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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Introduction

Throughout the past years, a discussion of tremendous size emerged with regard to the devolvement of Human Resources (HR) responsibilities to the line (Delmotte & Sels, 2008; Hall and Torrington, 1998; Op de Beeck et al., 2016). Literature on the benefits and costs of devolving HR practices displays that scientists are divided on whether or not to devolve HR practices. On the one hand, researchers argue that conducting HR practices should be the responsibility of line managers. Even though they are aware of the possibility that these line managers do not own the appropriate HR-specific skills and knowledge to support their employees in an effective and consistent manner, these scientists still are convinced that line managers are the most appropriate employees within the organization to adopt certain HR practices (Cooper, 2001; Cunningham and Hyman, 1999). Cooper (2001) goes even further by writing off the HR function as an unnecessary luxury. Contrarily to this view, opposing scientists claim that line management is not capable of delivering effective Human Resource Management (HRM). This view is largely supported by the notion that line managers are predominantly occupied with their primary responsibilities (e.g., ensuring their KPIs are met), leaving little room for the optimization of HR or people processes (Whittaker and Marchington, 2003). Correspondingly, researchers emphasize that line management is in need of continuous support and training from HR to ensure the delivery of effective HRM (Boaden et al., 2008; Boselie and Paauwe, 2005; Mcdermott, Fitzgerald et al., 2015).

In the spirit of Whittaker and Marchington (2003), I will not look at this academic discussion by choosing sides. Instead of the commonly used technique of studying concepts from a negative approach, I aim to address the phenomenon from a more open, line-manager perspective, focusing on two components: (1) how do line managers alter HR practices, and (2) why do they decide to alter HR practices in this manner. This approach addresses a gap in current literature by focusing on a key issue identified by Sikora and Ferris (2014), namely the role of line managers in implementing HR practices. Whereas a significant amount of studies focused on the impact of HR practices on firm's performance (e.g. Becker and Gerhart, 1996; Delery and Doty, 1996; Huselid, 1995; Wright et al., 2005), there is little research on how line managers actually implement their firm's HR practices. By means of this approach, I strive to provide a clearer image of line managers' influence on HR practices, with the purpose of providing a starting point in optimizing this process, ideally proposing relevant hypotheses for further study to move towards the optimization of the implementation of HR practices. The following research question will be used to accomplish this:

How and why do line managers alter HR practices during implementation?

Literature review

In order to provide a meaningful analysis, it is of importance to review past literature on the concept of HR devolution. The following sections will address this.

Origin of devolvement

Throughout the past decades, the HR function has continuously been evolving and transforming. Whereas the HR function used to be focused merely around the fulfillment of being a personnel department, new roles and responsibilities have been added to this administrative role of HR (Jamrog and Overholt, 2004; Lemmergaard, 2009). Along with the transformation of the HR department, the focus of research on HR also shifted towards adding value by becoming a strategic partner for companies (Lawler and Mohrman, 2003). A significant factor in the development towards becoming a strategic partner is the use of technology. In their research, Gardner et al. (2003) note that when technology is utilized to automate tasks, it can enable professionals to spend more time on the process of interpreting and using information. Accordingly, Lawler and Mohrman (2003) state that the first and foremost connection between HR information systems and strategic partnering is the opportunity of information systems to free up time for HR by performing administrative or transactional work of HR. On top of that, they note that HR will be able to gather and analyze strategic data more rapidly, offering the function an opportunity to contribute to the strategic position of the company. In short, technology has proven to free up time from HR departments, acting as a catalyst for HR to become more strategic. However, the use of technology alone is not sufficient for HR to become strategically involved in a firm's activities (Intindola et al., 2017). In order to become strategically involved, certain HR functions should necessarily be devolved towards the line, giving HR the opportunity to focus on strategic Human Resource Management (HRM) (Hunt and Boxall, 1998). This is in accordance with the stance of Lawler and Mohrman (2003), who note that in order to become a strategic partner, there needs to be an appropriate balance between the deployment of HR to the business units and centralized services, justifying a rising need for understanding devolvement (Intindola et al., 2017). Research by Kulik and Perry (2008) confirm the use of devolvement in becoming more strategic. Their research, held among 174 HR decision makers, demonstrates that devolution of HR has positive effects for the strategic role of the HR unit, as well as the perceived image line managers have on their HR unit. On the contrary, a cross-sectional study by Reichel and Lazarova (2013) found significant evidence for the negative relationship between HR devolvement and the strategic position of the HR department, meaning that devolving HR practices to the line lowers strategic influence of HR, contradicting to the notion that HR responsibilities should be devolved, in order for HR to become more strategic. However, note has to be made that they do not deny the possibility of a high level of HR devolvement (i.e. a high level of HR responsibilities shifted to line managers) coexisting with an HR department that fulfils a strategic position.

