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Managing the HR function: the role of social capital

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Purpose ‐ Under public sector reforms, HR departments are under increasing pressure to demonstrate how they add value to the organization. This paper seeks to contribute to our knowledge of HR functional roles in public sector organizations by considering how social capital may influence perceived HR department performance. Most prior research on HR functional performance has focused on what HR professionals do, rather than on how they do it, yet such process factors have been shown in the literature on organizational strategy to be crucial determinants of long-term effectiveness. This paper aims to use the framework of social capital as a means of conceptualizing HR processes, and investigates how these are played out in an exploratory study. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The paper is based on four matched-pair case studies in public sector organizations in the UK. A total of 77 interviews are conducted. Findings ‐ The research found that there appeared to be a link between HR social capital and perceptions of HR functional performance on the part of both HR staff and line managers. Research limitations/implications ‐ This is a piece of case study based research in the UK public sector, and therefore the findings may not be generalizable. It would have been preferable to have had some hard metrics for HR department performance, but perceptual data was relied on instead. Further research is therefore recommended. Practical implications ‐ The implication for HR practitioners is that attention needs to be paid to the structural and relational dimensions of how the HR department operates, as well as to what it does, if it is to be regarded as effective. Originality/value ‐ This is a piece of original research on a topic that has received almost no prior attention. Previous research on the link between HRM and performance has focused almost exclusively on HR strategies and policies and has neglected process and implementation. This paper presents some evidence to show that HR processes in terms of social capital may be an important element.
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Keywords: Human resource management; Public administration; Social capital; United Kingdom

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 18 September 2009

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