9 June 2010

Human resource management – What is it, really?

By Balakrishnan Muniapan

(Published in’Campus & Beyond’, a weekly column written by Swinburne academics in the Borneo Post newspaper)

Human resource management (HRM) has gained importance in today’s competitive and often unpredictable business environment. HRM is defined as a part of management that is concerned with all matters related to the management of people as employees in an organisation.

The HRM functions and activities range from human resource planning, job analysis, recruitment and selection, training and development, performance management and appraisal, compensation and benefits management, and employee or industrial relations. In a nutshell, HRM is involved in attracting, developing, rewarding and retaining people in an organisation. Since it is people who make or even break an organisation, HRM is seen as the key to success of any organization.

The roles and the functions of HRM have changed over the years. Traditionally, it used to be known as “personnel management” and was involved in such activities as recruitment, payroll, record keeping, welfare and industrial relations. It has since grown to become a strategic and integral part of senior management in most large corporations. HRM is today involved in such roles as strategic business partner, change agent, administrative expert, employee champion, succession planner, human resource and developer of an organisation’s culture.

The expectations, responsibilities and accountabilities of HRM have also shifted from managing the organisation of business to managing the business of the organization. This involves developing and sustaining the company’s competitive advantage.

HRM is one of the most challenging jobs in the corporate world. It offers an excellent career for those skilled in and passionate about working with people. The changing requirements of many jobs, workforce diversity, technology advances, skills and abilities of the workforce have all increased the complexities of HRM and the human resource profession.

Career opportunities exist in companies of all shapes and sizes. The HRM functions in large organisations are more function-specific, and normally include recruitment, training and development, compensation and benefits as well as industrial relations.

Careers can also be found within the recruitment industry. The HRM function of recruitment is no longer “shopping” as it used to be but is today more “marketing” oriented. Besides recruitment, also becoming big industries are training and development.
HRM graduates can expect to find employment as officers, executives, managers and consultants in the areas of recruitment, training, personnel and industrial relations. Employers include large-, medium- or small-sized companies, government agencies across a range of industries – manufacturing, agro-based industries, banks and financial institutions, telecommunications, transportation, hospitality industry and in the service industries.

To embark on a career in HRM, it is necessary to have a passion for people and to develop “people-skills”. Besides technical and conceptual skills, people-skills, i.e., the ability to work with others, are one of the most critical management abilities. It involves interpersonal communication, leading and motivating people, resolving conflict and negotiation, building trust, handling difficult people and also managing your own emotions as well as influencing those of others.

Academically, HRM is an interdisciplinary area with contributions from various fields such as psychology, social psychology, sociology, politics, economics, cultural anthropology, law and finance. Upon completion of a HRM program, the graduate should be able to develop knowledge, skills and the abilities that are relevant to the practice of HRM. Most importantly, the graduate should be able to appreciate the role and contribution of each employee in the development and the growth of the organisation.

Courses in HRM range from diploma to bachelor and master’s degree. Courses in certain functional HRM areas, especially human resource development and industrial relations, are also available. In many institutions of higher learning, HRM is a major in management degree programs at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The major provides students with an understanding of the theories, concepts and applications of the profession. This includes a detailed study of the theories and practices in key functional areas which encompasses organisational behaviour, human resource planning, job analysis, recruitment and selection, training and development, compensation and benefit management, performance management and industrial relations plus other areas such as change management and strategic management.

Industrial relations focus on the dynamics of employment relationship, such as the legal aspects of employment. Included in it are relevant HR legislations such as the Malaysian Employment Act 1955 (Labor Ordinance in Sarawak and Sabah), Trade Unions Act 1959, Industrial Relations Act 1967 and Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994.

The success and failure of any organisation comes from its people, and people management is HRM. To be a good manager and a leader, one needs to learn and develop the “people skills”. Understanding and applying good HRM practices is essential for anyone interested in becoming an effective business leader.

Balakrishnan Muniapan is a senior lecturer in HRM at the School of Business and Design, Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. He can be contacted at bmuniapan@swinburne.edu.my