Human resources 4

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Human Resources 

Michael Armstrong

th edition10


A Handbook of

Now in its tenth edition, this internationally best-selling text has been fully updated to
incorporate new developments in human resource management policy and research.

Based on the latest HRM theory, A Handbook of Human Resource Management Practice
considers the HR function in relation to the needs of the business as a whole.Thoroughly
updated in the light of current best practice and drawing on new research, the handbook
presents in-depth coverage of:

• managing people; • performance management;
• HRM processes; • human resource development;
• work and employment; • rewarding people;
• organizational behaviour; • employee relations;
• organization, design and development; • health, safety and welfare;
• people resourcing; • employment and HRM services.

The book also now includes sections on human capital management, the role of the front-line
manager, developing and implementing HR strategies, and learning and development.

Recognizing HRM as a strategic process, Michael Armstrong provides practical advice on how
companies can maximize the effectiveness of the HRM function and ensure that it makes a
major contribution to organizational success.This comprehensive handbook is also essential
reading for HRM students at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Michael Armstrong has created a unique CD ROM containing over 400 lecture presentation slides.

This CD is available from the publisher on request.

Michael Armstrong is a Companion and former Chief Examiner of the Chartered
Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), joint managing partner of e-reward and an
independent management consultant. He is the author of several best-selling HR titles
including Performance Management, Strategic Human Resource Management, A Handbook of
Management and Leadership (with Tina Stephens), Job Evaluation and Reward Management (with
Helen Murlis), all published by Kogan Page.

Kogan Page
120 Pentonville Road
London N1 9JN
United Kingdom

US $65.00

Kogan Page US
525 South 4th Street, #241
Philadelphia PA 19147

Human resources


















A Handbook of

Hndbk HRM Prac 10 PB aw 12/5/06 9:57 am Page 1



A Handbook of

London and Philadelphia

Michael Armstrong



A Handbook of


First published by Kogan Page Limited as A Handbook of Personnel Management Practice in 1977
Second edition 1984
Third edition 1988
Fourth edition 1991
Fifth edition 1995
Sixth edition 1996
Seventh edition published by Kogan Page Limited as A Handbook of Human Resource Management Practice

in 1999
Eighth edition 2001
Ninth edition 2003
Tenth edition 2006

Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study, or criticism or review, as
permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, this publication may only be reproduced,
stored or transmitted, in any form or by any means, with the prior permission in writing of the
publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction in accordance with the terms and licences issued
by the CLA. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside these terms should be sent to the publishers at
the undermentioned addresses:

120 Pentonville Road 525 South 4th Street, #241
London N1 9JN Philadelphia, PA 19147
United Kingdom USA

© Michael Armstrong, 1977, 1984, 1988, 1991, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2006

The right of Michael Armstrong to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in
accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN 0 7494 4631 5

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Armstrong, Michael, 1928-
A handbook of human resource management practice/Michael Armstrong.–10th ed.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-7494-4631-5

1. Personnel management–Handbooks, manuals, etc. I. Title.
HF5549.17.A76 2006


Typeset by Jean Cussons Typesetting, Diss, Norfolk
Printed and bound in Great Britain by Cambridge University Press


List of figures xvii
List of tables xxi
About the author xxiii
Preface xxv


1 Human resource management 3
Human resource management defined 3; Human resource system 4;
Models of HRM 5; Aims of HRM 8; Policy goals of HRM 10;
Characteristics of HRM 11; Reservations about HRM 15; HRM and
personnel management 18; How HR impacts on organizational
performance 20; HRM in context 24

2 Human capital management 29
Human capital management defined 29; Human capital management
and human resource management 30; The concept of human capital 33;
Human capital management: practice and strategy 36; Human capital
measurement 37; Human capital reporting 47

3 Role of the HR function 53
The overall role of the HR function 54; The role of HR in facilitating and
managing change 54; Variations in the practice of HR 56; Organizing the
HR function 57; Marketing the HR function 59; Preparing, justifying and
protecting the HR budget 60; Outsourcing HR work 61; Shared HR
services 63; Using management consultants 64; Evaluating the HR
function 66

4 The role of the HR practitioner 71
The basic roles 71; Models of the practitioners of HR 76; Gaining support
and commitment 81; Ethical considerations 84; Professionalism in HRM
85; Ambiguities in the role of HR practitioners 87; Conflict in the HR
contribution 88; The competencies required by HR professionals 89

5 Role of the front-line manager 93
The basic role 93; The line manager and people management 94; The
respective roles of HR and line management 95; The line manager’s role
in implementing HR policies 97; How to improve front-line managers as
people managers 98

6 International HRM 99
International HRM defined 99; Issues in international HRM 99;
International organizational models 100; Convergence and
divergence 101; Cultural diversity 102; Think globally and act
locally 104; International HR policies 104; Managing expatriates 104


7 Strategic HRM 113
The concept of strategy 113; Strategic HRM defined 115; Aims of
strategic HRM 116; Approaches to strategic HRM 117; Implementing
strategic HRM 121

