Implication for HR practitioners
For each of the above types of context, the HR practitioner – and indeed any operational, general or line manager seeking to get involved in employment management – will need to thoroughly understand these different contextual conditions and variations if they are to avoid costly mistakes.
HR strategy is about choices. This is a crucial starting point. The skill of the HR practitioner is in making appropriate choices. It is worth pausing at this point to consider what might be meant by an ‘appropriate choice’.
Activity 5: Effective choices
HR specialists (especially those dealing with strategic issues) are employed to make effective rather than ineffective choices. In basic terms, taking into account what we have studied so far, what would this mean in practice?
Write your notes in the space provided below.
Effective HR choices in the light of what we have studied so far refer to choices that take into account business objectives and business strategy (e.g. high value-added versus low value-added) while also weighing the significance of various contexts. These different contexts include wide national and regional norms, the regulatory environment, different cultures, and prevailing sector practices. These might be considered as the ‘outer context’. In addition, appropriate HR strategic choices need to take into account inner contextual factors such as organisational culture, expectations of different occupational and professional groups and the expectations of staff – including other managers. This last point leads on to the further consideration that, in addition to the skill of any rational reading of the environment, accomplished HR practitioners also need micro-political and interpersonal skills in order to convince fellow managers.
It is important to note also that as environments are subject to change, a crucial requirement is likely to be a capability to ‘read’ environmental changes and to interpret their implications for changing HR practices. In other words, merely replicating conventional responses (even if done in an efficient manner) is not likely to be sufficient. We are referring to skills of anticipation and adaptability. In the wider literature this has been linked to ‘dynamic capability’. This concept was defined by Teece et al. (1997) as a ‘firm’s ability to integrate, build, and reconfigure internal and external competences to address rapidly changing environments’ (Teece, et al., 1997, p. 516).
So far in this course we have emphasised that choices are at the heart of HR strategy and that such choices need to be made based on an informed and intelligent reading of the environment.
We have also noted that the environment (context) is multifaceted, multilayered and complex. Additionally, large parts of it are likely to be turbulent and fast moving. So, these are characteristic features of the context within which the practice of HR has to operate.
Before examining more closely the different types of environment (that is, types and levels of context) you will find it useful to note that there are a number of theories about the main underlying forces in the contemporary environment. Some of these theories focus on technology, others on markets and regulation, and others on social trends.