Strategic Human Resource Management
Key Concept Overview
Weeks 5 & 6
HR Strategy and Business Strategy: Part 1 and Part 2
How does human resources management different from strategic human resources management? Would it not be likely that all conscientious human resources professionals would strive to approach their work in a strategic way? In the business world, the word strategic has a very specific meaning. Johnson and Scholes (1993), as cited in Armstrong (2006, p. 113), provide one definition:
The direction and scope of an organization over the longer term, which ideally matches its resources to its changing environment, and in particular to its markets, customers and clients to meet stakeholder expectations.
In other words, HRM becomes SHRM when the practice of human resource management aligns with and supports business strategy.
This week’s Learning Resources delve into approaches for aligning HR practice with business strategy and how to critically evaluate the aims of HR strategy. In addition, one reading will provide strategies for reading scholarly publications critically. Human resources professionals need not develop strategies and approaches to HRM blindly. Researchers, practitioners, scholars, and others working and studying in the rapidly developing field of HRM have made significant strides in evaluating strategies, approaches, and models for their applicability and efficacy. Your challenge is to critically evaluate their work for its applicability and value in informing your practice.
According to Alvesson (2009), ‘Strategic HRM is about how the employment relationships for all employees can be managed in such a way as to contribute optimally to the organization’s goal achievement’ (p. 52). Alvesson notes that not all organisations are on board with fully integrating HRM into strategic efforts, however, so it is important that HR professionals are armed with a knowledge of research based approaches for becoming better integrated into organisations in order to be invited to the strategic table.
Boxall and Purcell (2011) discuss two types of HRM strategic approaches: best practice and best fit. Best practice is considered “universalist” in that it assumes that the practice will be successful and transferable to all of those who use it. Best fit, in contrast,
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considers contingencies for various users of the practice; in other words, success of the practice might depend on various factors depending on the one practicing the approach. Each of these approaches have advantages and disadvantages that need to be considered in selecting or designing human resource strategies. A strategic approach would suggest that decisions and choices should be made in terms of aligning HR strategies with organisational needs and goals. In addition, Armstrong (2006) describes several other ways of conceptualising HR practice. These include, among others, resource-based HRM, which focuses on fulfilling the human resources needs of the organisation; the high-performance management approach, which involves interrelated processes led by highly motivated employees who are closest to them; and the high-commitment management model.
An understanding of these approaches provides background for the effective selection of HRM practices in the creation of an HR strategy for the organisation, by helping HR professionals think critically about different ideas and perspectives and make educated and informed choices.
Strategic approaches to traditional HR functions
Sahoo, Das, and Sundaray (2011) provide a framework for thinking strategically about traditional HR functions, such as recruitment and selection, performance management, and development. Talent management is one area that is critical to strategic alignment with business strategy, and one which brings together functions such as recruitment, development, succession planning, and compensation. The HR departments that are most effective at talent management take a continuous, rather than one shot or episodic, approach to the recruitment, training and development of talent. The emphasis is on developing a lifelong –or at least a career long– commitment to learning. Based on organisational values encouraged or promoted by HR leaders, every employee should ideally want to continuously participate in training and development, whether formal and informal. A second emphasis is on good succession planning, which helps ensure that the organisation has continuous access to proper talent at the proper time. Effective succession planning needs to be an integral component of effective organisational talent management.
When HR performs its strategic role well, it recruits talented people who then generate valuable knowledge and are prepared to move up in the organisation. The next key step is to appropriately reward the talent that is generating the knowledge and organisational value. Creating a rational and effective compensation and benefits structure is typically a complex task and that complexity becomes even more pronounced in an international, strategic context.
Knowing about these approaches and models is one thing; it is also important to understand them on a deeper, more critical level, in order to discern what is applicable and beneficial in a given situation. Not all approaches, models, practices, or © 2014 Laureate Education, Inc. Page 4 of 4
philosophies related to strategic human resource management are created equal. Alvesson (2009) looks at HRM through a critical lens, reflecting on the established ideas, ideologies, and institutions of HRM. Alvesson notes the practice of critical management studies (CMS), for example, and discusses its validity in describing the success of former and current HRM practices. Alvesson’s critical perspectives encompass assumptions of HRM and the link between HRM and performance, among other areas.
Taking this critical perspective will enable the student of strategic HRM to navigate the wealth of information that exists on human resource management topics, from current trends to specific practices to strategic management. This provides human resources professional with needed insights for their day-to-day work, insights that represent the integration of information and knowledge to drive predictions and prescriptions (e.g., better education employees are more successful sales people because they have higher self-confidence and better social skills). HR professionals should strive to produce and use information, knowledge, and insights to keep their organisations competitive in the global knowledge economy. It is always a challenge, however, to discern the valid information from the invalid, or the important information from the filler. Every word of every scholarly article on strategic human resources need not be examined under a microscope, but appropriate reading and thinking skills can help. For example, some components of a book or article are more indicative of the content than others, but which? Might it be headings, first paragraphs, tables and figures? As a busy human resources professional, you likely will not have time to read every helpful resource in depth. Knowing where to find the vital information on HRM practice, whether it be regarding current trends, alignment of business strategies, or other topics, will aid you in applying new practices in your daily work more quickly.
How can you apply summarising and citation skills in academic writing in general? One way to best summarise is to read the material critically in the first place. One highly effective approach is called SQ3R, or survey, question, read, recite, and review. This is a strategy originating in 1946 by Francis Robinson in his book Effective Study in which the reader reviews the assigned text in a systematic, questioning manner, leading to more efficient reading and effective comprehension (MindTools, n.d.).
How might human resources professional develop this sense of direction, clarity, and focus? The mnemonic SQ3R is helpful in remembering a certain order to use when reading material. The specifics of this strategy are outlined on the MindTools and several other websites; however, each of the components of SQ3R call for a level of consciousness and criticality regarding the reading—including what to concentrate on and why. Like anything else, these skills take practice.
Alvesson, M. (2009) ‘Critical perspectives on strategic HRM’. In: Storey, J., Wright, P. M., & Ulrich, D. (ed.). The Routledge companion to strategic human resource management. London: Routledge, pp.52-68.
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Armstrong, M. (2006) A handbook of human resource management practice. London: Kogan Page.
Boxall, P, & Purcell, J. (2011) Strategy and human resource management. 3rd edition. London: Palgrave.
Rowley, C., Hon-fun Poon, I., Zhu, Y. & Warner, M. (2011) ‘Approaches to IHRM’. In: Harzing, A.-W. & Pinnington, A.H. (ed.). International human resources management. 3rd ed. London: Sage.
Sahoo, C., Das, S. & Sundaray, B. (2011) ‘Strategic human resource management: exploring the key drivers’, Employment Relations Record, 11 (2), pp.18-32.
MindTools (n.d.) SQ3R: Studying more effectively. Retrieved from http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newISS_02.htm
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