cepp logo5.gif (13328 bytes)

mba.gif (609 bytes)

Back to MBA Primer

Human Resource Management
Coleman Patterson, Ph.D.

*Work in Progress*


            When I introduce Human Resource Management (HRM) topics to my introductory business and leadership classes, I have them perform a simple group project.  They break into groups and are told that they will work as management consultants for a fictitious client interested in starting a business.   As consultants, they are to design the jobs required for the organization, write job descriptions for a variety of positions, describe where they would go to find potential employees, and a host of other required tasks that would need to be addressed before the company could begin operations.  They are later told that these tasks make up the HRM functions of their fictitious companies.  To introduce HRM topics and functions in this work, I will draw upon the same example that we work through in class.

            The assignment given to the students in my class is to have them design the HRM plan for a company that produces paper airplanes.  The paper airplane company, they are told, will specialize in hand-made, designer airplanes made from a specialty paper.  The owner of the company plans to build a factory, hire 20 people with a total payroll of $600,000 (excluding benefits and taxes), and perform all production processes on site—by hand.  They are also told that the owner plans to locate the plant in Abilene, Texas—a town of 120,000 people, with a median income of $20,000, located on a major highway two hours from a major metropolitan area.  The questions they are to answer during the course of the exercise include:

1.       What jobs are necessary for the organization to effectively meet its mission?  Define the jobs and write job descriptions.

2.       What are the knowledge/skills/abilities required to perform the various jobs?

3.       Where would you go to find a pool of potential employees?

4.       Draw out an organizational chart showing the reporting relationships among positions within the firm.   Also include the salaries, wages, and benefits of the various positions throughout the organization.

5.       How would you select people to hire from the pool of applicants?  What types of tests and screening mechanisms would you use to identify acceptable candidates?

6.       What steps would you take to teach the employees their jobs, the rules, expectations, and culture of the company? 

7.       How would you evaluate employee performance?  What criteria are required for promotions and oppositely, terminations? (reliability and validity, multiple sources and measurement error)

8.       What steps would you take to ensure a safe and comfortable working environment?  (safety, OSHA, harassment)


What jobs are required within the organization?

            As described with Adam Smith’s observation of the organized pin-making factory, tremendous gains in productivity arise when work is divided into subsets of tasks that when combined in total, yield the completed whole.  The important thing under Smith’s system is to have every job needed by the organization filled by someone who becomes an expert at the job.  The HRM functions of an organization include logically defining the jobs within an organization so that someone covers all duties and functions needed within the organization.

            Within any organization, some positions will be more specialized than others and some positions will be devoted to coordinating the work of others.  The coordinating jobs are the management jobs—that is, those jobs described in Smith’s pin-making factory as communicating with and integrating the work of the employees and helping control the pace of the work among workers in relation to the goals set by the organization.  The number of jobs required within an organization, the degree of specialization within and across jobs, and the number of positions devoted to management roles will vary across firms depending on a host of task, organizational, and worker characteristics.  

            The formal task of writing down the responsibility of each position is known as the job description.  Anyone who has skimmed the “Help Wanted” section of a newspaper has mostly likely read a job description.  In a job description, the specific duties and responsibilities expected of the person filling the position are defined.  In total, all of the job descriptions for all of the positions within an organization should cover all of the tasks needed for the organization to effectively fulfill its mission.  Unnecessary or redundant jobs need to be eliminated or controlled.


Application to Higher Education

Colleges and universities, being complex organizations, require effective analysis of jobs and descriptions of the responsibilities of their workers.   An analysis of a school’s job descriptions should show that all of the required tasks and duties needed to provide an effective educational environment for students through its faculty and staff functions are performed by one or more positions—from recruitment and registration, to student life and residence life, to the staffing of computer labs and science labs.

            Care must be taken to ensure that workers do the jobs required of their position, but not only the jobs required of the position.  Part of the reason that “bureaucracy” has a bad reputation is because it emphasizes rationality and job responsibilities too literally.  “That’s not my job” and “let him take care of it” can be poisonous words within organizations when tasks and things need to be done.   In baseball, players have their own unique roles to play on the team, but when exceptions arise, the player in the best position to make the play, regardless of his particular specialization, needs to step up and do it.   Likewise, within a college or university, when a task needs to be completed and the person filling that role is not available, other members of the school must be willing and able to step up and perform the task.  This might involve something as simple as picking up trash on the way in from the parking lot to something like greeting campus visitors and directing them to an appropriate office.  Sports teams succeed when players develop expertise in their roles, when they effectively play their positions, and when they work together in pursuit of team goals—which sometimes mean stepping outside of a pre-defined role to do what is best for the team.  The same holds true for any organization—including colleges and universities.


