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Developments in the field of HRM are now well documented in the management literature see e.g. Boxall, 1992; Legge, 1995; Schuler and Jackson, 2007; Sisson and Storey, 2000; Torrington et al., 2005. The roots of HRM go back as far as the 1950s, when writers like Drucker and McGregor stressed the need for visionary goal-directed leadership and management of business integration (Armstrong, 1987). This was succeeded by the 'behavioural science movement' in the 1960s, headed by Maslow, Argyris and Herzberg. These scholars emphasised the 'value' aspect of human resources (HR) in organisations and argued for a better quality of working life for workers. This formed the basis of the 'organisational development movement' initiated by Bennis in the 1970s. The 'human resource accounting' (HRA) theory developed by Flamholtz (1974) was an outcome of these sequential developments in the field of HRM and is considered to be the origin of HRM as a defined school of thought. HRA emphasised human resources as assets for any organisation. This 'asset' view began to gain support in the 1980s (Hendry and Pettigrew, 1990). The last twenty-five years or so have then witnessed rapid developments in the field of HRM, which are an outcome of a number of factors such as growing competition (mainly to US/UK firms by Japanese firms), slow economic growth in the Western developed nations, realisation about the prospects of HRM's contribution towards firms' performance, creation of HRM chairs in universities and HRM-specific positions in the industry, introduction of HRM into MBA curricula in the early 1980s, and a continuous emphasis on the involvement of HRM strategy in the business strategy.
The debate relating to the nature of HRM continues today although the focus of the debate has changed over time. It started by attempting to delineate the differences between 'Personnel Management' and 'HRM' (see e.g. Legge, 1989; Guest, 1991), and moved on to attempts to incorporate Industrial Relations into HRM (Torrington et al., 2005), examining the relationship of HRM strategies, integration of HRM into business strategies and devolvement of HRM to line managers (Lengnick-Hall and Lengnick-Hall, 1989; Brewster and Larson, 1992; Budhwar and Sparrow, 1997) and then the extent to which HRM can act as a key means to achieve competitive advantage in organisations (Barney, 1991). Most of these developments have taken place over the last couple of decades or so, and have precipitated changes in the nature of the HR function from being reactive, prescriptive and administrative to being proactive, descriptive and executive (Boxall, 1994; Legge, 1995). At present then, the contribution of HRM in improving a firm's performance and in the overall success of any organisation (alongside other factors) is being highlighted in the literature (see e.g. Guest, 1997; Schuler and Jackson, 2005; 2007). In relation to the last debate, three perspectives emerge from the existing literature: universalistic, contingency, and configurational (Katou and Budhwar, 2006; 2007).
The 'universalistic' perspective posits the 'best' of HR practices, implying that business strategies and HRM policies are mutually independent in determining business performance. The 'contingency' perspective emphasises the fit between business strategy and HRM policies and strategies, implying that business strategies are followed by HRM policies in determining business performance. The 'configurational' perspective posits a simultaneous internal and external fit between a firm's external environment, business strategy and HR strategy, implying that business strategies and HRM policies interact, according to organisational context in determining business performance.
Briefly discuss with your colleagues: (1) the main factors responsible for developments in the field of HRM/SHRM; and (2) the main debates in the field of HRM.
Emergence of strategic human resource management (SHRM)
The above developments in the field of HRM highlight the contribution it can make towards business success and an emphasis on HRM to become an integral part of business strategy (Lengnick-Hall and Lengnick-Hall, 1988; Brewster and Larsen, 1992; Bamberger and Meshoulam, 2000; Schuler and Jackson, 2007). The emergence of the term 'strategic human resource management' (SHRM) is an outcome of such efforts. It is largely concerned with 'integration' of HRM into the business strategy and 'adaptation' of HRM at all levels of the organisation (Guest, 1987; Schuler, 1992).
What is strategy?
The origin of this concept can be traced in its military orientation, going back to the Greek word 'strategos', for a general who organises, leads and directs his forces to the most advantageous position (Bracker, 1980; Legge, 1995; Lundy and Cowling, 1996). In the world of business it mainly denotes how top management is leading the organisation in a particular direction in order to achieve its specific goals, objectives, vision and overall purpose in the society in a given context / environment. The main emphasis of strategy is thus to enable an organisation to achieve competitive advantage with its unique capabilities by focusing on present and future direction of the organisation (also see Miller, 1991; Kay 1993).
