SHRM Foundation Research
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SHRM Foundation Research


Assessing Human Resource Practices Alignment

Funded: June 2006  Completed: June 2008

Herbert G. Heneman, III, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison
Anthony T. Milanowski, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison

Executive Summary
An organization’s HR practices can contribute tremendously to organizational effectiveness.  The most powerful combination of HR practices is interactive, such that the practices have a mutually supportive and reinforcing effect beyond the effects of the individual practices themselves.  The most effective HR systems foster employee ability, motivation, and opportunity to contribute to effectiveness. 

Heneman and Milanowski developed and evaluated a process to assess human resource practices alignment to ensure the content of HR practices reinforce the desired employee performance.  As part of this process, suggestions for how to increase HR alignment are elicited from participants.  Within a southwestern school district, they gauged the alignment of HR practices to a teacher competency model which is the driver of important strategic objectives in this organization. 

The Alignment Process 

The following steps were taken to determine HR alignment and to elicit suggestions for how to increase HR alignment. 

  1. Written descriptions of all organizational HR practices were developed and distributed to process participants.
  2. HR practices were sorted into one of eight functional areas of HR:  recruitment, selection, induction, mentoring, professional development, competencies, performance management, and instructional leadership. 
  3. A cross section of administrators, representing both instruction and HR, was chosen to serve as members of the focus group. 
  4. Vertical alignment was assessed.  This is the degree to which the HR system (and individual HR practices) focuses on desired organizational effectiveness outcomes. Each judge indicated the degree to which the specific HR practice incorporated the performance competency from a specific domain. 
  5. Horizontal alignment was assessed.  This is the degree to which individual HR practices work together or combine in some fashion to affect the desired outcomes. Considering two of the eight HR practices at a time, judges rated the extent to which the two practices support and reinforce each other (for a total of 28 horizontal alignment assessments). 
  6. Focus group members identified and discussed suggestions for improvement in vertical HR alignment for each of the eight HR practice areas.
  7. Focus group members tried to identify suggestions for improvement in horizontal HR alignment, but were unable to identify any. 
  8. To prioritize the recommendations and provide guidance for action, each recommendation was collectively rated by the judges on the basis of a) degree of likely impact on employee performance, b) time frame for action (do now, do within a year, study further).

The Results of the Alignment Process

  • Judges made a large number of HR alignment assessment ratings with an acceptable level of interrater reliability.
  • Judges were able to differentiate among the HR practice levels of vertical and horizontal alignment, and make multiple specific suggestions for improving vertical (but not horizontal) alignment.
  • Reactions toward the HRA assessment process was positive and judges felt it was successful at revealing the presence of many vertical alignment gaps within the district.
  • A stumbling block was that judges found the horizontal rating task difficult to do and could not offer any suggestions to improve horizontal alignment.


  • A valid performance competency model or performance system should be used as the benchmark against which HR alignment is judged.
  • Judges should be chosen from both within and outside the HR function in order to draw on dispersed expertise. 
  • The process may benefit from focusing only on vertical alignment.
  • The HR alignment assessment process could be expanded to include an implementation process, whose effectiveness could be evaluated. 

Study Methods
Descriptions of all HR practices and a performance competency model for a strategic job were provided to seven individuals knowledgeable about HR practices within an organization (i.e., a school district).  The individuals then made assessments of alignment with the performance competency model and suggested HR practice changes to improve alignment. The process was evaluated in terms of the assessments’ interrater reliability and differentiation among HR practices, the nature of the suggested HR practice improvements, and reactions of the participants to the process and its usefulness.

Download the full research report (in pdf).