What are the knowledge/skills/abilities required to perform the various jobs?

            After students write job descriptions for several positions in their paper airplane company, I have the class pause briefly to analyze one position included in practically every fictitious paper airplane business—the paper folders.  Since the company makes hand-made airplanes, every student group will identify a position in their companies that includes folding the paper into airplanes.  I would typically ask several groups to read their job descriptions to the other groups to see how similar and dissimilar their descriptions were.  The next part of the exercise involves having the groups read what they identified as the required skills and abilities that applicants should possess to apply for the job.

            The required knowledge, skills, and abilities for a position is known, in HRM terms, as the job specification.  You have probably also seen examples of this when looking at job announcements.  They are included with the job title and description and typically read something like “candidates for this position must possess a high school degree and one year of experience.”  For the paper folder position, the groups will invariably, mention things like “this job requires applicants to have two hands and ten fingers.”  With these ideas exposed to the class, I tell them that requiring applicants to have two hands and ten fingers could expose their companies to charges of discrimination.

           Job discrimination, at its core, is the exclusion of a group or class of people for a reason other than their ability to perform a job.  Discrimination provides special privilege to one group at the expense of another.  In its most basic form, discrimination involves the purposeful or blatant exclusion of someone based on sex, race, age, religion, or some other characteristic.  Job discrimination can also occur in a more seemingly innocent manner when an organization uses a criterion for selection that is not related to a candidate’s ability to perform a job.

            Requiring candidates who apply for the paper folder position to have two hands or ten fingers excludes some people from the pool of applicants who may have lost hands or fingers in an accident, or who might have been born without a full complement.  In recent years, the national broadcast news media has featured stories about people who, when losing arms to accidents, became adept at using their feet for things that almost everyone else would use their hands.  Writing, getting dressed, brushing teeth and hair, eating with utensils, working on computers, and driving automobiles are just a few of the regular tasks they performed with their feet.  They could also probably learn to fold paper into airplanes better than some two-handed and ten-fingered people if provided the opportunity.

            The job specification, written to include a seemingly innocent non task-related qualification, might exclude a group of people for consideration for the position and hence, be discriminatory.  “Must be able to fold paper in pre-determined and precise patterns at a specified rate” would be a better, more inclusive, and task-related way of writing the job specification.


Where would you go to find a pool of potential employees?  

            Once jobs are defined, people must be found to fill them.  Ideally, companies will have a pool of qualified applicants from which they can select the best candidates for serious consideration.  As with any decision, it is always preferred to have many options available rather than being limited to a few.  There are a variety of places that companies can look for quality people.   

            Internal Sources.  For existing firms, one of the best places to look for job candidates is inside the organization.  One of the advantages of hiring and promoting internally is that candidates are familiar with the company; its goals and mission, its culture, and its people.  In the same vain, the company knows the person and what he is capable of.   The advantages of hiring internally, however, can also be disadvantages.  Personality conflicts, perceived political alliances within the company, perceived lack of objectivity, and old grievances can sometimes arise when internal candidates are promoted.   Hiring candidates from outside the organization might help relieve many of these issues.  Sometimes bringing in new blood from the outside can also bring with it new ideas, new perspectives, and help breath new life into organizations.

            Help Wanted Advertisements.  The “help wanted” section of a newspaper is a popular place for job seekers to begin a search process—and one that should not be overlooked.  Many newspapers divide their classifieds sections into a variety of specialized categories such as general, construction/trade, professional, education, and health care.  A well-placed job advertisement in local, regional, or national newspapers could attract interested candidates who are looking for a specific type of job.  The particular newspapers and the specialized category within the classifieds section where the ad is to be placed should be chosen with consideration for the type of position and the audience being targeted.  When searching for applicants for most professional and administrative positions, print ads in professional publications will be more efficient and yield more effective results than print ads in publications that apply to wider and more diverse audiences. 

Many print publications also have companion web-based job advertisements.  Some simply redisplay the ads that appear in their publications and become updated when the printed version is printed; others might accept and display job advertisements on their websites between print publication dates—which keeps the web-based advertisements more current than the printed edition.  Other job placement companies ignore print publications all together and exist solely in the virtual world.  As with newspapers and magazines, web-based job search sites either specialize in advertisements for a particular industry or they cater to many industries and job types and allow seekers to specify an industry when performing job searches. 

