Human Resource Management as a Tool for Change

One of the most important assets of any business, regardless of its size or sector, is its workforce. Only by having the right people in the right positions at the right time can a business fulfil its growth potential. By implementing good Human Resource Management (HRM) a business can determine the performance and motivation of its workforce, in turn creating a robust and dynamic organisation.

By understanding the relationships between people, motivation and productivity HRM plays a central role in the success of any business, working on all levels, from the day-to-day management of the workforce, to the development of strategic plans for future requirements. A Human Resources (HR) department has a crucial and continuing role to play in the traditional HR domain; recruitment, training, employee welfare, employee/employer relations, ensuring a safe working environment and compliance with workplace legislation, such as the Race Relations Act (1976), Sex Discrimination Act (1975) and the Equal Pay Act (1970).

Nevertheless, these functions should not detract from the HRM’s role as a facilitator of change. This can only be accomplished successfully if HRM is allowed to play a central role in strategic planning taking a long-term and holistic view of the business. The composition of the workforce and the needs of the business, at the present time, and into the future should be considered with plans in place for expected and potential developments. For example, to ensure continuity there should be, waiting in the wings, well-trained and competent replacements for retiring managers. Throughout the business people should receive relevant training to enable them to fulfil their roles, and to aid their own career development. Training is beneficial to the business and acts as a motivator for the individual.

No business should remain static; change is essential. This may be a gradual process, with a business growing and improving its operations by investing in its existing workforce through training and internal promotion, and by recruiting the best people when natural vacancies arise. Change may also be sudden or disruptive, for example through a merger or organisational restructuring. The HR department must be in a strong position to manage all change efficiently and effectively. This can be achieved through the implementation of well-founded policies based on an understanding of the workforce’s needs and motivations.

There is a wealth of literature on motivational theories, from foundational works such as Frederick Taylor’s theory of Scientific Management and Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, to more recent research highlighting the motivations of African health workers. All aim to identify the best way in which to motivate the workforce and therefore improve overall efficiency.

Born to a Quaker family in Pennsylvania in 1853, Taylor was one of the leaders of the Efficiency Movement at the turn of the twentieth century. During his time as a labourer and machinist in a steel works he realised that workers were primarily motivated by pay, and so argued that piece rate pay offered a business better returns on labour costs. Financial necessity is, undeniably, a powerful motivator, which can be used in a number of ways, from overtime pay to commission, and profit sharing to fringe benefits.

However, in Maslow’s Theory of Human Motivation (1943), financial reward is seen as only one motivating factor for workers. Instead Maslow suggests there are five hierarchies of need, which explain why people continue to work, even when their basic needs have been met. Beyond the physiological and safety needs, workers also strive for belonging, esteem and self-actualisation.

Recent research by Inke Mathauer and Ingo Imhoff (2006), has examined the role of non-financial incentives and the use of HRM tools in motivating health workers in Benin and Kenya. Supportive supervision and recognition, appreciation by superiors and communities, problem-adapted training, as well as equal opportunities for training and professional progress and active staff participation were all identified as key motivators for these health workers, who were strongly guided by their professional conscience.

By providing the best motivation to its workforce, through financial and non-financial means, a business will be able to operate at its optimum level. Its workforce will not only work effectively and efficiently but will also aspire to develop, as individuals and as members of the team, and through this ambition drive the business itself forward. It is through the implementation of strategic HRM that this level of success can be achieved. A business is only as strong as its workforce. This valuable asset will always be worth the investment.


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