The HR Function

The HR function (also: HR department, human resources, HR) is indispensable in the process of management and leadership. The theory of Complementary Management has significant implications in terms of shaping its role and its contribution to businesses and other organizations.

Tasks and Activities of the HR Function

The HR function assumes multiple roles in companies. If corporate management is divided into the three fields of constitutive, strategic and operational management, the HR function contributes to all three fields. In the constitutive field, it often acts as a driver in the development and implementation of a normative management model and other formalized HR instruments, and can also provide impetus with regard to other normative issues (e.g., stakeholder analyses or compliance). In the strategic field, it is generally responsible for HR strategy and sometimes also provides suggestions for possible business strategies (especially from an HR perspective). In the operational field, according to the theory of Complementary Management, the HR function is one of several management actors. Together with the other actors, it is responsible for fulfilling the canon of management tasks. It does this by designing and administering management instruments and by providing active HR advisory services in the sense of “HR co-management”.

Design and Administration of Personnel Instruments

The development and administration of formalized personnel instruments is accompanied by a wealth of activities. These range from new conceptual development, evaluation and conceptual adaptation, to administration (especially data exchange, maintenance and processing) and information on questions relating to the instrument. Very different expertise is required depending on whether, for example, complex salary systems, technically sophisticated HR information systems or simple systems are involved. In principle, it makes sense to bundle the majority of these activities in the HR function. Although other management actors also have their own instrument-related activities to perform, this usually takes place in the context of pure application. For example, a line manager may complete an appraisal form and make suggestions for related improvements. In the case of the HR function (and to some extent senior managers), however, this is usually the focus of their activity.

Few aspects of personnel work are criticized as frequently as the management instruments, which many times have developed into bureaucracies that hinder rather than promote good people management and leadership. The problem here is not formalization as such, but the formalization of unsuitable procedures that are not aligned with actual management tasks and routines. Another problem is the often-excessive rigidity of formalization, which does not allow for decision-making leeway or exceptions. Finally, many personnel instruments suffer from a lack of evaluation and adaptation to changing contextual conditions. But this already identifies the three countermeasures: Stringent alignment with management tasks and routines, provision for decision-making leeway/exceptions, and ongoing review and adaptation based on user feedback. This is a way to ensure that people management and leadership tools are actually helpful. The theory of Complementary Management provides the theoretical framework for this. The case is quite similar for management resources (working time, feedback, competence, information), the design of which is generally also the responsibility of the HR function.

HR Co-management: The HR Function as a Compensating Entity

Beyond the activities mentioned, the HR function should also actively intervene in the leadership process as needed within the framework of classic HR advisory. Just as the line manager, following the primacy of self-management, only intervenes in a compensatory manner if the employee does not perform management tasks him or herself, the HR function intervenes only if the line manager does not fulfill his or her management responsibility in this regard. In practice, an HR manager usually advises various organizational units and often finds that most line managers and employees hardly need any impetus, while a few require constant and extensive intervention.

The role of the HR advisor as a compensatory entity is to ensure that all management tasks (positions) are performed in relation to every single employee. In doing so, he or she must first assess – in relation to each individual management task – the extent to which the line manager ensures that all management tasks are performed and then (only) takes compensatory action in the event of deficits. This is done within the framework of established advisory-related routines, e.g., mostly dialogs. This direct intervention of the HR function in the management process, which can be described as “HR co-management,” is by no means unusual in organizational practice. However, it is hardly ever explicitly referred to as such and, as far as can be seen, is also not dealt with in the literature. Where management and leadership really do function across the board in corporate practice, HR advisors are practically always involved as compensatory co-managers – whether officially or informally. Without this important regulative, good management and leadership cannot, in fact, be realized across the organization. Genuine HR co-management is an indispensable component of Complementary Management and the key to effective people management and leadership.