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The Changing Roles of Personnel Managers: Old Ambiguities, New Uncertainties

  • Raymond Caldwell
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    There have been notable attempts to capture the changing nature of personnel roles in response to major transformations in the workplace and the associated rise of 'HRM'. A decade ago Storey (1992) explored the emerging impact of workplace change on personnel practice in the UK and proposed a new fourfold typology of personnel roles: 'advisors', 'handmaidens', 'regulators' and 'changemakers'. Have these four roles changed now that HRM has increasingly become part of the rhetoric and reality of organizational performance? If Storey's work provides an empirical and analytical benchmark for examining issues of 'role change', then Ulrich's (1997) work in the USA offers a sweeping prescriptive end-point for the transformation of personnel roles that has already been widely endorsed by UK practitioners. He argues that HR professionals must overcome the traditional marginality of the personnel function by embracing a new set of roles as champions of competitiveness in delivering value. Is this a realistic ambition? The new survey findings and interview evidence from HR managers in major UK companies presented here suggests that the role of the personnel professional has altered in a number of significant respects, and has become more multifaceted and complex, but the negative counter-images of the past still remain. To partly capture the process of role change, Storey's original fourfold typology of personnel roles is re-examined and contrasted with Ulrich's prescriptive vision for the reinvention on the HR function. It is concluded that Storey's typology has lost much of its empirical and analytical veracity, while Ulrich's model ends in prescriptive overreach by submerging issues of role conflict within a new rhetoric of professional identity. Neither model can adequately accommodate the emergent tensions between competing role demands, ever-increasing managerial expectations of performance and new challenges to professional expertise, all of which are likely to intensify in the future. Copyright Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2003.

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    Article provided by Wiley Blackwell in its journal Journal of Management Studies.

    Volume (Year): 40 (2003)
    Issue (Month): 4 (06)
    Pages: 983-1004

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    Handle: RePEc:bla:jomstd:v:40:y:2003:i:4:p:983-1004
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