Over the past three decades or so a lot has been written under the field of strategic management about the nature, process, content and formation of organisational strategy (see e.g. Mintzberg, 1987; 1994; Quinn et al., 1988; Ansoff, 1991 Whittington, 1993; 2001). A 'classical' strategic management process consists of a series of steps, starting from establishing a mission statement and key objectives for the organisation; analysing the external environment (to identify possible opportunities and threats); conducting an internal organisational analysis (to examine its strengths and weaknesses and the nature of current management systems, competencies and capabilities); setting specific goals; examining possible strategic choices / alternatives to achieve organisational objectives and goals; adoption / implementation of chosen choices; and regular evaluation of all the above (see e.g. Mello, 2006). The abovementioned first five steps form part of strategic planning and the last two steps deal with the implementation of an ideal strategic management process. They also deal with both the 'content' (revealed by the objectives and goals) and 'process' (for example, planning, structure and control) of an organisational strategy (Chakravarthy and Doz, 1992; Lundy and Cowling, 1996).
However, in real life, it is important to note that for a variety of reasons and pressures (such as scarcity of time, resources, or too much information), top decision-makers do not follow such a 'formal and rational approach' (also called as 'deliberate approach') when formulating their organisational strategy. Based on their experiences, instincts, intuition and the limited resources available to them (along with factors such as need for flexibility), managers adopt an 'informal and bounded rational approach' (resulting in 'informal incremental process') to strategy formation (see Quinn, 1978; Mintzberg, 1978). Mintzberg (1987) says that formal approach to strategy making results in deliberation on the part of decision-makers, which results in thinking before action. On the other hand, the incremental approach allows the strategy to emerge in response to an evolving situation. Lundy and Cowling (1996: 23), summarising Mintzberg's thinking, write that deliberate strategy precludes learning while emergent strategy fosters it but precludes control. Effective strategies combine deliberation and control with flexibility and organisational learning. A number of scholars (such as Ansoff, 1991) have criticised Mintzberg's work as over-prescriptive.
Identify and analyse the core issues (such as why, when and how) related to both 'rational' and 'bounded rational' approaches to strategy formulation
The debate with regard to the formation of organisational strategy continues. For example, Whittington (1993) presents four generic approaches to strategy formation along the two dimensions of 'processes' and 'outcomes of strategy' (see Figure 1.1). The 'x' axis deals
with the extent to which strategy is formed in a rational, formal, planned and deliberate manner , is a result of bounded rational approach or is emergent in nature. The 'y' axis relates to continua of outcomes, i.e. the extent to which organisational strategy focuses on profit-maximising outcomes. The top left-hand quadrant represents a mix of maximum profit-maximisation and a formal planned and deliberate approach to strategy formation. Whittington denotes this combination as 'classical'. The combination in the top right-hand is that of profit-maximisation and an emergent kind of strategy formation called the 'evolutionary' approach. The other two combinations - the emergent approach to strategy formation and pluralistic types of outcome and deliberate process and pluralistic outcomes- are denoted as 'processual' and 'systemic' approaches respectively.
Figure: 1.1 Whittington's (1993) generic perspective on strategy
Organisations adopting the classical approach (like the army) follow a clear, rational, planned and deliberate process of strategy formation and aim for maximisation of profits. This approach is most likely to be successful when the organisation's objectives and goals are clear, the external environment is relatively stable, the information about both the external and internal environment is reliable and the decision-makers are able to analyse it thoroughly and make highly calculated decisions in order to adopt the best possible choice. Strategy formulation is left to top managers and the implementation is carried out by operational managers of different departments. This scenario demonstrates the difference between 'first-order' strategy or decisions and 'second-order' strategy or decisions, where the former represents the strategy formation by top managers and the latter is an implementation of the same by lower-level managers (for details see Miller, 1993; Purcell 1989; Legge, 1995). It also represents the classic top-down approach of Chandler (1962) where organisation structure follows the strategy.
The evolutionary approach represents the other side of the strategy formation continua where owing to a number of reasons (such as unpredictability of the dynamic business environment) it is not possible to adopt a rational, planned and deliberate process, although profit-maximisation is still the focus. In such competitive and uncertain conditions where managers do not feel they are in command, only the best can survive (survival of the fittest or being at the correct place at right time). The key to success thus largely lies with a good fit between organisational strategy and business environment (also see Lundy and Cowling, 1996).
The processual approach is different on the profit-maximisation perspective where managers are not clear about what the 'optimum' level of output is or should be. A high degree of confusion and complexity exists both within the organisations and in the markets; the strategy emerges in small steps (increments) and often at irregular intervals from a practical process of learning, negotiating and compromising instead of clear series of steps. This is related to the inability of senior managers to comprehend huge banks of information, a variety of simultaneously occurring factors and a lack of desire to optimise and rationalise decisions. The outcome is then perhaps a set of 'satisficing' behaviours, acceptable to the 'dominant coalitions', which is the reality of strategy-making (Legge, 1995: 100).
As the name suggests, the systemic approach emphasises the significance of larger social systems, characterised by factors such as national culture, national business systems, demographic composition of a given society and the dominant institutions of the society within which a firm is operating. The strategy formation is strongly influenced by such factors, and faced by these pressures the strategist may intentionally deviate from rational planning and profit-maximisation. It will not be sensible to suggest that organisations adopt only one of the four particular approaches to strategy formation, but certainly it has to be a mixture of possible combinations along the two dimensions of processes and profit- maximisation.
