Implementing Human Resources Management (HRM)

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Implementing Human Resources Management (HRM) within Dutch VET institutions: examining the fostering and hindering factors a

Piety Runhaar & Karin Sanders

b

a

Chair Group of Education and Competence Studies , Wageningen University , The Netherlands b

School of Organisation and Management , ASB, UNSW , Sydney , Australia Published online: 16 May 2013.

To cite this article: Piety Runhaar & Karin Sanders (2013) Implementing Human Resources Management (HRM) within Dutch VET institutions: examining the fostering and hindering factors, Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 65:2, 236-255, DOI: 10.1080/13636820.2013.783612 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13636820.2013.783612

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Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 2013 Vol. 65, No. 2, 236–255, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13636820.2013.783612

Implementing Human Resources Management (HRM) within Dutch VET institutions: examining the fostering and hindering factors Piety Runhaara* and Karin Sandersb a

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Chair Group of Education and Competence Studies, Wageningen University, The Netherlands; bSchool of Organisation and Management, ASB, UNSW, Sydney, Australia (Received 30 August 2011; final version received 14 December 2012) Vocational Education and Training (VET) Institutions face serious challenges, like the implementation of competence-based education and upcoming teacher shortages, which urge them to implement Human Resources Management policy and practices (HRM). The implementation of HRM, however, often stagnates. This paper describes a qualitative study – in which 30 policy-makers and executives (members of the board, of the HRM department and line management) from five Dutch VET institutions participated – which was aimed at gaining more insight into the implementation gap of HRM. We identified several impeding and fostering factors, related to the content of the policy, the context in which it had to be implemented and the implementation process itself. Examples of impeding factors were the fact that teachers often did not see the usefulness of HRM practices and managers’ incompetence in fulfilling their HRM role. Examples of fostering factors were the linkage between HRM policy and educational policy and a clear communication about the goals and features of the policy. Keywords: Human Resources Management; VET institutions; implementation process; teachers; professional development

Introduction Western countries increasingly acknowledge the potential contribution of Vocational Education and Training (VET) for their economies (OECD 2009). That is, in order to enhance the quality of products and services, and as such to increase competitiveness, a highly skilled workforce is needed at all levels (OECD 2009; Van den Berg, Meijers, and Sprengers 2007). The fact that the quality of education largely depends on the quality and effort of teachers (see e.g. Rivkin, Hanushek, and Kain 2005), urges VET institutions to continuously invest in their human capital. In this way, Human Resources Management (HRM) – which refers to all managerial attempts to influence employees’ ability, motivation and opportunities to perform (Boxall and Purcell 2008) – has become increasingly important. Moreover, VET institutions all over the world face serious challenges which have enhanced the importance of HRM even more. First: Employers’ increased expectations as regards to the lifelong learning skills of employees as well as their contribution to *Corresponding author. Email: [email protected] Ó 2013 The Vocational Aspect of Education Ltd

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organisational development (Bailey, Hughes, and Moore 2004). This has shifted the emphasis in vocational educational programmes from pure knowledge acquisition to career guidance (Kuijpers, Meijers, and Gundy 2011). This shift has resulted in the implementation of competence-based education (CBE), where practice-based skills form the starting point for curriculum development, instead of academic disciplines (Biemans et al. 2004). By creating opportunities for professional development, HRM can help teachers put the principles of CBE into practice (e.g. Seezink and Poell 2011). Second: The educational sectors of most western societies face considerable teacher shortages. These are the results of the reduced status of the teaching profession and the ageing of the teacher workforce (OECD 2011). This phenomenon requires schools to refine and professionalise their recruitment and selection practices (Grieves and Hanafin 2005). Third: Schools, and therefore teachers, are increasingly held responsible for student achievement (OECD 2011). In order to systematically evaluate and improve teacher performance, schools need to implement performance appraisal systems. HRM – which covers all policies, procedures and practices that are explicitly targeted at attracting, retaining, developing and rewarding teachers in such a way that it results in optimal teacher and school performance (see also DeArmond, Shaw, and Wright 2009) – is in contrast to the for-profit sector, a relatively new policy domain in education (DeArmond, Shaw, and Wright 2009). While HRM has the potential to be beneficial to teachers and schools, its implementation appears to be complex and has a tendency to stagnate (see, e.g. Podgursky and Springer 2007). Stagnation occurs, for instance, because different HR practices – like performance-pay and performance-appraisal – are poorly linked to each other, or because the people who have to carry out the policy lack the necessary knowledge and competencies (Smylie, Miretzky, and Konkol 2004). Despite the assumption that the importance of HRM in educational institutions is increasing – especially in light of the fact that implementation often stagnates – research on HRM in education is scarce and mostly focused on the effectiveness of single practices, like a specific professional development programme or performance pay (DeArmond, Gross, and Goldhaber 2010). Because HRM practices are embedded within a broader HRM system, a more comprehensive perspective on HR policy implementation is needed (Smylie, Miretzky, and Konkol 2004). Our paper aims to address this need by examining the implementation of a so called ‘Integrated Personnel Policy’ in Dutch VET institutions. The implementation of this policy was initiated by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science at the beginning of this century (Ministry of ECS 2010) but, to this day, it continues to lag behind expectations (e.g. Dutch Educational Inspectorate 2005, 2010). The central question of our paper is: ‘What factors impede and promote the implementation of HRM, in the view of policy-makers and executives of HRM policy?’ This question was answered through a qualitative study in which 30 respondents, representing five VET institutions, participated. We focused on policymakers’ and executives’ views because it can be expected that these actors have most insight into what HRM policy actually encompasses and how HRM is linked to other policy domains within the institutions. The Dutch context is comparable to that of most other western countries where VET institutions are implementing CBE (see for instance Brockman et al. 2008), and where schools are increasingly being held accountable for student outcomes and, as a consequence, for teacher quality (EACEA 2009), and HR practices

