The foundation of business firms or organizations is fundamentally rooted on an ultimate purpose to fulfill for the targeted markets, for the various components of the business, and the community at large. Accordingly, a business organization clearly defines and establishes its mission, conceptualizes the set of products or services to offer, and puts in place business procedures and policies to ensure that the products and services are linked to and received by the consumers. The entire process of purpose formulation, product development, and delivery mechanism entails the skills and knowledge of people – the company’s manpower. Human resources are the players and movers of a business firm. The humans in the business provide the ideas, expertise and skills towards the accomplishment of corporate objectives. Thus, it is critical for the company to have established systems of finding, maintaining and developing its workforce in order to survive in a turbulent environment. According to (2002) the dramatic changes brought about by the twenty-first century to the business environment make it reasonably clear that effective and successful management of an organization’s people or human resources is a key source of competitive advantage and can be the major determinant of long-term organizational performance ().
THE CASE OF COMPULEARN
CompuLearn is a British internet technology (IT) company that provides IT-based teaching and learning programmes in business and management. The company collaborates with United Kingdom-based universities which validate the company’s services to help the students obtain a recognized qualification on the successful completion of a program of study. CompuLearn aims to become a major player in e-learning delivery of university validated programmes in the world and become a learning organization. The company has fifty staff mainly based on its established headquarters at Preston, Lancashire. The employees function in eight major areas: Programme Development, Customer Service, Human Resource, Marketing, Finance, Sales, IT Support and Quality Assurance which all have an office in the main trading areas of the company located in Nairobi, Mumbai and Dubai. Presently, the company seeks to extend its market from 200 education centers in 30 countries to 500 education centers in 60 countries. The human resource management department at CompuLearn handles the responsibilities of selecting, training, developing, retaining and rewarding the talents of the company. Presently, the company’s remuneration system is attractive and is appropriate to the prevailing rate in the IT industry. However, opportunities for professional growth and development within the firm are very limited. Its main human resource focus is on selection and recruitment of highly-skilled IT people and specialist employees rather than internal training and development. The company’s training budget of £25,000 is primarily used for training the sales staff who have been previously identified as the “jewel of the company”. Though the system has previously worked, recent years have proved that the pool of managers though highly equipped in technical expertise, lack management skills. To add to the severity of the problem, CompuLearn has no established performance appraisal system for evaluation of staff performance, and most of the headquarters employees are criticized by the partner-university staff for their customer service skills. The university employees term the CompuLearn people as “brash pushy and ill-informed”.
PROPOSED HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES FOR COMPULEARN
CompuLearn is in the midst of a human resource management crisis. Basically, the company’s human resource issues fall under three categories: training and development, performance appraisal, and customer service. The first two problems are long-term in nature while the last is an immediate concern. Training and development, and performance appraisal are inherent components of the function of human resource management. (2002) stated that effective career development is integral to organizational human resource management functions and structures in order to establish a collaborative nature of all human resource management components (). In relation to this, (2004) claimed that a performance appraisal program is relevant to professional development of staff mainly due to its functions of enhancing communication patterns, potently responding to performance issues, and improving employee morale.
Foremost, the company’s situation requires the adoption of the so-called strategic human resource management approach. Strategic human resource management refers to the method of linking and aligning human resource management practices with organizational goals in order to foster an organizational culture that encourages flexibility, efficiency and creativity, and enhance business performance. It involves incorporating all the human resource functions of selection, training and rewarding employees in the formulation of business strategies (2005). Specifically, successful alignment and integration of human resource management with strategic planning can be done by involving the human resource management function in the company planning process, underscoring human resource activities that support organizational objectives, and building a solid human resource-management relationship (1999). The CompuLearn management has to understand that in order to tackle specific human resource management issues; the company has to be firm with and should constantly reinforce the mission. The present mission is to become a world leader in electronic learning programs to university students, a learning company, and to extend the market base. The mission is broad in context and taken literally, it would require continuous development of skills, knowledge and expertise within the company. After all, no company who aims to achieve a global presence operates with stagnant structures and minimally-skilled employees. Once CompuLearn has incorporated in its culture that its mission is a serious matter; the specific human resource problems can now be addressed.
