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Professional Management 2022 Published by Ansu Tucker MBANGURA 10/20/2022

An International Journal of Professional Management

ISSN 20422341 (Volume 17, Issue 4, 2022)

Published by: Ansu Tucker - Director General – HRMO

A Paradigm Shift from Personnel Administration to Human Resource Management: Issues, Challenges and Prospects.

This article explores the historical trends and progress made so far in reforming and professionalising the management of human resources (HR) in the African public sector by a shift of paradigm from personnel administration to human resource management (HRM). This includes the issues around this strategic reform, the challenges, and the promise this holds for improved productivity and service delivery. It is important to examine this topic as the human resource function is changing and becoming more strategic in the realisation of organisational goals and objectives. This article aims to enable a proper understanding of what needs to be done to transform HRM considering the socio-cultural and political context of the African public sector.


The management of HR has been recognised as a critical element in management and public administration, as human resource managers are now responsible for transforming their organisations to achieve strategic goals. Research and the evolution of theories and models have shown how the human resource function is changing and taking a strategic posture in management (Osibanjo & Adeniji, 2012). The major debate in HR management is premised on people as the most prized assets of any organisation, hence the new impetus on HRM and the need for integrating the management of people with strategic objectives (Armstrong, 2006). The truism has often been re-echoed that organisations must recruit, motivate and retain those employees who are best qualified to perform the duties of the organisation. It is generally agreed that the HR function is changing from personnel administration to HRM, which has warranted the reinvention of the people management function (Mutahaba, 2015).

However, in most developing countries it is argued that personnel departments are still somewhat passive (sometimes even negative), when administering these (mostly out-dated) rules rather than actively developing and pursuing policies for improving public sector management (Osgediz, 1983). Some academics in the field, such as Bana in (Mutahaba (Ed.) 2015), are concerned that most of the changes in HRM in developing countries are more represented in nomenclature than in practice. HRM has still not been accepted as a profession and specialised discipline playing a strategic and leading role in transforming the African public sector. HRM is traditionally viewed as being largely administrative (interviewing and recruiting prospective candidates, administering benefit plans, discipline, interpreting rules and writing policies), and is often described as the “personnel administration” approach (Osibanjo & Adeniji, 2012). HRM has been presented as a replacement of the term ‘personnel management in organisations’. In this light, Armstrong (1987) sees HRM as ‘old wine in new bottles’; while Guest (1997) argues that HRM is not a replacement, but differs from personnel management.

Globalisation and the growing diversity in the workforce have led HR practitioners and academics towards seeking to establish the nexus between societal culture and workplace activities (Gutterman, 2017). Consequently, there has been a growing interest in cross-cultural studies and how cultural factors should be considered in developing and implementing HRM strategies and practices. There is now a sensitive debate among advocates of both culture-specific and culture-free schools of thought in HRM. Supporters of culture specificity, such as Sparrow, Brewster & Harris (2004), are of the view that country-specific approaches to HRM, also known as contextual approaches, are the most effective and will leverage organisations to maintain and improve competitiveness. Conversely, the culture-free approach argues that the steady march toward a global marketplace dictates that firms must be prepared to embrace global HRM practices and gradually minimise the influence of local differences.