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(OECD 2009, 2011). Hence, we believe that our analysis has relevance beyond the specific Dutch context.

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Outline of the paper The structure of this paper is as follows. First, we supply some background information about the Dutch VET sector, and about how the Dutch government and school boards have been stimulating schools to implement HRM. Then we present the theoretical framework and expectations which served as a lens through which we examined the implementation of HRM. Then, after elaborating on methods and results, we draw our conclusions and present implications for research and practice. Dutch VET: some background information Approximately, 40% of the Dutch-working population has completed a course to at least a secondary vocational training level, called Middelbaar Beroepsonderwijs in Dutch (MBO Raad 2012). The sector is divided into prevocational education, aimed at 12- to 16-year-old students, and secondary vocational education, aimed at 16- to 20-year-old students. Our study was conducted within the secondary vocational education section, which consists of four levels, ranging from Level 1 (assistant worker – one year’s training) to Level 4 (middle-management – three to four years’ training) (Mittendorff et al. 2008). Although VET institutions also offer commercial training trajectories, they are mainly funded by the government. VET institutions mostly take the form of regional training centres, or community colleges as they are often called. Having been put in place fairly recently – they were established by law in the middle of the 1990s –they are aimed at integrating and coordinating all VET in a particular region. At this point, there are about 70 of such colleges in the Netherlands (MBO Raad 2012). The merging of several relatively small schools into larger institutions has been a difficult operation and has generated many management concerns. As it happened, most attention was paid to financial and managerial issues while pedagogical issues were largely neglected. This resulted in personnel becoming demotivated and an increase in student dropout rates (Wildemeersch and Ritzen 2008). VET institutions are represented by the VET council (MBO Raad) which is the prime negotiator with the Ministry of ECS and other parties in the field – such as labour unions – about educational and personnel policy (for more, see EACEA 2009). The Ministry of ECS and school boards have been busy implementing the so-called ‘Integrated Personnel Policy’ since the beginning of this century. The primary goals of this policy are: stimulation of teachers’ professional development in line with educational goals and the alignment of the various HRM practices (Moerkamp, Vedder, and Vos 2005). In particular, these practices are (a) recruitment and selection, (b) career development and mobility; (c) education and training; (d) conditions of employment and pay; (e) performance appraisal; and (f) participation. In line with research on teachers’ professional development (e.g. Putnam and Borko 2000), the teachers’ workplace is seen as an important learning environment. Hence, the Ministry of ECS and school boards aim to enhance the ‘learning capacity’ of schools by stimulating teachers to continue learning, together with their colleagues and throughout their entire careers, (Ministry of ECS 2007). Teachers are called upon to behave as what is called ‘reflective practitioners’ by Schön (1983). This is

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especially relevant in the VET sector, because, there, most teacher training takes place ‘on the job’, where CBE is developed by multidisciplinary teams (Seezink and Poell 2011). The assumption the Integrated Personnel Policy1 makes, is that its effectiveness hinges on the level of integration. Three forms of integration are distinguished, which correspond, in part, with HRM literature (e.g. Delery and Doty 1998; Schuler and Jackson 1987). First, vertical integration (‘strategic or vertical fit’) stresses the alignment between organisational strategy and HRM policy. HRM practices should be aimed at creating a skilled and motivated work force that is able to realise the organisational goals. For example, recruitment of specialists in CBE – who can enhance the implementation of CBE and can organise teacher training courses on how to put the principles of CBE into practice – is a form of vertically integrated HRM practice. Second, horizontal integration (‘internal or horizontal fit’) refers to the alignment of practices within the HRM system itself, like recruitment and selection, performance appraisal, wages and professional development opportunities. The assumption being that the more different practices are aligned, the more effective they will be in achieving the organisational goals. Third, functional integration refers to the roles the different actors – (line) management, HR professionals and teachers – need to fulfil in order to realise the goals of HRM policy. The underlying assumption is that the more each actor acknowledges the division of tasks and responsibilities and performs his or her role accordingly, the more effective the policy will be. Central to the HRM policy is the ‘cycle of conversations’ between teachers and their supervisors (SBO 2005) which starts off with reflecting on teachers’ competences and their developmental needs; is followed by an evaluation of professional development and a performance appraisal; and finalised by one of several possible outcomes, like a pay increase or the allocation of new tasks. After the cycle has been completed, a new cycle can start. These conversations are, to a large extent, based on teachers’ personal development plans, which are comparable to the development plans for students that have seen an increase in use (see Mittendorff et al. 2008). In 2004, the Dutch parliament passed the ‘Professions in Education Act’ (BIO-Act), which is aimed at ensuring a baseline quality standard for Dutch teaching staff and therefore provides a set of teacher standards (for more, see Storey 2006). These standards give guidelines for new teacher selection and for the cycle of conversations between teachers and supervisors. As such they can be of use in developing the different forms of integration (Ministry of ECS 2007). In order to stimulate implementation of HRM in VET institutions, the Ministry of ECS has added HRM as mandatory in the collective labour agreement. This meant that the VET institutions were required to develop a personnel-plan and professionalisation-plan, containing elements like yearly performance interviews, and school wide and individual professional development plans. While the content was predetermined, VET institutions were free to shape the different practices in their own way (MBO Raad 2008). In addition, school boards received financing to implement this new policy, and a special office was created to develop HR practices, such as the formats for personal development plans and competence profiles (Lubberman and Klein 2003). Within the VET institutions, the implementation started at the top levels of the organisation (see, for instance, Berger and Klein 2002; Van Wonderen 2005). To be more specific, HRM policy plans and instruments were initiated and developed by the HRM department in collaboration with the school board. After this, units and

