Integrating Human Resource Management and Business Strategy in the Northern Ireland Clothing Industry: A Case of Oil and Water?

By Morrow, Trevor | IBAR, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

Integrating Human Resource Management and Business Strategy in the Northern Ireland Clothing Industry: A Case of Oil and Water?


Morrow, Trevor, IBAR


Introduction

The goal of strategic integration lies at the heart of Guest's (1987) model of Human Resource Management (HRM). Legge (1995) cites Guest (1987) in identifying three aspects of strategic integration: the integration or "fit" of human resources policies with business strategy; the integration or complementarity and consistency of "mutuality" employment policies aimed at generating employee commitment, flexibility and quality; and the internalisation of the importance of human resources by line management. This paper will concentrate on the first aspect, and as such, an appropriate starting point is to consider the development of the theory of strategic human resource management (SHRM).

The HRM integration approaches have been divided into "hard" and "soft" models (Storey, 1992; Legge, 1995). According to the most technical and functionalistic approaches of HRM integration, it is the business strategy that guides the formulation of human resource policies.

Theorising on Strategic Human Resource Management

In this paper, attempts will be made to identify and highlight some of the existing strengths and weaknesses in the SHRM literature. The broad, general (not to say rather idealised) SHRM perspective is viewed as embodying a number of important specific changes from the practice of personnel management. Beaumont (1992) cites Mahoney and Deckop (1986: 229-234) in identifying these changes as follows:

The practice of employment planning (e.g. succession planning) has moved beyond its early, relatively narrow, technical focus and concern with forecasting work to a concern with establishing linkages between human resource planning and the larger organizational strategy and business planning of organisations;

The traditional concern of the personnel function with negotiating and administering a collective agreement (in a unionised organisation) has broadened to a concern with a larger notion of "workforce governance" in which non-collective bargaining mechanisms (e.g. quality circles) are all-important in permitting employee involvement and participation in work-related decisions;

The early concept of personnel management with job satisfaction of individual employees (a notion of morale) developed into an interest in the notion of "organisational climate" which has further evolved into a focus on the notion of "organisational culture";

The idea of selection, training, performance appraisal and compensation decisions, being heavily centred on the role of individual employees (with their detailed job description) has given way to the belief that effective team or group working is the allimportant route through which effective performance is achieved; the basic concern of personnel management to reduce costs through minimising employee turnover and absence rates has given way to the view that HRM can make a distinctive, positive contribution to organisational effectiveness, i.e. a bottom-line contribution;

The relatively narrow focus of training on the teaching and learning of individual job skills has been broadened into a concern with developing, via both training and non-training needs, the full, longer-term employment potential of individuals.

Beaumont (1992: 22) points out that SHRM in its American context can be viewed as the latest in a series of stages in a long line of management research and practices, which began with the human relations movement of the 1940s and 1950s. The widely held view that there needs to be an explicit contemporary relationship between the internal HRM strategy of individual organisations and their external product market or larger business strategy has led to the formulation of product market strategies and their (desirably) associated HRM strategies and practices. Beaumont (1992: 23) cites a paper by Schuler and Jackson (1987) which offers three strategic approaches:

1. An innovation strategy designed to gain competitive advantage (i. …

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