Defining HRM for Sri Lanka

Monday, 21 April 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

There is a growing awareness and enthusiasm on people management in Sri Lankan organisations. This is evident by the increasing number of activities related to Human Resource Management (HRM) on many fronts taking place in the island. Yet, we have a long way to go in unleashing the true potential of our productive workforce. One key element in such an endeavour is to have clarity of what really HRM is all about. I am happy to share the details of a process that led to develop what I call a Sri Lankan definition of HRM.   The setting We can see hundreds of different ways of describing HRM. Some are over-simplistic whilst some others are highly scholastic. What could be the best way to approach HRM in defining it related to local needs? A think tank from the Institute of Personnel Management (IPM) took the initiative of developing a suitable definition of HRM for Sri Lanka. Our approach was specific and straightforward. We looked at what is available in terms of HRM definitions, identified key salient points in those and listed them and brainstormed their relevance to Sri Lanka. That was one aspect. On the other hand, we also brainstormed how to accommodate the socio-cultural and religio-political dimensions influencing management practices in Sri Lanka. Our aim was to find the best fit.     Definitions galore A simple Google search would yield more than 10 pages of results describing HRM in a multitude of ways. We picked a few that sounded comprehensive and detailed. The sought-after yet often incomplete Wikipedia tells the following, about HRM: Human Resource Management (HRM or simply HR) is the management process of an organisation’s workforce, or human resources. It is responsible for the attraction, selection, training, assessment, and rewarding of employees, while also overseeing organisational leadership and culture and ensuring compliance with employment and labour laws. In circumstances where employees desire and are legally authorised to hold a collective bargaining agreement, HR will also serve as the company’s primary liaison with the employees’ representatives (usually a trades union). According to, HRM is defined as follows: HRM is the organisational function that deals with issues related to people such as compensation, hiring, performance management, organisation development, safety, wellness, benefits, employee motivation, communication, administration, and training. HRM is also a strategic and comprehensive approach to managing people and the workplace culture and environment. Effective HRM enables employees to contribute effectively and productively to the overall company direction and the accomplishment of the organisation’s goals and objectives.     Textbook descriptions Among the text books on HRM, Garry Dessler (2003) offers, perhaps, the simplest definition of HRM. The policies and practices involved in carrying out the “people” or human resource aspect of a management position. We saw an issue here. It does not adequately differentiate HRM as a function as opposed to people management which is a vital aspect of every manager. As Beer and others (1984) saw it, “Human resource management involves all management decisions and action that affect the nature of the relationship between the organisation and its employees – its human resources.” Guest (1987) states that, HRM comprises a set of policies designed to maximise organisational integration, employee commitment, flexibility and quality of work. Legge (1989) moves further in elaborating that human resource policies should be integrated with strategic business planning and used to reinforce an appropriate (or change an inappropriate) organisational culture, that human resources are valuable and a source of competitive advantage, that they may be tapped most effectively by mutually consistent policies that promote commitment and which, as a consequence, foster a willingness in employees to act flexibly in the interests of the ‘adaptive organisation’s’ pursuit of excellence. Storey (1995) looks at HRM in a slightly different manner. Human resource management is a distinctive approach to employment management which seeks to achieve competitive advantage through the strategic deployment of a highly committed and capable workforce, using an integrated array of cultural, structural and personnel techniques. Boxall and others (2007) view HRM as “the management of work and people towards desired ends”. Grimshaw and Rubery (2007) tell us that HRM is concerned with how organisations manage their workforce.     Further additions Ulrich and others (2009) spoke of a true HR transformation. According to them HR transformation is an integrated, aligned, and innovative and business focused approach to redefining how HR work is done within an organisation so that it helps the organisation deliver on promises made to customers, investors, and other stakeholders. This work begins by being very clear about the rationale for doing HR transformation. The rationale for HR transformation is too often from inside the company (say, when a senior leader complains about HR practices, or people), whereas the rationale should actually come from outside the company. Dowling and others (2007) refer to HRM as those activities undertaken by an organisation to effectively utilise its human resources. These activities would include at least the following: human resource planning, staffing (recruitment, selection, placement), performance management, training and development, compensation (remuneration) and benefits and industrial relations. Armstrong (2012) summarises HRM as a strategic, integrated and coherent approach to the employment, development and wellbeing of the people working in organisations. From a sub-continental perspective, Randhawa (2007) states human resources are the people who work in an organisation. HRM refers to the policies and practices involved in carrying out the ‘people’ or human resource aspects of a management position, including recruitment, screening, training, rewarding and appraising. Among very few attempts to define HRM locally, Prof. Henerath Opatha’s contribution, in his text book on HRM, is indeed commendable. According to him, HRM is the efficient and effective utilisation of human resources to achieve goals of an organisation.     The way we saw Based on the brainstorming we had as a team and feedback obtained from professionals and professors, the following definition emerged. A strategic and integrated approach in acquisition, development and engagement of talent, using relevant tools, with proper policies, practices and processes in creating a conducive climate towards achieving organisational excellence and societal well-being (IPM, 2014). What we meant by strategic is working towards achieving overall goals and specific objectives of the organisation. It is essentially aligning with the broad organisational priorities. It highlights the strategic significance of HRM and the holistic role it should play. Talent refers to three Cs going in line with Ulrich (2009), namely, competence, commitment and contribution. He in fact puts it as an equation. Talent = Competence X Commitment X Contribution What we do with talent occupy a significant segment of our definition. Acquisition refers to hiring (recruitment, selection and placement). Engagement means a range of aspects such as involvement, attachment and extra effort. There is a reference to the term, relevant tools in our definition. What we meant was to incorporate testing methods, assessment techniques etc. which should be linked to the organisational requirements. We consciously included the term conducive climate in our HRM definition. This means a supportive environment within organisation. HR has a critical role to play in creating such a climate. Climate refers to those aspects of the environment that are consciously perceived by organisational members. Perception is essentially an understanding based on the information obtained by senses such as eyes and ears. Hence, climate is something people see, hear and feel. That is why we see a difference when we enter a hospital, police station or a restaurant. In summary, climate is what we see and feel when we enter an organisation, whereas, culture is something much deeper as bedrock. The end result of all HR endeavours, the way we see, are twin aspects, organisational excellence and societal wellbeing. What we mean by organisational excellence is its overall performance with continuous improvement. It, obviously, include financial results, customer satisfaction, process efficiency and people development, the four perspectives of a typical balanced scorecard. HR professionals cannot function in isolation ignoring the social realities. This is more relevant to a developing country like ours, where issues such as poverty, unemployment and ethnic tensions cannot be ignored. That’s why we included societal wellbeing as a key outcome of HRM. It highlights the need to support people outside the organisation and protecting the environment as well.     Way forward Defining HRM clearly is one step towards delivering sustained results. Now we need to begin with “a strategic and integrated approach in acquisition, development and engagement of talent, using relevant tools, with proper policies, practices and processes in creating a conducive climate towards achieving organisational excellence and societal wellbeing”. (Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri works at the Postgraduate Institute of Management. He can be reached on or  

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