Strategic Human Resource Management in World Airline Industry

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For over 15 years, there has been an ongoing research on HR strategies and competencies differentiating the business performance. Besides this, HR practitioners have focussed their attention on other important questions as well. Bratton and Gold (2007), for example, tries to question what policies and practices make up HR strategies. Is it possible to identify cluster of bundle of HR practices with different strategic competitive models? What is relationship between different clusters of HR practices and organizational performance? For companies looking for ways to gain a competitive advantage, the implication of HR strategic choices for company’s performance is certainly the key factor. Recently business strategy researchers turned their attention to internal attributes of top firms looking at growth and utilization of human resources. This essay will aim to demonstrate how Strategic Human Resource Management (SHRM) practices are getting implemented in world airline industry. It will establish a clear link between industry trends and strategic response. According to Baney and Hesterly (2006), SHRM theories are based on a set of assumptions, and hypothesis about the way competition in any industry is likely to evolve; and how that evolution can be exploited to earn a profit. The greater the extent to which these assumptions and hypothesis accurately reflect, more likely is that an organisation will gain a competitive advantage from implementing those strategies. On contrary, if these assumptions and hypothesis turn to fail, then organisational strategies are not likely to be source of competitive advantage. Huang (1999) agrees stating that there is a close link between business strategy and HRM methods. He moreover assumes that companies that closely coordinate their business strategy and HRM activities achieve better performance than companies that do not. The international airline industry is currently following similar trends.

Practice of SHRM has outpaced academic work on human capital management. Yet data on how firms actually manage people to provide a source of competitive advantage are scarce (Becker and Huselid, 1999). HRM system that develops and maintains a firm’s strategic infrastructure must be considered an investment. HR system in high performance airline industries like British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Air France, Delta, etc. are characterised by employee security, selective hiring, decentralized decision making, extensive development, reduced status differentiation and information sharing. Ulrich and Brockbank (2005) have further classified the key HR practices into people; management, information and organisation (see Appendix 1 for further information). The company builds a line of sight from investors and customers to its management and employees through HR practices. Most of the airlines follow such type of practices. In world airline industry, leading international carriers adopt different business level strategies to face competitive challenges. These broadly classify into two: Growth strategies and Generic competitive strategies (Harrison and Carron, 2001). Growth strategies mainly deal with internal and external growth of an organization with stability whereas; competitive strategies are concerned with cost leadership, differentiation and focus (Bratton and Gold, 2007). Miles and Snow (nd) classified business strategies as defender, prospector, and analyzer and proposed corresponded strategic human resource systems. Business-level strategy deals with decisions and actions pertaining to each business unit, the main objective of a business-level strategy being to make the unit more competitive in its marketplace (Bratton and Gold, 2007)

The competitive challenges in airline industry are arising from the various trends such as recession, privatisation, congestion, overcapacity, technology, etc. In response to these, major international airlines have adopted a range of strategies to maintain and...
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