Shared responsibility

Regardless of whether or not HR implementation should be devolved to line management, research has uncovered that in most firms the HR department is only responsible for the development of HR practices, whereas the responsibility of implementing HR practices resides with firms' line managers, indicating that firms currently do employ a shared responsibility between HR and the line when implementing HR practices (Sikora and Ferris, 2014). Research by López-Cotarelo (2017) and Wright and Nishii (2013) confirm this, illustrating that responsibility of HR practices is mostly shared between the line and HR, rather than it being the sole responsibility of either of the two, answering a call from research – to establish how HR implementation activities might be combined or divided up between HR and line managers instead of assuming that either one of them should be responsible for HR practices – made several years ago (Renwick, 2000; Ulrich, 1998; Whittaker and Marchington, 2003). The paper by López-Cotarelo (2017) further elaborates on the notion of shared responsibility by claiming that HR specialists design HR policies and procedures in a way that managers are able to apply them with their own discretion. This shared responsibility is justified by the reasoning that line managers who are aware of the daily activities, and possess a proper understanding of the core business, are most suitable of integrating HR decisions in a way that optimizes the performance of the business unit.

Challenges regarding HR devolvement (lack of HR support)

As mentioned before, alongside the fact that there is a tendency that firms do employ a shared responsibility between HR and the line (i.e. HR devolvement), past research mostly focused on the discussion whether or not the outcomes of HR devolvement can be beneficial for the organization, leading towards a stream of literature dedicated to identifying the challenges regarding HR devolvement (Intindola et al., 2017). The following section will address this body of literature.

Past research brought to light that the process of HR devolvement has not been simple to implement (Larsen and Brewster, 2003; McGovern et al., 1997). One of the reasons for this, is the need of support from HR by the line. A study by Conway and Monks (2010) indicated that, in order for the devolution of HR to be successful, line managers are in need of support from HR. One of the hygiene factors to providing this support is effective communication. Conway and Monks (2010) illustrate that the use of effective communication between HR and line management has proven to be a bottle-neck. López-Cotarelo (2017) states that line managers fail to be engaged in their HR roles, either due to time pressures, other priorities, or a lack of ability or desire. According to Teague and Roche (2012), these impediments to effective devolvement are bolstered by the lack of appropriate HR specific resources (e.g. formal training) provided to line managers by HR. Furthermore, in their study, Whittaker and Marchington (2003) found that line managers are mainly concerned about a lack of support from the HR function when implementing HR practices. A significant amount of studies further emphasizes the need for additional HR support by line managers in order for HR devolvement to be successful (McDermott et al., 2015; Op de Beeck et al., 2016; Renwick, 2003).

Furthermore, note should be made that line managers do not deem the earlier mentioned notion of shared responsibility as favorable. In their paper, Whittaker and Marchington (2003) sum four main criticisms among line managers with regard to the effectiveness of HR. First, HR practitioners are seen as disconnected with the actual business of companies. They are deemed to lack a comprehensive understanding of the business' nature, its goals, and customers. It is often believed that HR employees do not take into account the competitive prospects a company has to deal with. Second, HR managers are perceived to be slow in their response, which comes from the belief that HR rather wants to make sure that everything is thought through thoroughly, instead of pursuing actions and take the consequences into account at a later point in time. The third criticism comes from the viewpoint that HR is generally seen as a constraint to managerial decision making. Managers believe that HR impedes the decisions that they believe are in the business' best interests. Lastly, HR professionals are criticized for being too theoretical, stimulating policies that work in theory, but are either inappropriate for the specific workplace, or hard to implement.

