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Human Resource Management – Case Study

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Executive Summary

Harrison Brothers is a multi-line department store which operates in dynamic environment. This situation requires continuous optimization of a product mix and new ways to manage HR. Harrison Brothers fights for survival implementing new ways of doing business. A new HR manager, Brenda McCain, introduces new policies and procedures aimed to improve HR functions and ensure adequate supply of staff. In spite of recent successful changes, there is no effective cooperation with other departments which prevents Harrison Brothers from successful performance. The HR managers pay attention to internal needs of the company only neglecting the role of changing environment and current problems of the stores. To improve the situation, McCain should take into account external environment, tasks and problems faced by the whole company.


Recent years, many companies view HRM as an integral part of their business strategy and organizational success. The effective­ness of any organization depends upon the efficient use of resources, in particular human resources. Ulrich and Lake in their book Organizational Capability: Competing from the inside out” (1990) wrote: HRM systems can be the source of organizational capabilities that allow firms to learn and capitalize on new opportunities (Ulrich and Lake 1990, p. 45).

Business Strategy

Harrison Brothers Corporation is an Australian-based company founded in Sydney on September 15, 1898. Today, the company is a multi-line traditional department store specialized in men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing (Case Study). The mission of Harrison Brothers is to market high-quality men’s, women’s and children’s clothing and become a leading chain in NSW. The main goal of the company is to get and keep a customer (Barney, 1991). Harrison Brothers is aimed to achieve competitive advantage creating value for their customers and selecting markets where they can excel and present a moving target to their competitors by continually improving their position. According to James Harrison (CEO), the long-term strategic challenge is to “reposition ourselves – floor to floor – offering exciting brand names, excellent sales help, and frequent sales” (Case Study).

According to McDonald and Christopher (2003) “business strategy is at the heart of organizational performance” (p. 56). To compete on the market and sustain strong market position, Harrison Brothers redesigns selling space, introduce new merchandise categories, invest in such brands as Polo, Nautica and Tommy Hilfiger, introduce advanced computer systems to save costs and new training programs for salespeople. “Harrison felt that employee quality and performance would be one of the keys to the future” (Case Study).  Service concepts in Harrison Brothers are based on understanding the unique environment in which the company operates (Schuler, 1998). James Harrison underlines that there is a continual need for the process of staff development, and training fulfils an important part of this process.

Importance and Role of Human Resource Manager in Harrison Brothers

Brenda Mc Cain is a newly appointed Human Resource Manager at the Westpark store. She is an experienced manager who has a degree in fashion merchandising from an Australian University of Technology. The main task of McCain is to introduce new vision of human resources and their role in company’s performance. According to Campbell (1997)  “HRM systems can be the source of organizational capabilities that allow firms to learn and capitalize on new opportunities (Campbell 1997, p.23). Following this principle, McCain has created a new vision of HR department and its role in Harrison Brothers. McCain supposes that one of the most important area of HRM is (1) selecting applicants.

McCain conducts about 25 to 30 interviews a week in order to find qualified professional staff for Westpart store. She tries: to assess personality of applicants; to obtain further details on certain matters; to agree terms of employment; to provide candidates with more information about the job (Armstrong, 2001). Also, McCain states that the main purpose of delegation is to make organization possible, and for this reason she (2) “set up procedures and policies to assure proper staffing of the store” (Case Study). McCain underlines that for Harrison Brothers training (3) is necessary to ensure an adequate supply of staff who are techni­cally and socially competent. Also, in Harrison Brothers, (4) discipline and communication between employees and supervisors was “a continual bone of contention” (Case Study) which prevents the company from positive atmosphere and climate.

The task of McCain is to maintain strict discipline and introduce disciplinary actions which contribute towards improved behavior. (5) Performance evaluation is seen by McCain as an integral part of business strategy aimed to provide employees with “fair” wages. According to Storey (1989, this policy can be explained by the fact that “performance and delivery [of HRM] are integrated into line management: the aim shifts from merely securing compliance to the more ambitious one of winning commitment” (Storey 1989, p. 33).