Highlight the main context(s) within which each of Whittington's four approaches to strategy formation could be pursued by managers.
What is strategic HRM (SHRM)?
The field of strategic HRM is still evolving and there is little agreement among scholars regarding an acceptable definition. Broadly speaking, SHRM is about systematically linking people with the organisation; more specifically, it is about the integration of HRM strategies into corporate strategies. HR strategies are essentially plans and programmes that address and solve fundamental strategic issues related to the management of human resources in an organisation (Schuler, 1992). They focus is on alignment of the organisation's HR practices, policies and programmes with corporate and strategic business unit plans (Greer, 1995). Strategic HRM thus links corporate strategy and HRM, and emphasises the integration of HR with the business and its environment. It is believed that integration between HRM and business strategy contributes to effective management of human resources, improvement in organisational performance and finally the success of a particular business (see Holbeche, 1999; Schuler and Jackson, 1999). It can also help organisations achieve competitive advantage by creating unique HRM systems that cannot be imitated by others (Barney, 1991; Huselid et al., 1997). In order for this to happen, HR departments should be forward-thinking (future-oriented) and the HR strategies should operate consistently as an integral part of the overall business plan (Stroh and Caligiuri, 1998). The HR-related future-orientation approach of organisations forces them to regularly conduct analysis regarding the kind of HR competencies needed in the future, and accordingly core HR functions (of procurement, development and compensation) are activated to meet such needs (see Holbeche, 1999).
Lengnick-Hall and Lengnick-Hall (1999: 29-30) summarise the variety of topics that have been the focus of strategic HRM writers over the past couple of decades. These include HR accounting (which attempts to assign value to human resources in an effort to quantify organisational capacity); HR planning; responses of HRM to strategic changes in the business environment; matching human resources to strategic or organisational conditions; and the broader scope of HR strategies. For these writers, strategic HRM is a multidimensional process with multiple effects. Such writing also highlights the growing proactive nature of the HR function, its increased potential contribution to the success of organisations and the mutual relationships (integration) between business strategy and HRM.
Two core aspects of SHRM are: the importance given to the integration of HRM into the business and corporate strategy, and the devolvement of HRM to line managers instead of personnel specialists. Brewster and Larsen (1992: 411-12) define integration as 'the degree to which the HRM issues are considered as part of the formulation of the business strategy' and devolvement as 'the degree to which HRM practices involve and give responsibility to line managers rather than personnel specialists'. Research in the field (see Lengnick-Hall and Lengnick-Hall, 1988; Purcell, 1989; Schuler, 1992; Storey, 1992; Budhwar and Sparrow, 1997; Truss et al., 1997; Budhwar, 2000a; 2000b) highlights a number of benefits of integration of HRM into the corporate strategy. These include: providing a broader range of solutions for solving complex organisational problems; assuring the successful implementation of corporate strategy; contributing a vital ingredient in achieving and maintaining effective organisational performance; ensuring that all human, technical and financial resources are given equal and due consideration in setting goals and assessing implementation capabilities; limiting the subordination and neglect of HR issues to strategic considerations; providing long-term focus to HRM; and helping a firm to achieve competitive advantage.
In similar vein, researchers (Budhwar and Sparrow 1997; 2002; Hope-Hailey et al., 1997; Truss et al., 1997; Sisson and Storey, 2000) have highlighted the benefits of devolvement of HRM to line managers. These include: highlighting certain issues that are too complex for top management to comprehend alone; developing more motivated employees and more effective control; local managers responding more quickly to local problems and conditions; resolving most routine problems at the 'grassroots level'; affording more time for personnel specialists to perform strategic functions; helping to systematically prescribe and monitor the styles of line managers; improving organisational effectiveness; preparing future managers by allowing them to practise decision-making skills; and assisting in reducing costs by redirecting traditionally central bureaucratic personnel functions.
Despite the highlighted benefits of the devolution of HRM to the line management, it is still not widely practised in organisations. On the basis of earlier studies in the UK and their own in-depth investigations into the topic, McGovern et al. (1997: 14) suggest that devolution of responsibility for HRM to line managers is constrained by short-term pressures on businesses (such as minimising costs), the low educational and technical skill base of supervisors and a lack of training and competence among line managers and supervisors.
An important issue for top decision-makers is how to evaluate the extent to which both strategic integration and devolvement are practised in their organisations. The level of integration of HRM into the corporate strategy can be evaluated by a number of criteria: these include representation of specialist people managers on the board; the presence of a written people management strategy (in the form of mission statement, guideline or rolling plans, emphasising the importance and priorities of human resources in all parts of the business); consultation with people management specialists from the outset in the development of corporate strategy; translation of the people management strategy into a clear set of work programmes; the growing proactive nature of people management departments through the creation of rolling strategic plans (emphasising the importance of human resources in all parts of the business); through mission statements; by aligning HR policies with business needs through business planning processes; by use of participative management processes and committee meetings; and via HR audits.
