University of Twente Student Theses


HR sourcing strategies: a structurationist perspective

Balen, Mitch van (2009) HR sourcing strategies: a structurationist perspective.

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Abstract:The HRM (Human Resource Management) function is changing for the last decades due to such structural changes as bundling HR processes in shared service centres and the outsourcing of HR processes. These two developments together are known as ‘HR sourcing’ and are of our particular interest because of their influence on HRM nowadays. Commencing HR Sourcing is reported to have different impacts upon organisations. While some sources are optimistic and state different advantages (e.g. cost reduction, efficiency and innovation), others mention less positive effects. Complications such as the redistribution of responsibilities, inflated process quality and dissatisfaction with the supplier have been reported in ample cases. These conflicting and contradictory reports on HR Sourcing presume different characteristics of the subject at hand. Still a thorough insight into how these characteristics occur and how they can be managed, is lacking. This thesis contributes to that insight. We state that HR Sourcing is a strategic occurrence which has a distinct impact on the form of HRM. We therefore start by highlighting the form of HRM within organisations. We come to the conclusion that we cannot describe HRM solely as a function but that we should expand our vision to a more contemporary account of HRM. Hence HRM is understood as an ensemble: the entirety of HR Agents and HR Networks which exist in order to provide HR Processes. To understand the conflicting and contradictory reports on HR Sourcing we chose not to solely focus on the intensions of strategies, but also on the actions that they invoke within the organisation. Thereby the impact that HR Sourcing has on the HR Ensemble is not perceived to occur immediate, but rather within and through the agency of organisational agents. We chose for structuration theory to comprehend and analyse the agency of the organisational agents for several reasons. First, it takes history and context into account to understand agency as path-dependent and socially embedded in ongoing-practices. We thereby get a more elaborate insight into agency. Secondly, it explores actions with reference to structure, meaning that action cannot be understood without referring to the notions of structures that the agent has. Thirdly, it places the agents in the centre of the structuration process as active and knowledgeable actors that can counter intended changes. Following structuration theory, we analyze three structures: domination, legitimation and signification. These structures are put into action through modalities that serve as facilities, norms and schemes to bridge structure and agency. In this research we bring two premises forward. The first is that HR Sourcing strategies promote new modalities to the organisational agents to affect change in their agency. The second is that the eventual interplay between structure (as translated in modalities) and agency will show us the structuration characteristics of the different HR Sourcing strategies and their influence upon the HR Ensemble. To gain an insight into the structuration characteristics of HR Sourcing strategies we conducted interviews at three organisations that commenced with HR Outsourcing and three that commenced with HR Shared services at least 2 years ago. Eleven interviewees (with both line and HR managers) were selected on the basis of their involvement with implementing the HR sourcing strategies. They were required to have worked within the organisations before and during the changes. This was deemed necessary to gain an historical account of the structuration occurrences. The analysis of the data was done in three separate steps: (1) distinguishing HR Shared services from HR Outsourcing (2) 4 uncover structuration characteristics within these categories (3) compare the two categories and explain the different characteristics. This analysis brought us several findings. We saw that HR Shared services and HR Outsourcing invoke different structuration characteristics even though the original modalities of the HR Ensemble were similar amongst the organisations. We saw that the structures of domination, legitimation and signification that are connected to the HR Ensemble were affected. These effects can be seen in the table below. HR Shared services HR Outsourcing HR Processes d. Differing resources mobilised l. Customised processes expected s. Client satisfaction d. Propagated facilities utilised l. Effectiveness and reliability s. Client satisfaction HR Agents d. Authority remains at line l. Biased norms exist s. Capability is important d. Redistributed auth. resources l. Collaboration and dutifulness s. Common responsibility HR Network d. Redefined informal connections l. Available connections are right s. Informal is better d. Formal connections are enforced l. Approachability and personal touch s. Accessibility (d) domination (l) legitimation (s) signification These different structuration characteristics of the HR Sourcing strategies resulted in distinctions between the organisations. We saw at the organisations that chose for HR Shared services that a multiplicity of forms of the HR Processes was invoked. Also the responsibilities amongst HR Agents were much more spread than intended. And finally the HR Network was alienating managers from HRM. The organisations that chose for HR Outsourcing had experienced standardised and better HR Processes. HR Agents that feel a shared responsibility and collaborate with each other. And the HR Network can be characterised by formal but personal connection. From the perspectives of the managers, HR Outsourcing invoked more intended effects than HR Shared services. Therefore we could create a list of five recommendations for HR Sourcing strategies that increase the occurrence of ‘positive’ structuration characteristics. 1. Break ties with original facilities and restrain line managers from depending on HR managers 2. Leave schemes of the clients to communicate with the supplier similar to the original ones 3. Do not focus on the cost motive exclusively 4. Invest in the education and benefits of the supplier’s personnel 5. Understand the HR Processes in every single detail Structuration theory helped us to develop these insights because of its orientation on context, the reciprocity between structure and agency, and by putting the practices of agents in the middle of our attention. Besides giving this insight it also showed why certain practices emerged and not others. Therefore we created a very dynamic insight in the HR Sourcing strategies with much space for its nuances. Furthermore structuration theory was deemed useful because of the distinction it makes in structures of domination, legitimation and signification. We saw that while all the organizations experienced big changes in the facilities, this was not regarded to be an issue for the managers. Both line and HR managers reacted reluctant to most of the proposed changes in facilities and stated that those changes were inevitable. But when the HR Sourcing strategy would affect the 5 norms and schemes that the managers had, more negating practices were reported. Therefore structuration theory made it possible to dissect the findings on HR Sourcing strategies and was able to uncover some bottlenecks. Besides the use of structuration theory the notion of the HR Ensemble was also important. While the HR Ensemble is a very broad instrument to analyse organizational HRM, it was particularly useful for this research. Firstly because it allowed us to pose more focused questions upon the changes that HR Sourcing strategies try to invoke. We therefore were able to guide the interviewees to give a more complete picture of the structuration characteristics. Secondly it showed us that the bottleneck of HR Sourcing strategies is not necessarily founded in the quality of processes. Also the way how they are provided or the responsibilities that are connected to them might cause complications. Therefore the HR Ensemble gave us the framework to understand HR Sourcing strategies, in their intentions and their effects, in more detail.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Capgemini Nederland B.V.
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:88 social and public administration
Programme:Public Administration MSc (60020)
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