Three useful things to know about effective HR management

Clear messaging needs to be distinctive, consistent and consensual

Human resource management (HRM) describes the practices that senior managers, line managers and HR professionals can use to manage their employees so that they contribute to the strategic objectives of an organisation – and, ultimately, its competitive advantage.

These HR practices include recruitment and selection, promotion, performance appraisal, pay and/or pay-for-performance, and training. 

Given that organisations have different strategies – those at McDonald’s would not be the same as at a Michelin star restaurant – they customise their HR practices to achieve their particular aims. 

According to Karin Sanders, a professor in the school of management at UNSW Business School and director of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, effective HRM in an organisation needs to be distinctive, consistent and consensual.

She notes that these three elements have been applied to HRM during the past 15 years and are derived from an attribution theory developed by social psychologist Harold Kelley in the 1960s. Kelley’s theory has been applied in the education sectors and is used in counselling for parents in raising their children.

“I am not assuming that employees are similar to children, but they too need strong messages about what is expected from them,” Sanders says.

So how does this work?

Standing out

For HRM to be distinctive, an organisation needs to signal that HR policies are in place and that employees are aware of this. It can also be about signalling just how important employees are.

“If employees don’t see that there is HRM in their organisation, delivered from the HR department and/or from their line manager, HRM will not be effective,” Sanders says. 

“This means that it should be clear from the organisation that employees perceive that there is HRM, and that the organisation is managing its employees. 

“An example could be sending new formal policies regarding promotion or recruitment to the employees and making it clear that line managers and employees follow these new policies.” 

'Just like parents need to tell the same message to their children about good behaviour, employees need the same messages from their managers and their HR professionals'


Best intentions

HR practices have to be consistent in communicating what is expected of employees. Sanders cites the example of innovation:

“We know that to have an innovative organisation its employees need to show innovative behaviour and should be encouraged to come up with ideas on how to improve their job and environment as much as possible,” she says. 

“This means hiring employees who have a tendency to be innovative, and it should be reflected in their performance appraisal and their pay-for-performance. In this way employees understand what is expected from them.”

“It’s the same for teamwork. If this is important in an organisation, this message should be communicated to the employees in every HR practice.They need to hire team players, and promote them if them are willing to work together.” 

“But if they hire team players and then reward people who are really selfish and who don’t collaborate, employees will find it difficult to understand what is expected from them. It’s confusing.” 

Common agreement

“For HRM to be consensual, employees need to receive the same message across an organisation about the strategy and day-to-day activities,” Sanders says. 

“The whole idea is that you need to send out clear messages across different HR practices and then we call it consistency, and if the same message is communicated from different people we call it agreement, or consensus.”

“If, for instance, HR professionals tell employees that it is allowed to take leave on some days while their line manager is telling them it is not allowed, employees don’t understand it anymore.”

“Just like parents need to tell the same message to their children about good behaviour, employees need the same messages from their line and senior managers and from their HR professionals,” Sanders says. 


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