Defining the extent of Human Resource Management

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Human resource management (HRM) is the strategic and coherent approach to the management of an organization's most valued assets - the people working there who individually and collectively contribute to the achievement of the objectives of the business.[1] The terms "human resource management" and "human resources" (HR) have largely replaced the term "personnel management" as a description of the processes involved in managing people in organizations.[1] In simple words, HRM means employing people, developing their capacities, utilizing, maintaining and compensating their services in tune with the job and organizational requirement.

Its features include:

Organizational management

Personnel administration

Manpower management

Industrial management[2][3]

But these traditional expressions are becoming less common for the theoretical discipline. Sometimes even employee and industrial relations are confusingly listed as synonyms,[4] although these normally refer to the relationship between management and workers and the behavior of workers in companies.

The theoretical discipline is based primarily on the assumption that employees are individuals with varying goals and needs, and as such should not be thought of as basic business resources, such as trucks and filing cabinets. The field takes a positive view of workers, assuming that virtually all wish to contribute to the enterprise productively, and that the main obstacles to their endeavors are lack of knowledge, insufficient training, and failures of process.

Human Resource Management(HRM) is seen by practitioners in the field as a more innovative view of workplace management than the traditional approach. Its techniques force the managers of an enterprise to express their goals with specificity so that they can be understood and undertaken by the workforce, and to provide the resources needed for them to successfully accomplish their assignments. As such, HRM techniques, when properly practiced, are expressive of the goals and operating practices of the enterprise overall. HRM is also seen by many to have a key role in risk reduction within organisations.[5]

Synonyms such as personnel management are often used in a more restricted sense to describe activities that are necessary in the recruiting of a workforce, providing its members with payroll and benefits, and administrating their work-life needs. So if we move to actual definitions, Torrington and Hall (1987) define personnel management as being:

"a series of activities which: first enable working people and their employing organisations to agree about the objectives and nature of their working relationship and, secondly, ensures that the agreement is fulfilled" (p. 49).

While Miller (1987) suggests that HRM relates to:

".......those decisions and actions which concern the management of employees at all levels in the business and which are related to the implementation of strategies directed towards creating and sustaining competitive advantage" (p. 352).

Research in the area of HRM has much to contribute to the organisational practice of HRM. For the last 20 years, empirical work has paid particular attention to the link between the practice of HRM and organisational performance, evident in improved employee commitment, lower levels of absenteeism and turnover, higher levels of skills and therefore higher productivity, enhanced quality and efficiency [6]. This area of work is sometimes referred to as 'Strategic HRM' or SHRM ([7].

Within SHRM three strands of work can be observed[8]: Best practice, Best Fit and the Resource Based View (RBV).

The notion of best practice - sometimes called 'high commitment' HRM - proposes that the adoption of certain best practices in HRM will result in better organisational performance. Perhaps the most popular work in this area is that of Pfeffer [9] who argued that there were seven best practices for achieving competitive advantage through people and 'building profits by putting people first'. These practices included: providing employment security, selective hiring, extensive training, sharing information, self-managed teams, high pay based on company performance and the reduction of status differentials. However, there is a huge number of studies which provide evidence of best practices, usually implemented in coherent bundles, and therefore it is difficult to draw generalised conclusions about which is the 'best' way (For a comparison of different sets of best practices see Becker and Gerhart, 1996 [10]

Best fit, or the contingency approach to HRM, argues that HRM improves performance where there is a close vertical fit between the HRM practices and the company's strategy. This link ensures close coherence between the HR people processes and policies and the external market or business strategy. There are a range of theories about the nature of this vertical integration. For example, a set of 'lifecycle' models argue that HR policies and practices can be mapped onto the stage of an organisation's development or lifecycle[11]. Competitive advantage models take Porter's (1985) ideas about strategic choice and map a range of HR practices onto the organisation's choice of competitive strategy. Finally 'configurational models' [12] provide a more sophisticated approach which advocates a close examination of the organisation's strategy in order to determine the appropriate HR policies and practices. However, this approach assumes that the strategy of the organisation can be identified - many organisations exist in a state of flux and development.

The Resource Based View (RBV), argued by some to be at the foundation of modern HRM [13], focusses on the internal resources of the organisation and how they contribute to competitive advantage. The uniqueness of these resources is preferred to homogeneity and HRM has a central role in developing human resources that are valuable, rare, difficult to copy or substitute and that are effectively organised.

Overall, the theory of HRM argues that the goal of human resource management is to help an organization to meet strategic goals by attracting, and maintaining employees and also to manage them effectively. The key word here perhaps is "fit", i.e. a HRM approach seeks to ensure a fit between the management of an organisation's employees, and the overall strategic direction of the company (Miller, 1989).

The basic premise of the academic theory of HRM is that humans are not machines, therefore we need to have an interdisciplinary examination of people in the workplace. Fields such as psychology, industrial relations, industrial engineering, sociology, economics, and critical theories: postmodernism, post-structuralism play a major role. Many colleges and universities offer bachelor and master degrees in Human Resources Management or in Human Resources and Industrial Relations.

One widely used scheme to describe the role of HRM, developed by Dave Ulrich, defines 4 fields for the HRM function:[14]

Strategic business partner

Change Agent

Employee champion

Administration Expert