The whys and wherefores of models development
Models and frameworks are habitually constructed and developed to outline and illustrate composite and elaborate situations; these essentially help employers to detect all of the relevant variables coming to play, the mechanism these are connected the one with the others and thus to foresee the consequences which the change eventually occurred in any one variable can have on the others. Gaining an in-depth, comprehensive understanding of the different elements which make up an intricate, composite situation can clearly enable employers to more easily identify the types of adjustments eventually required to improve the functioning and efficiency of the model.
Typically developed in theory, models are representative of the circumstances under which these are constructed and aim at meeting the expectations specific to the organization requiring their creation.
Management and HRM models are essentially developed to support employers in the pursuance of their intended strategy. Since it has been traditionally contended that human capital is the only organizational component truly enabling employers to gain and enjoy competitive advantage, HRM models have invariably focused on the way people should be managed. The ultimate aim is clearly that of providing employers the most suitable plan of action for these attaining in practice their pre-identified objectives. This has in turn prompted business leaders and HR to devote, concentrate and intensify their efforts to develop human resource practices and strategies aiming at enhancing employee engagement, motivation and commitment. Human Resource Management, or rather, strategic human resource management is hence concerned with the identification and development of HR practices enabling employers to achieve competitive edge thanks to the improved contribution of its most important resource, that is to say human capital.
This theory is underpinned by the assumption that a clear line of sight can be indeed established between individual performance and behaviour, and organizational success; correlation which Boxall and Steeneveld (1999) regarded as axiomatic. Inasmuch as organizational success relates to superior individual performance on which it actually depends, effective human resource management is concerned with the enhancement of individual motivation, engagement, commitment and sense of belonging, and the behaviour exhibited by employees. Engaged, motivated and committed individuals are clearly ready to display the behaviour desired by the employer and to perform at above-the-average levels, insofar as enabling employers to gain competitive edge.
Which approach: Universalistic, Fit or Resource-Based?
The most important feature of a HRM model is represented by its theoretical perspective. To this extent can be currently identified three main approaches, namely universalist, fit and resource based (Torrington et al, 2008).
The advocates of the universalistic approach contend that once the best method to manage people, that is to say that enabling employers to attain improved levels of organizational performance, has been identified this can be actually adopted and implemented within every organization, regardless of the circumstances. This idea, nonetheless, is in open contrast with the main assumption and objective at the basis of the development of a model, to wit: reproduce in theory the correlations existing amongst the variables of a specific, complex situation and come up with effective ways to create synergy amongst these.
The best fit, also known as contingent approach is underpinned by the idea that in order for organizations to successfully pursue their strategy HR management practices have to align with this; such a type of alignment is defined as external or vertical fit. In this instance, the concept of fit is indeed broader in that it also refers to the horizontal or internal fit, which relates to the necessity for all of the HR practices to be aligned and consistent the one with the others. An additional distinctive feature of this approach is that it attaches a considerable importance to individual behaviour, which is deemed particularly important for the attainment of the organizational objectives.
This method is based on the model developed by Fombrun et al (1984), who identified the interrelationship existing between HR practices and business strategy and underscored the positive impact that HR policies, namely recruitment, training, appraisal and reward can make on organizational performance.
The resource-based approach essentially develops from the assumption that employers can gain competitive advantage over their competitors only and exclusively thanks to their employees’ contribution. Practices and policies can be reproduced in other organizational settings, whereas people cannot.
The workplace has indeed its importance, too; individuals attain high level of performance in that supported by the environment where these perform their activities so that there is no guarantee that the same individuals might maintain the same level of performance in different business settings.
In order for individuals to effectually contribute to organizational success, notwithstanding, these need to meet four essential requirements, to wit: be valuable, rare, inimitable and thus non-substitutable.
Descriptive and prescriptive HRM models
HRM models can also be classified on the basis of how far these go into the actions required by the management. According to this feature, HRM models can be grouped into two main categories: prescriptive or normative and descriptive or analytical.
Regardless of the confusion existing on the use of this classification in that there are instances of different authors having differently classified the same model, it can be maintained that are prescriptive the models advising managers on how to manage and which are considered universally applicable in that basically introducing a common norm, whereas are deemed descriptive those which, habitually developed on the basis of empirical research, explain the relationships existing between the different components of a model and outline how managers essentially implement the current practices.
The mutual objective
As discussed earlier, HRM models are essentially developed to support the business and enable employers to pursue their strategy. The largest part of these models has been developed between the 1980s and the 1990s; whereas the most recent model is arguably that developed in 2003 by Purcell and his colleagues of the University of Bath, known as People and Performance Model.
