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Human Resource Management

June 18, 2015


A young boy waits his turn at the Naubise health post in rural Nepal. Photo 

© Aisha Faquir/World Bank


The Global Solutions Group (GSG) for Human Resource Management (HRM) provides the knowledge backbone for one of the most critical and challenging reform areas in the World Bank Group’s Governance Global Practice (GGP): building public administrations that are able to recruit, retain and motivate staff capable of making good policy, designing effective regulation and delivering services across sectors. The efficient and effective use of human resources in the public sector is relevant for other Global Practices (GPs) in the Bank that are committed to improving the quality of service delivery and the provision of infrastructure ­­— crucial tasks for achieving the Bank’s twin goals.


Evolution of Thinking

Over the last 30 years, the Bank’s approach to Human Resource Management reform has evolved (as has its terminology, fluctuating between Civil Service Reform (CSR), Public Management and Employment (PME) and HRM). Between 1980 and 2000, the logic of structural adjustment and institutional capability were driven by normative ideas which typically involved the replication of good practices from high income and OECD countries, but were rarely rooted in empirical evidence on public service reforms from developing country contexts.

Drawing on operational experience and academic literature, the Bank now emphasizes a problem-solving approach in which reforms focus on addressing a well identified “functional problem.” This approach is marked by (i) a strong emphasis on diagnostics; (ii) recognition that second-best reforms are likely to be the approach of choice in challenging contexts; (iii) the need for rigorous empirical work on what works; and (iv) an emphasis on context-specific (“best fit”) solutions. Within the broader area of governance, this change of approach is especially important for HRM reform and in fragile/conflict settings.

How will this GSG support operations?

The GSG for HRM will help operational task teams to design HRM interventions that focus on solving well identified functional problems and use evidence of what works in the process of developing feasible solutions. The GSG will draw on the Bank’s past experience and the current thinking on the theory and practice of HRM, public management and employment to identify approaches that are technically sound, politically feasible and fit for context. Topics covered by the GSG will include:

a) Designing and reforming pay systems

b) Human resource planning

c) Functional reviews

d) Payroll management

e) Performance management

f) Change management

Additionally, the GSG will build a global repository and database of cross-country HRM practices and data, including laws and regulations, size and performance data, and comparative case studies. 

Operations will be further supported through other means (see examples below) with the objective of improving the quality of operations in the area of public management and employment, and HRM. More importantly, the GSG will systematically and rigorously collect evidence from operations to build the knowledge base and inform project design.

The GSG will also make every effort to prepare the next generation of public sector specialists within the Bank, facilitating mentorship and training to ensure that knowledge inside and outside the Bank is shared and built upon.

The GSG will maintain strong links with the other GSGs in the Governance Global Practice and build relationships with sector teams for cross-GP work where there is demand. The Health, Education, and Water GPs are likely to have interest in this area of work given the large numbers of public servants employed by client countries in these areas.


The operational approach will be grounded in the principles of the Bank’s Approach to PSM for 2011-2020 which emphasizes that public sector reform should be: (i) a pragmatic problem-solving activity and (ii) evidence-driven in order to improve results by identifying sustainable improvements to the public sector results chain. The challenge is to put this understanding into practice.

Going forward, the approach will equip staff with evidence of what works and with tools and indicators for evaluating and assessing the existing situation and measuring progress. This will consist of scaling-up ongoing work and work in new areas, including:

Wage Bill Modeling Tool                                                     

The core HRM team has worked to revive wage bill models that could assist policymakers in better understanding the fiscal impact of changes in pay policy and staffing numbers, and manage tradeoffs between higher pay and higher employment. There is now an operating model for Zambia and growing demand from clients in the Africa and East Asia Pacific regions. The GSG will work with task teams on training and design to make this tool available to interested clients.

Wage Bill Data

The available international comparative wage bill database extends only up to 2008. There is regular demand for this data and for the related data on wage bill/GDP, wage bill/expenditure and wage bill/revenue data from both within and outside the Bank. The GSG will update this data and make it available to practitioners.

Civil Servant Surveys

The GSG will work with the Research Group on the launch of civil servant surveys which will help provide new insights into how civil servant characteristics and organizational practices impact the capacity of bureaucracies to make policy, regulate and deliver public services.

Public Sector Diagnostics

A problem-solving approach should start with relative agnosticism about the suitable solution. The GSG will support teams in embedding a diagnostic analysis into project preparation, focusing on a functional problem and working up the results chain to identify the HRM “binding constraints” that are preventing the desired performance outcomes from being achieved.

Performance Management

Client governments are increasingly interested in improving performance management through robust performance appraisal systems, performance-based pay, service charters, etc. — but there is little understanding of how to adapt these to context and capacity in order to avoid failures or “reform overload.” The GSG will lead the evolving agenda in this space.  

Working with External Partners

This GSG will work closely with external partners across multilaterals, academia and governments who work in this area — bridging the gap between what is known about HRM reform and how it is conducted by the Bank.