As line managers are indeed operating alongside their employees, they can act more appropriate and adequate. Knowing the business their employees operate in, will further make it more likely that solutions correspond with business demands, contributing significantly to the goals of the organization (Whittaker and Marchington, 2003).

Concept definitions:

The following sections will address the main concepts that are relevant to this research, as well as how they are defined.

HR implementation

HR implementation is defined by means of the framework depicted by Guest and Bos-Nehles (2013). This framework suggests that HR implementation consists of four stages. The first stage is the beginning of HR implementation, characterized by the decision to adapt an HR practice. The next stage concerns the quality of the HR practice to be adopted. For instance, when deciding to implement a new online recruitment platform, will the company choose a high-quality platform or will it favor cost savings by choosing a lower quality platform? HR managers are predominantly responsible for these first two stages. During stage three and four, line management is increasingly involved (Brewster and Larsen, 2003).  Stage three circulates around the decision whether or not to actually make use of the practice, whereas stage four entails the quality of the implementation. In the end, line managers decide whether or not they want to make use of the practice. The quality of the implementation in stage four depends on how accurately line managers implement the practice, which can be influenced by multiple factors (e.g., time constraints, lack of knowledge). This description is in accordance with the managerial discretion theory, which suggests that formal strategies (stage 1 and 2) do not entirely regulate the actions of the individuals who implement the strategy. These implementers have a latitude to use their political and cognitive common sense when choosing the courses of action (stage 3 and 4) that establish the implemented (Hambrick and Finkelstein, 1987; Hendry, 2002). For this thesis, I will predominantly look at HR implementation in the context of stage three and four of the HR implementation framework, since I focus on how line managers influence the HR implementation process.

More specifically, expanding on definitions by Guest and Bos-Nehles (2013), López-Cotarelo (2017) found that there are three distinct was in which line management engages with the procedures and policies of HRM:

“they can (1) decide and propose a decision within the remit of their formal role, they can (2) ask and negotiate an outcome outside of formal policies and procedures, and they can (3) avoid and circumvent policies and procedures”

Findings by López-Cotarelo (2017) shed light on the importance of (1) ‘deciding and proposing' and (2) ‘asking and negotiating' as effective approaches in which line managers add value to the effective implementation of HR practices, whereas (3) ‘avoiding and circumventing' is seen as a way that may decrease the effectiveness of HR implementation (Guest and Bos-Nehles, 2013). I used these three approaches as a starting point in order to identify how line managers influence HR implementation.

Furthermore, in line with the earlier mentioned stance that formal strategies (e.g., an HR practice) do not fully determine the actions of the implementers (e.g., a line manager), Shen and Cho (2005) propose that managerial discretion consists of two components: latitude of actions, and latitude of objectives. Latitude of actions refers to the ability of the manager to choose what actions to undertake in the pursuit of the organizational goals. This means that the line manager can use HR practices together with his or her own interpretation to influence the HR practices in manners that aid to the organizational goals. On the other hand, latitude of objectives refers to line managers' ability to pursue objectives that are different from the organization (Shen and Cho, 2005). These constructs have been used during analysis in order to identify the rationale behind line managers' decisions to choose a way of implementing HR practices.

Devolvement

In their paper, Intindola et al. (2017) use a conceptualization for devolvement that is consistent with the definition used by Kulik and Perry (2008): “devolvement is the transfer of responsibilities from HR specialists working in, and identified with, a centralized HR unit to line managers in other units.” According to Intindola et al. (2017), this conceptualization is similar to numerous other HR related studies, underlining the validity of the conceptualization. In order to eliminate any confusion, an important difference (i.e., retention of power) between devolvement and decentralization should be underlined. In the case of decentralization, HR transfers responsibilities to the line with the power to claim it back. On the contrary, when responsibilities are devolved, HR does not have the power to interfere when they would like to – line management has become the owner of the power (Larsen and Brewster, 2003).