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teams were charged with translating the general plan into unit- or team-specific plans. In order to create support for the general plan, and to help unit and team managers make this translation, a lot of effort was put into communicating about the goals and features of HRM, for instance in the form of presentations, discussion meetings and workshops. Support among teachers was created by involving members of local teacher councils into the development process and VET institutions often made use of the expertise of external consultants. Despite this aid, and its accompanying tools, offered by the Dutch government, implementation of HRM policy and practices kept lagging behind expectation (Berger and Klein 2002; Dutch Educational Inspectorate 2005, 2010; Lubberman and Klein 2003; Ministry of ECS 2005, 2010), specifically in terms of the scope of the policy (for example, practices like recruitment and selection, often lay too much emphasis on short term goals); the degree to which practices are implemented (e.g. at times less than 1% of government funding aimed at creating more pay scales has actually been spent); employee perceptions of the existence of certain HRM practices (e.g. less than 25% of teachers in the VET sector are aware of possible career paths as an important part of HRM); and the outcomes of the policy (e.g. a minority of teachers within the VET sector are satisfied with their professional development opportunities). In the following section, we will formulate some expectations about possible hindering and fostering factors institutions might have stumbled upon in the process of implementing HRM policy and practices. These have been derived from literature on educational management, on HRM, on change management in general and on change management in education specifically. Theoretical framework and expectations Researchers on organisational change have identified three factors common to all change efforts (Armenakis and Bedeian 1999; Devos, Buelens, and Bouckenooghe 2010), namely content issues, process issues and contextual issues (Walker, Armenakis, and Bernerth 2007). Content issues refer to the substantiality of the change and are specific to each individual organisation. Contextual issues refer to preexisting forces working within or without the organisation, like the way organisations have evolved through time and governmental policy, respectively. Finally, process issues refer to the way changes are implemented and the actions taken by change agents. We will use these distinctions to organise our expectations concerning the fostering and impeding factors in HRM implementation. From the perspective of the content of changes, changes can differ in terms of their impact on the character of the organisation and on the adaptation it requires from individual members of the organisation. For several reasons, the implementation of HRM can be viewed as a relatively high-impact organisational change which implies a change in attitude and behaviour of two important stakeholders in VET institutions, namely teachers and their supervisors. First, concerning the impact on teachers, HRM is aimed at enhancing their professional development. It is to be expected that this would require a change in attitude and behaviour in at least a subsample of the teachers, since research has shown that not all teachers are necessarily motivated to professionalise themselves (e.g. Clement and Vandenberghe 2000). Moreover, teachers are often focused on their own classes and are not necessarily interested in school-wide issues (see, e.g. Van Veen 2003). Therefore,

