From Bipartite to Tripartite Devolved HRM in Professional Service Contexts: Evidence from Hospitals in Three Countries

Aoife M. Mcdermott*, Louise Fitzgerald, Nicolette M. Van Gestel, Mary A. Keating

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article explores the devolution of HRM in a hospital context. Based on secondary data and 128 interviews conducted in nine hospitals across three European countries (Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom), we examine roles and responsibility for HRM under devolution and coordination between those delivering it. Findings challenge bipartite conceptions of devolution, identifying a tripartite model with (1) HR practitioners, (2) line managers, and (3) senior professionals (managers and specialists) implementing HRM. Involving senior professionals in HRM reflects long-standing concern regarding managerial legitimacy in overseeing professional work. In the tripartite relationship, each party has scope to contribute to people management: HR practitioners to formulate a strategic framework, HR practices, and provide advisory services; line managers to implement HR practices and interface between HR and frontline professionals; and senior professionals to act as line managers' advocates and provide expert knowledge and credibility to inform people-related decision making. However, lack of role clarity and tensions in coordination relate to the differing goals of, and distance between, the HR function, line managers, and senior professionals. Our theoretical reframing of devolution notes potential for tripartite relational involvement to enhance HR performance in professional service contexts, the contingencies affecting this, and potential implications for the HR architecture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)813-831
Number of pages19
JournalHuman Resource Management
Issue number5
Early online date28 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2015


  • Devolution
  • Hospitals
  • Human resource management
  • Line manager
  • Professional service organization


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