Challenges and Experiences
New Horizons in Management series
Edited by Adrian Wilkinson, Donald Hislop and Christine Coupland
Human resource management (HRM) is an emerging ‘managerial profession’. Managerial professions are hybrid occupations claiming some attributes from traditional ‘occupational professions’ but also deviating from them on others. From classical studies it is acknowledged that there are tensions between managers and professionals (Weber, 1978): managers desire accountability to organizational objectives and professionals desire autonomy to pursue some ‘higher’ objective. However, the boundaries have never been fixed. In recent decades a number of authors have observed traditional professions becoming more accountable – and similar – to managerial sources of authority (Flynn, 1999; Exworthy and Halford, 1999; Dent and Whitehead, 2002). In contrast, HR practitioners could be said to be moving in the opposite direction: as a managerial function redefining itself into a profession. This chapter will examine HRM as a managerial profession, identifying important tensions in the nature of work in this particular managerial function. In particular, four dilemmas are proposed which intersect the literature both on professions and on HRM. These dilemmas are: (1) the degree of autonomy that is appropriate – or possible – in dealing with various organizational stakeholder interests; (2) balancing the desire to have an influence on strategic issues while retaining a claim to organization expertise in core HR activities; (3) ascertaining the scope of discretion in the HR practitioner’s expertise compared to its operational authority; and (4) whose interests does – or should – HR be working for? In examining the four dilemmas the chapter makes an important contribution to the literature on professions and to the specific study of HR professionalization.
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