(6) Career planning and (7) training needs assessment is another area of concern of the manager. McCain underlines that line managers should play a greater role in training and development of employees, although for management development pro­grams it may be of value to make the final choice through attend­ance at a development or assessment centre. In sum, new organizational vision and strategies help McCain to work with and through other people at every level in the organiza­tion. McCain shows that a manager’s responsibilities require performance to be both efficient and effective.

Structure and Staffing of HR

Harrison Brothers is decentralized organization which requires coordination of activities more than handling authority to subordinates. The company has small corporate office and 20 stores located in Sydney. In the decentralized organization, less checking is needed on a decision, especially if few people need be consulted on a decision (Robbins, 2002). The staff in Harrison Brothers consists of salespeople, sales support employees (dock, marking room, clerical and accounting), maintenance, security, management, and HR department. Also, Harrison Brothers hires a lot of temporary workers during the peak holiday season.

This structure can be identified as horizontal (lateral) one. Relations in Harrison Brothers exist between super­visors at the same level of responsibility with equal authority. It is possible to say that personal skills of McCain develop the pattern of relationships among positions in Harrison Brothers and among members of the organization (Hoeksema, 1997).

McCain makes possible the application of the process of management and create a framework of order and command through which the activities of Harrison Brothers can be planned, organized, directed and controlled. According to Armstrong (2001), “…quantitative, calculative and business strategic aspects of managing the headcount resource in as ‘rational’ as way as for any other economic factor (Armstrong 2001, p. 15). For Harrison Brothers, such co-operation is necessary to aid efforts to reach organization goals.

Data Analysis

Taking into account Results of Questionnaire Completed by HR Managers and Non-HR Managers (Exhibit 1.5, Case Study), it is evident that the HR Managers and Store Managers have different views on human resource responsibilities and functions. The data shows that the HR Managers underestimate the role and importance of HR responsibilities. In contrast, the Store Managers underline a crucial role of training, managing change and knowledge of business for successful performance. These problems can be explained by lack of communication and cooperation activities between departments, lack of understanding and support activities caused by its decentralized structure.

Also, the data unveils that the Store Managers have more clear vision of the business strategy than the HR Managers. It is possible to say that the Store Managers are more informed about current problems and for this reason they see training and management of change as crucial elements to ensure customers satisfaction and improved service quality. According to Storey and the soft approach to management (1989) “… treating employees as valued assets, a source of competitive advantage through their commitment, adaptability and high quality (Storey 1989, p. 33). The results suggest that the HR managers should pay more attention to practical results of their policies and procedures based on current needs of the Store Managers and staff (Getty Images puts e-HR in perspective, 2002).

HR Function in Harrison Brothers

            The case of Harrison Brothers shows that the HR managers and HR department cannot work in isolation from the entire organization. McCain is a professional HR manager who introduces effective programs and policies to ensure adequate supply of staff. On the other hand, lack of cooperation and communication with the Store Managers leads to ineffective organizational performance. One of the managers admits that HR department had “been somewhat slow in filling the vacant sales positions, and they don’t always respond as quickly as they should” (Case Study). These problems suggest that HR department should be more flexible responding to change and current problems of the Store Managers.

This needs equally careful thought in setting social objectives, policies and plans to ensure the gain of social and political acceptance of the company’s ideas. The idea behind this is the strategic problem of adapting the orga­nization to its environment, and this will usually mean fundamental changes in management and the organizational structure (Viewpoint: Taking the human approach, n.d.). Another problem identified by Jennifer Daft is that HR department “are too internally focused most of the time” unable to respond to changing environment. To overcome this problem, HR department should evaluate the whole of the industry, noting the nature of the supply and demand factors, possible future trends and new opportunities, threats or problems.