The level of devolvement of HRM to line managers in an organisation can be evaluated on the basis of measures such as: the extent to which primary responsibility for decision-making regarding HRM (regarding pay and benefits, recruitment and selection, training and development, industrial relations, health and safety, and workforce expansion and reduction) lies with line managers; the change in the responsibility of line managers for HRM functions; the percentage of line managers trained in people management in an organisation; the feedback given to managers/line managers regarding HR related strategies; through consultations and discussions; the extent to which line managers are involved in decision- making; by giving the line managers ownership of HRM; and by ensuring that they have realised / accepted it by getting their acknowledgement (for more details see Budhwar and Sparrow, 1997; 2002; Budhwar, 2000a).
Recap the meaning, benefits, measures and concerns with the practice of both strategic integration of HRM into the business strategy and devolvement of HRM to line managers.
Stages of the evolution of strategy and HRM integration
Greer (1995) talks about four possible types of linkages between business strategy and the HRM function / department of an organisation:
'Administrative linkage' represents the scenario where there is no HR department and some other figurehead (such as the Finance or Accounts executive) looks after the HR function of the firm. The HR unit is relegated here to a paper-processing role. In such conditions there is no real linkage between business strategy and HRM.
Next is the 'one-way linkage' where HRM comes into play only at the implementation stage of the strategy.
'Two-way linkage' is more of a reciprocal situation where HRM is not only involved at the implementation stage but also at the corporate strategy formation stage.
The last kind of association is that of 'integrative linkage', where HRM has equal involvement with other organisational functional areas for business development.
Purcell (1989) presents a two-level integration of HRM into the business strategy - 'upstream or first-order decisions' and 'downstream or second-order decisions':
First-order decisions, as the name suggests, mainly address issues at the organisational mission level and vision statement; these emphasise where the business is going, what sort of actions are needed to guide a future course, and broad HR-oriented issues that will have an impact in the long term.
Second-order decisions deal with scenario planning at both strategic and divisional levels for the next 3-5 years. These are also related to hardcore HR policies linked to each core HR function (such as recruitment, selection, development, communication).
Guest (1987) proposes integration at three levels:
First he emphasises a 'fit' between HR policies and business strategy.
Second, he talks about the principle of 'complementary' (mutuality) of employment practices aimed at generating employee commitment, flexibility, improved quality and internal coherence between HR functions.
Third, he propagates 'internalisation' of the importance of integration of HRM and business strategies by the line managers (also see Legge, 1995).
Linking organisational strategy and HRM strategy: Theoretical developments
The literature contains many theoretical models that highlight the nature of linkage between HRM strategies and organisational strategies.
The strategic fit or the hard variant of HRM
Fombrun et al.'s (1984) 'matching model' highlights the 'resource' aspect of HRM and emphasises the efficient utilisation of human resources to meet organisational objectives. This means that, like other resources of organisation, human resources have to be obtained cheaply, used sparingly and developed and exploited as fully as possible. The matching model is mainly based on Chandler's (1962) argument that an organisation's structure is an outcome of its strategy. Fombrun et al. (1984) expanded this premise in their model of strategic HRM, which emphasises a 'tight fit' between organisational strategy, organisational structure and HRM system. The organisational strategy is pre-eminent; both organisation structure and HRM are dependent on the organisation strategy. The main aim of the matching model is therefore to develop an appropriate 'human resource system' that will characterise those HRM strategies that contribute to the most efficient implementation of business strategies.
The matching model of HRM has been criticised for a number of reasons. It is thought to be too prescriptive by nature, mainly because its assumptions are strongly unitarist (Budhwar and Debrah, 2001). As the model emphasises a 'tight fit' between organisational strategy and HR strategies, it completely ignores the interest of employees, and hence considers HRM as a passive, reactive and implementationist function. However, the opposite trend is also highlighted by research (Storey, 1992). It is asserted that this model fails to perceive the potential for a reciprocal relationship between HR strategy and organisational strategy (Lengnick-Hall and Lengnick-Hall, 1988). Indeed, for some, the very idea of 'tight fit' makes the organisation inflexible, incapable of adapting to required changes and hence 'misfitted' to today's dynamic business environment. The matching model also misses the 'human' aspect of human resources and has been called a 'hard' model of HRM (Guest, 1987; Storey, 1992; Legge, 1995). The idea of considering and using human resources like any other resource of an organisation seems unpragmatic in the present world.