Intended vs. Actual practices

 I have used the process model of Strategic HRM (SHRM) depicted by Nishii & Wright (2008), represented in figure 1. As this thesis is aimed at the role of line managers when implementing HR practices, I will look at the link between ‘intended HR practices' and ‘actual HR practices', which more or less resides with the distinction between the earlier mentioned four stages of the HR implementation framework by Guest and Bos-Nehles (2013). The intended HR practices are recognized as the standard policies how certain HR practices are to be implemented (i.e. stage 1 and 2 of the HR implementation framework), whereas the actual HR practices are the HR practices presented and altered (i.e. stage 3 and 4) by the implementers (i.e. line managers), which are subject to variability (Wright and Nishii, 2008).  As mentioned before, line managers have some leeway with regard to the use of policies and procedures of HR practices (López-Cotarelo, 2017), which takes place during the process of interpreting the intended HR practices, consequently molding them into actual HR practices.

Figure 1 – Process model of SHRM (Nishii & Wright, 2008)

The case

For this thesis, I will derive my data from a company that I have named Cool Group, a global Market Research agency with its headquarters based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where I am currently employed as HR Assistant. Cool Group consists of 9 offices around the globe. I will focus specifically on the headquarters in Rotterdam, which is also the biggest office in terms of the number of employees (still answer why). Cool Group Rotterdam counts 72 employees with 14 different nationalities at the moment of data gathering, of which 14 general staff (i.e. HR, Finance, Marketing), 5 Developers, 3 Managing Directors, and 50 employees who are occupied with the core business of Cool Group, ranging from Research Analysts to Research Directors. Thirteen of these employees conducting the core business are known as PDP (Performance Development Plan) managers. PDP managers are assigned to monitor and evaluate the performance of the employee, enabling their development and coaching them to achieve success. See figure 2 for a more detailed description of the role of a PDP manager at Cool Group, retrieved from an internal company document. The focal unit of analysis in this case study, will be the decision-making process of managers with regard to the implementation of HR practices (i.e. why do line managers influence HR implementation the way they do?).

Figure 2 – Role description of the PDP manager (Internal document from Cool Group)

Research methods

In order to provide the answer to the research question and to create insights for future research, I approached this thesis by means of an empirical qualitative research design. As the notion of how and why line managers influence HR implementation is a relatively uncharted research territory, there is room to provide a beginning of filling this gap by means of doing exploratory research. The following section provides a concise overview of how the research has been conducted.

Data sample

As mentioned before, I derived my data from Cool group, a global Market Research agency with its headquarters based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where I am currently employed as HR Assistant. As my research question requires insights from a specific group of employees, purposive sampling has been utilized (add reference). Interviews have been conducted at the office in Rotterdam with line managers who work in Rotterdam, and who are involved in the implementation of any HR practice (e.g., recruitment, onboarding, performance appraisal). For data triangulation purposes, I have decided to conduct an additional interview with the HR Business Partner of Cool Group (justify why you did this). I did not conduct interviews with line managers from the other offices abroad that Cool Group employs. The reason for this is twofold: (1) conducting interviews with employees from other locations will require more time, which is not available for this thesis, (2) due to cultural differences, as well as differences in location size, I decided to focus on just one office as it would be harder to propose hypotheses for future research when taking into account the different factors possibly influencing the unit of analysis when focusing on the nine offices Cool Group employs. The time and resources are not sufficient for a scope of such size. Furthermore, due to the fact that I have been employed at this company for over six months at the time of conducting interviews, I deemed it not necessary to do a general observation of the company, as I am already embedded within it, and aware of the culture and working environment.

Data collection

For this thesis, I made use of a case study approach. Data was collected by means of semi-structured, face-to-face interviews. This approach allowed me to explore issues that arose during the interview, leading to new insights with regard to the research question at hand (Reference). Furthermore, the use of in-depth interviews is valuable when deeper insights and detailed information are needed. In order to explore how, and especially why line managers influence the implementation of HR practices, it is very much necessary to gain deep insights on this process, justifying the approach of an in-depth interview (references).

