Contextualising the requirements for human resource competencies
Lo, Karen Pui Che
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Over the last two decades, there has been growing interest on how human resource management (HRM) contributes to organisational performance (Guest, 2011; Jiang, Lepak, Hu, & Baer, 2012; Paauwe, Guest, & Wright, 2013; Singh, Darwish, Costa, & Anderson, 2012). One dimension is the critical competencies required of human resource (HR) practitioners (Caldwell, 2008). HR competency models have been used to define the effectiveness of the HR function and to set benchmarks of best practice for HR practitioners (Brewster, Farndale, & van Ommeren, 2000; Ulrich, Brockbank, & Yeung, 1989a). In general, the HR literature assumes that some HR competencies are necessary and desirable for all organisations. Other researchers, however, contend that the salience of HR competencies varies in different organisational settings and are therefore contingent on factors in the environment that influence their requirements (Caldwell, 2008; Roehling et al., 2005). HR practitioners also believe that existing HR competency models are ineffective in predicting job success in their roles because they lack relevance to a particular organisation (Caldwell, 2008). This study intends to contribute to this discussion on the contextual nature of HR competencies by adopting a situationalist perspective. Specifically, this research seeks to explore whether some HR competencies are context-specific; that is, relevant to a narrower range of settings. As an exploratory study, a mixed-method design is used involving content analysis of HR job descriptions and an integrated concept mapping process (Kane & Trochim, 2007; Trochim, 1989). Based on the literature review, content analysis of HR job descriptions was used to firstly to identify the range of HR competencies required in organisations and then to analyse their relevance to different HR roles and organisational contexts. Then, concept mapping focus groups were used to verify the critical HR competencies identified and their conceptual meanings. Finally, a concept mapping online survey was used to analyse the thematic relationships of HR competencies and to identify key similarities and differentiators in competency requirements for HR practitioners in different HR roles and organisational contexts. This study makes three key contributions. First, it challenges the universal approach to HR competency research which assumes that a generic list of competencies is relevant to HR practitioners regardless of the context by differentiating generic HR competencies from those that are context-specific. Second, it calls into question the assumption that strategic HR competencies are more desirable than functional HR competencies in all contexts by examining the interrelationships of HR competencies and their contextual requirements for private, public, and not-for-profit sector organisations, domestic firms and multinational enterprises, and different firm size by employees. Finally, it suggests that the critical competencies required of HR practitioners are related to a wider array of underlying qualities than those suggested by the HR literature.