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Models of Strategic HRM: Harvard model Vs Warwick Model

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Noon, (cited in Poole, 1999) and Beardwell and Claydon (2007) observe that the Harvard model of HRM (Beer et al, 1984) is both prescriptive and analytical. This is echoed by Torrington and Hall (1995: 54) who note that that the outcomes described in the model are seen as desirable and that the process for achieving them is prescriptive. Pilbeam and Corbridge (2002) assert that, in contrast, Hendry and Pettigrew's (1990) model of HRM views HR strategy as less prescriptive and more conceptual. Clearly, this is an important distinction as prescriptive models of strategy can operate from a narrow viewpoint and seem somewhat simplistic. Strategic decisions are based on myriad and complex variables (Bazerman and Watkins, 2004) and prescriptive elements can ignore underlying issues such as employee motivation, workplace conflict, labour negotiations. Moreover, the applicability of prescribed outcomes can vary significantly according to the organisational setting. The Harvard model seems to assume a "one size fits all" method of what HRM strategy should contain, whereas Hendry and Pettigrew (1990) offer a model of how strategy works.

The situational factors and stakeholder interests described in the Harvard model guide strategic HRM policy which Beer et al seem to suggest leads to certain outcomes -- commitment, competence, congruence and cost-effectiveness. The model further assumes that these outcomes yield long-term consequences such as individual well-being, organisational effectiveness and societal well-being. Although these consequences would seem laudable, the relevance to organisational strategy could be questioned. Further, it may be suggested that, rather than being a consequence of commitment and competence, individual well-being actually leads to these outcomes and should appear earlier in the strategic chain. The competence element stated in the outcomes of the Harvard Model could be a precursor to Prahalad and Hamel's (1990) core-competencies in terms of management of the human resource as a competence. These core competencies should lead to a competitive advantage (Porter, 2004). Therefore, it could be argued that sustainable competitive advantage, a key strategic aim, is a desired long term consequence which has been omitted in the Beer et al's "map". This casts further doubt on the validity of the outcomes in terms of strategic relevance and illustrates how, in contrast to Hendy and Pettigrew's model, the Harvard model's prescriptive nature overlooks key strategic aims.

Tyson (2006) and Maund (2001) note that Hendry and Pettigrew's (1990) model acknowledges the direct influence of business strategy on HRM policy content and also illustrates the reciprocal relationships of HRM policy with the micro and macro business environment and organisational strategy. This is closer to a resource based or "hard" (Beardwell and Claydon, 2007) view of strategy which sees Human Resources as both a driver and implementer of business and operational strategy. Maund (2001:76) further notes that Hendry and Pettigrew's (1990) model "recognises emergent strategy". Both the Beer et al (1984) and Hendry and Pettigrew (1990) models acknowledge the role of stakeholders in strategic HRM. Beer et al (ibid) explicitly state employee groups and unions, for example, as affecting HRM policy choices -- it guides strategy. In contrast, Hendry and Pettigrew (1990) view employee relations as not simply guiding strategy but also as being part of the content -- it is a part of the strategy and acknowledges that dealing with these issues is a part of organisational life. This may have an effect on the culture of an organisation and is representative of a resource based approach to HRM as it sees people as vital to the company objectives. Beardwell and Claydon (2007:9) comment that Hendry and Pettigrew (1990) criticise Beer et al's (1984) model as being "too unitarist" and not acknowledging the reality of organisational conflict. This is important as conflict in an organisation can lead to improvements in working practices if managed effectively, through employee relations for example and, if ignored, can lead to a dichotomy in the actual and perceived culture. However, it should be noted that "congruence", a HR outcome in Beer et al's (1984) model, underpins modern strategic management and although company mission statements, visions and professed culture often differ from tacit and actual culture, the notion of a unitary organisation is often associated with the most effective organisations. However, in contrast to the Harvard Model, the pluralist approach of Hendry and Pettigrew's model acknowledges conflict. The employee relations element suggests that the HRM function can manage the conflict that arises from the gap between organisational objectives and the needs of other stakeholders such as employees and unions.

Bazerman, M.H., Watkins, M. 2004. Predictable surprises: the disasters you should have seen coming, and how to prevent them. Boston, Harvard Business Press.

Beardwell, J., Claydon, T. 2007. Human resource Management: A Contemporary Approach, 5th ed. Harlow, UK. Prentice Hall.

Beer, M., Spector, B., Lawrence, P.R., Quinn-Mills, D., Walton, R.E. 1984. Managing Human Assets. New York, USA. Free Press

Hendry, C., Pettigrew, A. 1990. Human resource management: an agenda for the 1990's. International Journal of Human Resource Management. Vol 1, No 1. pp 17-43

Maund, L. 2001. An introduction to Human Resource Management: theory and practice. Basingstoke, Palgrave

Pilbeam, S., Corbridge, M. 2002. People Resourcing: HRM in practice, 2nd ed. Harlow, England. Pearson Education Ltd.

Poole, M. 1999. Human Resource Management: Critical Perspectives on Business and Management. London, UK. Routledge.

Porter, M.E, 2004, Competitive advantage: Creating and sustaining superior performance. USA. Free press,

Prahalad, C. K. and Hamel, G, 1990. The Core Competence of the Corporation, Harvard Business Review. Vol. 68, No 3, pp 79-91.

Torrington, D., Hall, L. 1995. Personnel Management: HRM in action, 3rd ed. Hemel Hempstead, UK. Prentice Hall.

Tyson, S. 2006. Essentials of Human Resource Management 5th ed. Oxford. Butterworth-Heinemann.

Daniel Sroda is a personal development and management trainer and owner of Coloursave Ink Cartridges.

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