An investigation of the contextual factors enabling or constraining the adoption of a more strategic role for HR in complex organisations

Delany, Kevin (2016) An investigation of the contextual factors enabling or constraining the adoption of a more strategic role for HR in complex organisations. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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There is a substantial body of opinion that Human Resource (HR) functions have failed to provide organisations with the strategic guidance and support that will make the best use of the human capital asset. This perspective is influenced in part by research and practice guidance that identifies the potential for enhanced organisational performance following from the adoption of high performance work systems and best-practice HR organisation, policy, and practice.
Many HR functions have adopted new organisational models and ways of working, but there is a good deal of research and practice evidence suggesting that HR often continues to focus on operational and transactional matters rather than taking the more strategic role that would impact on and make a significant contribution to organisational performance and success.
The research proposition is that much of the available academic theory and best practice guidance for HR is one-dimensional and overly static, and fails to take sufficient account of the complex and fast-moving context in which many HR functions and HR professionals are operating. This has led to an expectation and performance gap between the models promoted by academic theory and guidance and the reality that HR professionals face in their own organisations in terms of strategic opportunities that may be open to them and the barriers that may prevent them from operating at that strategic level.
In order to explore and address this gap, the current research draws on: organisational theory, in particular resource-based theory, dynamic capabilities theory, and social exchange theory; academic models of strategic human resource management; and broader research and practice guidance on the strategic role for HR. There are three research studies, an interview study and a Q study in a case study organisation (CaseOrg), and a further Q study for HR professionals in a sample of complex, multibusiness, organisations. The study findings confirm a broad range of contextual factors which are seen as supporting or constraining HR in operating at a strategic level.
The findings question the ‘one-best-way’ and normative nature of much of the existing research and practice guidance, and have identified four inter-related themes that define the contextual opportunity for HR to operate in a strategic role. The research presents a four-box building blocks model reflecting the key themes identified in the research, in particular the fact that the experience for HR professionals and other relevant actors will be different in each business, and business unit, depending on the organisational reality in each of those building blocks and the relationships between the blocks. Much of the ‘normative’ and ‘generalisable’ guidance emerging from the existing research literature would be challenged or modified by the experience of interviewees and Q study sorts.
The proposed four-box model (Figure 8.3) is situational, respecting the different realities experienced in different businesses and business units, and describing both the contextual conditions that need to be in place for HR to play a strategic role, and the key relationships between items and themes in each of the boxes in the model (Table 8.4). This leads to recognition of the need for a holistic approach to the promotion of the more strategic role for HR rather than the topic-specific measures suggested in much of the existing research and practice guidance.
The four-box model offers the potential to be developed into a diagnostic tool, representing a practice contribution from the research. The diagnostic tool would assist organisations and HR professionals to identify and plan the steps they may need to take to establish HR in a more strategic role.
There is a contribution to research methods arising from the adoption of Q methodology for two of the research studies, in order to capture and reflect the real-life experience of key HR actors. This appears to be the first time that Q methodology has been used for a study of SHRM and the role of HR, and the experience was welcomed and appreciated by research participants.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Social Sciences > Norwich Business School
Depositing User: Users 4971 not found.
Date Deposited: 22 Mar 2017 11:26
Last Modified: 22 Mar 2017 11:26


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