The interview protocol was twofold. The first section, which was used to answer the first part of the research question – how do line managers influence HR implementation? – contained a set of questions based on the three earlier identified actions (i.e. decide and propose, ask and negotiate, and avoid and circumvent) managers can undertake when transforming an intended HR practice into an actual HR practice (López-Cotarelo, 2017).

In order to uncover how line managers approach HR practices, I made use of the critical incident technique. This is a well proven qualitative approach of asking questions, by referring to incidents that occurred in the past (reference). This approach is useful when seeking context-rich, first-hand perspectives on human activities, which I will investigate for this thesis. Furthermore, the critical incident technique is capable of enabling the identification of key research issues, to develop a knowledge base for further investigation (Hughes et al., 2007).

Each time the interviewees would describe a situation of how they would cope with the intended HR practice, I could move to answering the second part of the research question: why do line managers influence HR implementation by means of the earlier identified action? More explicitly, this question provides justification of the chosen managerial action. The consent form can be retrieved from Appendix A, whereas the interview protocol can be retrieved from Appendix B.

During the entire interview, room was made for managers to elaborate freely on their thoughts. Consequently, every interview contained a number of in advance unidentified follow-up questions. This approached aided in uncovering unidentified insights relevant to this research. These insights will be showcased in the ‘Results' section.

Data analysis

For data analysis purposes, the interviews were recorded. The interviews were conducted in English and transcribed verbatim. The interviews were coded by means of coding software named Atlas.ti. In order to provide a proper analysis, the interviews were analyzed by means of a method named thematic content analysis (Burnard, 1991). This method originates from a mixture between content analysis literature and grounded theory literature. The aim of thematic content analysis is to link themes and interviews together under a category system. As the interview protocol was based upon different actions managers can take during HR implementation, I developed a set of pre-defined codes before analyzing the interviews.

I used the first round of coding to link the pre-defined codes to content that was connected to these codes, providing me with a rough overview of what line managers tend to do when implementing HR practices. I coded for ‘decide and propose' in case it became clear that line managers implemented the HR practice without discussing any changes to be made with HR. ‘Ask and negotiate' was coded for when line managers discussed the HR practice with the HR department, because they thought something should be altered. Furthermore, ‘avoid and circumvent' was coded for when line managers gave examples of when they entirely neglected the HR practice, and decided to take their own approach.  In all three cases, when it became clear that line managers would pursue one of three actions in the future, they were coded for as well.

 During the second round of coding, I aimed to identify and code as much aspects of the content that were relevant for this research, also known as the open coding stage (Walker and Myrick, 2006). Both these stages were repeated once. Following the coding process, I commenced a grouping process. All the codes that were more or less similar, were grouped together under higher-order headings, providing a more compelling overview of the outcomes of the interview.

 Conclusively, after several rounds of coding, combining pre-defined codes with emerging codes, I was able to identify a number of higher order code groups and to build a model that provides an overview of how and why managers influence HR implementation. I will further elaborate on these outcomes in the ‘Results' section.

Results

The data provided detailed in-depth insights about the actions and justifications of managers at Cool Group when implementing HR practices. The following sections describe how line managers implement

In order to properly interpret the data, structure it comprehensively, and answer the research question, it is of importance to put focus on the first part of the research question – how do line managers influence HR implementation – before moving towards the ‘Why'. The following sections will address this.

Manager actions

This section will describe how the different ways managers can take action, according to López-Cotarelo (2017), apply to the investigated company.