Taking as axiomatic that to gain competitive advantage employers need skilled and motivated employees, these models mostly focus on the identification of the relationships existing amongst the different components of the complex organizational reality and investigate how these components interrelate. Since the underlying assumption is that individual performance is at the basis of organizational performance, the primary objective is that to pinpoint which components of people management most directly impact individual behaviour and performance, and identify how HRM practices can be used to enhance organizational success. The main aim is thus to elicit individual motivation, engagement and commitment.
Employers, nonetheless, can potentially all concentrate and focus their efforts on the identification of effective ways to engage, motivate and commit individuals; what can really make a difference for an employer is hence the possibility to bank on individuals taking to extreme motivation and engagement and being willing to go the extra mile, exercise discretionary behaviour and contribute discretionary efforts. Expressions like high-performance, high-commitment and high-involvement were therefore coined and academics and practitioners put in a lot of efforts to come up with new, effective modes of encouraging individuals to contribute discretionary efforts and go the extra mile.
The HRM models of the future
The significance of human capital and of the priceless benefits provided by a genuinely committed, engaged and motivated employee population can be taken as axiomatic. In recent years, notwithstanding, employers have been continually confronted with new and different challenges, which have accounted for competition to become increasingly harsh and ruthless; this trend is unfortunately likely to become the norm also for the years to come. Despite human capital can be firmly considered as the most valuable asset for an employer, banking on motivated, engaged and committed people might not hence invariably prove to be enough for this to effectually resist and win the competition.
The unrelenting technological advances, the unstoppable globalisation process and the emerging variable circumstances employers are constantly prompted to face require HRM practices and models to be adapted and modernized accordingly. The speed change occurs together with the pressure exerted by the exogenous environment require employers to go a step further and introduce amongst their practices some additional components enabling them to derive some extra, far-reaching benefits. Yet, these practices should clearly permit organizations to more strongly and genuinely stimulate and elicit employee engagement, motivation and commitment.
Fresh HRM models should essentially more faithfully reflect the scope a company aims at achieving and associate with each component included in the model the appropriate weight, significance and value. Most importantly, new HRM models should also clearly outline the way each of its component and leverage can practically be used to support the employer in the attainment of its intended objective. Whether HRM models would be considered as suits, it could be argued that those developed to date can be regarded as suits which can be dressed in every circumstances, whereas in order for employers to genuinely pursue their strategies and gain competitive advantage these should be in a position to wear the appropriate suit for the right occasion.
Models need hence to be more specific and developed according to the particular objectives an employer aims at achieving or on the basis of the main features according to which this wishes to differentiate itself from its competitors in the market; aims and objectives which should go further vis-a-vis “simply” gaining individual engagement, commitment and motivation. Recruitment, learning, reward, communications and participation are unquestionably of paramount importance, but all of these practices and activities cannot be limited to generically engage and motivate individuals, these need to provide employees a clear direction and a specific target, which can in turn provide individuals more compelling reasons for commitment, engagement and motivation as whether caught in a virtuous circle. The effectiveness and significance of the bundle approach is undebatable, but each of the initiatives identified by an employer must invariably consistently converge towards the pre-identified objective as part of a specific, carefully arranged plan of action. This is indeed the only mode of ensuring that the identified activities will produce the desired synergic, multiplicative effect.
Developed in such a way, HRM models can be invariably intended as normative or prescriptive in that once the main purpose has been clearly determined and narrowed, these will offer managers the bundle of activities which have to be implemented to attain the pre-identified objective. This does not clearly entail that the individuals and the organizational settings do not continue to be the most important factors at the basis of the successful or unsuccessful implementation of the model. People and context in fact invariably remain the most crucial factors.
So focused on the development of human capital management practices are the models developed thus far as to most of them neglecting the significance of the contextual factor. Yet, amongst those which consider this aspect just a very few take heed of organizational culture. The Warwick Model developed by Hendry and Pettigrew (1990), for instance, does attach the due significance to the contextual factor and to organizational culture as a main component of the “Inner Context”, whereas the Harvard Model developed by Beer et al (1984), despite recognizing the role played by context at large, does not include amongst the nine components it identifies corporate culture.
As long as HRM models overlook the significance of the role played by corporate culture, it is unlikely that the employers adopting them will be ever able to fully pursue their strategy and attain their intended objectives; HRM models cannot really afford to neglect the worthiness of culture. Open communication and readiness to change, for instance, should be regarded by modern organizations as two founding pillars of organizational culture. Employers should also increasingly take heed of and eventually embed into their organization’s culture the tenets at the basis of the learning organization’s culture and competitiveness culture and foster these principles by means of their HRM models.
