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Human Resource Management (HRM) nowadays has virtually replaced personnel management to describe the process of managing people in organizations. HRM emerged in the UK in the 1980s around a time of general change in employee relations as legislation began to limit the powers of trade unions and a new concept to manage the employment relationship was needed. It was then that two conceptual models appear to have laid down the basis of HRM, these were the matching model and the Harvard framework (Boxall, 1992), both models were very similar and aimed to solve the perceived problems of personnel management. Despite these two similar frameworks HRM is the subject of various definitions and theories (Guest, 1997). One definition being "HRM comprises a set of policies designed to maximize organizational integration, employee commitment, flexibility and quality of work" Guest (1987:503) whilst another being "HRM is: 'The management of work and people towards desired ends" (Boxall et al, 2007 cited in Armstrong, 2009:5). These are not the only points in which HRM differs either as it has also been argued to vary conceptually and empirically, this being something which is important to recognise when comparing it with past management practices, as noted by Legge (1989). The general concept of HRM is argued by some (Storey, 1989) to be markedly different from that of past management practices whilst others have argued that it is just a case of "old wine in new bottles" (Armstrong, 1987 cited in Armstrong, 2009:13). The literature studied has uncovered four main factors that are argued to differ both empirically and conceptually between HRM and past management practices and these factors have been studied below.
The first difference between HRM and past management practices to consider is the involvement of trade unions in the employment relationship. During the period of industrial relations and personnel management it was the trade unions that played a key part in negotiating employees pay and conditions through collective bargaining, due to the size of most unions it meant they had considerable power to act in the best interests of employees. The concept of HRM has changed the role of trade unions considerably, it has been argued (Guest, 1987) that in theory under HRM there is no need for trade unions as organisations will be acting in the best interests of their employees anyway, these organisations will have moved from pluralism to unitarism and therefore instead of employees and the organisation having different aims and goals they should be the same, this would therefore eradicate any conflict between the two parties. It has also been argued that trade unions create 'adversity' towards an organisation and therefore it is not even possible for HRM and trade unions to co-exist. In contrast, empirically it has been found that despite the decrease in trade union membership since the 1980s and their reduced power due to legislation such as the 1982 Employment Act and the 1984 Trade Union Act, they still have an important impact upon the employment relationship (Machin and Wood, 2005). Guest (1989) also argues that trade unions can and still do co-exist with companies that practice HRM. Conceptually, the various theories of HRM have argued there is no need for trade unions in the employment relationship and this is therefore a major difference from past management practices where trade unions featured heavily. Empirically though Machin and Wood (2005) and Guest (1987) have argued that trade unions can and do still co-exist with companies practicing HRM. Although there is a major difference conceptually between HRM and past management practices in the case of trade unions involvement in the employment relationship, empirically there is actually little difference.
Another difference to consider between HRM and past management practices is the role that is played by line managers. Under personnel management, activities involving the voicing of concerns of the workforce were dealt with by labour relations specialists and not by line management, who were seen more as the mediators when problems arose (Walton, 1985). Line management therefore did not have full responsibility for employees. In contrast, under HRM, "people management belongs to and is dependent on line managers" (Armstrong and Baron, 2002:9) and because of this the role of line managers has expanded. They have more responsibility for the development and management of employees and are able to play a more proactive role. Both management practices identified that line management was responsible for the management of people although, as identified by Legge (1989 cited in Armstrong and Baron, 2002:21), "personnel management seeks to influence line management" whereas "HRM is more of an integrated line management activity". Empirically though it was discovered by Guest and King (2004:418) that even though line managers were given these increased responsibilities over employees they were reluctant to accept them and often didn't fulfil their new role. They also found evidence that line managers resented some of the "time consuming" procedures which were part of HRM. It again appears that despite the differences being identified between HRM and personnel management on the role of line managers conceptually, empirically there is little difference because line managers are reluctant to accept these new responsibilities and have often not fully taken on their new roles.
