International Human Resource Management

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The Internationai Journal of Human Resource Management 6:1 February 1995

How culture-sensitive is HRM? A comparative analysis of practice in Chinese and UK companies

Mark Easterby-Smithy Danusia Malina and Lu Yuan
Abstract
There has been some concern about the extent to which models and practices of HRM are capable of being transferred from one country to another. This emerged in the late 1970s as concern that Japanese ideas might be adopted uncritically by US companies, and during the 1980s as concem that these ideas, after recycling within the US, might not be totally appropriate for consumption in other parts of the world. Further urgency is added to the question by the pressures on many organizations to develop their businesses internationally, or globally - since this increasingly means they have to consider and establish HRM policies which can span different national systems and cultures. This paper considers the problem through a direct comparison of practices in matched Chinese and UK companies in order to establish where variations occur both within and between countries. It is evident that there are considerable variations in the form of HRM in different settings, but also some surprising similarities. Thus, for example, there are more similarities in manpower planning systems between Chinese companies and some of the UK. companies than there are between all the UK companies. In this case it can be concluded that these elements are not greatly affected by national (and assumed cultural) differences. On the other hand, there is a sharp difference between the UK and Chinese companies with regard to pay and reward systems, but much consistency within each country. This suggests that there may be deep-seated differences between the two countries with regard to attitudes towards rewards which will limit the transferability of HRM ideas in this area.

Keywords
HRM, China, culture, careers, appraisal, manpower planning

0958-5192

© Routledge 1995

Mark Easterby-Smith, Danusia Malina and Lu Yuan

Introduction
The rise of human resource management in the UK and North America, both as practice and theory, has been well documented (Storey, 1989; Towers, 1992; Hendry and Pettigrew, 1992). In particular it has been noted that there can be a marked divergence between normative theory and actual practice (Legge, 1989), or between rhetoric and reality. This has resulted in a growing concern to understand HRM practice in different settings. Some studies have concentrated on looking at practices within companies in the same country (Storey, 1992, 1994; Fox and Mcleay, 1992; Strauss, 1992; Warner, 1993), others have started to compare practices between different countries, both within Western Europe (Brewster and Tyson, 1991; Pieper, 1990; Thevenet, 1991; Boumois, 1991), and further afield (Storey et al., 1990; Markoczy, 1993; Child and Markoczy, 1993). It is evident from these studies that the primary concerns of HRM practitioners in each country vary considerably. Thus, in the USA there is a primary emphasis on the implementation of employment legislation around issues of discrimination and equal opportunities, on the development of flexible employment contracts and on efforts to increase employee participation (Strauss, 1992). Concerns in the UK have focused around the reduction in the power of trade unions and the linkages of HRM with corporate strategy (Storey, 1992); and in France, there is more emphasis on language tuition and on meeting minimum levels of expenditure on training which have been established by national legislation (Bournois, 1991). In Japan the dominant features are generally held to be high levels of employer/employee commitment and a strong emphasis on training and development in the workplace. But the recent study by Storey et al. (1990) showed that the generalization did not hold for the companies in their sample. The distinctive features noted in their study were: efficient...
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