Employment Agencies.  One way to streamline the efficiency of an applicant search is to hire another firm (i.e., one that specializes in attracting and screening applicants according to the principles of division of labor) to do it.  Public and private employment agencies work to build applicant pools to fill jobs in client organizations.   Employment agencies that habitually send unqualified or unacceptable candidates to client organizations will loose the respect and business of their clients.  Without respect, business, and support from client organizations, employment agencies will eventually go out of business.  It is in the best interest of employment agencies to identify and recommend only the best applicants to client organizations—which puts the goals and interests of the two parties in direct alignment.

As with companies that specialize in job advertisement services, employment agencies can also specialize in particular industries and job types or can take on a more generalist strategy.  Some employment agencies, for example, specialize in searches for executive positions while others work with temporary placements (hiring temporary employees through an employment agency can be a great low-risk strategy for identifying successful full-time employees when employment agencies allow client companies to hire the temps).  

            Professional Associations.  When looking to hire a plumber, one shouldn’t go to a gathering of medical professionals.  Likewise, a prospective computer programmer would probably not be found at a professional gathering of dairy farmers.  Most industries have trade associations and professional conferences that meet on a regular basis.   In many cases, meetings and conferences associated with professional associations occur to update professionals in the fields about happenings and advances in their fields.  Frequently, the professional associations support one or more types of employment services; such as print publications, web-based employment postings, and job fairs at professional meetings.   


Application to Higher Education

            Colleges and universities, especially for the wide variety of staff positions, must be careful to determine the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities needed by candidates for a position.  If a particular requirement cannot hold up in court as a valid predictor of job performance the school may not want to include it in the job specification.

            Another innocent-seeming form of job discrimination might arise when looking for candidates.  If a school chooses to advertise position searches in a limited number of places to a limited audience, it might receive applications from a very limited pool of candidates. When the only diversity found on a faculty is young white guys versus old white guys, bald white guys versus full-haired white guys, fat white guys versus thin white guys, an institution might need to expand its search methods to other places for a more diverse pool of potential hires.  Advertising jobs in new publications and in different venues might increase the representation of a more diverse pool of job applicants and eventually a more diverse faculty.

            The Civil Rights Act protects people from discrimination based on age, sex, race, national origin, veteran status, and religion. Public institutions and others are not permitted to exclude people from consideration for employment on those factors.  In some cases, institutions are permitted to discriminate on one or more of those protected dimensions if the characteristic(s) are “bona fide” requirements of the organization.  Church-related schools, for example, are allowed to discriminate on the religion dimension if the school can show that religion is central to what the school is and what it stands for.

As already mentioned in preceding sections, one of the distinguishing features of colleges and universities is the great diversity of professionals in faculty ranks.  With so many specialized professionals from so many academic fields, locating quality applicants could be a difficult endeavor without once again tapping into the powers of division of labor.  Professional associations of academic disciplines should be tapped to find applicants with very specific and narrow qualifications. 


Organizational Chart

            The students completing the paper airplane factory assignment also have to draw an organizational chart for their company.  An organizational chart is a pictorial representation of the jobs and reporting relationships within a firm.  It shows how jobs and necessary work functions are spread throughout the organization.  From an HRM perspective, the organizational chart is interesting because it defines how the duties and tasks are divided across the organization, shows all of the jobs in the firm, and defines the management positions from the top to the bottom of the organization. 

            Combining the concepts of organizational chart with required job duties and required knowledge, skills, and abilities for each position, another HRM topic then emerges—pay and compensation across jobs within a company.  Compensation, which includes salary or hourly wages and benefits, should be attached to the value of the position.  If specialized knowledge, skills, and abilities are required to perform a job, the remuneration for the person filling the position should be greater than for a person filling a position that does not require specialized training.  The comptroller (i.e., the head accountant) of a company, because of the extensive training and experience required for the position and because of the vital nature of the position, would merit a significantly higher compensation package than that of a janitor or cleaning person.  Likewise top managers in a company typically receive more compensation than middle managers or first level managers because of more demands and requirements needed to gain and hold the position.

            The relative value of positions within a firm, across jobs of various levels on the organization chart, and the compensation attached to them is known as the “wage and salary structure” of the organization.  Salaries must be competitive with the industry and appropriate for the area in which the company is located.  One would expect salaries and wages for positions in a corporation with an office in Los Angles to be higher than for the same positions of the corporation’s office in Tallahassee.   If the compensation were the same for positions in the two locations, the employee with the job in Tallahassee would receive more compensation, in relative terms, due to substantial differences in housing and living expenses.  So not only should an organization strive for equity in compensation within its own walls amongst jobs of similar and different requirements and responsibilities, but also be equitable with respect to compensation in the local geographic area.


How would you select people to hire from the pool of applicants?  

