Academic journal article Management Revue

Aligning Performance: The End of Personnel and the Beginning of Guided Skilled Performance**

Academic journal article Management Revue

Aligning Performance: The End of Personnel and the Beginning of Guided Skilled Performance**

Article excerpt

For almost twenty years researchers have predicted the end of personnel as HRM practices increasingly became a line management function. However, while useful for describing shifts in human resource responsibilities, this practice-based view obscures the fundamental strategic reason for this shift - executive demands for effective means to manage performance. This paper contributes a new approach for HRM that may better predict which current practices will be most successful and suggests the characteristics of new practices that may be developed using an example of goal-setting and performance appraisal. The theory includes a model of human performance based on recent advances in cognitive neuroscience that suggests HRM may fulfill a strategic role by reestablishing its core competence as specialists in industrial psychology who create systems for guiding skilled performance. We conclude by proposing a measure that assesses the link between performance and customer perceived value across the value chain, thereby demonstrating the return on investment in human resources.

Key words: SHRM, cognitive neuroscience, performance management

** Article received: September 1, 2008

Revised version accepted after double blind review: March 12, 2009.


Prior theory suggests that the strategic value of human resource management is determined by the fit between HRM practices and environmental forces (Guest 1999; Porter 1980). While useful for describing the benefits of human resource programs, this practice-based view fails to meet practitioner demands for prescriptive approaches to improving performance. Consequently for almost twenty years researchers have been predicting the demise of the human resource function as line managers, who are directly responsible for performance management, were asked to take a more active role in human resource matters (Cunningham/Hyman 1999; Schüler 1990; Whittaker/Marchington 2003). This prescriptive approach changes the focus of HRM from monitoring or tracking tangible assets to aligning and improving behaviors with an emphasis on creating customer value (i.e., revenue and productivity increases). Increasingly hypercompetitive markets (D'Aveni 1994) require that organizations view human capital as more than mere assets - a type of inventory, to be acquired, counted, and maintained. Instead, human resources must be seen as dynamic stocks and flows of individual competencies and relationships that combine to form flexible configurations of organizational capability necessary to address rapidly changing strategic requirements (Black/Boal 1994). By facilitating the alignment of organizational activity with performance requirements, HRM becomes a mechanism for developing inimitable resources that are considered the building blocks of competitive advantage (Barney 1991). This behavioral perspective on HRM suggests that expertise in the application of psychological research to developing contingent methods "to elicit and control employee attitudes and behaviors" (Wright/McMahan 1999: 57) is the basis for strategic action.

The purpose of this paper is to propose a theory of cognitive action which alters the role of HRM from managing practices to managing the capabilities and mental capacity of the entire strategic value chain. This cognitive view of HRM addresses several problems with prior approaches to linking human resource practices with organizational performance (Cascio/Aguinis 2005). First, prior theories do not predict which processes or practices will determine the most effective means to accomplish organizational goals (Dyer/Reeves 1995) because they lack a theoretical framework that explains how personnel strategies guide mental efforts in the direction of improved performance. By proposing a cognitive action view of HRM we may be able to better predict which method will be most successful, but more importantly can suggest characteristics of new methods that may be developed to increase the mental capabilities and consequent performance of employees, contractors, partners, and customers. …

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