One of my greatest annoyances is the failure of human resource management (HRM) to adequately utilise knowledge management practices and experience in developing and nurturing the human capital of organisations. HRM seems more interested in staying bounded by payroll, employment law, and offering some training courses than actively trying to heighten the capacity and capability of the workforce to work smarter, more collaboratively, and more effectively. Indeed, HR might find some insights into a number of current HRM issues around staff engagement, the ageing workforce, and retention of corporate knowledge by utilising the knowledge management literature and knowledge management experience.
Essentially, HRM is largely reactive, control-focused, and fails to take leadership responsibility for an organisation’s intellectual and social capital. HRM is a big disappointment.
I was complaining about this lacklustre performance of HRM to a former colleague of mine last week. He commented by saying that he wasn’t surprised since the Human Resources Department is, as he put, “an agent of management control”. He went on to argue that HRM is involved only in those areas of workforce management in which centralised control can be practiced. Payroll and training courses were classic examples. HRM overseeing employment law was also important in not only controlling the workforce, but in protecting the organisation (management) from legal action. Legal aspects of employment law also had a mandatory element for ensuring regulatory compliance.
I could see the logic in his argument. In fact, much of my professional experience in a range of organisations pretty much matched the examples he gave on what an HR department actually did. If HRM was really about management control, then utilising knowledge management that encouraged innovation and collaboration, the building of social capital and emergent relationship networks, were actually at odds with the HRM goal of personnel control.
My latest Accenture newsletter had this article on “how HR can elevate its business impact to enable high performance”. The article categorises various functions of HR. The first function matches the controlling function my colleague and I discussed earlier – personnel control. The second function accorded by the Accenture article was “people development” or talent management . People development generally means training and sending management to leadership courses where (in my experience) little change to existing bad management styles actually takes place! It might also involve elements of recruitment. The third rung in Accenture’s ladder is “talent multiplication” that “takes efficiency and quality gains and spreads them upward through the organisation”. Accentures goes on to say that “HR is able to drive business results by equipping the workforce with the right knowledge, resources and freedom to deliver breakthrough advances” – funnily enough, this statement is what knowledge management is all about!
Hello, HRM, is anyone out there paying attention?