3 strategies to make Human Resources departments more effective

How HR departments can implement effective practices by working with other managers

This article is based on research by Jordi Trullén

Human Resources executives who work in silos cannot implement effective HR practices. Esade Associate Professor Jordi Trullén has discovered that HR departments aspiring to be more effective need to work closely with other line managers in the company – that is, the executives who head revenue-generating departments and directly manage other employees.

"Having high-quality human resource practices in place does not ensure high performance. HR practices that are not effectively implemented may be of little help, no matter how well they address the needs of the organisation and its employees," warns Trullén in a paper published in the Human Resource Management Journal.

Line managers play a key role in helping HR departments implement effective practices

The key to ensuring high performance is for HR departments to work closely with line managers. These executives play a key role in helping HR implement effective practices by acting as interpreters of human resource practices for employees. They are able to show how HR practices fit within their work units, and in doing so they are also able to influence employees' responses to these practices.

Line managers' abilities and motivation

The study shows that line managers' ability to carry out their duties is crucial for implementing effective HR policies. "If line managers lack the necessary competences, the outcome will inevitably be poor," says Trullén.

The abilities line managers need to successfully help HR departments may vary from practice to practice. For example, these abilities may be related to knowledge about relevant legislation, trade union relationships, people management skills or procedures on how to use HR practices.

But how can HR departments motivate line managers to help them in this task? Although taking on HR duties can be rewarding for line managers – it allows them to focus on strategic issues besides business targets – the study warns that it is also a source of additional work and challenges. As a consequence, line managers may prioritise operational tasks and pay little attention to the proper implementation of HR practices.

3 strategies to improve HR effectiveness

"For line managers to be committed to helping, the Human Resources department must facilitate initiatives that stimulate line managers' desire and willingness to effectively perform their HR implementation duties," says Trullén.

The findings reveal three major strategies that HR professionals can put in place to help line managers develop their abilities to become effective HR implementers.

1. Ability-enhancing initiatives

The Human Resources department needs to provide line managers with ability-enhancing initiatives through actions such as HR training, HR support materials and HR support services like an open-door policy, as well as the use of in-the-field HR specialists.

2. Motivation-enhancing initiatives

HR specialists also need to promote initiatives that enhance a line manager's motivation to contribute. Framing HR policies in appealing ways and actively involving line managers in strategic decisions are among the initiatives that can enhance line managers' ability to implement effective HR practices.

In the development of HR policies, the researchers show that recognising line managers' implementation efforts is also an asset.

3. Opportunity-enhancing initiatives

For line managers to be effective, HR departments may also benefit from hiring consultants, seeking CEO support for practices and exploiting windows of opportunity.

"We show that hiring consultants gives legitimacy to HR implementation in the eyes of employees, thus facilitating implementation. We have also observed that another powerful means of generating a favourable implementation scenario is when HR managers take the initiative to seek the CEO's active support," says Trullén.

An additional way in which HR departments can make line managers more effective is by exploiting windows of opportunity – that is, moments when organisational or outside events create favourable conditions for the introduction of HR practices.

One last piece of advice

The findings also demonstrate that for line managers to be effective, their selection process needs to be taken very seriously. "When choosing line managers, the HR department needs to select those who have management skills and are strategically qualified to take on this joint task."

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