The fundamental problem

In the late 1980’s a group of academics came together to write the first British book on Human Resource Management. Many people were uncertain about this new approach to managing labour and many criticised HRM claiming that it was just another fad to try to take-over personnel management and industrial relations. Throughout the 1990’s academics such as Beardwell and Holden, Legge, Beaumont and many other authors have shown that HRM is not just a passing phase but a new revolutionary idea which can enable us to explain the way in which individuals think in the workplace.

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From this knowledge the above authors have argued that we are able to use these skills in order to maximise the potential of labour and therefore increase employee morale, and motivation. Since 1989 HRM has spread not only within organisations but also within universities and colleges and is now a commonly recognised qualification. Since HRM is now so commonly recognised throughout the world isn’t it about time that we see exactly whether it’s effectiveness is real or just a myth. In this essay I will critically evaluate the following statement from K Legge.

“Without doubt the language of HRM – and it’s close cousin, the language of excellence – is that of managerial triumphalism” In order to critically evaluate this statement we must firstly identify the key elements of the language of excellence. Once I have done this then we can then go onto describe exactly what HRM is and then lastly discuss the meaning of managerial triumphalism. In Peters and Waterman’s book “In search of excellence” they define what they call the “7 key elements of the language of excellence within management”. The first element they describe is the belief of being the best.

They argue that managers and employees must feel that no one else is able to be as good as them. This type of approach can be very helpful within teambuilding as it helps to build a stronger and more motivated set of individuals. The second belief is to be able to finish a job properly. In order to achieve management excellence one must be excellent at implementing action in order to carry out tasks. The third element of excellence is to the job well. There is no point in being excellent at getting the job started if you can’t carry the job out efficiently, effectively and perhaps most importantly to the end.

The fourth belief is to make sure that individuals feel important in their place of work. Managers must make sure that this is part of their daily routines. To make the employee feel important is to make him/her committed and devoted. Even labourers such as factory workers can be shown that the work that they do is very valuable to the company. The fifth element of excellence is a shared goal, which all members of the company should be looking to achieve. This goal should be the belief in the company to provide a superior quality and service to customers.

The sixth belief is that most individuals within the organisation should have the opportunity to think for themselves and be innovators within the department they are based. If their innovations and ideas fail then the department should be willing to support this failure and look at the failure in terms of a learning experience similar to a management feedback control method. The last belief of the language of excellence is that of informality. Peters and Waterman suggest that informal communication channels, informal structure etc.

help to enhance communication within organisations. From these 7 key elements it is now possible for us to compare and contrast Legge’s statement with the language of HRM. But first we must establish the true meaning of Human Resource Management. According to J Storey (1995) human resource management is; “a distinctive approach to employment management which seeks to achieve competitive advantage through the strategic deployment of a highly committed and capable workforce, using an integrated array of cultural, structural and personnel techniques”

There is no agreed definition of HRM. The fundamental problem is that many academics believe it to be effective whilst others criticise it which gives in some cases quite the opposite of definitions. For example Hart (1993) describes HRM as “Amoral, antisocial, unprofessional, reactive, uneconomical, and ecologically destructive”. It is this dilemma where the root of the problem of defining HRM lies. Beardwell and Holden believe that the debate over defining HRM lies within four different perspectives of looking at it.

The first perspective they examine suggests that people believe that HRM is just a re-labelling of Personnel Management. This perspective of HRM is thought to include exactly the same characteristics as PM but just with a new name. The second perspective suggests that HRM is a mixture of personnel management and industrial relations which is set on managerial aims and objectives. The third perspective is focused around a more democratic system. The employee is the most important asset of the company, and that there should be an excellent employee – employer relationship.

The fourth perspective is looked upon as a tool for helping with strategic development. The individual plays a determining and contributory role. Karen Legge identifies 2 different perspectives of looking at HRM. She writes about the Hard HRM approach and the Soft HRM approach. The Hard approach is more of an autocratic system where employees are looked upon more so as a number or tool. This type of approach is common in factories where employees are often looked upon as part of a machine or part of a production line.

The hard approach could also relate to Douglas McGregors theory X where employees can not be trusted and are supervised continuously. The soft approach to HRM would be more similar to McGregors theory Y where employees are seen as a being “mature, self-controlled, and needed little in the way of rigid interpersonal or organisational controls”. (Buchanan and Huczynski, 1997) Legge describes the soft approach as a more democratic approach of looking at HRM. In other words the employee is looked upon as being the most important resource of the company and that their skills should be nurtured to their full potential.

In Storey’s book “Human Resource Management A Critical Text” (1995) he identifies 3 aspects of where he believes the Human Resource Management debate lies. The first aspect Storey writes about is that of meaning. What exactly is HRM ? Noon (1992) asks whether or not HRM is a ‘map, a model or a theory’ whilst Keenoy (1990) refers to its ambiguity. Karen Legge (1989) exposes it’s contradictions – as do Blyton and Turnbull (1992). Keenoy and Anthony (1992), explain that the whole point of HRM is that it is designed to inspire. They also explain that to define it would be to destroy it.