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HR balancing act - business partner / employee advocate

Hello, A question of a novice: I would love to hear arguments/view points for and against the unitarist approach of HRM. How does this approach support you as a HR professional? How do you balance your role as a Business Partner and Employee Advocate at the same time? Thank you!

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  • Thank you Elizabeth.

    My question did not intend to upset anyone.
    It was the curiosity of a “novice” who thought this was a forum where dilemmas such as this could be honestly shared and discussed, without inflicting any pain on either sides. Perhaps I was wrong. On the other hand I cannot be held accountable for what other people posted here before me.

    Among others D Ulrich and W Brockbank use the term Employee Advocate in their book “The HR value proposition”, P.200., where Employee Advocate is one of the 5 roles a HR professional supposed to have.

    Maybe scholars like above could be held as culprits for the fact that these “misconceptions” crop up from time to time.

    I am not sure how to interpret the CIPD’s mission statement of “Championing better work and working lives” then either. Maybe you can shed a light on it for me.

    As you rightly said, HR is not and should not be the conscience of an organisation. From a customer’s perspective if I compare HR with the marketing department then the latter needs to learn a lot from HR.
  • In reply to Ray:

    Thank you Ray!

  • In reply to Ray:

    I often say I am the least academic, academic at the University but still got roped in to teach SHRM. It was a learning experience!.
  • You raise some good questions Karin and I’ll try to bring part of the answer. Back in 2005 (I think) I shared a stage at the Hay European Convention in Rome with Dave Ulrich, Tom McMullen and a couple of other people. A speaker failed to turn up and as speakers who were already in situ we agreed to improvise a sofa debate on innovation and the future of HR - a fun exercise, as you can imagine. During the exchanges Dave received your question about the “employee champion” role. He answered that he considered the HR value proposition to be a permanent work in progress, certainly not a normative statement of how HR should work. He clarified that the overall HR role was, in his view, to extract the maximum added value from the human element in the corporate equation via the different roles; that none of the boxes took absolute precedence, since the specific context of each company is different, and that permanent adaptation was necessary for any strategic approach to remain valid (my “context is king” hobby-horse). In other words employee champion is an approach with limits, and not an end in itself that supersedes the need for a company to survive by making a profit. Dave’s later books clearly show how his ideas evolved over the years as both his research at MIT and his consultancy work moved forward.
    I think much of the same can be said of the CIPD’s mission statement - but I can’t claim to be a spokesman......
  • Thank you Ray! This is very helpful.
  • In reply to Karin:

    I'm not upset but I find it interesting that 3 people have picked up on the words Employee Advocate and responded by saying that isn't how we see the role of HR.

    Regarding the CIPD's mission statement, I would say that the CIPD isn't an HR professional. It isn't "doing" HR. Its mission and role are not the same as the mission or role of an HR Department or stand-alone professional. The CIPD has a campaigning role which few HR professionals have. It sets the standards for levels of professional qualifications ... ... I could go on but I'm sure you take the point. When we take a job, we aren't doing so to champion better work and working lives.

    Obviously, we wouldn't expect the input of an HR professional to an organisation to result in worse working lives, but whenever we are working to improve conditions in an organisation, it is generally in order to further its better working, which is why organisations allocate budget to have HR people on the staff.

    I say "generally" because I have never had to work anywhere that conditions were so poor that there was a moral imperative to improve them although, it came out not so long ago that there were garment factories in the UK paying less than the minimum wage. Maybe that is an example of a time when we need to step up as Employee Advocates but even then, the reason to advocate for the employees would be to stop the organisation from breaking the law. You could see it as an example of being an Employee Advocate, or as risk detection and mitigation for the business. However you characterise it, it is in the organisation's interest for the HR person to inform the board that they are breaking the law and what the consequences may be, legal and human and it is the HR person's duty to their employer to do this so I don't see that there are two contradictory roles which need to be balanced.

    I'm not commenting on The HR Value Proposition as I couldn't add anything to Ray's post.
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    17 May, 2021 09:59

    In reply to Karin:

    You've not upset anyone, Karin. Enjoying the debate :)
  • Steve Bridger

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    Community Manager

    17 May, 2021 10:05

    In reply to Keith:

    As you said here, I always recall...

    At end of the day you are a tool of management not an employee representative.

  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    17 May, 2021 11:20

    In reply to Steve Bridger:

    I've always found debates like this an interesting read. It seems to come up every now and again. 

    As puts it, "I was generally on the side of those who pay me. Which of course is why we get paid." Equally, to quote , "we wouldn't expect the input of an HR professional to an organisation to result in worse working lives..."

    Cue, the Profession Map - "The profession should have people at its heart".

  • In reply to Steve Bridger:

    Steve Bridger said:
    Cue, the Profession Map - "The profession should have people at its heart".

    Perhaps people in its heart but the business in its head....

  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    17 May, 2021 11:33

    In reply to Keith:

    Whisper it... but yes.
  • In reply to Steve Bridger:

    Why whisper it? HR people are business professionals are they not?