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gearing one’s professional development can imply a new attitude and behaviour as well. Second, concerning the impact on supervisors, HRM policy will largely be executed by them, since they are usually responsible for performance interviews, appraisal and facilitating teachers’ professional development (Cooper, Ehrensal, and Bromme 2005). As we have learned from school leadership literature (e.g. Leithwood, Steinbach, and Jantzi 2002), owing to continuous educational reform, the roles supervisors are expected to play have changed from managerial (focus on operational issues) to transformative roles (focus on teacher and organisational development). However, these expectancies are not automatically embraced by all managers (Browne-Ferrigno 2003). Putting new HRM policy into practice will probably require a change in attitude and behaviour for at least some supervisors, which makes HRM implementation a high-impact change for these actors. Third, as mentioned in the introduction, HRM is aimed at enhancing teachers’ reflective and feedback-seeking behaviour (Ministry of ECS 2007), which assumes an organisational culture characterised by open communication, cooperation and an environment where one feels it is safe to make mistakes (e.g. Van Woerkom 2004). However, owing to the relatively autonomous position of teachers – which hinders interaction and cooperation (Silins and Mulford 2002) – such a culture does not necessarily exist in VET institutions. Hence, learning from each other requires a change in organisational culture, which is another reason why HRM implementation can be viewed as having a high impact. Since literature shows that the success of high-impact changes largely depends on the way people adapt to the changes and people’s willingness to go along with those changes (Millward 2005), it might well be that the HRM implementation gap is at least partly due to individual teachers and supervisors having difficulty with adapting to new demands. Next to the content issues, contextual issues may also have influenced the implementation of HRM. First, with regards to the internal context, as we have already mentioned in the introduction, VET institutions in the Netherlands have arisen relatively recently. The merging of independent schools into large education institutions can be seen as a high-impact change in itself, and as such may have made organisational members reluctant to engage in new change efforts (Armenakis and Bedeian 1999). The same holds true for the implementation of CBE which is occurring alongside HRM implementation. Although HRM has the potential of facilitating the implementation of CBE – for instance in terms of providing professional development opportunities – this has not meant that teachers and supervisors have recognised these benefits of HRM (see also Seezink , Poell, and Kirschner 2010). Second, as relating to the external context of Dutch VET institutions, these institutions have been confronted with a lot of educational reform recently. An evaluation of said reforms in the Netherlands during the past decades – by means of a parliamentary inquiry (Dijsselbloem Committee 2008) – has led to the notion that there have been too many changes and that, too often, these changes have been implemented in a top-down manner and, as a consequence, teachers have lost their autonomy and need to be empowered again. Furthermore, teacher and supervisor experience with changes in the past therefore may have decreased their openness to the HRM implementation. Finally, next to the content and context issues, there are two process issues which may hold explanations for the implementation gap as well. First, HRM has an in-built tension in that it is considered a means to control employee performance and enhance efficiency, on the one hand – for instance by means of performance appraisals – and as a means for enhancing engagement and development of

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employees, on the other hand, for example by means of creating development opportunities (e.g. Arthur 1994). As mentioned by several authors (e.g. Forrester 2011; Smith and Rowley 2005), due to the fact that governments strive to enhance student achievements, there is an international trend in education of paying much attention to the control element – the monitoring of individual teacher performance – while neglecting the context in which the teacher performs. Because performance monitoring is often burdened by sets of rules and regulations and administrative procedures, less time is left to stimulate teamwork and create an inspiring workplace as a means to enhance performance (e.g. Morton 2011). In this sense, it is the way in which goals and features of HRM policy and practices are defined and communicated by change agents that determine how HRM is perceived by teachers and supervisor, and whether or not they see benefits for themselves in it. Second, as mentioned in the introduction, the monitor reports (Berger and Klein 2002; Van Wonderen 2005) and ECS policy documents (Ministry of ECS 1999, 2007, 2010) show that VET institutions deployed an implementation strategy that was mostly from the top-down, comparable to what is called the research, development and diffusion (RDD) approach (Hargreaves 1999). Within this approach, knowledge about what improvements schools need and how they should be implemented is developed by actors outside the schools – like universities or consultancy firms – and brought into the schools by said actors. This approach has been intensely criticised (e.g. Stevens 2004). One of the main problems is that knowledge is developed so rapidly that schools are being confronted with too many changes and innovations in a too short a time. Moreover this way of implementing changes yields low levels of ownership of the key actors in educational innovation, namely the teachers. Nowadays, bottom-up change strategies – wherein changes are based on teachers’ experiences about what is needed in education and which put their knowledge and ambitions to good use – have become more popular (see for instance Fullan 2004). Although these insights have been gleaned from research on educational changes and innovations, we expect them to be applicable to organisational changes like HRM implementation as well. Therefore, it might well be that, as a result of the top-down implementation strategy, a lack of ownership by users of the HRM policy (i.e. teachers) may have been a hindering factor in the implementation process. To summarise, we formulated expectations regarding impeding and fostering factors in HRM implementation, which can be divided into content, context and process issues. Although these factors interact with each other in affecting change efforts (Devos, Buelens, and Bouckenooghe 2010), we believe they can serve as a useful lens through which we can analyse the experiences of policy-makers and executives of HRM policy in VET institutions. Methods Qualitative research is a suitable way to examine how people make sense of their experiences (Yin 2003). Semi-structured interviews were chosen as the main research tool in order to gain as much insight into individuals’ experiences and views as possible (Swanborn 1987). Respondents We asked five Dutch VET institutions, all from different regions, to participate. The work force in these institutions varies from 1100 up to 2200 employees, of which