The traditional psychology of employees towards employment is to obtain tangible rewards for their performance. However, the onset of modernization that calls for diversity of skills has altered this thinking. Today, employees bargain their performance for the extent of training and development that the company can provide to them which would permit them to maintain marketability. Therefore, the human resource management function which handles employee selection and training has to alter its mindset as well. Human resource management activities must now be designed to address the long-term interests of employees and their need for continuous professional growth (2002 ). CompuLearn does not address this need. Presently, it does not provide immense chances for employees to realize their full potential. Training and development is focused on one department which limits the availability of skills to be learned by the staff. Thus, most of the employees opt to leave to find better employment despite an attractive remuneration package. The company has to alter its human resource mindset of focusing only on recruiting highly-trained employees while ignoring the necessity of internal professional development. It needs to supplement the effective compensation package with a strong framework for training and development in order to respond to the holistic needs of employees. One effective model identified today which supports strategic human resource management is a strategically aligned training and development model that aspires to foster preparedness and flexibility among the various levels of the organization. The model has four phases: Plan, Do, Check, and Act. The Plan phase as the first step involves the establishment of training and development as a strategic priority for the organization. This means the organization has to assess the components of its training and development program to identify those that support the business strategies, create policies that would elevate the training and development program into an organizational priority, and formulate plans as to how training and development can be transferred to job performance (1998). For CompuLearn, this should be done through the collaboration of the Human Resource Director and other managers of the different divisions. There is a need to set a meeting for revisiting the corporate mission in order to extract the necessary elements that would define the training and development policies. Usually, the key element of organizational mission that helps define training and development policies revolve around statements on expected attitudes and behaviors that support learning (1998). The CompuLearn mission states that it aspires to become a learning company in the world. The management can build on this statement in formulating the training and development policies. The policies can include explicit statements of the significance of training and development for the employees, budget allocation, required number of hours or levels of participation in the program, and required level of training before or after promotion. Furthermore, transferring training and development into the job performance can be simply achieved through on-the-job training by incorporating learning into the daily performance of tasks (1998). The second phase is the “Do” phase. This requires the selection of specific training program contents from various alternatives. An organization has to pattern the content of its training programs with the company objectives, culture, values, and current and anticipated competency needs (1998). CompuLearn’s immediate need is on leadership and management training. Organizations usually provide this training in short courses designed to render a realistic overview of managerial responsibility (1998). According to (2005) leadership in organization helps employees to comprehend the company’s purpose and business strategy, assists them to understand how they can contribute to fulfillment of objectives, shares information and knowledge with employees, and predicts employee satisfaction and confidence in an organization. The effectiveness of leadership trainings in instilling strong leadership skills to CompuLearn’s managers would prevent possible occurrences of a line manager criticizing an employee for a mistake because they would be oriented on the best ways to handle these things. The third phase, evaluation or “Check”, can be undertaken through several activities: measuring on-site reactions of participants to training and development, gauging learning through behavioral exercises during the training, observing employee performance after the training, interviewing supervisors, and examining the post-training performance appraisals. Finally, after the process of planning, executing and assessing the training and development program, the organization must be willing and ready to render modifications to the program based on the evaluation, and to start the process once more. Training and development is not a one-time deal. It should be continuous. CompuLearn should not stop at the four phases. There is a need for continuous (most effective is annual) review and update of training and development goals and processes in response to the changing strategic needs of the business units or organizational components (1998).
The second long-term issue at CompuLearn is the absence of a performance appraisal system. Many managers today do not take performance appraisals seriously for fear of negative feedback. However, performance appraisals communicate to the employees the company’s interest and appreciation for the employee’s work and efforts. Thus, instilling employee morale (1990). CompuLearn’s issue with training and development is somehow connected to the lack of performance evaluations. Employees do not feel encouraged because they do not know the value of their contribution to organizational endeavor. They could not see any structure that would determine the kinds of merits or promotions they can receive if they perform well. This is made even worse by the minimal opportunities for professional enhancement offered to them. The company has to establish and fully implement a performance appraisal system to supplement its training and development program. (2004) asserted that the performance appraisal system do not only help to detect hidden talent but also identify training needs. Performance appraisal is the process of examining and discussing employee performance for the purpose of making judgments regarding strengths or areas of improvements, and identifying opportunities for skills development (2006). There are three things to consider for a performance appraisal system to be effectively put in place. First, the company has to determine the objectives of the process. The objectives would serve as the guiding principle for the conduct of the entire procedure. Typically, the major reason for having the system is to monitor employee performance, encourage employees, and improve organizational morale (2004). CompuLearn can adopt these objectives since it currently has no mechanism for monitoring performance, has a need to motivate all its employees and not only the sales people, and