Many students of management and laypeople often hear the term HRM or Human Resource Management and wonder about the difference between HRM and the traditional term Personnel Management. In earlier times, the Personnel Manager of a factory or firm was the person in charge of ensuring employee welfare and interceding between the management and the employees. In recent times, the term has been replaced with HR manager. This article looks at the differences in usage and scope of functions as well as the underlying theory behind these nomenclatures. In the section on introducing HRM, we briefly looked at the main differences. We shall look into them in more detail here.
Traditionally the term personnel management was used to refer to the set of activities concerning the workforce which included staffing, payroll, contractual obligations and other administrative tasks. In this respect, personnel management encompasses the range of activities that are to do with managing the workforce rather than resources. Personnel Management is more administrative in nature and the Personnel Managers main job is to ensure that the needs of the workforce as they pertain to their immediate concerns are taken care of. Further, personnel managers typically played the role of mediators between the management and the employees and hence there was always the feeling that personnel management was not in tune with the objectives of the management.
With the advent of resource centric organizations in recent decades, it has become imperative to put people first as well as secure management objectives of maximizing the ROI (Return on Investment) on the resources. This has led to the development of the modern HRM function which is primarily concerned with ensuring the fulfillment of management objectives and at the same time ensuring that the needs of the resources are taken care of. In this way, HRM differs from personnel management not only in its broader scope but also in the way in which its mission is defined. HRM goes beyond the administrative tasks of personnel management and encompasses a broad vision of how management would like the resources to contribute to the success of the organization.
Cynics might point to the fact that whatever term we use, it is finally about managing people. The answer to this would be that the way in which people are managed says a lot about the approach that the firm is taking. For instance, traditional manufacturing units had personnel managers whereas the services firms have HR managers. While it is tempting to view Personnel Management as archaic and HRM as modern, we have to recognize the fact that each serves or served the purpose for which they were instituted. Personnel Management was effective in the smokestack era and HRM is effective in the 21st century and this definitely reflects a paradigm shift in the practice of managing people.
It is clear from the above paragraphs that HRM denotes a shift in focus and strategy and is in tune with the needs of the modern organization. HRM concentrates on the planning, monitoring and control aspects of resources whereas Personnel Management was largely about mediating between the management and employees. Many experts view Personnel Management as being workforce centered whereas HRM is resource centered. In conclusion, the differences between these two terms have to be viewed through the prism of people management through the times and in context of the industry that is being studied.