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70% is working in the primary process. Furthermore, the number of locations differed for each institution as well, ranging from eleven locations in two cities to 31 locations in seven cities of a region. All VET institutions consisted of different units like technics & construction, welfare & sports and economics & service. Finally, every institution has a board of at least two members – where one is responsible for personnel and another for education – and an official HRM department. In every institution, we invited six policy-makers and HRM policy executives to an interview: the board member responsible for personnel, the HRM manager and two unit managers and their HRM advisors (N = 30). Because the units – and often also individual locations within these units – used to be independent schools before the mergers of the 1990s, it is likely that subcultures exist within one VET institution (Van der Krogt and Vroom 1988), which could result in quite differing views on HRM policy and implementation. To give us a good insight into the implementation processes and to check whether differing points of view exist across units, we included managers and HRM advisors from technical as well as welfare units to in our sample. We interviewed 18 women and 12 men and the mean age of respondents was 48.2 (SD = 8.1), all had received higher education. Fifty-seven per cent had tenure of at least 10 years; 20% between four and ten years; 13% between one and four years; and 10% less than 1 year. Reliability The research was conducted by two researchers. To improve reliability, two test interviews were undertaken, and the researchers conducted the first six interviews together. Data analysis was also done by two researchers who interpreted the findings independently from one another, after which their interpretations were compared (Åkerlind 2005). Interviews To get an impression of the motivations behind HRM implementation, we asked the board members and the HRM managers two questions, namely ‘Why did you start implementing Integrated personnel policy?’ (QI) and ‘What role did the policy of the Ministry of ECS play in this?’ (QII). In order to unravel the impeding and fostering factors policy-makers and executives experienced during the implementation process, the following questions were posed as well: ‘How did the implementation process proceed?’ (QIII) and more specifically; ‘What factors impede the process in your view?’ (QIV); and ‘What factors do you think promote the process?’ (QV). On the basis of the initial answers of respondents, the interviewer asked further specific answers to gain a deeper insight into respondents’ experiences. Data analysis All interviews were taped and transcribed, except for one conducted with a HRM advisor who did not want the interview to be recorded. The data were analysed in two steps. First, all transcriptions were read by two researchers who individually summarised the findings into a data matrix. They analysed the answers in an inductive way (Patton 1990), meaning that they grouped allied answers into categories which

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emerged from the data itself and not from theory. After this individual analysis, the researchers compared their findings, discussed the differences in interpretation and developed the titles for the categories of answers. Second, these categories were further grouped into the three clusters of factors that affect change efforts, namely content, context- and process-related factors, which were derived from theory. In our analysis, the five institutions are treated as a whole because the actors all operate in the same sector, are subject to the same government acts and regulations, and share the same developments that affect their primary processes. As DiMaggio and Powell (1983) point out, in these situations organisations serve as an example for each other, resulting in similarity of their policies and practices. Since this process, called ‘mimetic isomorphism’, has been found to play a role in HRM implementation in other organisational settings (Pauwe and Boselie 2003), we assumed it would occur within the VET sector as well and indeed, found no significant differences between actors of the five institutions. Results Because respondents were allowed to give more than one answer, the number of answers given to a question sometimes exceeds the number of respondents (30). Moreover, in some cases not all respondents could answer each question, either because they entered the organisation quite recently or were not involved in all aspects of the implementation process. Control variables No significant relationships were found between the personal characteristics of respondents and their answers, nor did the answers relate to specific units or institutions. There were, however, some significant relationships between the answers and the position of respondents. Regarding the motivation behind HRM implementation, board members stressed the implementation of CBE, whereas HRM managers stressed the mismatch between existing HRM instruments. The impeding factor ‘incompetent managers’ was only mentioned by HRM directors (three out of five) and welfare unit managers (two out of five), while the fostering factor ‘communication about goals and features’ was mentioned predominantly by welfare unit managers; no technical unit manager mentioned this factor. QI Why did you start implementing HRM? The answers to this question can be clustered into four groups: 1. HRM is necessary because of educational innovations Four respondents, three board members and one HRM manager, mentioned that the implementation of CBE urged them to alter the existing HRM policy and instruments in line with the new educational concept. Like one board member stated: ‘The execution of our new educational concept requires teachers to fulfil other roles than they used to fulfil, and act in different ways towards their students ….we need to facilitate them into making this change’. The new teacher roles within CBE, like mentor or coach, also led to new task and role descriptions and competence profiles for teachers.

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2. Alignment of HRM is necessary as a consequence of mergers Four respondents, one board member and three HRM managers, pointed to the enlargement of their organisations due to the mergers. According to one of the HRM managers, ‘the HRM instruments of the former independent schools differed from each other and were not aligned to each other… and to avoid ambiguity in instruments and procedures we needed to revise the HRM system’. 3. Being a good employer Two respondents, both board members, started the implementation of HRM as a means to invest in their personnel and to make the workplace more attractive. As one board member stated: ‘we have the ambition to excel in educating future employees in our region…in order to motivate our personnel to meet this challenge we need to excel as an employer as well’. 4. Dissatisfaction with the old HRM instruments One respondent, an HRM manager, mentioned that her HRM department started to revise and align HRM instruments because the old instruments were hardly ever used by the managers. ‘Apparently, we did not succeed in developing user-friendly instruments and in making the added value of the instruments clear.’ QII What role did the policy of the ministry of ECS play in this? Respondents answered in two distinct ways: 1. ECS’ policy and facilities stimulated the implementation The majority of the respondents, five board members and three HRM managers, mentioned that the intrinsic motivation of their institutions to implement HRM was most important. At the same time however, ECS’ policy was perceived as helpful in the implementation process because ‘schools were provided with extra means to develop instruments’ (a board member), ‘ECS’ policy helped to create a shared language in talking about HR issues’ (HRM manager) and ‘ECS’ policy stimulated an awareness of the importance of HRM across the VET sector’ (a board member). 2. ECS’ policy played no role One respondent, the same HRM manager who stated that dissatisfaction with the effectiveness of the old HRM instruments had caused the implementation of the new HRM policy, stated that ECS’ policy played no role at all in the implementation process. QIII How did the implementation process proceed? Since not all respondents had insight into the whole implementation process (because they were not involved in it or had entered the institution recently), not all could answer our first question. The 25 respondents who could give an answer responded in two ways: 1. Developing instruments is easy but stimulating people to use them is difficult Eighteen answers suggested that the implementation process was successful