Pat Hartlake admits that uncertainty creates great problems for the Store and Operations Managers. Following Lynch (1997): “everyone should focus on the organization’s vision, mission, quality policy and operating principles” (Lynch (1997, p. 67). In this case, HR department can use conceptual skill to co-ordinate and integrate all of an organization’s activities, especially in the long-term decisions affecting the organization (Armstrong, 2001). In addition, conceptual skills are needed to see the organiza­tion as a whole and recognize how the various factors in a situation are interrelated so actions taken are in the best interests of the organization.

Human skills and technical skills are more important at a lower level, where more manager-subordinate interactions occur (Bagshaw, 2001). Conceptual skills are needed at all levels of management, but the nearer to top management positions, the more time is needed to devote to conceptual skills. McCain tries to cover too many areas of improvements unable to achieve results in such important areas as training and supply of staff.

Also, the essential need is for the plans from the various areas of a business to be integrated, so that functional plans are interlinked to form an overall corporate plan. McCain should adopt a more systematic and integrated approach to all the organization’s activities (Flexible working, 2001). The staff can exercise self-direction and control to achieve objectives to which they are committed, if they are persuaded by the manager (Beardwell et al 2004). The practical manager can be helped by analyzing various approaches to leadership styles, but he must come to his own conclusions and adapt to the actual situation.

The case study unveils that HRM plays a major and continuing role on the business arena, especially with the growth of large-scale business organizations. Following Armstrong (2001), it is possible to say that Harrison Brothers should regard the concept of HRM “as a philosophy governing how employees should be treated in the interests of the organization” (Armstrong, 2001, p23). This human approach is extremely important because the decisions and actions of HRM have an increasing impact on individuals and the community. Effective communication and cooperation between all managers of the organization, economic and social conditions of business should be a key part of set­ting policies and plans of HR department.

Recommendations and Conclusion

One of the possible solutions to the problems faced by Harrison Bothers is to reduce number of changes including: training, staff selection and change management. Another solution is to increase number of HR staff from 5 to 10 employees. This strategy could help to control and monitor all areas of change and avoid “hedging”. Also, McCain should introduce special programs for the Store and Operations Managers helping them to cope with change (Reed, 2001).

In sum, the personal qualities of managers are identified as an essential part of the process of management and require that proper attention be given to the personnel function. The effectiveness of any team or staff is dependent upon the efficient use of their skills and knowledge.  In Harrison Brothers, the human element plays a major part in the overall success of the organization. The case of Harrison Brothers Corporation shows that development of HRM is a current need for modern organization.


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  2. Bagshaw, M. 2001. Creating employability: how can training and development square the circle between individual and corporate interest? Management First. Emerald Journals. 8th May. Available from  http://www.managementfirst.com/human_resources/articles/employability.php [Accessed 12 Sept 2006]
  3. Barney, J. 1991. Firm resources and sustained competitive advantage In Journal of Management, 17 (1), 99-120.
  4. Beardwell, I. Holden, L., Claydon, T. 2004. Human Resource Management, London Pitman Publishing.
  5. Campbell, D.J. 1997. Organizations and the Business Environment. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
  6. Flexible working: a revolution in the offing? 2001. Management First. Emerald Journals. 11th April. Available from  http://www.managementfirst.com/human_resources/articles/flexible.php [Accessed 12 Sept 2006]
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  8. Hoeksema, L. 1997 “The interplay berween learning strategy and organisational structure in predicting career success”, International Journal of Human Resource, 8 (3) 307-327.
  9. Lynch, R. 1997. Corporate Strategy. London: Pitman.
  10. McDonald M., Christopher M. 2003, Marketing: A complete Guide. Palgrave Macmillan.
  11. Reed A. 2001. Innovation in Human Resource Management. Chartered Institute of  Personnel and Development.
  12. Robbins, S. 2002. Organizational Behavior. Pearson Higher.
  13. Schuler, R. 1998. Managing Human Resources. Cincinnati, Ohio: South-Western College Publishing.
  14. Viewpoint: Taking the human approach. N.d. Management First. Emerald Journals. 8th May. Available from  http://www.managementfirst.com/human_resources/articles/human.php [Accessed 12 Sept 2006]


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