Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Strategic Human Resources Management in Government: Unresolved Issues

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Strategic Human Resources Management in Government: Unresolved Issues

Article excerpt

The concept of strategic human resources management (SHRM) holds considerable promise for improving government performance. However, to realize this promise, it is necessary to invest the concept with clear meaning. This article explores unresolved issues regarding the meaning of SHRM and its relevance to public organizations. Arguing that the value of the concept is undermined by tying it too closely to strategic planning, the article offers an expanded, two-pronged understanding of SHRM. The personnel office, in addition to helping the agency implement strategic initiatives, also carries out an integrated personnel program guided by a coherent theory about what it should be doing and why.

The concept of strategic human resources management (SHRM) is well established in business literature.[1] It refers to ongoing efforts to align an organization's personnel policies and practices with its business strategy. The recent interest in SHRM reflects a growing awareness that human resources are the key to success in both public and private organizations. Yet, despite this growing awareness, the relevance of SHRM to public organizations is far from clear. Government agencies rarely operate in competitive markets and thus do not develop business strategies in the same sense that private organizations do. And because they function within larger systems of authority, they do not enjoy the same degree of autonomy that private organizations do to alter their personnel policies or provide performance-based incentives to employees. Given these inherent differences, SHRM cannot be transferred successfully from the private to the public sector without tailoring its design and implementation to the unique characteristics of public organizations.

At present there remain many unresolved issues about what modifications are required and the probabilities of their success. If SHRM is to succeed in fundamentally altering the role of the personnel department and the practice of public personnel management, greater clarity is required regarding the concept of SHRM and how it is to be implemented in public organizations. Accordingly, this article examines unresolved issues regarding the relevance of SHRM for government agencies and closes with an argument for an expanded understanding of what it means to manage human resources strategically.

Procedural and Structural Prerequisites: Unresolved Issues

Figure 1 presents a conceptual framework representative of the kind found in the business literature. It depicts SHRM as a process that merges strategic planning and human resource management. Specifically, it views SHRM as a continuous process of determining mission-related objectives and aligning personnel policies and practices with those objectives. The personnel department plays a strategic role to the extent that its policies and practices support accomplishment of the organization's objectives. Key components include analyzing the agency's internal and external environments, identifying the agency's strategic objectives, developing HR objectives and strategies consistent with the agency's goals (vertical integration), and aligning HR policies and practices with each other (horizontal integration). For this conceptual understanding of SHRM to be implemented successfully, certain structural and procedural requirements must be satisfied. These core requirements include the following:

1. An established strategic planning process.

2. Involvement of the HR director in the strategic planning process and full consideration of the personnel-related implications of the strategic objectives or initiatives under discussion.

3. A clear statement, written or unwritten, of each agency's mission and the strategic objectives to be achieved in pursuit of mission.

4. The vertical alignment of personnel policies and practices with an agency's mission and strategic objectives, and the horizontal integration of personnel policies and practices with each other. …

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