Human Resource Management in the Knowledge Economy: New Challenges, New Roles, New Capabilities

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Offers a fundamentally new conceptual model for the human resource function to meet the challenges of the knowledge economy Provides concrete suggestions for implementing this model, including numerous examples of effective practices from leading-edge firms Synthesizes current thinking on knowledge management and intellectual capital and identifies how human resource management can make a value-added contribution As more organizations recognize the importance of intellectual capital and knowledge management to competitive success, you would expect human resources (HR) to move to the forefront of organizational leadership. Yet, to the contrary, HR continues to be criticized for its operational and bureaucratic focus and its inability to keep up with changes in the environment. Human Resource Management in the Knowledge Economy examines how human resource management must change if it is to remain a vital part of the organization. The Lengnick-Halls show how HR departments can move beyond a simple operational focus on attracting, selecting, developing, retaining, and using employees to a more strategic focus on managing human capital and managing knowledge. The book identifies the most important features of the knowledge economy and details four new roles HR must adopt in order to help organizations succeed in this new environment: human capital steward, knowledge facilitator, relationship builder, and rapid deployment specialist. Each of these roles is defined and described in detail using examples from leading-edge businesses. Human Resource Management in the Knowledge Economy describes how human resource management has evolved and continues to evolve to meet the increasing demands of organizations for sources of competitive advantage.

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Chapter 1 A New Imperative for Human Resource Management

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“The secret of business is to know something that nobody else knows.”
—Aristotle Onassis

“In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”
—Eric Hoffer

Pick up almost any business book or magazine and one is sure to see claims that a firm’s people are its most important resource. Unfortunately for most organizations, the ability to capitalize on this resource is limited by human resource management (HRM) programs, practices, and policies that have a simple operational focus on attracting, selecting, developing, retaining, and utilizing employees to accomplish specified tasks and jobs. Unless HRM is able to reinvent itself to embrace the challenges of the knowledge economy, it will become a constraining factor that undermines a firm’s competitiveness rather than a crucial source of competitive advantage.

The competitive demands of today’s marketplace require a reorientation of strategic human resource management emphasis that concentrates on building human capital and managing knowledge rather than focusing on primarily matching particular job skills to selected strategies. For example, similar to the ways that firms engage in mass customization of their products, they need to develop corresponding means to accomplish mass customization of the ways in which they manage individual differences within the workforce. Likewise, as firms develop business-to-business partnerships with suppliers and customers, human resource managers must find ways to develop partial employee relationships with those beyond the firm’s borders.

 

Chapter 2 Human Resource Management in the Knowledge Economy

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“Knowledge is the most democratic source of power.”
—Alvin Toffler

“I don’t believe evolution is about survival of the fittest.
I believe it is about survival of the most useful.”
—John Woods

What is the knowledge economy? The knowledge economy encompasses all jobs, companies, and industries in which the knowledge and capabilities of people, rather than the capabilities of machines or technologies, determines competitive advantage. Of the 19.5 million jobs that are projected to be created in the United States from 1998 to 2008, 19.1 million of them will be in the service sector (Hecker, 2001). From retail sales to computers to biotechnology, these jobs will be more knowledge-intensive in their demands on workers and organizations. Although the service sector is an obvious place to find more knowledge-intensive work, the manufacturing sector is also becoming more dependent on knowledge and human capabilities as microprocessors and computers pervade almost every facet of work.

The knowledge economy came into existence as a result of the commercialization of information and communication technologies—what is collectively known as information technology (Burton-Jones, 1999). The rapid development of computers and microprocessors has made it possible to collect and use vast amounts of information from a variety of sources in a more integrative and interactive manner than ever before. Networking and connectivity, coupled with the Internet, have made it possible for information to be acquired and shared globally, so that proximity no longer determines the ability of people to work together collaboratively. Combined, these forces have dramatically altered business and everyday life.

 

Chapter 3 Human Capital Steward

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“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
—Benjamin Franklin

“Forget land, buildings, or machines—the real source of wealth today is intelligence, applied intelligence. We talk glibly of “intellectual property” without taking on board what it really means. It isn’t just patent rights and brand names; it is the brains of the place.”
—Charles Handy

Effective adoption of the human capital steward role requires appreciation of two issues. First, there must be a clear understanding of what is meant by human capital. Second, a compelling rationale must be provided for a stewardship perspective. In this chapter, we hope to accomplish both of these purposes. We begin with a discussion of human capital.

