If the changing demands of the environment and the work force require, above all, flexibility, understanding, and adaptability from human resource (HR) activities, it should be expected that books dealing with human resource management (HRM) will call first for the identification of HRM as an integral part of an organization's business strategy, to foster flexibility and adaptability, and second, for a thorough review of HR activities, as a core function of organizational change, to foster understanding of said activities. This is the basis of this review of four recent HRM books: Cascio and Thacker (1993), Managing Human Resources, Dessler and Turner (1992), Human Resource Management in Canada, Dolan and Schuler (1994), Human Resource Management: The Canadian Dynamic, and Stone and Meltz (1993) Human Resource Management in Canada.
The Emergence of Human Resource Management
There is a general consensus among the authors that the new imperative for human resources departments is to increase their value to the company. HRM-operational, managerial, and strategic HR functions and activities--is an effective method of helping stodgy bureaucracies become lean, flexible organizations capable of responding to an increasingly complex environment.
Whether as a result of increasing competition, skyrocketing HR costs, productivity crisis (Cascio & Thacker, 1993; Dolan & Schuler, 1994), or the changing composition of the labour force (Dessler & Turner, 1992), the general prescriptions from all four books revolve around the contribution to productivity of functions and activities found in an HR department. This should be done through a symbiotic approach between strategic HRM and strategic business planning. Indeed, all four books have the merit of fostering a new role for HR departments tat focuses on helping the organization to gain a competitive advantage through strategic HRM.
However, this new role is articulated with varying degrees of success. Dolan and Schuler provide the most complete view of strategic HRM as a component of an organization's business strategic needs. For these authors, congruency between HRM strategy and business strategy will most likely create a competitive edge. The remaining authors are virtually silent, except to include, in some cases, strategic HRM within the context of HR activities like recruiting or selecting. In this context, the confusion still remains as to whether strategic HRM is HR planning, or an all-encompassing process, including all of HR activities, to be linked to the business plan. This confusion is evident in Dessler and Turner's inclusion of strategic planning within HR planning.
This said, there is a clear recognition in all four books of the emergence of HRM from its infancy, as a personnel function, to its present state, as a strategic function. There is also an increasing call for professionalism to reflect the complexity of the knowledge required to adapt to the new reality of HRM. However, the similarities between the textbooks end there. Where marked differences are evident is in the presentation of various activities that form HRM.
HRM-related activities are the foundation of the four books. Their stated goal is to describe the most effective and efficient methods and practices HRM uses to acquire, retain, motivate, and develop employees. In fact, all four books deal with key activities found in an HR department. At best-Dolan and Schuler, Stone and Meltz--there is an empirical discussion/evaluation of some or all of these activities. At worst, it is a how to approach without any consideration of an evaluation process, empirical or otherwise. The following focuses on differences among the textbooks in their presentation of HR activities. Table 1 summarizes the results of the review and provides the basis for the following discussion.
All four textbooks display an implicit understanding of what constitutes HRM. …