The development of the HRM concept

The development of the HRM concept

The term HRM has largely taken over that of ‘personnel management’, which took over that of ‘labour management’ in the 1940s, which took over that of ‘welfare’ in the 1920s (the latter process emerged in the munitions factories of the First World War). HRM largely replaced the human relations approach to managing people founded by Elton Mayo (1933) who based his beliefs on the outcome of the research project conducted in the 1920s known as the Hawthorne studies. Members of this school believed that productivity was directly related to job satisfaction and that the output of people would be high if someone they respected took an interest in them. HRM also shifted the emphasis away from humanism – the belief held by writers such as Likert (1961) and McGregor (1960) that human factors are paramount in the study of organizational behaviour and that people should be treated as responsible and progressive beings.

An early reference to human resources was made by Bakke (1966). Later, Armstrong (1977: 13) observed that in an enterprise ‘the key resource is people’. But HRM did not emerge in a fully fledged form until the 1980s through what might be called its founding fathers. These were the US academics Charles Fombrun and his colleagues in the ‘matching model’, and Michael Beer and his colleagues in the ‘Harvard framework’ as described on page 9.

In the UK they were followed by a number of commentators who developed, explained and frequently criticized the concept of human resource management. Legge (2005: 101) commented that: ‘The term [HRM] was taken up by both UK managers (for example, Armstrong, 1987; Fowler, 1987) and UK academics’. Hendry and Pettigrew (1990: 18) stated that HRM was ‘heavily normative from the start: it provided a diagnosis and proposed solutions’. They also mentioned that: ‘What HRM did at this point was to provide a label to wrap around some of the observable changes, while providing a focus for challenging deficiencies – in attitudes, scope, coherence, and direction – of existing personnel management’ (ibid: 20). Armstrong (1987: 31) argued that:

HRM is regarded by some personnel managers as just a set of initials or old wine in new bottles. It could indeed be no more and no less than another name for personnel management, but as usually perceived, at least it has the virtue of emphasising the virtue of treating people as a key resource, the management of which is the direct concern of top management as part of the strategic planning processes of the enterprise. Although there is nothing new in the idea, insufficient attention has been paid to it in many organizations.

However, commentators such as Guest (1987) and Storey (1995) regarded HRM as a substantially different model built on unitarism (employees share the same interests as employers), individualism, high commitment and strategic alignment (integrating HR strategy with the business strategy). It was also claimed that HRM was more holistic than traditional personnel management and that, importantly, it emphasized the notion that people should be regarded as assets rather than variable costs.

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