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Paul Sparrow

Centre for Performance-led HR


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The HR of today v the HR of tomorrow


This article is based on submissions to a new academic journal, the Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance, by Paul Sparrow and Cary L. Cooper.

The journal is published by Emerald Group Publishing and provides insight into best practice and how HR can add value in a sustainable way. The journal covers a range of papers, varying from reviews, studies, conceptual pieces and critiques of existing theory and practice, littered with real business case studies.

Exclusively, readers of HR Zone can access the journal for FREE throughout May at

HR must support the whole business

In an age of globalisation and innovation, business leaders understand that now, more than ever, there is a requirement for a company to be intelligently efficient and to invest in effective processes. Traditionally, the HR function has typically taken an internal approach, but there is now a requirement to ‘look out’ at the changing nature of the industry and its place needs to be one that compliment not just today’s, but tomorrow’s organizational models. So how can HR support a typical business across departments?

Area #1: corporate communications

Brand perception is a vital part of any organization in operation today, and the expectation is that a company should be socially and environmentally responsible. As a result, companies are encouraged to embed CSR into their strategies and not just take a ‘bolt on approach’. One example of a company taking an intrinsic approach to CSR is IBM, who uses its commercial, environmental and social capabilities to build a ‘smart world’ as part of an emphasis on ‘innovation that matters’. Essentially, IBM helps to solve real-world problems such as improving communication and co-ordination of aid workers and governments in disaster settings. The company sees this investment as a valuable experience and claim that this has a positive impact on staff retention and attraction.

Area #2: sales

A fundamental part of sales is to know who you’re selling to and HR can learn a lot from where it is placed locally. After all, HR has to continually 'sell' the company to its employees. The Haier Group, a refrigeration company, which became the first Chinese firm to build a factory in the USA back in 2000, now employ over 60,000 people globally. The company’s CEO, Zhang Ruimin, admits that it has faced many new challenges, and he and the team have learned a lot from the countries in which they operate. For example, Haier had to understand that employees in the USA expected to receive health insurance from their employers and the cultural differences in how they liked to receive feedback. The result is that the company now adjusts itself to fit in with a number of cultures and laws, rather than taking a worldwide, one-size fits all approach.     

Area #3: customer services

The success of a company is not only dictated by the internal workings of the business model, but by serving the customers well. Disney’s philosophy is that customers are best served when employees are well looked after, and as Disneyworld is the largest location of private employment in the USA, the company needs to have highly engaged, well-trained employees. Customers also demand a more timely approach in this digital world, so an appropriate training programme needs to be put in place not only for face-to-face interaction, but best practice for social media and other forms of communication with the customer.

Area #4: legal

In today’s business environment, workers are experiencing an increase in organisational stressors such as a bigger workload and time pressures, along with office culture differences borne from geographical location and limited of face-to-face connection. This can contribute to dysfunctional behaviour. Prior to employment, preventative measures can be put in place to identify these people and during employment, steps can be taken to manage them, provide supportive resources and in extreme cases, avert deviant behaviour, danger and violence. Deviant behaviour (that which goes against the norms of what is expected) can be bad or good for a company, as an example we can compare the behaviour of a Navy whistleblower and ex- JP Morgan Chase employee.

The whistleblower exposed welding problems on an aircraft, and by doing so potentially saved lives, whilst an ex-JP Morgan Chase employee took unauthorised risks which cost the company billions in fines. Either way, deviant behaviour is one that can be effectively managed through HR if identified early and negative impact can be kept to a minimum.   

Area #5: research and development

Risk taking is intrinsic to any business in order to get ahead or survive. As the strategy changes, HR’s function must align so then the company remains competitive. Steve Jobs was once quoted in 2008 saying that Apple made a conscious decision to combine their business strategy with the HR function in order to manage through the recession. They invested in staff and increased their research & development budget, all whilst experiencing the downturn. During this time, they released the iPod and iTunes Music Store, both at huge risk to the company, but they emerged as an organisation with a share of the global market and a reputation as innovators in music. HR enables the company to balance risk taking with the organisation’s competitive strategy and the role of human capital within that – not just in the short term.

These summaries are explored in much greater depth in the new journal, the Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance, by Paul Sparrow and Cary L. Cooper. Exclusively, readers of HR Zone can access the journal for FREE throughout May at

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Paul Sparrow


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