The role of HR practitioners can be divided into two main areas: transactional activities and strategic activities. Transactional activities consist of the service delivery aspects of HR – recruitment, training, dealing with people issues, legal compliance and employee services. HR strategic activities support the achievement of the organization’s goals and values and involve the development and implementation of forward-looking HR strategies that are integrated with one another and aligned to business objectives. Importantly they work with their line management colleagues in the continuous formulation and execution of the business strategy.
It is important to get the balance between strategic and transactional activities right. In its anxiety to enhance the standing of the HR profession, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (the CIPD) sometimes gives the impression that the only thing that counts is ‘being strategic’. Forget about the boring transactional activities. Rosabeth Moss Kanter (1984: 294) thought that ‘“strategic” is clearly an overused word’. Alvesson (2009: 57) noted that ‘HR people are redefining themselves from being administrators and managers to becoming “strategists”’. He felt that: ‘Sometimes one gets the impression that there is very little “non-strategic” HRM going on’ (ibid: 57).
HR must also get its transactional service delivery activities right – that’s what it’s there to do, day-by-day, and its reputation with line managers largely depends on this. As an HR specialist commented to Caldwell (2004: 203): ‘My credibility depends on running an extremely efficient and cost effective administrative machine… If I don’t get that right, and consistently, then you can forget about any big ideas.’ Another person interviewed during Caldwell’s research referred to personnel people as ‘reactive pragmatists’, a view that in many organizations is in accord with reality. And Syrett (2006: 63) commented that: ‘Whatever strategic aspirations senior HR practitioners
have, they will amount to nothing if the function they represent cannot deliver the essential transactional services their internal line clients require’.
But in accordance with the resource-based view, which emphasizes the importance of human capital in achieving competitive advantage, the credibility of HR professionals, especially at the highest level, also depends on their ability to make a strategic contribution which ensures that the organization has the quality of skilled and engaged people it needs. Sparrow et al (2010: 88) observed that ‘HR must be fully responsive to the strategy and business model of the business. HR is not a rule to itself. It is not “HR for HR”, but HR (as broadly defined across the competing stakeholders whom HR has to satisfy) for the business.’ The strategic nature of HR has been expressed in
the strategic partner model as described below.