Decide and propose

Overall, the way how line managers at Cool Group implement HR practices differs. In one of the examples that came to light, line manager 4 mentioned that she implemented an intended HR practice, the onboarding program, according to the guidelines and rules set by HR, which corresponds with the earlier identified manager action ‘decide and propose'. The onboarding program is a procedure that is set in place as soon as a new person gets hired, in order to get him or her acquainted with the company and the daily job as effectively as possible. Her justification for this derived from the fact that, according to her, the intended HR practice contained clarity and steps on how to execute it: “… in a sense that it gives me very clear indication of what is expected of me and when. So, I can actually plan it”. Line manager 3 noted that he is also happy with the fact that the onboarding program clarifies what actions to take: “I am glad that there is an onboarding schedule, and that HR takes on the first few days, basically, making sure that people get the necessary training, know where to find stuff, that it's not the responsibility of the people within the teams. That would take a lot of my time. I also find the checklist very convenient and actionable”.

Having clarified that there are examples where the line managers do implement an HR practice according to the rules and guidelines set by HR, it is of importance to identify what their motivation behind this is, answering the why. As can be drawn from the previous examples, both line managers mention that they implement the program accordingly, because they feel that it helps them by providing clarity and structure on how to implement it (i.e. actions are clarified), freeing up time to focus on the core of their job. Line manager 4 further mentioned the following: “in terms of guidelines.. The only thing I think that is super clear and also helpful is the onboarding plan. That really defined like what should I be doing as a PDP manager and when, what is my role as a buddy, team manager. So, I think the onboarding is super clear in terms of guidelines”. In line with the earlier provided examples, line manager 4 clearly indicates that she actually utilizes the onboarding program accordingly, because it serves the goal of supporting her in onboarding a new employee by providing clear guidelines. Therefore, the conclusion can be drawn that in case the HR practice is in place and supports the line manager adequately in performing his or her job, in this case by providing clarity and freeing up time, the HR practice is implemented accordingly by line managers.  

Ask and negotiate

A much more commonly used action with regard to HR implementation by line managers at Cool Group is to discuss the from HR intended practice with the HR department. This is in accordance with the aforementioned manager action ‘ask and negotiate'. What often happens at Cool Group, is that an intended HR practice is interpreted and examined by line managers who are to implement the practice. During the interviews, numerous cases came to light where line managers came back to HR, discussing a certain approach towards a practice, or providing thoughts in order to improve the intended practice before implementation. In one instance, line manager 6 wanted to discuss a component of the performance appraisal system (PDP) with HR: “I recall a case where I felt like a certain action you prescribed in the system did not reflect on my team in the right way. I then went to one of you guys [HR] to discuss this, after which we agreed upon a different approach”. When asking for clarification on why he decided to discuss it with HR, he noted: “I am responsible for the development of my employees, which is one of my most important tasks there is, right. I want to guide them as good as possible. Therefore, I wanted to discuss the fact that the thing you set up does not reflect on my team properly”. This is a clear example of a line manager getting back to HR to discuss the intended HR practice in place, because he feels the intended HR practice does not apply properly to his team.

Another case stems from the need for more specialized role descriptions and the interconnected growth paths. At Cool Group, the role descriptions for analysts are generic, while people are hired for more specialized roles. When these employees actually start working, this lack of a clear role description hampers their development. Line manager 1 notified that he discussed with the HR department that there was a new hire with a specialized profile, and that he was concerned about his development, since there was no proper role description and growth path: “Yeah, we discussed it, but at some point, I left it. I was actually not responsible for this new hire and it became unclear to him. So, that's when I left it. And I think employee X [HR], compromised on expectations together with his manager”. After some discussion, HR picked this up together with the employee in question and his manager.

Both the preceding examples showcase a situation where the line manager is not entirely satisfied with the intended HR practice, after which they decide to begin a discussion with the HR department, in order to come to a solution. Therefore, this might be an indication that the line manager trade-off between ‘deciding and proposing' and ‘asking and negotiating' is dependent on the perceived quality of the intended HR practice by line managers. Furthermore, their justification behind picking this up and discussing the cases, comes from the fact that they feel responsible for the employees they work with.   

