hard and soft sides of hrm

Topics: Human resource management, Human resources, Management Pages: 10 (2684 words) Published: November 3, 2014
HRM: Beyond Soft and Hard Dichotomy, towards a new HRM model Document Actions

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One of the ‘real puzzles’ confronting HRM writers today is the problem of ‘evidence’ gap (otherwise known as the ‘Rhetoric- Reality’ problem of HRM). On one side of the spectrum, there is the claim of the strong ‘marching on’ of HRM as well as the rich people management rhetoric of the ‘soft’ HRM model (e.g., it is people that make the difference; the workforce is the most vital asset; human resources are the sole, real, sustainable, competitive advantage or edge.) On the other side, there is, the [‘hard’] reality -- the slow diffusion of ‘soft’ HRM practices and the emphasis on the centrality of bottom line business value, as well as the absence of strategic integration with the corporate plan (the ‘hard’ HRM model). The two primary objectives of my thesis are (1) to find out why the rhetoric- reality problem exists, and (2) to develop an alternative HRM model to analyze this paradox gap. By Hoang Ho, MSc in International Management

Introduction
According to Storey (1995), human resource management (HRM) has been and remains highly controversial (p. 4), a position that has recently been reconfirmed by Keenoy (1999) in his description of the ‘current state’ of HRM (i.e., the problem HRM academics are encountering today). ‘The theory of HRM has been a continuing source of controversy, confusion and misapprehension. At the central of this unfolding obfuscation lies an infuriating but curious paradox: despite mounting evidence of conceptual fragmentation, theoretical vacuity, and empirical incoherence, HRM-ism has gone from strength to strength. In short, the more researchers have undermined the normative, prescriptive, and descriptive integrity of HRM-ism, the stronger it gets (p. 1)’.

Central to Keenoy’s (1999) account of the ‘current state’ lies the problem of ‘disconnection’ between the promise and the practice, also described as the problem of ‘Rhetoric- Reality’ in the language of Legge (1995b). On one side of the spectrum, there is the claim of the strong ‘marching on’ of HRM (Storey 1995; Sisson 1993; Walton 1985a) as well as the rich people management rhetoric of the ‘soft’ HRM model (e.g., it is people that make the difference; the workforce is the most vital asset; human resources are the sole, real, sustainable, competitive advantage or edge.) (Beer, et al., 1985; Sisson and Storey 2000, p. 1) On the other side, there is, the [‘hard’] reality -- the slow diffusion of ‘soft’ HRM practices (Blyton and Turnbull 1992; Guest 1990; Guest et al. 2000; Legge 2005; Storey and Sisson 1990, 2000) and the increasing emphasis on the centrality of bottom line business value (Boxall 1996; Keenoy 1990b; Legge 1995a), as well as the absence of the ‘strategic HRM’ implementation (Cully et al., 1998; Keenoy 1999; Millward et al., 1992; Marginson et al., 1994; Purcell 1995; Rothwell 1995).

The paradox is that in the face of enormous efforts (Blyton and Turnbull 1992; Guest 1990, 1991, 1999; Keenoy 1990a, 1990b, 1999; Legge 1987, 1995, 2005; Storey 1989, 1992, 2001; Sisson and Storey 2000; Truss et al., 1997, 1999; and Watson, T. J. 2004), this discrepancy between the sides or ‘gap’ seems to remain open. For instance, Legge (2005) still talks about the ‘misfit’ between HRM and empirical evidence, and even uses the term ‘Rhetoric- Reality’ as a title in her recent book. In short, we can say that one of the ‘real puzzles’ confronting HRM writers today (the others are the HRM-performance linkages and the ethics of HRM) is why the problem of ‘evidence’ gap still persists despite the tremendous efforts and how to solve it. Reflecting on this insight, the following details are what I propose to research:

To find out why there is a considerable gap between the hyping of [mainstream] HRM, a ‘new approach’ with its people-centred rhetoric (‘soft’), and the observing data pointing toward the opposite, more ‘hard’ than ‘soft’...

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