Despite the many criticisms, however, the matching model deserves credit for providing an initial framework for subsequent theory development in the field of strategic HRM. Researchers need to adopt a comprehensive methodology in order to study the dynamic concept of human resource strategy. Do elements of the matching model exist in different settings? This can be discovered by examining the presence of some of the core issues of the model. The main propositions emerging from the matching models that can be adopted by managers to evaluate scenario of strategic HRM in their organisations are:
Do organisations show a 'tight fit' between their HRM and organisation strategy where the former is dependent on the latter? Do specialist people managers believe they should develop HRM systems only for the effective implementation of their organisation's strategies?
Do organisations consider their human resources as a cost and use them sparingly? Or do they devote resources to the training of their HRs to make the best use of them?
Do HRM strategies vary across different levels of employees?
The soft variant of HRM
The 'Harvard model' of strategic HRM is another analytical framework, which is premised on the view that if general managers develop a viewpoint of 'how they wish to see employees involved in and developed by the enterprise' then some of the criticisms of historical personnel management can be overcome. The model was first articulated by Beer et al. (1984). Compared to the matching model, this model is termed 'soft' HRM (Storey, 1992; Legge, 1995; Truss et al., 1997). It stresses the 'human' aspect of HRM and is more concerned with the employer-employee relationship. The model highlights the interests of different stakeholders in the organisation (such as shareholders, management, employee groups, government, community and unions) and how their interests are related to the objectives of management. This aspect of the model provides some awareness of the European context and other business systems that emphasise 'co-determination'. It also recognises the influence of situational factors (such as the labour market) on HRM policy choices.
The actual content of HRM, according to this model, is described in relation to four policy areas, namely, human resource flows, reward systems, employee influence, and works systems. Each of the four policy areas is characterised by a series of tasks to which managers must attend. The outcomes that these four HR policies need to achieve are commitment, competence, congruence, and cost effectiveness. The aim of these outcomes is therefore to develop and sustain mutual trust and improve individual / group performance at the minimum cost so as to achieve individual well-being, organisational effectiveness and societal well-being. The model allows for analysis of these outcomes at both the organisational and societal level. As this model acknowledges the role of societal outcomes, it can provide a useful basis for comparative analysis of HRM. However, this model has been criticised for not explaining the complex relationship between strategic management and HRM (Guest, 1991).
The matching model and the Harvard analytical framework represent two very different emphases, the former being closer to the strategic management literature, the latter to the human relations tradition. Based on the above analysis, the main propositions emerging from this model that can be used for examining its applicability and for determining the nature of SHRM in different contexts are:
What is the influence of different stakeholders and situational and contingent variables on HRM policies?
To what extent is communication with employees used to maximise commitment?
What level of emphasis is given to employee development through involvement, empowerment and devolution?
The contextual emphasis
Based on the human resource policy framework provided by the Harvard model, researchers at the Centre for Corporate Strategy and Change at Warwick Business School have developed an understanding of strategy-making in complex organisations and have related this to the ability to transform HRM practices. They investigated empirically based data (collected through in-depth case studies on over twenty leading British organisations) to examine the link between strategic change and transformations, and the way in which people are managed (Hendry et al., 1988; Hendry and Pettigrew, 1992). Hendry and associates argue that HRM should not be labelled as a single form of activity. Organisations may follow a number of different pathways in order to achieve the same results. This is mainly a function of the existence of linkages between the outer environmental context (socio-economic, technological, politico-legal and competitive) and inner organisational context (culture, structure, leadership, task-technology and business output). These linkages directly contribute to forming the content of an organisation's HRM. To analyse this, past information related to the organisation's development and management of change is essential (Budhwar and Debrah, 2001). The main propositions emerging from this model are:
What is the influence of economic (competitive conditions, ownership and control, organisation size and structure, organisational growth path or stage in the life cycle and the structure of the industry), technological (type of production systems) and socio-political (national education and training set-up) factors on HRM strategies?
What are the linkages between organisational contingencies (such as size, nature, positioning of HR and HR strategies) and HRM strategies?
The issue of strategic integration
Debates in the early 1990s suggested the need to explore the relationship between strategic management and HRM more extensively (Guest, 1991) and the emerging trend in which HRM is becoming an integral part of business strategy (Lengnick-Hall and Lengnick-Hall, 1988; Brewster and Larsen, 1992; Schuler, 1992; Storey, 1992; Budhwar and Sparrow, 1997; 2002). The emergence of SHRM is an outcome of such efforts. As mentioned above, it is largely concerned with 'integration' and 'adaptation'. Its purpose is to ensure that HRM is fully integrated with the strategy and strategic needs of the firm; HR policies are coherent both across policy areas and across hierarchies; and HR practices are adjusted, accepted and used by line managers and employees as part of their everyday work (Schuler, 1992: 18).
