Human Resources
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Human Resource Management in a Business Context
3rd edition

Human Resource Management in a Business Context
by Alan Price

Human Resource Management in a Business Context provides an international focus on the theory and practice of people management. A thorough and comprehensive overview of all the key aspects of HRM, including case studies, articles from HRM Guide and other sources, key concepts, review questions and problems for discussion and analysis.
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Schools of thought

Paradoxically, attempts to define HRM too precisely seemed to have resulted in confusion and contradiction rather than clarity. However, and perhaps only for the moment, HRM has the advantage of appearing to be contemporary and innovative. This is particularly the case in comparison with personnel management. Nevertheless, personnel departments have refused to go away. A casual examination of job advertisements in the press will reveal that applications are still to be sent to 'Personnel Managers', 'Personnel Departments', and even 'Staffing Officers'.  At the same time, advertisements for 'human resource' jobs are common - particularly at a senior level - even if applications are to be sent to the Personnel Office!

It is evident, therefore, that defining and accepting HRM comes down to a matter of opinion - or vested interest. Indeed, some interpretations have a strong constituency. It can be seen from table 2.3 that each of these views has a natural audience able to identify their own interests with a particular interpretation. Hence it is possible to find accounts stressing one of the following:

  • HRM  is really personnel management
    Human resource management is a modernized form of 'personnel', repackaged to enhance the status of personnel managers. It has a hard edge, entitling HR managers to the same respect as finance professionals. HRM is based on integrated and coherent recruitment, assessment and development programmes. It is sophisticated, requiring rigorous training under the auspices of a professional body or university.
  • HRM is a strategic model 
    It employs the techniques of strategic management for the utilization of human resources. It focuses on senior managers' concern with achieving objectives and containing costs. HRM aims for a seamless link between business policy and recruitment, performance assessment, reward management, development and dismissal. HRM is a mechanism  for control and the exercise of power by top management. It encourages employee attitudes and behaviour which are consistent with business goals. HRM is just one aspect of a senior manager's strategic repertoire. It requires a wide appreciation of the industry and the organization and fits resource-based theories which are familiar from business strategy literature. This interpretation owes its inspiration largely to the Michigan model.
  • HRM is people management
    It covers all aspects of managing employees in its widest sense and emphasises the role of line managers in overseeing their own staff. From this perspective, HRM is a new generic label for all the techniques and tactics available to manage people. It concentrates on translating organizational objectives into operational achievement by winning employee commitment and gaining high-quality performance. HRM is practical and pragmatic. This interpretation derives from the Harvard model. However, as can be seen from much published material, and even university courses, there is a considerable risk that this approach can result in a loss of focus. The subject can easily be reduced to an incoherent and inconsistent collection of techniques and practices.

The value and popularity of HRM may derive from its openness to varied interpretations. It is possible to argue that the term is a useful, 'catch-all phrase, reflecting general intentions but devoid of specific meaning' (Guest, 1989b). This allows it to be applied in a variety of circumstances. Individual authors and practitioners interpret HRM according to their own background, interests and intended audiences. Indeed, Keenoy and Anthony (1992: 238) consider that we should not look too closely:

'...once we seek to explain HRM, to subject it to any analysis or criticism, it ceases to function as intended. Its purpose is to transform, to inspire, to motivate and, above all, to create a new 'reality' which is freely available to those who choose or are persuaded to believe. To explain it is to destroy it.'

Excerpt from the 1st edition of Human Resource Management in a Business Context, International Thomson Business Press. Copyright A. J. Price - this excerpt may be copied for personal use only and must be credited to the author if quoted in any text. The discussion in the 3rd edition (published by CENGAGE/Thomson Learning) has been substantially increased and revised.

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