8 HR strategies 123
HR strategies defined 123; Purpose 124; The distinction between
strategic HRM and HR strategies 124; Types of HR strategies 124;
Criteria for an effective HR strategy 129

vi ❚ Contents

9 Developing and implementing HR strategies 131
Propositions about the development process 132; Levels of strategic
decision-making 132; Strategic options and choices 133; Approaches
to HR strategy development 134; Methodology for strategy
development 140; Conducting a strategic review 141; Setting out the
strategy 143; Implementing HR strategies 143

10 HRM policies 147
What human resource policies are 147; Why have HR policies 147; Do
policies need to be formalized? 148; HR policy areas 148; Formulating
HR policies 156; Implementing HR policies 157

11 Competency-based HRM 159
Types of competencies 160; Competency frameworks 161; Reasons for
using competencies 163; Coverage of competencies 164; Use of
competencies 165; Developing a competency framework 167; Defining
technical competencies 169; Keys to success in using competencies 169;
Emotional intelligence 170

12 Knowledge management 173
Knowledge management defined 174; The concept of knowledge 175;
The purpose and significance of knowledge management 176;
Approaches to knowledge management 176; Knowledge management
systems 178; Knowledge management issues 178; The contribution of
HR to knowledge management 180

13 Analysing roles, competencies and skills 181
Role analysis 187; Competency analysis 193; Skills analysis 198


14 The nature of work 205
What is work? 205; Theories about work 206; Organizational factors
affecting work 208; Changing patterns of work 210; Unemployment 212;
Attitudes to work 212; Job-related well-being 212

Contents ❚ vii

15 The employment relationship 215
The employment relationship defined 215; Nature of the employment
relationship 215; Basis of the employment relationship 217; Defining the
employment relationship 217; Significance of the employment
relationship concept 218; Changes in the employment relationship 218;
Managing the employment relationship 218; Trust and the employment
relationship 220

16 The psychological contract 225
The psychological contract defined 225; The significance of the
psychological contract 227; The nature of the psychological contract 228;
How psychological contracts develop 229; The changing nature of the
psychological contract 231; The state of the psychological contract 233;
Developing and maintaining a positive psychological contract 234; The
state of the psychological contract 2004 235


17 Characteristics of people 239
Individual differences 239; Attitudes 244; Influences on behaviour
at work 244; Attribution theory – how we make judgements about
people 245; Orientation to work 246; Roles 247; Implications for HR
specialists 248

18 Motivation 251
The process of motivation 252; Types of motivation 253; Motivation
theory 254; Instrumentality theory 254; Content (needs) theory 255;
Process theory 258; Herzberg’s two-factor model 262; The relationship
between motivation, job satisfaction and money 263; Job satisfaction 264;
Motivation and money 267; Motivation strategies 268

19 Organizational commitment and engagement 271
The concepts of commitment and engagement 271; Organizational
commitment 273; Influences on commitment and employee
satisfaction 279; Engagement 281

viii ❚ Contents

20 How organizations function 283
Basic considerations 283; Organization theories 283; Organization
structure 288; Types of organization 289; Organizational processes 292

21 Organizational culture 303
Definitions 303; The significance of culture 305; How organizational
culture develops 306; The diversity of culture 306; The components of
culture 307; Classifying organizational culture 309; Assessing
organizational culture 311; Measuring organizational climate 312;
Appropriate cultures 313; Supporting and changing cultures 314


22 Organization design 319
The process of organizing 319; Aim 320; Conducting organization
reviews 321; Organization analysis 321; Organization diagnosis 322;
Organization planning 324; Responsibility for organization design 325

23 Job design and role development 327
Jobs and roles 327; Factors affecting job design 328; Job design 330; Job
enrichment 332; Self-managing teams 333; High-performance work
design 334; Role development 334

24 Organizational development, change and transformation 337
What is organizational development? 337; Organization
development 338; Change management 343; Organizational
transformation 352; Development and change processes 355

People resourcing defined 359; People resourcing and HRM 359;
Plan 361

25 Human resource planning 363
The role of human resource planning 363; Aims of human resource
planning 368; The process of human resource planning 368; Resourcing
strategy 371; Scenario planning 372; Estimating future human resource
requirements 373; Labour turnover 375; Action planning 382; The
contribution of HR to human resource planning 388

Contents ❚ ix

26 Talent management 389
Talent management defined 390; The elements of talent
management 390; Creating a great place to work 394; Attraction
strategies 395; Retention strategies 397; Career management 399;
Talent management for knowledge workers 407; Talent management
in practice 407

27 Recruitment and selection 409
The recruitment and selection process 409; Defining requirements 409;
Attracting candidates 414; Advertising 416; E-recruitment 420;
Outsourcing recruitment 423; Educational and training
establishments 424; Application forms 425; Sifting applications 425;
Selection methods 429; Types of interviews 430; Assessment centres 430;
Graphology 431; Choice of selection methods 432; Improving the
effectiveness of recruitment and selection 432; References,
qualifications and offers 434; Final stages 436

28 Selection interviewing 439
Purpose 439; Advantages and disadvantages of interviews 440;
The nature of an interview 441; Interviewing arrangements 442;
Preparation 443; Timing 444; Planning and structuring interviews 444;
Interviewing approaches 445; Interview techniques – starting and
finishing 450; Interviewing techniques – asking questions 450; Selection
interviewing skills 457; Coming to a conclusion 458; Dos and don’ts of
selection interviewing 459

