An Introduction to Human Resource Management

In newspapers, magazines, and business journals, on television, at seminars, in boardrooms, and around office water coolers, the word is out: Employee loyalty to companies is no more, and the trade-off of loyalty for job security has gone the way of the slide rule, typewriter, and adding machine.   Even though downsizing, restructuring, reengineering, and job elimination dominate the current corporate business scene, industry profits are the highest they’ve been in ten years.   So how important can loyalty really be to an employee, with results like that to reinforce the opinions of so many business analysts and experts?   One certainly would have an uphill battle refuting the effectiveness of these practices, especially in the short run.


However, the really savvy companies, large and small, recognize that people have never been more important to business success than they are today.   Every organization depends upon its employees for tomorrow as surely as it does for today.   Experts share that getting and keeping the best will be a priority for every employer who expects to have any chance of competitive survival in the twenty-first century.


Most large organizations today were once small organizations with some very good personnel.   When these businesses were small, they genuinely believed in and practiced the principle of primary reliance on their employees for the success of the corporation.  But as they grew larger, they published bigger and better recruiting brochures, annual reports, and operating statements, and began to forget that their people brought them to where they were going.   Many of those growing businesses who forgot to practice the principle of primary reliance on their employees ultimately failed.


One very practical means of emphasizing and maintaining our people as a valued resource is to establish, as most organizations have, a function known as human resources management to represent the best interests of our employees and thereby of management as well.


The truly effective, proactive, and functional human resources (HR) department can be the key that unlocks the doors of apathy, unconcern, or, in some cases, outright hostility toward employees that some chief executives seem to feel toward the people who work for them. The HR generalist must first understand and believe that part of his or her role is to act as a catalyst in making changes within the “corporate” attitude toward people.  In addition, one could share that part of the role of HR is to assist leaders/managers in growing their employees while doing everything possible for them to succeed.    Pursuing this theme, we will explore what makes a good human resources department work and how human resources can be structured to operate with maximum effectiveness strategically for both the employee and the organization.




…Who and What Is It? 




A retired president of the American Management Association has been quoted as saying, “Leadership is the development of people and not the direction of things…Leadership is Human Resource (i.e. people) Administration.” 


Human Resource Management is one of the most important functions in an organization with people being the most important resource to a company.  Despite its importance, the human resource function has been misunderstood, undermanaged, or mismanaged in many corporations for the past two decades.   Today this is changing rapidly due to the influx of new laws and the demand for human rights of the workers.


Human Resource Department (HR) should be the department within all organizations which does the following:


  • Encourages, through strategic management, the utilization of human resources to achieve both the mission and goals of the organization


  • Promotes the growth, satisfaction and development of the employees


  • Provides support to ensure legal compliance in the labor-related arenas of the law within the day-to-day employee process such as hiring, feedback, counseling, termination and safety.


Certainly since World War II, the human resource role (or personnel role, as it was referred to until the past few decades) has evolved from a narrow concept of people in the work force to a much broader, dynamic concept of the employee on the job.


Developments in the Evolution of the Human Resource Department’s Role


There are many developments that have caused a shift in the role of the Human Resource role within a company:


  • Social revolution in our country
  • Economic growth
  • Growth of the union movement
  • Government pressure on management through legislation
  • A more highly educated work force which has raised the expectations of those entering the labor market
  • An increased number of professional, technical and white collar workers whose needs differ from those of blue collar workers


Because of these developments, the HR function has been challenged to deal effectively with employees whose value structures have changed and may differ from the norm of the company.   Today, the Human Resource Department can be responsible for many areas, including, but not limited to, the following:


  • Employee Planning                 
  • Recruitment and Selection
  • Orientation      
  • Performance Evaluation         
  • Discipline and Counseling for Deficient Behavior
  • Termination Issues
  • Training and Development for both the Employee and the Manager/Leader
  • Compensation 
  • Benefits
  • Workers’ Compensation
  • Safety, Environmental and Health      
  • Equal Employment and Discrimination Issues
  • Labor Issues   
  • Labor Law Interpretation and Policy Writing  
  • Career Development


The Organization of the Human Resource Department


A Human Resource Department is started when the basic HR activities become a burden to other departments in the organization due to the company’s expanded size.  The emerging HR Department is usually small and will report at the middle to upper management level.  As the company grows and more demands are made on the HR Department, HR increases in importance and complexity.  The HR Department may be divided into sub-departments with the new Human Resource Director being placed in an upper management position.


A natural question which can be asked is, Who performs HR activities in an organization?  Certainly HR Managers and HR Specialists—knowledgeable in Personnel, Training, Safety, Compensation, Benefits, etc.—perform the wide scope of activities which may be considered related to Human Resources.  However, operating or line managers and supervisors must also perform some Human Resource activities.  Since the HR Department is considered a staff or supporting department in an organization, conflict can develop between the staff/HR department and the line/operating department.  Issues which could end up in a staff-line conflict include the following:


  • Discipline procedures and/or situations
  • Termination situations
  • Promotional procedures
  • Policy or Labor Law Interpretation
  • Compensation
  • Safety and Workers’ Compensation Issues


In order to avoid the potential for staff-line conflict, it becomes vital that HR and line departments both understand the role of the Human Resource Department.


