The concept of human resource management has attracted considerable attention over the last two decades from scholars and practitioners alike. While part of the debate has centered on its application and theoretical underpinnings, the other has been on its prescriptive value for the survival of organizations in a turbulent and a volatile business environment. More recently, the issue of whether to situate the HRM debate in the organizational or the international context has arisen. This is because organizational responses such as delayering, empowerment, work intensification, flexibility and redundancy appear to have gained as much weight as the macro-environmental drivers of HRM such as competition, technology, economic recession and political change. According to Pinnington and Edwards (2000), change in the external environment triggers organizational responses which may take the form of restructuring, mergers, acquisitions, splits and cost cutting, which in turn trigger human resource management responses reflected in adoption of new employment patterns and new employer-employee relationships. HRM has assumed varied meanings and connotations. While it has been used as a synonym for personnel management by some, (Storey, 1992; Storey & Sisson, 1993), there is a general agreement that the adoption of HRM signals a more business oriented and business integrated approach to the management of people. However, more skepticism has been expressed about its theoretical underpinnings and intellectual credentials. While some writers have questioned if HRM is a map, a model or a theory others have proposed typologies and some have proceeded to make empirical observations to confirm the presence of these typologies in Organizations. Among the typologies proposed, the soft and hard HRM orientations are the most acceptable and the subject of conceptual constructions and empirical enquiries. The soft version of HRM is linked to the human relations school while the hard HRM version is seen as emerging from the strategic and business policy thoughts. The general view therefore is that HRM is a qualitatively different function with philosophical underpinnings, but the exact nature of this view is not clear and is the subject of much debate. Further controversy has been fueled by the discrepancy between the rhetoric and reality of HRM. As a result, Legge (1995a); Storey & Sisson (1993) and Sparrow and Marchington (1998) have raised much concern about the applicability of HRM ideas in organizations especially in the light of a turbulent and constantly shifting environment. Some empirical observations have shown that, while organization's rhetoric, reflected in management's language and vocabulary is soft, the reality, reflected in management action and behavior can be hard depending upon the prevailing changes in the environment in which the organization operates. The Historical Background
The term HRM was initially used by some American firms before any theory of HRM was developed. This was probably due to the ideas proposed by economists such as Gary Becker about people as human capital (Hendry, 1995). However, the large scale adoption of HRM titles and practice first in America and later UK and internationally signaled larger ambitions. HRM writers in their preambles all agree that HRM emerged as a response to specific challenges faced by firms. Hendry (1995) explains that HRM was born out of perceived failure by American industry and management in the face of Japanese competition in international and domestic markets. The belief was that American firms failed to inspire the same kind of commitment that characterized Japanese firms. Ouchi (1981) cited in Hendry (1995) compared American and Japanese management values and concluded that American firms were characterized by job insecurity, quick promotion (in contrast to Japanese pillar of seniority progression), specialized careers, bureaucratic control, emphasis on...
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