change the culture and moral of the entire company. Secondly, the company must develop a plan, a form, and a timeframe for launching the program. The planning stage involves all the managers to contribute to the components of the program like procedures as well as the indicators to be measured. The primary tool for assessing performance is through a performance appraisal form. A basic structure for an IT company performance appraisal form consists of parts for the employee’s major responsibilities and duties; achievements within the rating period; difficulties encountered in the job; actions taken; needed trainings; a rating scale for specific areas like judgment, technical knowledge, IT skills, problem-solving, communicating, teamwork etc; future plans and activities; supervisor’s observations and recommendations; agreements; and other issues (2006). Performance appraisals should be guided by a calendar. Managers should conduct at least two formal dialogues with each employee annually. The first is to plan and the second is to review the accomplishment of plans. In between the rating periods, the managers have to consistently coach their subordinates (2003). Coaching is a form of performance feedback that lessens the managers’ fear of criticism and facilitates real-time performance evaluation. It addresses management questions such as manager’s behavior or activity that makes the employee’s job more difficult; any measures that the supervisor can render to assist the employee in effectively carrying out his/her functions; employee’s understanding of the manager’s expectations from his/her performance; steps that the employee can take in order to prepare him for the next promotional opportunity; and what the supervisor can further provide to the employee in order for him/her to perform at his/her full potential (1990). CompuLearn should start the establishment of its performance appraisal system with all the managers of the eight divisions and the Human Resource Director sitting down to formulate the objectives, plan the process and steps of the implementation of the system, craft the performance appraisal form, decide on the time of implementation, and deliberate on other matters that can be done to stimulate the strength of the company’s workforce and make the most out of their performance. The managers should start by again considering the mission of the company and patterning the performance appraisal objectives with this mission. Each of the departmental managers must be able to determine the key performance indicators in their respective division. They should have an overall view of how their specific department contributes to the accomplishment of the company’s mission. Corollary to this, they should know the individual functions of the employees within their department and how to be able to effectively measure each function. The meticulous delineation of the functions would make the appraisal system cover and scrutinize all the necessary areas within the company that impact its business performance. The specific key performance indicators would be the contents of the performance appraisal form. Moreover, CompuLearn has to be rigid in the implementation of the program. The managers should be able to set a specific date of the first implementation, the fixed rating periods, and the schedule for staff orientation regarding the performance appraisal system. Although the managers are the most convenient persons to conceptualize the system, the staff has to provide their inputs too. According to (1994) futile implementation of performance appraisal systems can be caused by lack of employee acceptance. Performance standards set by the managers would be well accepted by the employees if they are informed of them prior to implementation. Employee input is advantageous in identifying possible biases or weaknesses in the system, and rendering suggestions for improvement (p. 3). Finally, the company has to discuss the matter of coaching. The managers must be aware of their responsibility towards their subordinates. CompuLearn lacks a solid organizational culture. Since there are no internal career development and performance appraisal systems, the staff have to decipher what the company wants them to achieve in the long run. The company has to practice simple steps of making the staff feel valued. Managers must constantly monitor their activities and engage them in dialogues in order to provide a channel for ideas and difficulties encountered in daily business undertakings. This simple step would provide a strong foundation for the implementation of the more formal training and development program. Thirdly, the performance appraisal system is not a static structure. It has to be reviewed in order to adapt to the changing needs of the staff and the company. An annual review of the system is highly recommended with an emphasis on examining the grading system in the form, extent on how hard and soft skills are evaluated, ample space for employee’s comments and suggestions, and categories that correctly tackle and measure the employees’ responsibilities and job descriptions ( 2004).
Finally, CompuLearn is faced with an immediate concern regarding employee customer service skills in the Preston headquarters. (1996) reported that the information technology market is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. Computer-related services comprise more than a third of the information technology market at $146 billion in 1994 (pp. 37-38). This fact entails competition and turbulent business environment for CompuLearn as an IT company. The company has to examine its structures and processes in order to gauge how it is performing in the midst of a changing field. To start with, CompuLearn has to address the customer service issue immediately because ignoring it would lead to losing its biggest asset which are the customers, and therefore, destroying all the dreams of making the firm a large learning organization and e-learning provider through effective training and development and performance appraisal systems. Since the company will adopt a strategic human resource management approach which would enable the staff to fully integrate the mission and objectives into their daily activities, CompuLearn can implement customer service management. This involves rethinking the whole company and transforming it to a customer-centered organization. This involves encouraging the staff to go out of their way to discover what customers want and act upon them. Discovering what customers want requires dialogue with them. CompuLearn employees must initiate to have casual dialogues with the staff of their partner universities even if it is only through telephones or email. This would give the impression that the company values it partnership with them. Also, customer service involves evaluation and analysis of customer data and concerns provided on sales and other means. It is important that employees be made responsible for studying customer data and concerns in order to motivate them to discern and come up with strategies for customers to have superior customer service experience with the company (2000).
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