The scope of corporate culture is that to support employers in the pursuance of their strategies; an appropriate and consistent culture of its own does not ensure organizations any success, it can be thus regarded as a means to an end and not as an end in itself (Does culture eats strategy for breakfast?). Notwithstanding, corporate culture invariably plays a remarkable role in the HRM practices implementation process and definitely represents one of the most important components of HRM in that it can definitely make or break the strategy execution process. As discussed earlier, models are representative of complex situations and culture definitely is one of the most important components of the complex organizational context.
Whilst the HRM models developed to date have neglected the importance of organizational culture at large, it can be argued, by contrast, that some HRM models may actually derive and to some extent unfold from this. The model developed with the aim of embedding innovation into organizational culture (Longo, 2015), for instance, can be regarded as a HRM model of its own (Advancing a model for innovation pervading corporate culture).
This model not only includes all of the components typical of HRM models, and takes into due consideration on top of these the significance of the contextual factor, but also most specifically identifies the purpose and scope of each element of the framework and outlines how each of them contributes to the attainment of the final objective. In this instance, the synergic contribution made by each element is particularly evident and specifically associated with the final aim into which all of the HRM initiatives actually aim at converging. Managers and employees can thus clearly associate each practice, action and initiative with the organizational objectives, which ensure to the whole ensemble of HRM practices consistency and help employers to foster integrity within the organizational settings. This indeed represents an, arguably unusual, instance of a prescriptive normative HRM model stemming from an organizational culture model.
Traditional HRM models have virtually completely neglected some paramount components which should have been rather included. Nonetheless, also the elements which have been taken into due consideration by these frameworks should nowadays be subject to the employers revision in order to be tailored to their specific wants and aspirations. Training, for instance, can be no longer exclusively regarded as vocational training. It is of paramount importance that individuals also learn new methodologies and new ways to, also mentally, approach their work in a more constructive way and gain the specific knowledge and competencies required for the organization achieving its intended present and future objectives. Project and change management together with strategic, creative and lateral thinking and assertiveness training, for instance, can be nowadays regarded as essential components of individual learning. Gaining these competencies may in turn enable individuals to later advance new, effectual approaches and methodologies to perform the working activities within the firm.
The same reasoning applies to recruitment; R&S specialists in addition to the technical competencies required by employers and the cultural fit or cultural adaptability should also assess and thus ensure that new recruits have the traits and attitudes necessary for employers to successfully pursue their strategy. It clearly continues to be in many respects a matter of human capital, but to a broader extent and increasingly linking each HRM component to the attainment of the desired specific objective.
The significance attached by employers to the need of tightly linking each organizational initiative with the others in order to produce synergy and avert to waste resources and energies has clearly captured practitioners and academics attention and also emerges, for instance, from the newest approach to reward management, that is to say total reward.
The underpinning tenet is essentially that to avoid implementing isolated initiatives, but rather to take into account every time a new initiative is introduced the others in order to identify how this fits with the existing ones. Despite the total approach to reward is essentially born as a reward practice, it is concerned with the overall employee experience; individual growth, working context, organizational culture and pay and benefits are all considered as founding pillars of this approach to reward. Total reward, nonetheless, remains vague, or rather, generic in terms of the final objective it aims at pursuing so that it can be regarded to this extent as a traditional HRM model (Total Reward as a HRM model).
Theoretical models are representative of complex situations. Yet, modern HRM models should aim at more faithfully reflecting the real organizational objectives, culture and ultimately strategy and should be thus tailored for or if anything adapted to serve this purpose. The major challenge confronting employers is to properly and effectively communicate employees the significance of organizational strategy and the way corporate culture and HRM practices can support employers in the attainment of their desired objectives. Having recourse to metaphors can definitely help, these can in fact enable employers to more easily and effectually outline and explain the organizational complexity, the business positioning in the market and the way corporate culture can support employers in the process of gaining competitive edge (Using metaphors to explain and shape organizational culture).
HRM models should enable employers to ensure that employees are all aware of and knowledgeable about the organizational aim and objectives and help individuals to establish a clear line of sight between HRM practices, corporate culture and business strategy. Models need to be so focused on the business objectives as to provide individuals a clear path to their attainment. Each bespoke component of the identified bundle has to add consistency and clarity of direction and enable individuals to associate with each of their action a strict correlation with the attainment of the final organizational aim. This will in turn enable individuals to clearly identify the significance of their activities and understand how these actually contribute to the pursuance of organizational strategy. Individual commitment, engagement and motivation will consequently, naturally emerge basically nurtured by knowledge, understanding, consistency and involvement, which account for individuals being prepared and willing to contribute discretionary efforts and go the extra mile.