HR roles and activities. Empirical results from the DACH region and implications for a future development of the HR profession

Thill, K., Covarrubias Venegas, B., Groblschegg, S.


Since the late 70s there has been an intense discussion about function and tasks of human resource management (HRM) which lead into a variety of HR role models. Those models either consider the extent to which departments are reactive or proactive – like Legge and Tyson & Fell - and those that combine a number of dimensions, as can be found at Ulrich’s, Storey’s or Guest’s work.

The recent development in HRM finds a theoretical basis in Dave Ulrich’s HR role model (1997) which underlies this study. He established four roles for HR managers which cover the dimensions strategic/operational focus and people/processes oriented. In detail: ‘administrative expert’ and ‘employee champion’ have a day-to-day/operational focus, while ‘strategic partner’ and ‘change agent’ are allocated to future/strategic roles.

Especially the strategic focus of HR has been discussed in science for many years. But what about the implementation as a business practice? This quantitative survey examined the extent of the current strategic focus of HR activities in the three DACH region countries (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland). A comparison of their current HR business practices is of particular interest, as they are strongly economically and culturally connected and there is a lively exchange of employees. The following questions led the survey:

The results indicate that there was a major shift regarding the focus of HR activities. In all three countries HR is now mostly seen as an employee champion, coming from an administrative, process oriented HR understanding. The strategic aspect of HR roles also evolved remarkably. And as the results show that shift is not yet completed. The most important driver for the change is the increasing competences of the HR professionals. Regarding the intercultural aspect it is remarkable, that despite these development most of the HR functions are not seen as management positions in Germany and Austria.

As strategic management is mostly a management and top-management issue, the importance of HR roles has to evolve. Therefore it is important to strengthen the HR roles as management positions and to increase the strategic and management competences of HR employees.

This first study will be followed by another international study on HR roles and HR competencies in the 21st century. A new HR competency model will be developed to cover the current state and afterwards will be tested in Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia.

Keywords: HR Roles, HR Competencies, Strategic Human Resource Management, DACH Region, Quantitative Research



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