Alternatives to Generic Strategy Typologies in Strategic Human Resource Management

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Alternatives to Generic Typologies in SHRM 1

ALTERNATIVES TO GENERIC STRATEGY TYPOLOGIES IN STRATEGIC HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Clint Chadwick Peter Cappelli

Management Department The Wharton School University of Pennsylvania 3620 Locust Walk, Suite 2000 SH-DH Philadelphia, PA 19104 phone: (215) 898-6598 fax: (215) 898-0401

Forthcoming in Wright, Dyer, Boudreau, and Milkovich (eds.), Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Alternatives to Generic Typologies in SHRM 2

RUNNING HEAD: Alternatives to Generic Typologies in SHRM

Alternatives to Generic Typologies in SHRM 3

ABSTRACT The common use of generic strategy typologies in strategic human resource management (SHRM), such as the typology proposed by Michael Porter (1980), is inaccurate and probably obsolete. SHRM research that examines the performance effects of human resource (HR) systems does not need to invoke the strategy construct in order to fulfill its goals. SHRM research that uses organizations' strategies to predict their HR practices or which explore the effects of fit between HR systems and strategies should use measures of strategic content which are well grounded in issues pertinent to their specific empirical contexts. Alternatively, SHRM research can embrace dynamic perspectives of strategy, which will shed light on how human resource systems become strategically valuable organizational capabilities.

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It is fashionable to raise questions about the viability of Strategic Human Resource Management (SHRM) as a research field because, while the topic is provocative, the research stream has had mixed results. One of the most common complaints is that empirical studies lag far behind SHRM's theoretic underpinnings (e.g., Dyer and Reeves 1995). Such situations are common for complex topics, of course, where it can be easier to craft models than to test them. However, the extent to which SHRM's problems lie simply with designing better empirical tests may be overstated. There are important problems with the theoretic underpinnings of SHRM research that have contributed to significant shortcomings in empirical research, particularly in how the strategy construct has been used to achieve SHRM's goals. SHRM research usually attempts to 1) include human resource practices in performance models predicting organizational outcomes, often incorporating concepts of internal synergies across practices, 2) include organizational strategies in models predicting organizations' sets of human resource practices, and 3) to use the degree of fit between human resource practices and organizational strategy to predict organizational outcomes. In our

view, a major conceptual problem within the SHRM field lies in its view of strategy as a summary of either the competitive environment or of organizations' strategic positioning within it. This has led SHRM researchers to use excessively simplistic generic typologies to operationalize strategy. Essentially, SHRM researchers have been looking

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for simple independent variables which will neatly encapsulate the insights of the strategy field for inclusion in SHRM models. As we argue below, this approach is misleading both in general and in the particular typologies which are commonly used. To assume that a generic typology summarizes the range of insights from strategy is akin to researchers in the strategy field believing that they had captured the collective effects of a set of human resource practices with a single typology, such as the extent to which practices are "participative" or "inclusive." Human resource scholars would rightly object that such an approach could be inaccurate in its details and, more importantly, would ignore important viewpoints from the rest of what constitutes HR. Moreover, excessive use of a static, content-oriented typology could blind...
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