A Quarter-Century Review of Human Resource Management in the U.S.: The Growth in Importance of the International Perspective**

Article excerpt

The past quarter century has witnessed many developments in the research and practice of managing human resources in the United States. In this article, we briefly describe two major areas in which these developments have been unfolding: strategic human resource management and international human resource management. Across these two areas of activity, HRM in the U. S. has evolved to encompass a greater appreciation of issues associated with: the systemic character of human resource management, the role that context plays in shaping HR policies and practices, the importance of demonstrating the effectiveness of HR policies and practices, the value of addressing the concerns of multiple stakeholders, the need for partnership in managing human resources, the complexity of managing human resources in multinational enterprises, and the challenge of developing theories and frameworks that provide new and useful insights about how to address all of these issues. We conclude with a brief summary and our thoughts about the future of HRM in the U.S. context and the continued importance of the international perspective.

Key words: Human Resource Management, Strategic HRM, International HRM, Strategic IHRM, Stakeholders

The focus and context of human resource management in the U.S., both in its practice within organizations and its study within academia, have undergone major developments in the past quarter century (Schuler/Jackson 2004). These developments reflect the dramatic changes that began to occur during the 1980s. During that period, the focus of business shifted from domestic to multinational to global; the speed at which business was conducted increased; organizations recognized that labour costs and productivity must be addressed from a world-wide perspective; and many companies realized that competitive advantage could be seized and sustained through the wise utilization of human resources (Drucker 1985; Gupta/Govindarajan 2001; Kanter 1983, 1994; Porter 1980; Prahalad 1995).

Concurrently with these developments, businesses throughout the United States began to view human resource professionals as potential partners who should be involved in the strategic decision making processes of the firm. Human resource departments had previously been given responsibility primarily for acquiring and motivating the firm's human resources, and doing so within specified legal and cost constraints. Now they are beginning to be viewed as human capital asset managers and as potential sources of competitive advantage (Barney/Wright 1998; Pfeffer 1994, 1998; Schuler/Jackson/Storey 2001; Chadwick/Cappelli 1999; Cappelli/Singh 1992). These changes have come at a rapid pace. This article provides an opportunity for us to pause and put the changes into perspective.

Our assessment is offered from the vantage point of the United States, where two major phenomena have developed during the past twenty-five years in the general area of human resource management - strategic human resource management and international human resource management. Our discussion reflects the substantial developments in scholarship and practice within these two areas of human resource management; it is grounded in scholarly research, the practitioner literature and discussions with numerous HR professionals and scholars.

Strategic human resource management and international human resource management both have roots in human resource management, which in turn grew out of personnel management. The term "personnel management" began to be replaced by "human resource management" in the mid-1970s (certainly its label continued in some companies well into the 1980s). This transformation coincided with: 1) a growing recognition of the importance of human resources to the success of companies and, therefore, the need to manage these resources systematically; 2) growing evidence by academics on how specific practices could be done more effectively; and 3) growing professionalism among human resource management practitioners. …


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