SHRM therefore has many different components, including HR policies, culture, values and practices. Schuler (1992) developed a '5-P model' of SHRM that melds five HR activities (philosophies, policies, programs, practices and processes) with strategic business needs, and reflects management's overall plan for survival, growth, adaptability and profitability. The strategic HR activities form the main components of HR strategy. This model to a great extent explains the significance of these five SHRM activities in achieving the organisation's strategic needs, and shows the interrelatedness of activities that are often treated separately in the literature. This is helpful in understanding the complex interaction between organisational strategy and SHRM activities.
This model further shows the influence of internal characteristics (which mainly consists of factors such as organisational culture and the nature of the business) and external characteristics (which consist of the nature and state of economy in which the organisation is existing and critical success factors, i.e. the opportunities and threats provided by the industry) on the strategic business needs of an organisation. This model initially attracted criticism for being over-prescriptive and too hypothetical in nature. It needs a lot of time to gain an understanding of the way strategic business needs are actually defined. The melding of business needs with HR activities is also very challenging, mainly because linkages between human resource activities and business needs tend to be the exception, even during non-turbulent times (Schuler, 1992: 20). In essence, the model raises two important propositions that are core to the strategic HRM debate. These are:
What is the level of integration of HRM into the business strategy?
What level of responsibility for HRM is devolved to line managers?
Analyse the key messages for HRM managers emerging from the above presentation on the main models of SHRM.
Identify and develop key measures that HR managers can use to evaluate the nature of their SHRM function based on the above-raised propositions.
Matching business strategy and HRM
The above discussion summarises the theoretical developments in strategic HRM and its linkages with organisational strategies. A number of clear messages emerge from the analysis. For example, strategic HRM models primarily emphasise implementation over strategy formulation. They also tend to focus on matching HR strategy to organisational strategy, not the other way. They also tend to emphasise fit or congruence and do not acknowledge the need for lack of such fit between HR strategies and business strategies during transitional times and when organisations have multiple or conflicting goals (also see Lengnick-Hall and Lengnick-Hall, 1999). This section further highlights the matching of HRM policies and practices to some of the established models of business strategies.
Porter's generic business strategies and HRM
Michael Porter (1980; 1985) identified three possible generic strategies for competitive advantage in business: cost leadership (when the organisation cuts its prices by producing a product or service at less expense than its competitors); innovation (when the organisation is able to be a unique producer); and quality (when the organisation is delivering high-quality goods and services to customers). Considering the emphasis on 'external-fit' (i.e. organisational strategy leading individual HR practices that interact with organisational strategy in order to improve organisational performance), a number of HRM combinations can be adopted by firms to support Porter's model of business strategies. In this regard, Schuler (1989) proposes corresponding HRM philosophies of 'accumulation' (careful selection of good candidates based on personality rather technical fit), 'utilization' (selection of individuals on the basis of technical fit), and 'facilitation' (the ability of employees to work together in collaborative situations). Thus, firms following a quality strategy will require a combination of accumulation and facilitation HRM philosophies in order to acquire, maintain and retain core competencies; firms pursuing a cost-reduction strategy will require a utilisation HRM philosophy and will emphasise short-run relationships, minimise training and development and highlight external pay comparability; and firms following an innovation strategy will require a facilitation HRM philosophy so as to bring out the best out of existing staff (also see Schuler and Jackson, 1987). In summary, according to the 'external-fit' philosophy, the effectiveness of individual HR practices is contingent on firm strategy. The performance of an organisation that adopts HR practices appropriate for its strategy will then be higher.
Business life cycles and HRM
There is now an established literature in the field of HRM that highlights how possible contingent variables determine the HRM systems of an organisation (for a detailed review see Budhwar and Debrah, 2001; Budhwar and Sparrow, 2002). One among the long list of such variables is the 'life cycle stage' of an organisation: introduction (start-up); growth (development); maturity; decline; and turnaround. Research findings reveal a clear association between a given life cycle stage and specific HRM policies and practices. For example, it is logical for firms in their introductory and growth life cycle stages to emphasise a rationalised approach to recruitment in order to acquired best-fit human resources, compensate employees at the going market rate, and actively pursue employee development strategies. Similarly, organisations in the maturity stage are known to recruit enough people to allow for labour turnover/ lay-offs and to create new opportunities in order to remain creative to maintain their market position. Such organisations emphasise flexibility via their training and development programmes and pay employees as per the market leaders in a controlled way. Accordingly firms in the decline stage will be likely to minimise costs by reducing overheads and aspire to maintain harmonious employee relations (for more details see Kochan and Barocci, 1985; Baird and Meshoulam 1988; Hendry and Pettigrew 1992; Jackson and Schuler 1995; Boxall and Purcell, 2003).
