How Do We Make People Like Us? Give the Job to Someone Else!

Topic(s): Uncategorized

Topic: Strategic HR
Publication: Human Resource Management
Article: The effects of devolution on HR’s strategic role and construed image.
Blogger: Benjamin Granger

For those of us working in HR, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that there are some that just plain don’t like HR (and this might be sugar coating it).  It’s not uncommon for organizational leaders and managers to complain about the activities of HR.  In fact, when organizations are in cost-cutting mode, HR often takes the first hit.  Although all of this is not always true, it’s clear that we should at least consider ways to improve HR’s reputation.

Researchers Kulik and Perry (2008) were interested in how devolving HR tasks to line managers affect perceptions of HR.  That is, instead of having HR responsible for all people-management activities (e.g., training, selection, recruitment, performance appraisal etc.), what happens to HR’s reputation when some of those responsibilities are transferred to line managers?

Kulik and Perry found that across numerous organizations, HR professionals in organizations with a devolution strategy reported having a more favorable reputation among line managers. Thus, they concluded that a devolution strategy can ultimately improve perceptions of HR.  But, it can also free up time for HR to assume a more strategic role within the organization! (e.g., Focus on organizational change strategies and not on whose birthday is in January).

Keeping in mind that Kulik and Perry only measured perceptions of HR (from the perspective of HR professionals) how confident can we be that devolution is the way to go? How would such a strategy affect overall organizational performance?  Is a devolution strategy just handing the burden to line managers (Hey, it’s your problem now buddy!)? Similarly, since line managers are generally focused on the organization’s core competency, are we taking them away from their main focus by implementing a
devolution policy?

Despite these concerns, Kulik and Perry’s research suggests that HR departments can improve their overall reputation within the organization and can even become more involved in higher level strategic planning with devolution. And regardless of whether devolution is the panacea or not, it certainly has the potential to improve perceptions of HR.

Kulik, C. T., & Perry, E. L (2008). When less is more: The effects of devolution on HR’s strategic role and construed image. Human Resource Management, 47(3), 541-558.