            Once a pool of applicants has been created for a position, there must be a way to select some individuals to pursue further and others to exclude from additional consideration.  The criteria used to identify applicants who are interesting from those who are not of interest must be valid and accurate.  It could be just as bad for an organization to release a potential superstar from consideration—to go to a competitor—as to include someone who turns out to later be a “dud” performer.

When a jury in a court case finds a defendant guilty, we desire that they reached the correct verdict.  We want to see guilty people punished and innocent people set free.  Sometimes, however, our judicial system makes mistakes and punishes the innocent and releases the guilty.   The court system in the United States is based upon various degrees of proof for various types of crimes.  For the most serious crimes, juries must conclude guilt beyond a reasonable doubt—the evidence must be so overwhelming that jurists conclude with near certainty that defendant committed the crime.  If the prosecution cannot make that burden of proof, the jury must acquit the defendant.   Despite the high burdens of proof, supported by a variety of evidence presented in the trial, mistaken conclusions sometimes are reached and bad verdicts handed out.  The goal of our court system is to minimize the number of incorrect verdicts.

            The process of selecting employees from a pool of job applicants involves similar principles of making good judgments about a candidate’s potential with a company and minimizing bad judgments.  When a good candidate applies for a position, the selection instruments used by the company should indicate that the candidate is good.  When a bad candidate applies for a position, the selection tools used by the company should indicate that the candidate is a bad fit for the company.  Cases where bad candidates are hired or good candidates turned away should be minimized.

            It would be hard to imagine that court cases would consistently yield correct verdicts if they relied on only one piece of evidence.  Rather, to foster certainty in the minds of the jurists, attorneys present multiple pieces of evidence that when put together and viewed in whole, give a more complete picture of events and, hopefully, a better picture of reality—which will allow the jury to make a correct decision about guilt or innocence.  In other words, the more evidence available to the jury that all points to the same conclusion, the more certain the jury will be in its finding.

            When trying to determine the goodness of a job candidate for a position within a company, multiple selection tools should be used.  These tools, or instruments, should help build a comprehensive portrait of a candidate’s knowledge, skills, abilities, and how well the person would perform in a new organization.   Selection instruments, when used individually, do not provide a sufficient picture of a candidate’s ability, but when used in concert, they can provide a good picture of a candidate’s quality.  Some of the more common instruments include:

        Application Forms provide basic contact information, work history, educational background, special skills and training or certifications, and contact information for references.  In many respects, information gained from an application form is similar to the information found on a resume.

        Interviews can be conducted in a group or individually, face-to-face or over the telephone, and can be structured with a specific set of questions or unstructured and more free flowing.  Interviews allow employers the chance to ask specific job-related questions of candidates as well as allowing candidates to ask questions of the employer.

        Personality Tests are administered to candidates in some instances for certain types of jobs.  Personality type, the ability to think creatively, leadership and teamwork skills and aptitudes, and a host of assessments can be given. 

        Work Samples give an indication of ability and past performance.  Artists, architects, media positions, and others in occupations that require producing or performing things allow for a collection of past work.  For other occupations, workers might create portfolios of their work activities and experiences.  Portfolios might include news stories, creative endeavors, publications, and evaluations.

        Simulations provide a good way to see how a candidate would perform in the job.  In technical positions, like computer programming, accounting, and engineering, sample work problems can be administered to potential employees.  Bus drivers, technicians, repair people can actually perform sample tasks as part of the selection process.  Prospective faculty members can deliver lectures to a class of students.

        References permit an employer to hear from others who know the candidate to comment on his/her character, ability, motivation, people skills, and past performance.  Employers can communicate with a candidate’s references over the phone or through e-mail.  Some companies require candidates to submit letters of reference.  References should provide the potential employer with insight into the candidate’s personal characteristics and professional qualifications.

        Background Investigations are routinely carried out on candidates applying for jobs in security positions, jobs that handle money, and those that provide personal care to children and adults.

The important thing to remember about selection instruments is that they must be valid predictors of work performance.   If they are not valid, meaning that they don’t effectively predict good candidates from bad candidates, they could end up being discriminatory—they could exclude a group of people for some reason other than their ability to perform on the job.  Great care must be taken when choosing and using selection instruments.


What steps would you take to teach the employees their jobs, the rules, expectations, and culture of the company?

            Once potential employees are hired and become actual employees, they need to be taught the specifics of their jobs and the ways of the organization.  HRM professionals refer to these concepts as training and socialization.

            Training.  Training involves learning new knowledge, skills, and abilities.  One can be trained to perform a new task or a new way of doing an old task.  Knowledge learned can be learned for the first time or learned as improvements or enhancements to things already known.  New hires might have to learn new tasks to perform their jobs and/or learn new organizational-specific processes and procedures for knowledge and skills that they already possess.

