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The Way forward for HR: Becoming Better Partners in the Organization

   Ulster Business School

  Prof Martin McCracken  Monday, February 27, 2023  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Since its inception the HR function has faced challenges in establishing its credentials as a truly central and strategically vital organizational function. For example, an article in the Harvard Business Review in 2015 declared that it was “time to blow up HR and replace it with something new” (Cappalli, 2015). 

Against this background however, substantial research has been carried out to investigate what role HR professionals play in both strategic and operational activities. For example, In our work investigating HR Business Partners (HRBP) role (see McCracken and Heaton, 2012 and McCracken et al, 2017) we outlined how the implementation of a HRBP approach can enable HR professionals to gain broader business skill sets, allowing them to more effectively, and confidently, influence both strategic direction and the senior management team. We show that many of the HR competencies identified by authors such as Ulrich et al. (2012) can be developed when successfully transitioning to the HRBP model. In addition, we saw evidence that line manager colleagues can gain vital HR skills if the HRBP approach is properly enacted, enhancing opportunities for them to take on other HR roles that can lead to more effective people management.

The purpose of this project is to investigate these issues against the current employment environment which is clearly fraught with challenges, especially linked to labour market imbalances and ineffective performance management. Ultimately, investigation needs to be centered upon the totality of relationships that HR professionals have with other organizational stakeholders. By better understanding the dynamic interplay of relationships between HR professionals and their line and functional managers colleagues and building a robust evidence base, we should be better positioned to fully appreciate how the HR function adds value in organizations and how it may help to produce more effective solutions to complex HR problems. 


Cappalli, P. (2015). Why We Love to Hate HR…and What HR Can Do About It: Five smart moves that will help, Harvard Business Review, July / August.
CIPD (2002) Labour Market Outlook: Views from Employers, August.
Drucker, P. (1961). The Practice of Management, London, England: Mercury Books.
Keegan, A., Brandl, J., & Aust, I. (2019). ‘Handling tensions in human resource management: Insights from paradox theory.’ German Journal of Human Resource Management, 33(2), 79–95.
McCracken, M. and Heaton N. (2012) From 'Tucked Away' to 'Joined at the Hip': Understanding the Evolving Relationships within the HRBP Model in a Regional Energy Company", Human Resource Management Journal, 21 (4): 182-198.
McCracken, M., O’Kane, P., Brown, T. and McCrory, M. (2017). ‘Human resource business partner lifecycle model: explaining how the relationship between HRBPs and their line manager partner evolves’. Human Resource Management Journal, 27(1), 58-74.
O'Kane, P., McCracken, M. and Brown, T. (2022), "Reframing the performance management system: a conversations perspective", Personnel Review, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.
Ulrich, D. (1997). Human Resource Champions: The Next Agenda for Adding Value and Delivering Results, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Ulrich, D. (1998). ‘A new mandate for human resources’. Harvard Business Review, 76(1), 124–134.

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