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in terms of the development of policy plans and specific instruments like performance evaluation formats and professional development plans. However, it appeared difficult to stimulate managers and teachers to actually use these instruments. As one of the HRM managers stated, ‘Writing policies and developing instruments is easy, but getting people to act in line with them is difficult’. Also, the HR organisation structures were clear and tasks were formally divided. At the same time, respondents experienced a big difference between what was written in policy plans and what was done in practice. Influencing the behaviour of teachers and managers – such as learning from each other and encouraging feedback-seeking behaviour – appeared to be difficult. As one of the Board members explained: ‘After reading all our policy documents, one gets the idea that a lot of different professional development activities are undertaken. When talking to teachers in their teams, a totally different picture emerges: only a fraction of what is written down has reached the shop floor’. Apparently, not all line managers executed their role to the same extent, or they did not all succeed in influencing the attitudes and behaviour of teachers. 2. Complexity of policy context Seven respondents reported that the implementation of integrated personnel policy was complex, because it affected other aspects of organisational policy, such as recent merger processes and the implementation of CBE. As one of the HRM managers explained, ‘Our understanding of what exactly the policy encompasses developed slowly over time’. One HR advisor explained how it became clear that things were organised and structured differently across the units, which were once separate schools before the mergers: ‘These differences lead to inequality across the whole of the teaching staff, and to unfairness’.

QIV What factors impede the implementation of HRM in your view? Twenty two respondents were able to answer this question and did so in five ways: 1. Teachers experience little practical utility Eleven respondents perceived that the added value of the policy and the instruments was regarded by most teachers as unsatisfactory: ‘…everything teachers do must contribute directly to the learning process. All the rest is seen as “extra”. .. ’, according to a HRM advisor. Apparently the instruments, like the professional development plan, were not always considered helpful in the process of learning how to implement competence-based learning: they became goals in themselves. As a result of resistance on the part of some of the teachers, the interest of teachers and managers in using those instruments declined over time. 2. Resistance to the many changes taking place in schools Related to the first cluster of answers is the observation that teachers ‘were tired’ of the many changes in national policy and in schools (reported by six respondents). These changes are the implementation of CBE, which requires teachers to expend a lot of energy and effort in addition to their teaching tasks, new team structures and increased accountability, with an intensifica-

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tion of teachers’ jobs as a consequence. As one of the HRM advisors explained, ‘...teachers are not confident about the sustainability of the change…’ Respondents mentioned that a substantial number of teachers tend to view the HRM policy as a change that was introduced in a top-down manner and does not fit in with their concerns. 3. The organisational culture Five respondents reported that teachers are not used to giving and asking for feedback in the current organisational culture. As one board member pointed out, ‘... people find it hard to criticise each other without putting each other’s back to the wall, let alone being able to receive negative feedback...’ The observation is that within teams, teachers are often reluctant to give each other feedback because of a fear that the other will interpret it as an evaluation. According to these respondents, it is for this reason that teachers rarely observe each other during lessons; feedback appears to be viewed as personal criticism. Since stimulating teachers’ reflective behaviour and feedback exchange are important goals of the HRM instruments, this phenomenon was named as an important complicating factor in the implementation process. 4. Incompetence of managers Five respondents did not think the line managers were capable of encouraging teachers to reflect and give feedback to each other. As one HRM director stated, a lot of the managers used to be teachers and had not received special management training: ‘...we used to think that good teachers would be good leaders. This proved to be an incorrect assumption...’ In addition, not all managers were seen as prioritising their ‘HR role’ enough. As one of the line managers stated, ‘I cannot imagine that one can’t find time for conversations with teachers; in my opinion that is the core business of line managers’. 5. Lack of resources Six respondents referred to different kinds of concrete means they lacked: time ‘Having this many conversations with all teachers every year is almost undoable’; money to fund all development activities; the solid legal status of teachers, as one of the line managers mentioned: ‘It doesn’t matter if you give teachers a bad evaluation because it is very hard to attach consequences to it’; and the way teachers’ participation is organised: one of the board members mentioned the defensive attitude of the participation council, which hindered change and development within the institution. QV What factors do you think promote the process? The 25 respondents who were able to answer this question came up with the following four factors. 1. Communication about expectations of HRM Eleven respondents reported that it proved helpful to talk frequently with teachers and managers about the goals and methods of the policy. As one unit manager pointed out, ‘…I started formulating personal development plans with a small group of enthusiastic teachers. Then I was able to show results to others.’ One of the Board members said, ‘the story has to be told in such a way that the teachers have a clear picture of what is in it for them: you should convince them of the added value and relevance’.