The Human Resource Department is considered to be service-oriented in nature.  The HR Department assists the line or operating manager within an organization.  In effect, note that HR management has staff authority within an organization.  They can advise but do not have direct authority within the line managers’ area of responsibility in a company as it relates to production.     


However, it is important to also note that there are certain areas in which the Human Resource Department is typically given authority.  This is usually as a direct result of their expertise within the staff-related areas mentioned above.    An HR Manager is in a better position to interpret a situation involving people problems and inform the Line Manager of the best method of handling the problem.   The HR Manager will not pull an employee away from the job because of a problem; once HR is informed of a problem, the HR Manager will assist the Line Manager so as to ensure that the proper procedures are followed and the persons involved are treated with dignity and respect.  


Lastly, the HR Department does have some functional authority.  Some of the areas that can be included are the administration of compensation programs, Equal Employment (a.k.a. discrimination issues), benefit programs, safety, workers’ compensation and training programs.


Some Objectives of the Human Resource Department


  • To assist the corporation in reaching its goals
  • To more efficiently manage the company’s human resources
  • To provide the company with well-trained and well-motivated employees
  • To increase to the fullest the employee’s job satisfaction and self-actualization
  • To develop and maintain a quality of work life which makes employment in the company a desirable personal situation
  • To create and communicate personnel and managerial policies to all concerned
  • To help maintain ethical policies and behavior
  • To provide a safe work environment
  • To provide a work environment that is as free as possible from valid labor litigation
  • To bring transactional engagements to a place of transformation while directly or indirectly supporting the objectives and metrics of the organization




WHO Are the Human Resource People in MY Organization?



First of all…ALL MANAGEMENT PERSONNEL ARE!  At least you as a manager are a part of the Human Resource Team…believe it or not!


By definition, the function of human resource management is to optimally manage the employees—the human resources available within your business.   Managing human resources can be translated as assisting, channeling, relating to, uplifting, and dealing with people in such a way as to successfully accomplish specific company goals within the umbrella of the law.


Given that definition, there is no finer rule on the proper way to relate and deal with our employees than applying the concept of “Voice and Reach” Communication.   Surely a key question to ask in any manager/employee problem situation on the job is, How would YOU want to be treated if you were in the given situation?


The HR department in an organization has the formal responsibility to develop and administer corporate policies and procedures which facilitate a proper relationship and attitude between the organization and the individual employees.  Its purpose is to increase the effectiveness and contribution of employees in reaching the organization’s goals.  The HR Department is a support to management and employees working on the line, in the office or production arena. 


The role of HR is NOT to replace management or tell them how to run their departments. The role of HR IS to assist management; ensure that they correctly carry out the company policies and procedures, blanketed by federal and state guidelines;and support them in any way possible.   This does not mean HR fills out the forms and counsels the employees for managers.     Unless HR insists, this is the role of the manager.


HR assists, supports and monitors; they do not baby-sit.


Therefore, to be a positive, progressive organization, it is critical that all management, HR and supervisors, recognize the value of the employee as a vital part of the organization.   In so doing, this provides a management challenge to everyone—one of developing your employees and one of working with your employees when problems occur on the job.


The key is recognizing that all managers are a part of the Human Resource team in an organization!  


The HR Department is there to support the line manager, yet it is the line manager who makes many day-to-day decisions that affect the way their employees perform on their jobs.   Therefore, MANAGERS are HR Managers in their own right. 


As we begin to examine various federal and California state laws and agencies in future articles, the focus will be on PEOPLE—and how a business can maximize its productivity or effectiveness through the proper treatment of its employees by following the law and not avoiding it. 

In summary, it is critical that managers recognize that there are several reasons to employ proper Human Resource Management policies and attitudes in their role as a manager/leader:


  • It is right, and we are to value each other.


  • It will lead an employee to be motivated while enjoying the organization he or she works for.


  • Proper people management will maximize long-term profitability and results for your organization.


  • Having satisfied, happy employees means higher production with fewer errors.


  • Having employees who enjoy coming to work translates into fewer litigation problems and lower costs.


Synergistic Resource Associates

About the author:


Ron Smedley is president of Synergistic Resource Associates, a full-service human resource/development consulting group that works directly with both marketplace and ministry organizations.  As a professional human resource generalist, Ron is often called upon in the area of labor law interpretation and policy/procedure writing with the focus on practically, strategically, and relationally synergizing the systems of the organization with the development of their leadership and employees.  Besides consulting full-time, Ron instructs graduate adult students at Biola University and Claremont Graduate Universities within leadership, performance management, personal and corporate conflict, human resource strategy and ethics courses.


Ron’s passion is seeing men, women and organizations grow beyond their paradigm and the “box” they so often place themselves within.  For questions or support surrounding this article or other people development areas, email him at or call 714.993.5003. His office is located in Placentia, CA.

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