Typology of business strategies and HRM
Miles and Snow (1978; 1984) classify organisations as 'prospectors' (who are doing well and are regularly looking for more products and market opportunities), 'defenders' (who have a limited and stable product domain), 'analyzers' (who have some degree of stability but are on the lookout for possible opportunities) and 'reactors' (who mainly respond to market conditions). These generic strategies dictate organisations' HRM policies and practices. For example, defenders are less concerned about recruiting new employees externally and are more concerned about developing current employees. In contrast, prospectors are growing, so they are concerned about recruiting and using performance appraisal results for evaluation rather than for longer-term development (for details see Jackson and Schuler 1995; MacDuffie 1995).
Generic HR strategies
Identifying the need to highlight the prevalence of generic HR strategies pursued by organisations in different contexts, Budhwar and Sparrow (2002) propose four HR strategies. These are:
'talent acquisition' HR strategy (emphasises attracting the best human talent from external sources);
'effective resource allocation' HR strategy (maximises the use of existing human resources by always having the right person in the right place at the right time);
'talent improvement' HR strategy (maximes the talents of existing employees by continuously training them and guiding them in their jobs and career); and
'cost reduction' HR strategy (reduces personnel costs to the lowest possible level).
Budhwar and Khatri (2001) examined the impact of these HR strategies on recruitment, compensation, training and development and employee communication practices in matched Indian and British firms. The impact of these four HR strategies varied significantly in the two samples, confirming the context specific nature of HRM. On the same pattern, there is a need to identify and examine the impact of other HR strategies such as high commitment, paternalism, etc. Such HR issues, which have a significant impact on a firm's performance, are further examined in different chapters in this book.
Perspectives on SHRM and organisational performance
The concept of 'fit" has emerged as central to many attempts to theorise about strategic HRM (Richardson and Thomson, 1999). 'Internal fit' is the case when the organisation is developing a range of interconnected and mutually reinforcing HRM policies and practices. This implies that there exists a set of 'best HR practices' that fit together sufficiently so that one practice reinforces the performance of the other practices. 'Synergy' is the key idea behind internal fit. Synergy can be achieved if the combined performance of a set of HRM policies and practices is greater than the sum of their individual performances. In this regard, the importance of the different HRM policies and practices being mutually reinforcing is emphasised (see Katou and Budhwar, 2006; 2007).
'External fit' is the case when the organisation is developing a range of HRM policies and practices that fit the business's strategies outside the area of HRM. This implies that performance will be improved when the right fit, or 'match', between business strategy and HRM policies and practices is achieved. As discussed above, specific HRM policies and practices are needed to support generic business strategies, for example Porter's cost leadership, innovation or quality enhancement (also see Fombrum et al., 1984; Schuler and Jackson, 1987). Similarly, Miles and Snow (1984) relate HRM policies and practices with competitive product strategies (defenders, prospectors, analysers, reactors).
Over the last decade or so the concept of fit has been further investigated by many scholars (see Delery and Doty, 1996; Youndt et al., 1996; Guest, 1997; Katou and Budhwar, 2006; 2007). An analysis of such work highlights that there are generally three modes of fit, or approaches to fit: 'universalistic', 'contingency', and 'configurational'. The core features of these modes constitute the structure of the so-called strategic HRM / business performance models.
The 'universalistic perspective' or HRM as an ideal set of practices suggests that a specified set of HR practices (the so-called 'best practices') will always produce superior results whatever the accompanying circumstances. Proponents of the universalistic model (e.g., Pfeffer 1994; 1998; Huselid 1995; Delaney and Huselid, 1996; Claus, 2003) emphasise that 'internal fit' or 'horizontal fit' or 'alignment of HR practices' helps to significantly improve an organisation's performance. Higgs et al. (2000) explain how a large number of HR practices that were previously considered to be distinct activities can all be considered now to belong in a system (bundle) of aligned HR practices.
Considering that internal fit is central to universalistic models, the main question / problem is how to determine an HR system, that is, as a coherent set of synergistic HR practices that blend better in producing higher business performance. The methods used in developing such HR systems depend on the 'additive relationship' (i.e. the case when the HR practices involved have independent and non-overlapping effects on outcome), and on the 'interactive relationship' (i.e. the case when the effect of one HR practice depends on the level of the other HR practices involved) (Delery, 1998). However, in our opinion universalistic models do not explicitly consider the internal integration of HR practices, and consider them merely from an additive point of view (also see Pfeffer 1994; Becker and Gerhart, 1996). Emerging research evidence (see Delery and Doty 1996) reveals the so-called 'portfolio effect', that is, how HR practices support and improve one another. However, it is important to remember that there can be countless combinations of practices that will result in identical business outcomes. This contributes to the concept of 'equifinality', in which identical outcomes can be achieved by a number of different systems of HR practices.
