Academic journal article International Journal of Business and Society

Hr Roles and Empowering the Line in Human Resource Activities: A Review and a Proposed Model

Academic journal article International Journal of Business and Society

Hr Roles and Empowering the Line in Human Resource Activities: A Review and a Proposed Model

Article excerpt


Within HRM, empowerment is sponsored as a means to seek greater purpose and value for HRM in the organization. HR units have been, at the same time, observed to display different role orientations. They are encouraged to adopt different roles or different mix of roles for greater influence, effect and respect (Ulrich, 1997). How do the two streams of strategic HR development relate to one another? This paper uses Ulrich's (1997) HR role typology i.e. administrative expert, employee champion, change agent, and strategic partner to conceptualize the relationship between HR roles and the extent of empowerment. Based on a review of extant literature on empowerment and the HR roles, a model is presented and propositions outlined for future empirical testing.

Keywords: HR roles; Empowering the line in HR activities.


It is suggested that the ultimate source of competitive advantage for an organization is the quality of its human resource - competent, committed, flexible and empowered (Huselid, et al., 1997; Lengnick-Hall and Lengnick Hall, 1988; Pfeffer, 1994; Schuler and Jackson, 2005; Ulrich, 1997). Empowerment is an essential element of organizational change and transformation as the global business environment becomes ever more competitive. The global organizations are empowering the national subsidiaries, the corporate headquarters are empowering the branches, and staff functions are empowering the line officers to achieve greater organizational effectiveness to overcome intensifying competition from highly agile competitors. The practical reasons for empowering are many and powerfully convincing. The theory of empowerment, if it can be called as such, is logical and has tremendous experiential validity. The anecdotal evidence of the efficacy of empowerment has convinced and converted many practitioners to the idea although actual level of empowerment is lagging far behind.

Within the broad area of empowerment, there is dearth of studies looking at empowerment within the HR function in organizations. Although there are numerous theoretical and empirical articles on empowerment, the academic and practitioner literature on empowering line managers in HR activities is almost non-existent. Notably absent from the literature is a contingency view of empowerment i.e. when is empowerment most appropriate. In other words, are there internal and external forces that are conducive to empowering of the line managers? Empowerment theorists gravitate towards the now untenable universalistic theory of empowerment (see for example the works of Pfeffer, 1994; Ulrich, 1997; Wilkinson, 1998). As is mostly the case in management, a contingency framework (Delery and Doty, 1996; Hazman, 1999; Wright and McMahan, 1992) offers better understanding of the "theory" of empowerment. As such, it is necessary to address the question of when is it right or necessary to empower the line managers in HR activities by looking into the theoretical issue of empowerment in the literature to form a basis for empowering the line in HR activities. Of particular interest here are the different roles HR managers are both observed and also suggested to adopt and its relationship to the general prescription of empowerment.


Extensive literature on the empowerment concluded that an empowered workforce will lead to achieving a competitive advantage (Quinn and Spreitzer, 1997). Over a decade ago, "the practice of empowering subordinates is a principal component of managerial and organizational effectiveness" (Conger and Kanungo, 1988: 471). However, there is no single nor simple definition of empowerment. The term "empowerment" itself may have different connotations for different users.

The concept of empowerment appears to focus on the dynamic process of redistribution of decision-making power between management and employees (Bowen and Lawler, 1995; Greasley, et al., 2005; Nielsen and Pedersen, 2003). …

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