1). This could possibly be prevented if these mammoth organizations implemented the basics of good management and utilization of internal skills and competencies.

4 120 Marques To make these points a reality, theorists have insisted that HR should be more involved in the strategic developments of an organization in order to align hiring practices to current as well as future needs of the organization and to enhance the organization s successful implementation of responsible HRD. This will prevent potential future performance problems with personnel hired with only current needs in mind, and it will be cost-effective for the organization and enhance loyalty. The New HR: A Cross-Functional Unit Although multiple options have been offered as the preferable way to implement effective HRD and increasingly tune the HR department to strategic management needs, there has been little reflection on the implementation of innovative global business trends such as entwinement. In many organizations, HR functional decision-making falls to the chief HR executive alone (Hilborn, 2004, p. 36). Entwinement means increased interdependency among constituents at all levels and thus the creation of a better-performing multinational workforce. The concept of HR should be reconsidered as much more than just a department. The new HR within the globally intertwined organization should have a focus on cross-functional HRD, consisting of crossdepartmental representatives: managers who communicate on a regular basis to maintain the highest possible reciprocal understanding of the organization s human resource needs and decide on ways that various departments and processes are connected to each other. When it is time for recruitment and hiring, there can then be a much more reality- and needs-based approach to the development of job descriptions and requirements, with consideration of future developments and needs and the ways in which the employee might be developed while at the same time obtaining the highest level of job satisfaction. Implementing a cross-functional HRD function will directly improve issues that various authors have identified: Trust. Stressed as essential by Stanley (2005), trust will be greatly enhanced. Trusting relationships stimulate innovative thinking and lead to organizational improvements (p. 6). Workers who know that their needs will be communicated with the appropriate authorities build greater trust relationships with supervisors, becoming more satisfied with their job and consequentially performing better. Freedom. The need Reeves (2005) expressed for workers to have more autonomy and opportunities at work will be directly addressed due to the immediate communication between workers managers, the HR director, and other HR-related links as presented in the model. Through this steady communication, workers perceptions, training needs, and eligibility for flexible job duties can be regularly updated and optimally applied.

5 The New Human Resource Department 121 Talent management. Since this was one of the main reported foci for HR departments in 2005, it can be concluded that the model will facilitate performance within the organization. If the department heads have regular contact with the HR representative as well as each other, all aspects in defining the right worker for the right position can be considered. Technology as enabler. Aside from using technology as a means toward faster communication and facilitation of workers as indicated, earlier technology can be used in a more productive and coherent way throughout the organization when managers and the HR director remain in regular deliberation. This will prevent misuse of and hoarding of technologies, thus disrupting the effectiveness of processes and procedures within the organization. Benefits. Not only will the process of communicating to employees changes in benefits become considerably easier through direct and regular communication lines with department heads, there could be a better awareness of changed or new desires by workers and alternative options to which HR could then respond more quickly. Progress. The HR model presented here provides direction for potential progress that an organization could experience by implementing a new approach to HR in the new global society. Better apprehension of national effects, which Edwards and Kuruvilla (2005) reported as one of the main flaws in international HR management, could also be achieved by implementing this model. With the implementation of HR as an umbrella unit encompassing all organizational departments at the local level and with a steady communication line to top management, whether located locally or abroad, problems and concerns may no longer be attributable to cultural misinterpretations. The direct and frequent communication lines are geared toward improving understanding between crucial and often diverse organizational sections rapidly and effectively. The influence of internal organizational politics, which Edwards and Kuruvilla (2005) indicated as another neglected HR topic, may also be addressed through the decision-making processes inherent in the model presented here, particularly when they pertain to the human assets of the company. A reasonable conclusion is that open communications between various departments and HR, as well as strategic management, will reduce negative effects of internal politics and increase positive interconnectedness throughout the organization. A clear and thorough focus on the internal division of labor within globally operating organizations, another point of concern that Edwards and Kuruvilla (2005) conveyed, might be established and sustained through the implementation of the model. With the HR director functioning as the core of the organization s human operations, labor issues will be addressed on a continual basis, with timely involvement by all managerial segments.

6 122 Marques Having a cross-departmentally constructed HR unit does not exclude the need for assistants to perform other duties They will always be required to fulfill the procedural implementations of the job. However, a cross-functional unit will deepen the effectiveness of the organization s most valuable resources, increase the organization s success in implementing responsible HRD, and enhance the company s chances to excel in its industry and perhaps far beyond it. Figure 1 projects the new HR unit in the new organization. It depicts the HR department as the center of the organization s activities: The HR director has a direct and solid communication line with the various department heads and with strategic management. The department heads have solid communication with strategic management. The HR director supervises a number of HR assistants, who execute the paper and documentation requirements of the job. The HR director is the intermediary between his or her employees and top management. A similar situation pertains to each department head (the division managers in the figure): each of these managers forms a liaison between his or her employees and top management. Figure 1.The New HR: A Cross-Functional Unit in the New Organization Strategic Management HR Director HR Assistant HR Assistant HR Assistant

7 The New Human Resource Department 123 Conclusion HR as a cross-functional unit in an organization does not necessarily require a tremendous physical reorganization, yet it has the opportunity to initiate dramatic progress in organizational operations, a tremendous enhancement in HRD performance, and an immediate turnaround in the levels of job satisfaction among workers. As anyone who has been part of an organizational change effort, the business organizations that will implement this operational model first will likely run into detractors and roadblocks. Yet those who implement such an adventurous undertaking will obtain a competitive as well as a comparative advantage. By ensuring the most important assets of any organization, that of an optimal level of recognition, trust, need response, and attunement between skills, desires, and organizational requirements, these organizations will have discovered the key to lasting and increasing excellence. References Edwards, T., & Kuruvilla, S. (2005). International HRM: National business systems, organizational politics and the international division of labour in MNCs. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 16 (1), 1. Hilborn, D. (2004). HR governance: Engaging key stakeholders for superior HR performance. Workspan, 47 (9), Reeves, R. (2005, February). Jobs to cramp our style. Management Today, 25. Stanley, T. L. (2005). Trust: A management essential. Super Vision, 66 (2), 6 8. The top HR issues for (2005). HR Focus, 82 (1), 1. Joan F. Marques is affiliated with the School of Business and Management and the Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services at Woodbury University in Burbank, California.

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