            Training can occur in the workplace through formal employee training programs or through mentor programs.  On-the-job sources of training should provide employees with direct and relevant experiences that they can take and apply to their jobs.  Off-the-job training might include training courses hosted by professional associations or colleges and universities.  Some companies pay for employees to pursue additional off-the-job training and education—other times the employees take it on themselves as a way of making themselves more marketable within their organizations and attractive to outside companies.  

            Socialization.  Socialization refers to the process of becoming a part of a society or social group.  Language, histories, stories, rituals, customs, norms, and cultures, as we tend to think of them, differentiate national societies.  The things that make societies different, when studied on an organization-scale, also apply to companies.  Newcomers to organizations must learn the ways of the organization or risk making a host of cultural mistakes. 

Organizations that don’t socialize new members into the ways of the organization risk losing their distinguishing characteristics.  When a known, shared history is not taught to newcomers, it will be just a matter of time until an organization’s culture changes—to something unknown.  In some cases, the extinction of a culture might be desired, in other cases it might want to be preserved.  When cultures are ineffective or destructive, a change is warranted.  When cultures are effective and in alignment with the goals and mission of the organization, it would want to be preserved.

            Socialization can occur in tandem with training, but most often occurs in the break rooms, in informal conversations with colleagues, and in early interactions with superiors and coworkers.  Learning the company’s lingo and stories, defining the meaning of a fair day’s work, figuring out how to address and talk to superiors and coworkers, knowing when to attend company events, determining how much play is allowed in the workplace, learning whether it is okay to accept personal phone calls at work, and finding out what the real dress code is for the company are all parts of an employee’s socialization process.


How would you evaluate employee performance?  What criteria are required for promotions and oppositely, terminations? (reliability and validity, multiple sources and measurement error)

            At its core, performance is the attainment of goals or completing what is supposed be accomplished.  A “performer” within an organization is someone who consistently meets or exceeds his or her work expectations.  At the root of performance are two independent dimensions—ability and willingness.  In order to perform, one must be able to complete an assigned task AND must be willing to complete the task.  If either the “want to” or “able to” dimensions are absent, performance will not occur.  For example, no matter how willing I am to dunk a basketball, I am not able to, therefore I cannot.  Also, although I am able to sing the national anthem in front of a large crowd of people, I have absolutely zero desire to do so and therefore will not do it.  Problems with a person’s performance should be investigated to determine whether ability or willingness is the cause.  Appropriate solutions should be derived to remedy the problem.

The study of the “want to” dimension of performance has its home in the realm of motivation and organizational behavior.  A person’s “want to” dimension may change if doing so fulfills an important need in one’s life.  For example, I would probably sing in front of a large group if the “prize” for doing so were desirable enough to override my embarrassment.  Additional discussion of these concepts from a motivation perspective can be found in other sections of this book.

            The concepts and study of the “able to” dimension of the performance equation resides in the realm of human resource management.  Candidates should be selected, hired, and promoted based on their ability to perform a job.  Training, both on-job and off-job, concerns improving an employee’s ability to perform effectively for the organization.  Thus far in this chapter, the concepts of selection and training have already been presented so attention will now be given to evaluation and two of its outcomes—promotion and termination. 

            Evaluation refers to the assessment of an employee’s performance within the organization.  As with selection, the goal of the process is to correctly identify the performance of the employee (i.e., how well did the employee do what was expected of him or her in the organization?).   The instruments used to measure and determine performance must be valid—accurate and consistent.  Reliance on one or a small number of measures can lead to inaccurate assessments—good or bad.  As with evidence in a court-case, the more evidence that all points to a common conclusion is the best for determining whether the person on trial “did it” or “didn’t do it.”  Likewise, the more evidence that an evaluator has about an employee’s performance, the better the conclusion will likely be and the more confident the evaluator will be about the assessment.  

            Many of the same tools used to assess applicant performance and ability can and should be used when evaluating existing employees.  A description of duties, responsibilities, and accomplishments; interviews or written evaluations with the candidate, subordinates, superiors, and coworkers; submission and examples of current work; and letters or testimonials of reference should all be used to build a complete and accurate picture of an employee’s performance. 

            Promotion.  When the results of the evaluation system show that the employee is doing well at a job, the organization might desire to reward the worker. 

            Termination.  *retrain, reassign, release (cause/no-cause, due process—probation, tenure)

To Be Continued...

Back to MBA Primer



mbatitle.gif (4135 bytes)

2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved