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What is critical human resource management research? Essay

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This essay will provide a detailed definition of critical human resource management, by comparing and contrasting it with the generic definition of human resource management and also with strategic human resource management.

The essay will also show the aims, approaches and selected results of the implementation of this program.

Human resource management can be defined as ‘the management of the employment relationship and the indeterminacies in the employment contract’ (Legge:2005). Strategic human resource management is about how the employment relationships for all employees can be achieved in such a way as to contribute optimally to the organisation’s goal achievement.

‘There is confusion over the differentiation between human resource management and strategic human resource management. Some writers see the two terms as synonymous, whilst others consider there to be differences’.(Legge:2005)

If strategy is defined as a fundamental set of choices about the ends and means of an organisation, and viability and sustained competitive advantage as the firms primary strategic aims, Boxall and Purcell argue that the achievement of these occur through levels of labour productivity, organisational flexibility and social legitimacy, in other words through strategic human resource management. There are several approaches through which the above can be achieved. The first is through what is regarded as the hard model or utilitarian instrumentalism and the second the soft model or developmental humanism. The former takes a very bureaucratic and rational approach to employees by treating them impersonally as any other resource to be exploited for maximum economic return. ‘Thus the focus is on human resource management and the implied perspective on strategy seems to have much in common with Whittington, ‘classical’, profit maximising, deliberate model of strategy.'(Legge:2005)

However the soft model stresses the importance of synchronising HR policies with overall business objectives, by considering employees to be proactive and resourceful rather than inert inputs into the industrial process. This approach to strategic management comprises of several policies such as, careful recruitment and selection with weight giving to personalities of employees, widespread use of communication systems, flexible job design and teamwork, worker empowerment and performance appraisal linked to conditional reward systems.

Though the soft model of strategic human resource management, ‘has become the exemplar of what HRM, as a distant normative philosophy of managing the employment is all about… it would be a mistake to see these two contrasting models of HRM as necessarily incompatible'(Legge:2005). The nature of the organisational structure is crucial to what form of strategy it adopts, the soft model or ‘high-performance work systems’ are preferable in producing high value added goods and services, whilst the ‘if the organisations business strategy is to compete in a labour intensive, high volume, low cost industry the hard model is more appropriate’.(Legge:2005)

‘In contrast to strategic HRM and performance research stream, the ‘critical perspectives’ stream of research, at a more micro level, focuses on the experience of work under ‘new’ HPWS regime.'( Legge:2005) The success of the Japanese export oriented economy, led to much research been conducted to determine the success of Japanese firms by analysing the production methods of Japanese firms both at home and at its overseas plants. Critical human resource management essentially relates to the benefits of lean production as ‘a superior way for humans to make things…It follows that the whole world should adopt lean production, and as quickly as possible.’ (Legge:2005)

Following a series of research conducted in the form of case studies, by researchers to investigate the above claims from a labour process stance, the early conclusions of this research produced a contrary view point that such systems actually resulted in high levels of management control as well as increased stress levels and labour amplification. By analysing the acclaimed benefits of lean production in the form of flexibility, quality with control and team working, the researchers Garrahan and Stewart redefined these as actually causing labour intensification, management with control and peer surveillance.

‘Toyota production system (TPS) or its alternative title Lean Production is a management philosophy focusing on reduction of the seven wastes to improve overall customer value by improving transportation, inventory, motion, waiting time, over production, processing itself and defective products. Toyota was able to greatly reduce leadtime and cost using the TPS, while improving quality at the same time. This enabled it to become one of the ten largest companies in the world. The TPS is a classic example of the Kaizen-Japanese for “change for the better” or “improvement”, the English translation is “continuous improvement” or “continual improvement.”) approach to productivity improvement. Due to this stellar success of the production philosophy many of these methods have been copied by other manufacturing companies’. www.wikipedia.org

In relation to critical human resource management, propnenets of lean production or TPS argue that ‘the cognitive inputs of shop floor employees and reverse the Tayloristic separartion of conception and execution, so that ‘work smarter, not harder’ with incresead autonomy and empowerment’.(Legge 2005) At this juncture it is crucial to analyse the effect of teamwork on the implementation of lean production. The first occurs in a study conducted by academics and Canadian auto workers’ trade union and involved employee surveys, interviews and observations on th e reopening of a the CAMI Automotive car assembly plant, a joint venture between General motors and Suzuki.