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2. Creation of a sense of urgency Ten respondents reported that people only start showing interest in personnel policy and instruments after realising that it is necessary. In their view, a sense of urgency is needed. For example, one of the unit managers stated that, ‘...after a negative appraisal from an external quality control, the whole team accepted the fact that we should start holding performance interviews periodically with every team member...’ Another unit manager said, ‘…when people realise that students’ achievements are declining and that they have to learn how to change this, then development questions arise automatically’. 3. Explanation of the connection between HRM and the educational process Four respondents mentioned the importance of preventing HRM from becoming an isolated policy, but instead linking it to other policy domains. Especially linking it to educational policies appeared helpful, as one of the unit manager stated: ‘... teachers became teachers because they chose to work with young people... when you connect interventions with what motivates them, you can realise every big change you can imagine’. 4. Extra resources Seven respondents referred to several resources, like the fostering effect of the availability of HR professionals and a professional personnel department which enables managers and teachers to get HR-related information; instruments like feedback forms and competence descriptions are viewed as helpful for managers in executing their new ‘HR role’. Conclusions Our study was aimed at getting an insight into the causes of the stagnation of HRM policy implementation within Dutch VET institutions. Based on literature on change management in general, and in education specifically, we formulated some expectations regarding fostering and impeding factors in HRM implementation. More specifically, our expectations were related to the content of the policy, the context in which it had to be implemented and the implementation process itself (cf Armenakis and Bedeian 1999). Summary of the findings Regarding the content of the change, and in line with our expectations, the stagnation of implementation was partly due to the fact that the new HRM policy required new sets of behaviour from teachers and their supervisors (see QIII, answer 1 and QIV, answer 4). According to policy-makers and executives, it proved to be hard to stimulate these actors to act in a different way than they were used to. More specifically, it turned out to be difficult to stimulate teachers to ask colleagues for help and feedback, and to stimulate supervisors to guide teachers in their development. Moreover, according to the same respondents, the new policy does not seem to fit in well enough with the current organisational culture, where people are not used to working and learning together (see QIV, answer 3). Finally, respondents stated that the integrated character of HRM, and the fact that it affects different organisational policy domains, made its implementation very complicated (QIII, answer 2). Our findings are in line with research among teachers, managers, policy-makers and consultants from the Dutch VET sector and which shows that critical reflection

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within teacher teams is still underdeveloped as well as managers’ activities to stimulate reflection within their teams (Hermanussen and Thomsen 2011). Moreover, HRM is viewed as complex, especially because of its connection with the implementation of CBE (Oosterhoff and Streefland 2011). Our data supported our expectation that the internal and external context of VET institutions affects the implementation process as well. More specifically, the implementation of HRM policy revealed that different rules and procedures were used in different parts of the institutions, leading to inequality (QI, answer 2; QIII, answer 2). Also, our respondents had the impression that actors were getting tired of the continual changes in national and organisational policy and therefore resisted the new HRM policy (QIV, answer 2). Finally, the implementation of CBE was already taking a lot of energy and effort on the part of teachers, and the HRM instruments were not automatically viewed as being helpful to them in this process (QIV, answer 2; QV, answer 3). These results confirm research which shows that Dutch VET teachers experience an overload of changes (De Bruijn and Van Kleef 2006; ECS 2011) and that Dutch VET institutions, especially due to the many mergers, are complex organisations when it comes to implementing new policies (Basoski, Wiegers, and Overmeer 2007). Concerning the process of the change, the way HRM was implemented seems to have influenced it effectiveness. Due to the top-down nature of the implementation process, we were expecting that policy-makers and executives would mention resistance on the part of teachers and other organisational members like supervisors. Teachers’ resistance was indeed mentioned as an impeding factor (QIV, answers 1 and 2), but our respondents did not primarily link it to the implementation strategy which was used within their institution (process), but more to the amount of changes teachers had been confronted with previously (context) and the fact that HRM instruments do not always meet teachers’ needs (content). In our theoretical framework, we compared the top-down nature of HRM implementation with RDD, where knowledge about what needs to be changed within schools is developed by actors outside those schools and then put into those schools by said actors. Because of the proven ineffectiveness of this approach (e.g. Stevens 2004), we were expecting that the stagnation in HRM implementation could be explained by this strategy as well. Our data do not totally bear this expectation out. More specifically, according to the school boards and the HRM department, the policy of the Ministry of ECS played a minor role in their decision to implement HRM as compared to the challenges they faced and their own ambitions (Q1 and 2); rather, the educational innovations, the mergers and the ambition to be a good employer, urged them to develop a solid HRM system. Although the aid and tools the Ministry of ECS provided were perceived as helpful in implementing HRM, intrinsic motivation was apparently the most important factor. HRM was therefore not perceived by our respondents as being invented by external actors but, on the contrary, more by themselves. This can probably be explained by the fact that educational policy in the Netherlands is always a result of negotiations between the Ministry of ECS and all other actors in the field. Therefore, the intrinsic need to implement HRM within their institutions by schools boards and HRM managers, are echoed in the policies of the Ministry of ECS. However, the observation of our respondents that the ‘users’ of the policy (teachers) do not always recognise the added value of the policy (QIV, answer 1; QV, answers 1 and 3) suggests that teachers might well have had the idea that HRM was invented outside, thereby resulting in low levels of ownership. Also, the strategies

