The cornerstones of Human Resource Management

Friday, 14 January 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Rohan Pandithakorralage

The concept of cornerstone is applied today as much as it was applied in the biblical era. It is also widely used in the field of management. This article is about the four cornerstones of Human Resource Management (HRM) that are essential for the sustainability of the organisation.

Cornerstone 1: Establishment of roles

It is no surprise that everyone attached to an organisation always want to have a clear understanding of where they fit in; who their superiors are; what duties and roles they have. When all these requirements are met an employee will have a strong sense of security.

On the other hand for example, if anyone can come and give orders and directions or the like, that sense of security will waver. A manager should never compromise on the stability and security of subordinates. Every endeavour should be made to ensure that the instructions and directions are normally given by one designated superior.

The same is also true for the manager as well. The manager should be able to perceive what the scope of his own responsibilities and duties are within the context of the organisation. However, there are exceptions to this rule.

There are times in the organisation when this principle cannot be applied, especially when work requires immediate action and the leader is not present (when the leader is on long leave) or when a flexible information route (when the incumbent has to be ignored due to disciplinary action) is desired.

Even in these exceptional situations the subordinates having received the instructions (without it coming through the superior) should report the situation to the superior as soon as possible.

Cornerstone 2: Formation of role awareness


People do not want to be told what to do generally. In organisations people will try to manage work themselves. To this effect the manager must delegate authority to subordinates and allow them to display independence and creativity

In an organisation anyone will want to feel the existence or presence of their superior as an individual in the workplace. Generally subordinates want to have contact (a few words at least) from their boss which brings out the best of subordinates. This important contact should make them feel appreciated, evaluated, guided, encouraged and raise their expectations.

Consequently, in order for a manager to manage in a meaningful manner he/she should be able to provide the ‘five wants’; appreciation, evaluation, guidance, encouragement and expectations, to all the subordinates who report directly to him or her. This brings us to the concept of span or limits of control. There is a limit to the number of subordinates who are directly controlled by one manager/superior. Let’s look at few examples from the garment industry.

A production line supervisor could provide the ‘five wants’ to over twenty employees as the supervisor him or herself does not have that many tasks to accomplish in a day compared to a production manager.

The production manager has to do considerable amount of work himself/herself and probably with four to five production executives.

It is crucial to note here that factors such as the complexity of the tasks and the capability of the manager, the layout of the organisations, expanse in terms of space, time and the extent of standardisation have a bearing on the limits of control.  The challenge is for the manager to have the correct number of subordinates. If the number of subordinates are too many it becomes too difficult to respond to the volition of individual subordinates. If the numbers of subordinates are too few, then there can be too much interference with the sense of mission and motivation of individual subordinates.

Cornerstone 3: Integration of role awareness

How often do we hear about employees being de-motivated because of the draw backs in the assignment of job duties? A manager must pay careful attention when assigning work to subordinates. Similar or “homogenous” types of tasks should be brought together and assigned from the perspective of either efficiency or specialisation of work.

Said in another way, work should be allocated taking into consideration the categorisation of work (examples): By purpose, product, equipment or facilities, materials or resources, location or workplace, character of work or task (simple/complicated), etc.

When assigning work the manager should do away with the omission or duplication of the responsibilities and scope of duties. Omission or duplication of duties is a source of trouble for the management. There isn’t an alternative to making the expectations regarding the duties “concrete and clear”.

It is not at all advisable to have a “let’s have anyone do this job” type of approach as it is not conducive to developing a clear role awareness. Employees should feel that they are competent people with respect to work.

Depending on how the employee receives or accepts their role, they will feel that they are the “master” of their work. Therefore the manager must convey his role expectations as a manager in a precise manner to the subordinates.

Cornerstones 4: Independence and the display of creativity

An excellent manager would recognise that people, whoever they may be, whether educated or not, will want to work according to their own way of thinking. Said in other words, people wish to live by their own way of doing things.

People do not want to be told what to do generally. In organisations people will try to manage work themselves. To this effect the manager must delegate authority to subordinates and allow them to display independence and creativity.

When assigning work to subordinates, managers should clearly indicate what the “expected results” of a given job are and leave the manner in which a job gets done up to the subordinate. This portion of a job left to the individual subordinate to perform is delegation of authority. When a manager holds the subordinate responsible for the results he/she is getting the subordinate to be accountable.

Finally, it is important for a manager to note that the foundation for delegating authority lies in the manager having absolute trust in the subordinate.

(The writer is Past President and Member of the Association of Human Resource Professionals.)