A further difference is the strategic role played by HRM in comparison to the role played by past management practices. Personnel management and industrial relations were seen as individual constructs of an organisation and were isolated from the rest of the company, they played no real part in shaping an organizations strategy and instead took guidance from it. In contrast to this, conceptually HRM is existent throughout all levels of management, from line managers to board level and is a strategic activity which is developed and delivered by all levels of management to support the interests of the organization (Armstrong and Baron, 2002). Rather than its policies deriving from an organizations strategy, HRM "constructively shapes" it (Storey, 2007:10). In practice though Storey (1993:538) found that rather than HRM being implemented at a strategic level it was more often "added-on in a rather piece-meal fashion". Although, in more recent studies, Sisson (2007) found that HRM is becoming increasingly more strategically involved in organizations plans, much more than personnel management was, but that this is still not very common. As a concept HRM varies very much from past management practices as it plays a much more strategic role and is utilised throughout all different levels of management, empirically it appears that although this wasn't initially the case it is in fact becoming more and more a reality and therefore there is becoming a real difference between HRM and management practices before it.
The final difference to consider between HRM and past management practices is the effects on organisational culture. Legge (1989 cited in Armstrong and Baron, 2002:8) suggests that personnel management were not keen on organisational development and the "related unitarist social-psychology-orientated ideas" that went with it. In contrast to this, HRM is keen to emphasise organisational development and the involvement of senior managers in the managing of culture. The HRM culture aims to create individualism instead of collectivism and aims to gain employees commitment rather than having to use control. The effect of individualism is that more emphasis is placed upon training individuals than before and therefore there is increased emphasis on individual development (Legge, 1989:27). Through the emphasis on commitment in the organisations culture the performance expectations of employees is not set at a minimum standard but rather by "stretch objectives" which emphasize continuous improvement (Walton,1985:79). Empirical evidence has shown though that despite some top management claiming to practice HRM, middle management are against the increased participation of employees which gives them less control and any concepts such as Quality circles therefore rarely succeed (Guest, 1989). On top of this, Torrington (1989:61) argues that many managers have only "modified their approach" and whilst introducing some new initiatives they are with a "HRM flavour" rather than fully embracing HRM. Generally it appears that conceptually there is a relatively significant difference between the organisational culture created by HRM and that created by past management practices. Empirically though its seems that currently there is little difference between practised HRM and past management practices, partly due to the resistance of middle management.
In conclusion, the differences between HRM and past management practices depends on whether HRM is looked at empirically or conceptually. It is clear that the conceptual differences between HRM and past management practices are reasonable and if they were a reality then it would be fair to say that HRM did differ substantially from past management practices. Although, as various empirical studies have shown, HRM does not differ as much from past management practise empirically as it does conceptually. The first main difference discussed was the involvement of trade unions in the employment relationship and that these now have a lot less power than before and are generally not even necessary due to HRM organizations being unitarist rather than pluralist. Machin and Wood (2005) and Guest (1987) found, though that despite organisations becoming unitarist, trade unions still do generally co-exist with organisations practicing HRM and play a similar role, although not as powerful, as they did under past management practices. Another difference that was discussed between HRM and past management practices was the extra responsibility which is given to line managers to manage and develop employees compared to before. Guest and King (2004) found however that although line managers have been given these responsibilities they are not actually fulfilling and taking them on and so are not actually behaving much different to how they did before under past management practices. A further difference discussed was the strategic implementation of HRM and that instead of being guided by organizational strategy like personnel management it actually shapes it. Also that HRM is utilised at all levels of management rather than just by personnel managers as before. However, Storey (1993:538) found that HRM was being employed in a "piece-meal" fashion rather than throughout the whole organization, which is not much different from how past management practise were performed. The final difference discussed was between the organisational culture under HRM compared to past management practices. HRM conceptually differs in that it emphasises individualism and commitment rather than collectivism and control. Although empirically often this culture is not created as the initiatives to emphasise it are often not implemented properly and don't succeed. There are clear differences empirically between HRM and past management practices. Although when HRM is applied practically it appears the differences are much less and it is instead very similar to past management practices. Nevertheless, it seems that generally HRM is not just simply a case of "old wine in new bottles" (Armstrong, 1987 cited in Armstrong, 2009:13) but neither is it a revolutionary change from past management practices.