Implementing Human Resource Management Successfully: A First-Line Management Challenge**

By Nehles, Anna C.; van Riemsdijk, Maarten et al. | Management Revue, July 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Implementing Human Resource Management Successfully: A First-Line Management Challenge**


Nehles, Anna C., van Riemsdijk, Maarten, Kok, Irene, Looise, Jan Kees, Management Revue


In this paper we will address the success of Human Resource Management (HRM) implementation, concentrating not on the HR function but on first-line managers. First-line managers find implementing HR practices at the operational level difficult and show reluctance with their HR responsibilities. However, they have become increasingly responsible for the implementation of HRM and thus, their performance is critical for HRM effectiveness. Previous research pointed to five factors that could lead to HRM implementation difficulties. Four case studies in four different multinational business units are presented here to investigate the salience of these factors. Results show that first-line managers perceive four of the five factors hindering, but that the challenges faced vary per business unit.

Key words: HRM Implementation, First-line Managers, HRM Effectiveness, Strategic HRM, Operational HRM

Introduction

First-line managers (FLMs) have an unquestioned crucial role in implementing Human Resource Management (HRM), because they are responsible for executing HR practices on the operational work floor (Guest 1987; Storey 1992; Lowe 1992; Brewster/Larsen 1992; Legge 1995; Gratton/Truss 2003; Den Hartog/Boselie/Paauwe 2004). In this paper, we investigate the application of the HR practices: performance appraisals, training and development, staffing and compensation.

According to Hales (2005: 473), the expression 'first-line manager' traditionally stands for "the position representing the first level of management to whom nonmanagerial employees report". We include the performance of HR activities in our definition and define FLMs as the lowest line managers at the operational level, who manage a team of operational employees on a day-to-day basis and are responsible for performing HR activities.

Until now, researchers have primarily investigated the relationship between HR practices and HRM system (or organisational) effectiveness (Schuler/Jackson, 1984; Arthur 1992; Pfeffer 1995; Delery/Doty 1996), whereas the implementation of HRM has attracted only limited attention. However, some constraints on effective HRM implementation were identified in the devolution literature (cf. Cunningham/Hyman 1999; Brewster/Larsen 2000; Renwick 2000). Devolving HR responsibilities to the operational line level implies a change in the roles taken on by the HR function (Storey 1992; Ulrich 1997; Caldwell 2003). The interventionist HR roles of 'change agents' and 'regulators' are consequently reduced by emphasising on non-interventionist roles, such as 'advisor' and 'service provider' (Caldwell 2003; Hope Hailey/Farndale/Truss 2005). The interventionist HR roles are increasingly devolved to FLMs, who seem to be neither capable nor motivated to take on such roles (Hope Hailey/Gratton/ McGovern/Stiles/Truss 1997; Hall/Torrington 1998; Cunningham/Hyman 1999; Whittaker/Marchington 2003; Hope Hailey et al. 2005). Therefore, it seems that FLMs have failed to live up to their new roles.

In recent years, scholars have dedicated much attention and energy towards demonstrating a linkage between human resource management and firm performance. Effective HRM can help an organization achieve a competitive advantage and so improve its performance (Lado/Wilson 1994; Huselid 1995; Pfeffer 1995; Becker/ Gerhart 1996). The effectiveness of HRM depends on the quality of HR practices, as well as the success of HRM implementation (Huselid/Jackson/Schuler 1997; Wright/ McMahan/Snell/Gerhart 2001; Kane/Crawford/Grant 1999; Gratton/Truss 2003; Bowen/Ostroff 2004). However, even if HR practices were believed to be effective, the HRM system might still not be effective because FLMs do not know how to implement HR practices successfully on the work floor. Therefore, we need to study the challenges that FLMs face when implementing HRM processes, as these can influence the effectiveness of the whole HRM system.

Theory: Factors hindering first-line managers in executing HR practices

FLMs are in a position in which they are responsible for operational output, as well as for the performance of their team. …

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