Today every manager, regardless of his or her functional specialization, is on the front line of people management (Kulik 2004). At a minimum, line managers conduct performance reviews, make promotion decisions and communicate terminations (McGovern, et al., 1997). However, some organizations go even further, and are actively engaged in devolving to the line activities that previously were the exclusive domain of HR specialists. These activities include, among others, recruitment activities, career planning, occupational health and safety compliance, and organizational culture development and maintenance.
The devolution of HR responsibilities from HR managers to line managers is both a growing and global trend (Larsen and Brewster 2003).
A number of authors has suggested that there are positive as well as negative consequences of devolution (Bond and Wise 2003; Renwick 2003). For example, by pushing HR decision making down to the line, managers should be better able to make faster decisions that are more tailored to individual circumstances (Budhwar 2000; Bond and Wise 2003; Whittaker and Marchington 2003). However, the goals of a devolution strategy may be fundamentally incompatible with some basic realities associated with the line managers job.
Line managers see HR concerns as a poor second to their more immediate business goals (McGovern et al. 1997; Cunningham and Hyman 1999; Whittaker and Marchington2003) and this can result in line managers devoting less attention to HR issues than HR specialists would. This short-range focus may result in people management that is fragmented, inconsistent and generally less effective than HR specialists could deliver (Bond and Wise 2003).
(The involvement of line managers in human resource management (HRM) has always been noted in the literature (Guest, 1987; Legge, 1995; Storey, 1992), but in recent years the line have been seen to play a more prominent role in HRM due to more HR work being devolved to them (Brewster and Larsen, 2000; Currie and Procter, 2001; Guest and King, 2001; Storey, 1992, 2001; Ulrich, 1997, 1998, 2001).
The HR work devolved to the line included performance appraisal, redundancy selection, pay awards, recruitment, communication with, and counselling of, employees, sickness absence and employee development (Utility Co.); management development, filling vacancies, performance appraisal, re-skilling employees, grievance handling (Local Authority); and co-ordination of an employee recognition scheme (Manufacture Co.).
The line had many problems with HR in completing HR-related tasks: [A slow pace of change from HR.] There is only one way to really change and thats change the people. We only ever go halfway. [Compulsory redundancies.] There is no such thing as a compulsory redundancy. I can see the good PR side of it, but we may be hurting ourselves . . . you dont have power of who you want to release really. When we get into the areas of flexibility about what grades of cars and salary increases, at times Ive found myself being policed by the rule book. The rule book wont necessarily give you the best results, were fighting it and well see where we get to. [Employee development.] The new Corporate HR guy wants to spread his wings . . . [and he said] only one person from the company will attend courses and come back and will write a paper for the rest of the company to read. Its a load of absolute b******t (all Generation Business, Utility Co.).) douglasrenwick folder 2002