While there is no single accepted definition of human capital, most authors focus on similar factors: The collective knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (that is, all of the capabilities combined) of an organization’s employees and managers that create a capacity (potential that can be realized) for competitive advantage. Human capital is created by changes in people that develop skills and capabilities enabling them to act in new ways (Coleman, 1988). Here are some of the definitions of human capital to illustrate the range of conceptualizations.

 

Chapter 4 Knowledge Facilitator

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“Knowledge sharing is considered by most people as personal decision as opposed to absolute obligation. And personal decisions to share knowledge are most sensitive to trust and goodwill.”
—Ora Setter

“Knowledge management is to knowledge-based organizations what job procedures were in administration and manufacturing-based organizations.”
—Allan Punzalan Isaac

Knowledge management has become a fashionable term in organizations today. There are even chief knowledge officers (CKOs), although individuals in this role frequently find themselves having to explain what their job titles mean. Just what is meant by “knowledge” and how one might “manage” it is a frequent topic of discussion. In this chapter, we will first define knowledge and knowledge management. Then, we will describe a new role for HRM—that of knowledge facilitator—and what it entails. Next, we will discuss some of the HR challenges involved in managing knowledge.

Knowledge management may sound like the latest management fad, following in the steps of total quality management (TQM) and business process reengineering. However, although the term may be new and trendy, the concept is as old as the pyramids of Giza.

 

Chapter 5 Relationship Builder

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“Everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people.”
—John Guarre

Organizations are networks of relationships. There are many internal relationships that affect organizations, such as supervisor-employee; union-management; line-staff; mentor-protégé; and co-worker–co-worker. There are also many external relationships that affect organizations, such as those with suppliers, customers, regulators, competitors, and other stakeholders. However, HRM has traditionally focused on individuals—hiring, training, evaluating, rewarding, and other activities have mostly centered around the individual employee (Uhl-Bien, Graen, & Scandura, 2000). This is sometimes described as “having the right people in the right place at the right time doing the right things.” To more accurately reflect organizational functioning, however, we might amend that statement to read “having the right people with the right relationships in the right place at the right time doing the right things” (Uhl-Bien, Graen, & Scandura, 2000).

 

Chapter 6 Rapid Deployment Specialist

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“Opportunity no longer knocks. These days, it darts past the door before you can even react.”
—Anonymous advertisement

“We’ve gone from a world in which the big eat the small to a world in which the fast eat the slow.”
—Thomas L. Freidman

The final role of the HR professional is to obtain the “right” human talent and ensure that people are in the right place, at the right time, able to perform the work that is needed, and able to achieve the desired outcomes: to rapidly deploy and redeploy human capital when and where it is needed. Although this responsibility is not a new one for HRM, the rapid pace and constantly changing market environment that many firms and industries confront has altered every element in the equation.

Some firms, such as those in the video game and movie industries, find that rather than creating and sustaining long-term competitive advantages that are nurtured and defended over time, success depends on their ability to create market disruptions and gain tactical advantages. This means relying on short-term, in-and-out, guerrilla-like tactics that allow them to take advantage of fleeting opportunities in the marketplace, while at the same time increasing the level of unpredictability for their rivals.

 

Chapter 7 New Roles, New Solutions

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“In industry, nothing is accomplished except through organization—which means mobilized minds and wills applying energy to carrying out some defined end.”
—Tead & Metcalf (1920)

The roles of human capital steward, knowledge facilitator, relationship builder, and rapid deployment specialist capture a very different perspective of HRM from that popularized by Dilbert’s “evil HR director,” Catbert. Although the caricature portrayed in the cartoon exaggerates the worst of HR practices, it also highlights some of the misplaced focus that has evolved from efforts to provide quite good conventional HRM answers in a world that is asking some entirely different questions. Strategists have reoriented their thinking to go beyond deliberate and long-range planning to incorporate entrepreneurial, emergent, and improvisational approaches that reflect the more unpredictable and fluid competitive landscape of the twenty-first century, HRM needs to rethink its contribution to organizational effectiveness, as well.

 

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