Support for the universalistic approach to strategic HRM is mixed as there are notable differences across studies as to what constitutes a 'best HR practice'. Most studies (e.g. Bamberger and Meshoulam, 2000; Christensen Hughes 2002; Boxall and Purcell 2003) focus on three mechanisms by which universal HR practices impact on business performance: (1) the 'human capital base' or collection of human resources (skills, knowledge, and potential), that the organisation has to work with - the organisation's recruitment, selection, training and development processes directly affect the quality of this base; (2) 'motivation', which is affected by a variety of HR processes including recognition, reward, and work systems; and (3) 'opportunity to contribute', which is affected by job design, and involvement/ empowerment strategies. In addition, the best practices approach generally refers to the resource-based theory of firm and competitive advantage, which focuses on the role internal resources such as employees play in developing and maintaining a firm's competitive capabilities (Wright et al., 1994; Youndt et al., 1996). For a resource to be a source of competitive advantage it must be rare, valuable, inimitable and non-substitutable. Therefore, HR practices of the organisation can lead to competitive advantage through developing a unique and valuable human pool.
The 'contingency' or 'HRM as strategic integration' model argues that an organisation's set of HRM policies and practices will be effective if it is consistent with other organisational strategies. 'External fit' is then what matters (Fombrum et al., 1984; Golden and Ramanujam, 1985; Schuler and Jackson, 1987; Lengnick-Hall and Lengnick-Hall, 1988; Guest, 1997). As discussed above, in this regard specific HRM policies and practices link with various types of generic business strategies. For example, the work of Schuler and Jackson (1987), mentioned above, suggests that the range of HRM policies and practices an organisation should adopt depend on the competitive product strategies it is following. Considering that external fit is the key concept of contingency models, the contingency approach refers firstly to the theory of the organisational strategy and then to the individual HR practices that interact with organisational strategy in order to result in higher organisational performance. The adoption of a contingency HRM strategy is then associated with optimised organisational performance, where the effectiveness of individual HR practices is contingent on firm strategy. The performance of an organisation that adopts HR practices appropriate for its strategy will be higher (for more details see Katou and Budhwar, 2007).
The 'configurational' or 'HRM as bundles' model argues that to claim a strategy's success turns on combining internal and external fit. This approach makes use of the so-called 'bundles' of HR practices, which implies the existence of specific combinations or configurations of HR practices depending on corresponding organisational contexts, where the key is to determine which are the most effective in terms of leading to higher business performance (see Guest and Hoque, 1994; MacDuffie, 1995; Delery and Doty, 1996; Huselid and Becker, 1996; Katou and Budhwar, 2006).
Considering that both the internal and external fits are the key concepts of configurational models, the configurational approach refers firstly to the theory of the organisational strategy and then to the systems of HR practices that are consistent with organisational strategy in order to result in higher organisational performance. As indicated above, there are a number of strategies an organisation may choose to follow, such as Miles and Snow's (1984) strategic typology that identifies the four ideal strategic types of prospector, analyser, defender and reactor.
With respect to the configurations of HR practices, scholars (such as Kerr and Slocum, 1987; Osterman, 1987; Sonnenfeld and Peiperl, 1988; Delery and Doty, 1996) have developed theoretically driven 'employment systems'. Specifically, Delery and Doty (1996) propose the following two 'ideal type' employment systems: the 'market type system', which is characterised by hiring from outside an organisation, and the 'internal system', which is characterised by the existence of an internal market. Because organisations adopting a defending strategy concentrate on efficiency in current products and markets, the internal system is more appropriate for this type of strategy. On the other hand, organisations pursuing a prospector's strategy are constantly changing, and the market system is more appropriate for this type of strategy. A possible third type of configurational strategy can be the analyser, at the midpoint between the prospector and the defender. In summary, according to this approach, if consistency within the configuration of HR practices and between the HR practices and strategy is achieved, then the organisation will achieve better performance.
With respect to these three models, there is no clear picture of which of these three key broad areas is the predominant one. It is worth repeating the words of Wood (1999: 409):
If one's arm were twisted to make an 'overall' conclusion on the balance of the evidence so far, one in favour of contingency hypothesis would be just as justified as the universal hypothesis. This is because any such conclusion would be premature because of conflicting research results but, more importantly, because the debate is still in its infancy (also see Katou and Budhwar, 2006; 2007).
Analyse the main aspects and highlight the core issues related to each of the above discussed perspectives on SHRM.
Key points for this chapter are:
Understand the developments in the field of SHRM.
Examine linkages between business strategy and HRM.
Analyse matching of HRM and organisational strategy.
Understand the different perspectives on SHRM and organisational performance.
Questions to work through
Discuss the main factors that have contributed to the growth of the field of strategic HRM.
What do you understand by the concept of 'fit' in the strategic HRM literature? Analyse the significance of fit(s) between business strategy and HRM. Provide both research evidence and examples to support your discussion.
Critically analyse the main models of strategic HRM. Also, highlight the main aspects of SHRM emerging from these models.
In your opinion, which of the three perspectives on strategic HRM are more applicable in different contexts? Use research findings to support your response.