Human Resource Management

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Hard HRM

Based on Human Resource Management, 4th edition, by Alan Price

A harder approach - people as human resources

A different view of HRM is associated with the Michigan Business School (Fombrun, Tichy and Devanna, 1984). There are many similarities with the Harvard 'map' but the Michigan model has a harder, less humanistic edge, holding that employees are resources in the same way as any other business resource. People have to be managed in a similar manner to equipment and raw materials. They must be obtained as cheaply as possible, used sparingly, and developed and exploited as much as possible.

The Michigan model is also known as the 'matching model' or 'best-fit' approach to human resource management. In essence, it requires that human resource strategies have a tight fit to the overall strategies of the business. As such, it limits the role of HR to a reactive, organizational function and under-emphasizes the importance of societal and other external factors. For example, it is difficult to see how the current concern for worklife balance could be integrated into this model.

Fombrun et al identified four common HR processes performed in every organization:

  • Selection: matching people to jobs
  • Appraisal of performance
  • Rewards: emphasizing the real importance of pay and other forms of compensation in achieving results
  • Development of skilled individuals

These processes are linked in a human resource cycle.

The matching model has attracted criticism. At a conceptual level, it is seen to depend on a rational, mechanical form of organizational decision-making. In reality, strategies are often determined and operationalized on a more intuitive, political and subjective level. Certainly, the decision-making is more complex than the model allows. It is also both prescriptive and normative, implying that the fit to business strategy should determine HR strategy.

Randall Schuler and colleagues subsequently presented a more complex version of the matching model that took into account significant wider factors such as technology, organizational structure and size, unionization and industry sector. These accounts were heavily influenced by Michael Porter's writing on business strategy.

See Human Resource Management, 4th edition for more.

Points to consider

* The Harvard and Michigan models are the best known of the early interpretations of HRM. There are others. Discussion on HR models can seem a bit '1990s' and it can be argued that the world (including HRM) has moved on to fresh debates. Nevertheless, a basic understanding of at least two models is important in understanding the fundamental tensions and ambiguities associated with HRM.

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