This paper uses insights and data gained from 15 years of involvement in a research network studying HRM developments in Europe to explore the notion of "European HRM" and the meanings of convergence and divergence in HRM Using data from the last decade of the Cranet research, the paper puts forward a more nuanced view of the notions of convergence and divergence, finding evidence of directional convergence, but little evidence of final convergence: whilst there are trends which point in similar directions, national differences remain a key factor in HRM.
Key words: Human Resource Management, European Human Resource Management, Comparative Research, Convergence
Human Resource Management as a concept was formalised in the USA in the late 1970s and early 1980s, encapsulated in two famous textbooks (Beer et al. 1985; Fombrun et al. 1984). These approaches varied but both differentiated HRM from personnel management and argued that the former involved more integration of personnel policies across functions and with the corporate strategy (with HR being the downstream function); a greater role for line managers; a shift from collective to individual relationships; and an accent on enhancing company performance.
The notion of "European Human Resource Management" was developed largely as a counter to the hegemony of US conceptions of human resource management (HRM). This, in part, reflected developments in the arguments about how we should conceive of the notion of HRM (Kamoche 1996). It was argued (Brewster 1994; Sparrow/Hiltrop 1994) that US assumptions about the nature of HRM were inappropriate in this (and probably other) continents and that Europe needed models of its own. These notions were behind the establishment, towards the end of the 1980s, of a research network based on one university per country, dedicated to identifying trends in HRM in Europe. That network grew from the original five countries to twenty-seven in Europe and some dozen others spread across the world. Some fifteen years after the start of the project, and at the point of the publication of the fourth edited book based on the network's outputs (Brewster et al. 2004), this seems to be a good time to review what we have learned.
In particular, the long-term nature of the project allows us to identify trends in the management of human resources in Europe (see Gooderham/Brewster 2003 for a first attempt at doing so using this data). Are the European countries moving towards one another in the way that they manage HRM? If so, are they moving towards or away from a model similar to that operating in the USA? Or are they remaining separate and different?
In presenting these findings, this paper is, therefore, ambitious in scope. First, it conceptualises the notion of "European HRM", setting it in the context of theories of international HRM and convergence and divergence in comparative HRM; it is argued that there are inevitably elements of universality and of national difference that have to be encompassed by such theories and that we need more nuanced approaches to the ideas of convergence and divergence. After briefly exploring the methodological and practical issues of researching large-scale developments in European HRM over an extended period, the paper presents empirical evidence from the research of Cranet, the Cranfield Network of Human Resource Management, as a contribution to the European convergence/divergence debate which, finally, enables us to draw some conclusions about whether there is, indeed, evidence of convergence in European HRM.
2. Conceptual background
2.1 Static views: Specifics of European HRM?
Looking across national borders, how are we to conceive of the differences in HRM systems and approaches? What is the correct level of analysis? We have elsewhere (Brewster 1995b) used the analogy of a telescope. Changing the focus provides the viewer with ever more detail and the ability to distinguish ever-finer differences between aspects of the big picture that can be seen with the naked eye. …