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HRM and 'best practice'

Based on Chapter 24 of Human Resource Management in a Business Context (2nd Edition) by Alan Price - published by Thomson Learning

In some cases, businesses have sought guidance and advice from consultants, academics and professional associations. In either case, it is relevant to ask if it is a prescriptive, ideal model of people management or simply a description of 'best practices' in competitive organizations? As we saw in Part 1 of this book, Jeffrey Pfeffer has inspired a considerable interest in the concept of 'best practice' in HRM. Marchington and Grugulis (2000) question whether the practices typically assumed to be 'good' are actually beneficial to workers. They argue that the literature is underpinned by unitarist thinking and also that the notion of 'best practice' is problematic despite its superficial attractiveness. In particular, they point to weaknesses in relation to the meaning of specific practices, their consistency with each other, and the supposed universal applicability of this version of HRM. Truss (2001 found that the informal organization played a significant role in the process and implementation of HR policies and that successful organizations do not always implement 'best practice' HRM even if intended. Conversely, Hughes (2002) argues that empirical support for universal HRM is growing.

Boxall and Purcell (2000) argue that there is a complex relationship between HRM and the achievement of organizational outcomes and that HR strategies are strongly influenced by national, sectoral and organizational factors. But this conclusion does not necessarily invalidate the concept of 'best-practice' because basic principles of people management underpin practice and are essential to the competitiveness of business organizations.

However, there is increasing evidence supporting the notion that HR practices are more effective when combined. For example, Laursen (2002) studied 726 Danish firms with more than 50 employees and found that HR practices influence innovation performance more when applied together than as individual practices. Additionally, application of complementary HR practices is most effective for firms in knowledge-intensive industries.

More on page 672 of Human Resource Management in a Business Context

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