Editorial: Human Resource Management and Economic Success

Article excerpt

Human resource management has long been perceived as an "ugly duckling" within the wider field of business administration. The perception's roots are manifold. A critical issue, however, has always been that the utility of human resource management to a company's business success has been insufficiently demonstrated. In contrast to other business sub disciplines with deeper roots in classical micro-economic theories of the organization, human resource management could not acquire legitimacy through connectivity to production or sales functions. Although human resource management's practical utility has long been assumed, it requires empirical demonstration.

Empirical evidence of an association between human resource management and company economic success has proved difficult. As long as human resource management has not been seen as a coherent pattern or system - in contrast to individual HR practices or loosely tied bundles of instruments - performance may only be ascribed to the specific effects of single instruments or measures. An example is increased employee satisfaction as a result of particular leadership styles, improved motivation due to different compensation packages or work tasks, decreased employee turnover because of enhanced selection procedures, etc. These empirical arguments may be of great interest within the particular field of research, but they do not satisfy, for example, economists. Only the development and implementation of coherent patterns or systems of human resource management practices - following HR's struggle for a strategic orientation - will ensure that the discipline of human resource management faces other sub disciplines on equal terms. Henceforth, proof of single HR instruments' relevance moved from the centre of attention, giving way to examination of the functionality of selected human resource systems for a company's economic success.

This change in perspective - from the efficiency and effectiveness of specific instruments to the contribution of human resource management as a whole on an organizational level - has required different data sets than hitherto. Institutions rather than employees are the subject under analysis. In the European context, the Cranfield Network on International Human Resource Management (Cranet) provides longitudinal data on the organisational level since 1989. This dataset allowed, for the first time in Europe, analysis of the association of selected systems of human resource management practices (empirically identifiable as bundles/clusters of human resource measures) with a company's economic success. Cranet, starting with five European countries in 1989, now allows comparative international analysis of 39 (mostly European but also selected non-European) countries.

As is often the case when looking at evidence-based research, audience receptivity is more important than advances in theoretical and empirical instruments. In this specific case - as hypothesized by the guest editors - company demand for human resource management has risen. The attraction, development, and retention of specific human capital has moved decisively to centre stage. In short, it is obvious that in the age of post-fordism, human resource management is a major focus of attention for practitioners as well as academics.

This issue presents results from an international symposium organised by the guest editors in February 2004 to honour Wolfgang Weber's academic work on the occasion of his 65th birthday. Wolfgang Weber's work has been intimately connected with the discipline's strategic orientation as well as comparative international human resource management's organization and institutional anchoring. It is to our great pleasure that in total eight out of fourteen manuscripts successfully passed through the review process for this special issue, generating a considerable contribution to the research field.

Following the standard procedure for each special issue of Management Revue, the first contributions attempt a critical overview of the state-of-the-art, and are followed by empirical studies addressing selected issues exploring the link between human resource management and economic success. …