Avoid and circumvent

When taking into account the earlier mentioned examples with regard to asking and negotiating, the HR department provided an adequate follow up and thus the matters were solved. However, there have also been instances where the matter did not get solved. During the interview with line manager 3, he described that he set up an HR practice himself because of the fact that there was no response from HR. For PDP management, there are tools and guidelines in place for the line managers to help them in performing their job as a PDP manager appropriately. However, line manager 3 felt that something should be added: “At a certain moment, I flagged with HR that I needed more hands-on tips and tricks with regard to performing the role of PDP manager”. After sharing this, he mentioned that the HR department did not respond to his feedback: “In the end nothing happened. So that's when I took the initiative to plan a PDP sharing session. After the first meeting we thought that it was very helpful, so we decided to do it every month”. After providing feedback to the HR department in order to come up with a solution for a problem related to one of the HR practices (i.e. ask and negotiate), the HR department did not respond to this need. As a consequence, the line manager in question decided to proactively come up with a solution himself, without including HR (i.e. avoid and circumvent). Besides the reason that line manager 3 felt that he needed more support in performing his role as a PDP manager in order to successfully guide the employees he was managing, he denoted the following: “Well I think that is also a little bit of our Cool Group typical culture that if you want to make something happen you do that yourself. I mean, it was also a way for myself to show that I wanted to have an impact on the organization, to improve the processes. So, in the end I got better at it in terms of PDP management, but also personally, as I showed proactiveness etcetera. So, it was good for my evaluation”. In this case, the proactive culture that Cool Group strives for, was a motivation for line manager 3 to, after not receiving a response, set up an add-on to the HR practice himself.

Line manager 1 decided to undertake something similar with regard to the lack of specialized role descriptions. As described earlier, he already flagged one individual example of a discrepancy between an employee's pre-defined and actual role. This individual matter was picked up by the HR department. However, the HR department did not respond to his, and other line managers' call for a plan with more specialized role descriptions in general: “The methodology people are different, which makes it difficult. So, I actually like to involve multiple people and I am actually working on a separate accountability competency profile stream for all the methodologists… It's actually an HR issue I think. HR should do that. But yeah, they never do it”. The line manager in question clearly notes that he believes responsibility should lay with HR, but HR did not undertake any action. Because HR did not pick up on it after discussing the matter with the line manager, he then decided to take responsibility for the methodologists and set it up himself, consequently avoiding and circumventing both the current HR practice in place, as well as the HR department.

When asking line manager 1 why he decided to reach out to HR with the individual case, and then followed up by setting up an HR practice himself, he mentioned the following: “I flagged it, because his [the new employee] role is part of who I am, and I arrange a lot within that sector at Cool Group. I feel responsible for it. I also think that it is important if you hire someone that you know what is the next step in their career, and what the accountabilities are associated with that step, and competencies”. Line manager 1 clearly explains that he feels responsibility for his company, which is why he decides to make sure the HR practice is discussed. This feeling of responsibility even made him decide to set up the HR practice himself after finding out that role discrepancies still have not been dealt with in general.

Figure 3 – Overview of the managerial action coding structure

Sample quotes    Manager action

Interdependencies

As can be concluded from the analysis, why line managers decide to pursue certain actions when it comes to HR implementation, depends on a number of aspects. First of all, line managers evaluate the intended HR practice. If the HR practice is in place and provides clarity, the line manager will use the HR practice accordingly. On another note, when the line manager believes that the intended HR practice is not in place, he or she will go back to the HR department to discuss the HR practice, and to come to a solution with the HR department. However, often it is the case that the HR department does not provide an adequate follow up, simply because they do not respond or have the decision-making authority to make decisions on the matters that the line managers wanted to discuss with them. In those instances, line managers tend to take matters in own hands and provide a solution without including HR. I made an overview of the process of choosing between the managerial actions by means of a decision tree, which can be found in Figure 4 below.

EXPAND THIS BY EXPLAINING MORE DETAILED.

Figure 4 – Decision tree of managerial actions

Furthermore, regardless of what decision line managers made when implementing HR practices, they all notified that they chose to take a certain action, because they wanted the HR practice to be arranged properly. Even if that would mean to entirely exclude the HR department, they were willing to do so for the better of the organization.

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