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used to communicate about goals of HRM and creating a sense of urgency among teachers (QV, answers 1 and 2)—suggesting that the HRM policy and its instruments had to be ‘sold’ to teachers – support this. Our findings are in accordance with research among Dutch VET teachers, and showed that teachers are often not familiar with HRM policies and accompanying practices like career guidance (Seezink & Poell, 2011) and that teachers often experience a missing link between professional development policies and programmes offered by institutions on the one hand and teachers’ learning needs and opportunities on the other hand (Teurlings and Uerz 2009). Finally, in our theoretical framework, we elaborated on the tension within HRM itself, in that it is control orientated on the one hand and commitment and development orientated on the other. Since earlier research has uncovered detrimental effects when organisations put too much emphasis on the control element – like decrease of effort and commitment of employees (e.g. Arthur 1994) – we formulated the expectation that when teachers expect being controlled instead of being facilitated in their work, this might well lead to resistance and thus stagnation of the implementation process. Although some observations made by our respondents suggest that this might have played a role, for instance the impression that the usage of HRM instruments became a goal in itself instead of a means to an end (QIV, answer 1), research among teachers is needed to find out exactly how the HRM is perceived by them in terms of being too much control orientated. Discussion Although our results cannot be statistically generalised to apply to all other VET institutions within the Netherlands or abroad, it is possible to theoretically generalise the findings (Yin 2003). An important finding is that when it comes to HRM policy and instruments, this appears to be a very complex affair. The complexity of the content of the HRM policy itself, in terms of behaviour required from its executives and users (supervisors and teachers) and in terms of the linkages between HRM and other policy domains, combined with the dynamic and complex nature of the context in which the implementation of HRM has to occur – in terms of changing government policies and the change to competence-based development – sets requirements for the process of HRM implementation. In line with research on new policy implementation in schools (e.g. Fullan 2004), it especially requires the involvement of relevant actors in the development of practices – in order to enable these actors to become familiar with new expectations and to connect these practices to their own needs and worries – instead of ‘selling’ them practices that have been developed by the HRM department or management. In the latter case, there is a high risk of HRM practices becoming a goal in themselves instead of a means to an end. The risk described above is a realistic one, given the broader tendency of importing management principles – which have emerged in a business context – into the education field (O’Brien and Down 2002). More specifically, the current dominant ‘managerial’ discourse within education is characterised by a customerorientated ethos, i.e. concern for efficiency and cost-effectiveness, and is accompanied by an enhanced accountability of schools – and therefore teachers – for their performance; as measured, for instance, in terms of examination results, levels of attendance and school-leaver destinations. Different authors have stressed negativeside effects of this enhanced control over the education system, such as an intensi-

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fication of teachers’ work because of the different kinds of accountability procedures that emerge from managerial thinking (Burcheilli 2006). In order to stimulate teachers to strive for optimal outcomes, VET institutions must therefore be wary of the risk of HRM practices being implemented – and perceived – as control instruments instead of means to facilitate teachers’ work and enhance their satisfaction and commitment. Our study was limited in its scope and therefore we can give some recommendations for future research. First, we only included the perceptions of policy-makers and executives about the implementation gap and its causes. Although recent research confirms this gap and its causes – see the references to recent research among different stakeholders from the Dutch VET sector in the former section – in future research it is to be recommended to include the perceptions of teachers as well as policy-makers and executives. Furthermore, we did not dig very deep into the nature of the differences in HRM practice across the five institutions. Therefore, it was not possible to measure the degree to which HRM policies and practices were either control or commitment oriented. Although this was not the primary focus of our study, it would be very interesting to investigate how HRM is shaped and also, to what consequences this leads. Finally, our study gives rise to some practical implications. The first implication that the results yield is related to supervisors’ roles in executing the HRM policy. The fact that this role is mentioned as a critical factor implies that attention should be paid to the professional development of line managers – in terms of HR-related knowledge and skills – if effective implementation of HRM is to be realised. This could be achieved by paying explicit attention to HRM-related issues in management development (MD) programmes, or by arranging meetings in which the two types of actors can exchange ideas. The second implication relates to resistance to the new HRM policy, as shown by a (subsample) of the teachers. It is recommended that teachers be involved in designing HRM practices that are aimed at facilitating their own development. In this way, the need for practices to be ‘sold’ and hence to become a goal in themselves can be avoided. Moreover, involving teachers in the development of practices can be a way to overcome resistance to change among teachers (e.g. Kellor 2005). A third implication concerns our finding that the expertise of HR professionals and the practices they develop are perceived as helpful in implementing HRM policy. As has already been suggested by others (e.g. Grieves and Hanafin 2005), in order to upgrade their ‘people management’, VET institutions should make more use of the knowledge and skills of HRM professionals than they have done up till now, as this would help them cope better with the ongoing challenges they are being confronted with. More specifically, since HRM professionals have knowledge about how to improve employees’ abilities, motivation and opportunities to perform, this would help VET institutions, as main suppliers for the labour markets, to better meet the increasing expectancies concerning their contribution to the economy. Note 1. For reasons of readability and consistency, we will use the more general term HRM from here on; this term is generally used in the literature and has been adopted by the Dutch VET sector as well.

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