Balancing Rewards: Best Fit vs. Best Practice in SHRM

Strategic human resource management (SHRM) stands as a critical facet influencing organizational effectiveness, particularly in the realm of reward systems. Within SHRM, the terms "best fit" and "best practice" have emerged to elucidate distinct perspectives on how human resource (HR) policies, specifically those concerning rewards, contribute to an organization's triumph. This essay delves into the intricate nuances of these perspectives, shedding light on their implications and critiquing their applicability in diverse organizational contexts.

Best Fit: Tailoring Rewards to Business Strategy

The "best fit" perspective posits that an organization's reward system should intricately align with its business strategy to attain a sustainable competitive advantage.

Lawler (1995, p. 14) underscores the foundational role of business strategy, stating that it delineates the organization's objectives, behavioral expectations, and performance benchmarks. Lawler further emphasizes the contingent nature of the reward system, challenging the notion of a one-size-fits-all approach to compensation.

Lawler's (1995) delineation between traditional and employee-involvement management styles exemplifies the necessity for tailored reward strategies. Traditional management calls for job-based rewards with merit pay, while employee involvement necessitates skill-based rewards coupled with bonuses linked to business success.

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Echoing this sentiment, Schuster and Zingheim (1993, p. 6) advocate for a reward system that enhances employees' awareness of organizational performance through variable or incentive pay.

Best Practice: Crafting High Commitment and Motivation

In contrast, the "best practice" perspective posits that a cohesive bundle of HR policies, including reward systems, fosters highly motivated and committed employees, thereby establishing a competitive advantage for the organization. Conway (2003) notes the roots of 'high commitment management,' originating from both configurationally and universally theoretical frameworks.

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This perspective gained traction through models of "high commitment" or "best practice" human resource management, initially pioneered by US academics and subsequently developed in Britain.

Purcell (1999, p. 27) highlights a distinctive feature of the best practice model—the apparent absence of explicit consideration for company strategy. The underlying premise is that adopting a set of best practices attracts superior human resources, influencing the organization's strategy and serving as a source of competitive advantage. Advocates argue for mutually compatible bundles of HR policies, encompassing selective hiring, extensive training, employment security, employee participation, and competitive pay policies (Pfeffer, 1998a; Huselid, 1995).

Comparative Analysis and Critique

While both perspectives emphasize the importance of congruent HR practices, a fundamental disagreement arises. Best fit policies are contingent, adapting to changes in organizational strategy, making each organization's reward system unique. In contrast, best practice policies are universal, implying that a consistent bundle of HR policies remains regardless of strategic shifts.

Pfeffer (1998a) criticizes merit pay in the best practice model on multiple grounds, highlighting issues of subjectivity, individualism, and a lack of focus on organizational performance. Schuster and Zingheim (1993), however, stress the need for tying employee rewards to organizational performance. The lack of consensus among best practice advocates regarding the specific elements of the recommended HR bundle and reward systems further complicates the universal application of this approach.

Unraveling Complexity: Implications and Future Considerations

As we contemplate the applicability of these perspectives, it becomes evident that a blanket endorsement is challenging. Further studies, specifically tailored to each organization or industry, are essential to determine the most suitable approach. In the context of the public sector in Egypt, the "best fit" method might be a more pragmatic choice given the unique challenges and constraints.

It is crucial to acknowledge the evolving nature of HR science, and only through a shared understanding can a unified compensation model be established to meet the needs of Egyptian society. As organizations strive to enhance their effectiveness through strategic human resource management, the ongoing discourse on best fit versus best practice in reward systems remains integral to shaping future HR policies and practices.

Future Trends and Emerging Challenges in SHRM

Looking forward, the landscape of SHRM is likely to witness new trends and challenges. The advent of technology, globalization, and changing workforce demographics are expected to play pivotal roles in reshaping HR practices. The integration of artificial intelligence and data analytics in HR decision-making processes may introduce unprecedented complexities in designing reward systems.

Furthermore, the evolving nature of work, marked by remote and flexible arrangements, poses challenges in crafting reward systems that cater to diverse employee needs. The emergence of the gig economy and a growing emphasis on work-life balance necessitate a reevaluation of traditional reward practices. Organizations will need to explore innovative ways to recognize and reward contributions in a virtual work environment.

In the context of best fit and best practice, these emerging trends underscore the importance of dynamic and adaptable HR policies. The contingent nature of best fit aligns well with the need for organizations to continuously reassess and realign their reward systems in response to evolving external and internal factors. Conversely, the universal approach of best practice may require periodic updates to accommodate changing workforce dynamics and societal expectations.

Conclusion: Towards a Holistic Approach

In conclusion, the discourse on best fit and best practice in reward systems within the realm of SHRM reflects the dynamic nature of organizational management. Both perspectives offer valuable insights, yet their applicability depends on various contextual factors. The "best fit" approach advocates tailoring reward systems to align with the ever-changing business strategy, ensuring a unique and responsive HR framework.

Conversely, the "best practice" perspective emphasizes the universality of a set bundle of HR policies, fostering high commitment and motivation across diverse organizations. As the future of work unfolds, with its technological advancements and changing workforce dynamics, organizations must strike a balance between contingency and universality in their HR practices.

Recommendations for future research include in-depth studies on the impact of emerging technologies on reward systems, the effectiveness of remote work reward strategies, and the role of HR in promoting diversity and inclusion. Ultimately, a holistic approach that combines the strengths of both best fit and best practice can pave the way for organizations to navigate the complexities of strategic human resource management effectively.

Updated: Dec 15, 2023
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Balancing Rewards: Best Fit vs. Best Practice in SHRM. (2016, Jul 24). Retrieved from

Balancing Rewards: Best Fit vs. Best Practice in SHRM essay
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