As the plant opened, ‘workers were promised a different working environment from traditional car assembly plants, and team-based empowerment and high trust, cooperative labour relations. The study then documents the extent to which the plant lived up to the aspirations of empowerment, kaizen, open communications and team spirit'(Legge 2005). Accordingly, the ‘initial enthusiasim felt by workers during their recruitment and enrollement was steadily eroded, as was their willingness to be involved in discretionary, participative activities'(Legge 2005). Also the workers began questioning the degree of experienced autonomy, and the degree and importance and divisiveness of peer pressure. Also 90% of interviewees did not find considerable differences to other car plants.

Also further criticism occurs in the analysis of autonomy and empowerment teams. ‘Due to what the author Bucker terms ‘concertive control’, that is when workers reach a consensus on how to shape their behavior according to a set of core values aimed at increasing rationalization of production, using peer pressure within the team to induce uniformity on these self imposed norms. Coupled with electronic surveillance, the activities of the best performing members in a team establish a bench mark, to which lagging members must aspire, hence control occurs by ‘peer scrutiny’.

Also team working has the effect of damaging worker identity, subjectivity and resistance’ Knights and McCabe argue that there is a small minority of workers who seem awed at the concept of team working and have internalized its ‘norms and values’. Others are bothered by the intrusion and significant control this sort of worker organization fosters'(Legge 2005)They are alarmed at what they see as psychological warfare waged by management through an ideology of team working. Thirdly, there are employees who resent the change to ‘established working practices’, that encourage personality and individuality, as opposed to the collectiveness of the team.

In relation to Human resource, lean production relates to strategies which involve avoiding two of the deadly wastes of the seven identified by Toyota, these are motion (people moving or working more than required) and safety- as unsafe work areas create lost work hours and expenses. By eliminating waste (muda), quality is improved; production time and costs are reduced. Kaizen or continuous improvement is a commonly used term in lean production and the approach through which this is accomplished in relation to human resources is the earlier stated aim of surveillance by peer pressure or Genchi Genbutsu- go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation, which also utilizes a visual control through electronic surveillance.

The selected results of critical HRM can be seen as more of a pseudo empowerment based on attitudinal shaping, rather than actually encouraging and implementing the opinions of workers by management. The advent of Japanese management systems has, however highlighted the impact of this approach on the employment relationship. Whether sustainable or not in the west, the Japanese large firms emphasis on developing individual employees along particular job paths while undertaking to provide continuous employment throughout the normal working life of the individual has at least provided a model in which the employer seeks to maximize employment opportunities.

The above has been a concise analysis of critical human resources. As a critique of strategic human resources, ‘if the introduction of best practice HR could meet the goals of all stakeholders within the business equally, the implementation of such practices would not be problematic. However, it is unlikely that would be the case, particularly within a short termist driven economy, where the majority of organizations are looking primarily to increase return on share holder value.'(Haunschild:2005) However, if the employees interests are compromised in the process how can these be termed best practices.


Non-internet resource:

Ackroyd, S. et al. (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Work and Organization, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bratton, J. & Gold, J. (2003) Human Resource Management: Theory and Practice, 3rd edition, Basingstoke: Palgrave

Bach, S. & Sisson, K. (eds) (2000) Personnel Management, 3rd edition, Oxford: Blackwell.

Blyton, P. & Turnbull, P. (2004) The Dynamics of Employee Relations, 3rd edition, Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Edwards, P. (2003) The Employment Relationship and the Field of Industrial Relations.

Grant, D. & Oswick, C. (1998) Of Believers, atheists and agnostics: Practitioner views on HRM. Industrial Relations Journal

Haunschild.A (2005) Human Resource Management. Pearson Custom Publishing.

Legge.K (2005) Human resource management : rhetorics and realities.

Mabey, C., Salaman, G. & Storey, J. (1998) HRM: A Strategic Introduction. Blackwell.

Regalia, I. (1996) How the Social Partners View Direct Participation: A Comparative Study of 15 European Countries. European Journal of Industrial Relation.

Rubery, J. (2005) Labor Markets and Flexibility, Ackroyd, S. et al. (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Work and Organization, Oxford University Press.

Salamon, M. (2001) Industrial Relations. Theory and Practice, 4th edition, London: Prentice Hall.

Sparrow, P. & Marchington, M. (1998) HRM: the New Agenda, London: Prentice Hall.

Thompson, P. & McHugh, D. (2002) Work organisations: a critical introduction,3rd edition, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Waddington, J. (2003): Trade Union Organization

Wever, K.S. (1995) Human Resource Management and Organizational Strategies in German- and US-owned companies. International Journal of Human Resource Management

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