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Human Resources Book Review
Phillips, Jack J. (1999) Accountability in Human Resources Management. New York: Butterworth-Heinemann
In his text, Accountability in Human Resources Management, the human resources management analyst and guru Jack J. Phillips attempts to offer a new paradigm for human resource management to further both the future of American business organizations as well as the field of human resource management itself within organizations. Phillips states that human resource departments can no longer be regarded as the 'soft science' experts of corporate environments. Human resource personnel strategies must move beyond pure subjective psychology and embrace quantitative measurements of human performance, but without losing human resource's psychological and social science strengths. Thus, data based initiatives and management must be implemented for effective human resource enforcement of company objectives, without ignoring human resource's unique needs in relation to human psychological management. In short, the thesis of Phillips is that human resources must be accountable in both psychological as well as financial terms.
The integrating integrative thesis of Phillips' book is thus supremely relevant to modern human resource management because the author suggests that as helpful as models that stress diversity management and psychological models of employee development may be, ultimately HRM must be accountable to an organizational bottom line in a quantitative basis lest HR lose a coveted place in new forms of business organizations in the coming millennium. While like The Management of a Multicultural Workforce by Monir H. Tayeb and The Team Trainer, Winning Tools and Tactics for Successful Workouts by William Gorden, Carole Barbato, Erica Nagel and Scott Myers, Phillips attempts to offer a new approach for an increasingly diverse and changing workforce, Phillips stresses the value of scientific objectivity to provide cohesion and mesh possible differences between clashing personalities and within diverse departments, rather than simply stressing diversity or team-based strategies alone.
Phillips offers a nine-step results-based approach to human resource management over the course of his text. Human resources as a department must show itself accountable, just as other departments do, in a data-based fashion, lest it become undervalued within the overall organizational context that ultimately is interested in making a profit, rather than satisfying ideological goals in regards to diversity, amongst other political matters. This strategy is the only way to elevate management's commitment to human resources, stresses Phillips. Phillips states that he formulates his own data analysis stratagems around over ten years of work in his field in a variety of organizations. However, his approach tends to be less anecdotal in nature, and more prescriptive -- rather than using stories, he offers clear and cool steps to follow when engaging in such critical efforts, as for example, benchmarking individual employee performance against other employees within the organization and measuring returns on human investments in training, for example, as key to continuing executive commitments in the field.
Rather than beginning with different examples of present employee personality types, step one for Phillips is to conduct a future needs analysis of any organization -- what type of personality and skills profile is necessary for an organization to meet its needs in the future? (64) The notion of 'needs' of the organization and of human resource departments is crucial throughout Phillips text, perhaps because it highlights the nature of the objective and subjective accountable relationships inherent to human resource management. While needs are objective, seemingly, the value of certain needs over others must inevitably still be subjectively determined and measured in many respect. For example, when asking the question, is it necessary to have a more diverse organization for the global face of the future, or to bring in employees with specific skills that can increase financial returns, the weighing of these different objectives plays into certain personal biases.
Regardless of the organization's personal needs, still, Phillips stresses it is always necessary for human resources to have comparative rather than purely subjective data of some sort to justify organizational claims, especially as data collected early in a managerial program might show one level of results, while data collected at a later period may show another, depending on changing information the organization may receive about the external business climate. Then, only after analysis of such shifting factors, and a determination of what possibly subjective categories are of greatest priority at present, can results tabulated and prepared for presentation to appropriate target groups within the organization. (72)
Phillips suggests that there is no single approach to quantify the present and future value of employees within an organization, but that there must be some cohesive strategy of comparison and benchmarking when doing to, to keep conflicts at a minimum. For example, some organizations have taken surveys a step further than they have been customarily utilized in the past and have developed a Human Resources Index (HRI) that enables an organization to compare its progress over time, thus using the past to project the future, based upon individual employee performance. (34)
But despite the apparent objectivity of such tools, and Phillips stress upon their value he always adds the caveat that one cannot forget that HR remains different from other forms of corporate quantification "Even objective criteria are only one step removed from subjectivity. Someone has to determine what level of objective performance is considered effective and what level is considered ineffective. In other words, what makes the difference between an excellent, average, and sub-par employee is not something that can be counted as easily as production allocations or segmenting marketing strategy. Even if the category of productivity is measured, what constitutes employee productivity in various spheres is still subjective in nature, because it encompasses such a variety of individual personality factors and valuations. (35)
Does this frustrating subjective element to human resources means that human resources, as a science is doomed to be undervalued by financial areas of the organization, though? Not necessarily -- rather than accept this fact, Phillips offers a variety of practical suggestions. For example, to value human resource functions and improve relations between HR and other managers, Phillips cites, in one of his most concrete and persuasively spelled out examples, a study based on responses of 500 personnel managers that revealed how management images of the HR function and how the HR function could and should be improved. Always, the other managers stressed that better communication was key, and that they looked to HR to pave the way to creating better organizational communication.
Ironically, partnership and communication, however 'soft' these values may seem, between HR and other departments within an organization is what is highly valued in terms of improving the esteem of human resource personnel, in addition to the types of data-based forms of management advocated by Philips. It is not that HR must cease to be like HR, with its subjective human elements, merely that the best of Human resource's greater facilitation of organizational communication must be combined with showing its return on organizational investment or ROI in employees and in HR as a department.
In light of the high expectations of Human resource's ability to convey its message, when HR endeavors to do so to other departments, the media personnel selects should thus be carefully selected, Phillips stresses. This media of communication of data is always dependant upon the group one HR wishes to speaking to regarding its findings about a specific matter. For a specific group, one medium may be more effective than others. Face-to-face meetings may be better with some groups, such as executives who expect special attentions, versus than special bulletins or memos for busy staff members in another branch. (308) Informational Technology personnel may like to see data organized in a technically efficient and compressed manner, while financial staff may be able to see 'the big picture' better on an Excel spreadsheet. But over and over, communication and accountability…[continue]
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