Strategic Human Capital Management in Municipal Government: An Assessment of Implementation Practices

By Jacobson, Willow S.; Sowa, Jessica E. | Public Personnel Management, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Strategic Human Capital Management in Municipal Government: An Assessment of Implementation Practices


Jacobson, Willow S., Sowa, Jessica E., Public Personnel Management


Introduction

In the wake of the financial challenges faced by government during the 2000s, the need for effective and efficient management of public organizations' human capital has become increasingly important. Municipal governments in particular are facing reduced resources, increased workplace costs, and growing demands for services (Ammons, Smith, & Stenberg, 2012; Jimenez, 2009; Martin, Levey, & Cawley, 2012). Balancing these challenges, alongside the recognition that hiring additional staff may not be a possibility, requires that municipalities think critically about how they are using their workforce. Human resources (HR) play a critical role in the success of organizations; indeed, human capital can be the most critical component for maintaining a competitive advantage (Pfeffer, 1998). Scholars studying human resource management (HRM) in the private sector have demonstrated that these practices directly impact organizational performance (Lawler & Boudreau, 2009; Ulrich, Brockbank, Johnson, Sandholtz, & Younger, 2008). However, only recently have leaders and managers in the public sector recognized the role that HRM can play in shaping the strategic direction and performance of public organizations (Daley, 2002; Jacobson, Sowa, & Lambright, 2014; Selden, 2009).

HR represents a significant, if not the most significant, expenditure for public organizations (for service organizations, it is often as high as 70% or 80% of the total operating budget) (Pynes, 2009). Given the size of this set of expenditures, the potential roles for HR professionals to play are numerous and critical to the continued operations and performance of local governments. Local government represents a robust area in which to examine the capacity of government organizations to leverage their HR to improve performance. Municipal governments vary in terms of their level of resources devoted to HRM and their overall staffing structure (i.e., the degree to which they have professional HRM managers), raising questions on how well these organizations have implemented the necessary practices to leverage the strategic impact of HR and use their human capital toward developing a competitive advantage.

This article responds to these questions, examining the degree to which municipal governments have implemented HRM practices associated with the broader strategic approach to HRM known as strategic human capital management (SHCM). Using data from a 2012 survey of municipalities in Colorado and North Carolina, this article explores the following questions: (a) To what degree are municipal governments implementing SHCM practices? (b) Which SHCM practices are the most common? and (c) What factors influence implementation?

This article has four sections. The first section "Developing a Strategic Approach to HRM" provides a review of the research on SHCM, focusing on how this approach to HRM is a departure for many governments, the core principles and practices associated with this approach, and the current research on the HRM practices of municipal governments. The second section "Data and Method" presents the data used to examine the research questions, detailing the survey design and data analysis methods. The third section "Findings and Discussion" presents the findings, showing that HR departments are engaging a number of new practices and more are taking on roles that involve offering strategic advice on HR and broader management issues. However, the level of engagement in SHCM is not comprehensive or consistent. A number of factors related to HR departments engaging in SHCM practices are explored, including the perceived role of HR as a strategic actor, performance levels on core HR tasks, the collection and use of metrics, and HR staff capacity. The last section "Conclusion" concludes with limitations and recommendations for future research.

Developing a Strategic Approach to HRM

To understand the movement toward a more strategic approach to HRM in local government, it is important to briefly explore the point of departure, traditional or classic HRM systems. …

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