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Critically compare and contrast 'hard' and 'soft' models of human resource management.

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Introduction

Critically compare and contrast 'hard' and 'soft' models of human resource management. Human resource management (HRM) initially emerged in the US in the 1980's and then extended into the UK. (Morris et al. 2000). It has been described as an evolving set of competing theories (Pinnington and Edwards, 2000) and a group of interrelated policies with an ideological and philosophical underpinning (Guest, 1991). Writers have developed many definitions for HRM; Armstrong (1999) defined it as 'the strategic approach to acquiring, developing, managing, motivating and gaining the commitment of the organisations key resource - the people who work in it and for it' (p 13). Storey (1992) suggested that it 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' (p 5). There have been many differing views by writers on the subject, as to what exactly HRM is, such as questioning whether it is a practice, a philosophy or a theory (Legge, 1995). In many cases writers are cautious not to describe HRM as a theory, but they do however offer various models to describe approaches to HRM. Some of these approaches are normative (e.g. Legge, 1995), others are theoretical and derived form literature (e.g. Guest, 1989) and others are empirically derived (e.g. Storey, 1992). Although there are a number of models, there has been little success achieving a fully-fledged theory due to complexities in terminology; lack of generalisation; contradictions and failure to provide any predictive capability (Truss, 1999) ...read more.

Middle

Storey (1992) stated that "it is human capability and commitment which distinguishes successful organisations...the human resource ought to be nurtured" (p.26). If commitment is to be retained HRM needs to train and develop their employees. This idea is emphasised within the soft model. The need to retain knowledge workers is one of the biggest challenges, which faces organisations today. In America, Ford offered a PC, printer and Internet access to all employees for $5 a month. The idea was that by being able to communicate amongst themselves much more easily, being more able to use the computers at work and becoming more acquainted with the mindset of the e-consumer, that it would make the whole organisation much more customer focused. (Johnson and Scholes, 2002) By training and developing employees there is a potential to create a win-win situation, with employees gaining job security, interesting work and an improved work-life balance, with the best organisations gaining competitive advantage from the best workers (Peter Drucker, 1988, cited in Johnson and Scholes, 2002). Individual development, flexibility, self-fulfilment, high trust, autonomy and adaptability are all aspects that are closely associated with the 'soft' model (Morris et al. 2000). There has been some criticism of these concepts, which the soft model adopts. It has been argued the concepts of commitment, flexibility and quality are somewhat ambiguous and open to debate and interpretation (Purcell, 1993). Flexibility has been noted to come in a number of different forms; it could be to 'express the value of employee upskilling, development and initiative or the numerical and financial flexibility to be achieved by treating labour as a variable cost-to-be-minimised input' (Atkinson, 1984 cited in Legge, 1995). ...read more.

Conclusion

The main assumptions on which the soft approach is based such as flexibility, commitment and quality have been argued by critics to be ambiguous and open to debate. In many instances it is unclear as to what exactly the model is referring to when it uses these concepts. They can take the form of many different meanings and interpretations and if interpreted wrongly can even finish up with a practice, which is hard in approach rather than soft. These three concepts were also viewed by critics as being incompatible and difficult to achieve in practice. This is a major factor that needs to be considered when models are being developed, they may work theoretically but do they work in practice. There are many conflicts and tensions that are evident between these two models such as the soft placing emphasis on self-expression and high trust and the hard model emphasises direction and low trust, this makes it extremely difficult to place the two together in a single model. They both consider strategic integration between business strategies and the HR policies but from conflicting viewpoints. At present the literature is incomplete making it difficult for a single model of HRM to be developed. The flaws in the current models either soft or hard are evident and further work needs to be carried out to clarify exactly what each of the terms within the models is referring to. They're a number of weaknesses within the models and these need to be considered and improved. If there was more clarity within the models then perhaps it would be possible to even take elements that are positive from each to create an overall model or theory, which could be used in practice. 1 ...read more.

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