29 Selection tests 461
Psychological tests: definition 461; Purpose of psychological tests 461;
Characteristics of a good test 462; Types of test 463; Interpreting test
results 467; Choosing tests 468; The use of tests in a selection
procedure 468

30 Introduction to the organization 471
Induction defined 471; Why taking care about induction is important 472;
Reception 473; Documentation 474; Company induction – initial
briefing 475; Introduction to the workplace 475; Formal induction
courses 476; On-the-job induction training 477

x ❚ Contents

31 Release from the organization 479
General considerations 479; Redundancy 482; Outplacement 485;
Dismissal 487; Voluntary leavers 490; Retirement 490


32 The basis of performance management 495
Performance management defined 495; Aims of performance
management 496; Characteristics of performance management 496;
Understanding performance management 497; Guiding principles of
performance management 499; Performance appraisal and performance
management 500; Views on performance management 500

33 The process of performance management 503
Performance management as a process 503; Performance management as
a cycle 503; Performance agreements 504; Managing performance
throughout the year 508; Reviewing performance 509; Rating
performance 512; Dealing with under-performers 515; Introducing
performance management 517

34 360-degree feedback 521
360-degree feedback defined 521; Use of 360-degree feedback 522;
Rationale for 360-degree feedback 523; 360-degree feedback –
methodology 524; Development and implementation 526; 360-degree
feedback – advantages and disadvantages 527; 360-degree feedback –
criteria for success 528


35 Strategic human resource development 533
Strategic HRD defined 533; Strategic HRD aims 534; Components of
HRD 534; HRD and HRM 535; The process of learning and
development 535; Strategies for HRD 536; Human resource development
philosophy 537

36 Organizational learning and the learning organization 539
Organizational learning 540; The learning organization 543

Contents ❚ xi

37 How people learn 549
Learning defined 549; The learning process 550; Learning theory 550;
Learning styles 552; Learning to learn 554; The learning curve 554; The
motivation to learn 555; The implications of learning theory and
concepts 556

38 Learning and development 559
Learning 559; Development 570; Training 575

39 E-learning 583
What is e-learning? 583; Aim of e-learning 584; The technology of
e-learning 584; The e-learning process 585; The business case for
e-learning 586; Developing e-learning processes 588

40 Management development 591
Aims of management development 592; Management development:
needs and priorities 592; The requirements, nature and elements of
management development 593; Management development activities 594;
Approaches to management development 596; Emotional intelligence
and leadership qualities 602; Responsibility for management
development 603

41 Formulating and implementing learning and development strategies 607
Making the business case 607; Developing a learning culture 609;
Identifying learning needs 610; Planning and implementing learning and
development programmes 612; Evaluation of learning 615


42 Reward management 623
Reward management defined 623; The aims of reward management 624;
The philosophy of reward management 624; The elements of reward
management 625; Total reward 629; Reward management for directors
and executives 634; Reward management for sales staff 636; Paying
manual workers 636

xii ❚ Contents

43 Strategic reward 643
Reward strategy defined 643; Why have a reward strategy? 644; The
structure of reward strategy 644; The content of reward strategy 645;
Guiding principles 649; Developing reward strategy 649; Components of
an effective reward strategy 651; Reward strategy priorities 652;
Examples of reward strategies 653; Implementing reward strategy 656;
Reward strategy and line management capability 657

44 Job evaluation 659
Job evaluation defined 660; Analytical job evaluation 660; Non-analytical
job evaluation 664; The incidence of job evaluation 666; Computer-
assisted job evaluation 667; Criteria for choice 668; The case for and
against job evaluation 671; Designing a point-factor job evaluation
scheme 672; Conclusions 679

45 Market rate analysis 681
Purpose 681; The concept of the market rate 681; The information
required 682; Job matching 682; Presentation of data 683; Sources of
information 683

46 Grade and pay structures 689
Grade structure defined 689; Pay structure defined 690; Guiding
principles for grade and pay structures 690; Types of grade and pay
structure 691; Designing grade and pay structures 698

47 Contingent pay 707
Contingent pay defined 708; The incidence of contingent pay 708; The
nature of individual contingent pay 709; Individual contingent pay as a
motivator 709; Arguments for and against individual contingent pay 710;
Alternatives to individual contingent pay 712; Criteria for success 713;
Performance-related pay 713; Competence-related pay 714;
Contribution-related pay 716; Skill-based pay 718; Service-related
pay 720; Choice of approach 721; Readiness for individual contingent
pay 721; Developing and implementing individual contingent pay 724;
Team-based pay 724; Organization-wide schemes 725

Contents ❚ xiii

48 Employee benefits, pensions and allowances 729
Employee benefits 729; Occupational pension schemes 731; Allowances
and other payments to employees 734

49 Managing reward systems 737
Reward budgets and forecasts 737; Evaluating the reward system 739;
Conducting pay reviews 740; Control 744; Reward procedures 745;
Responsibility for reward 746; Communicating to employees 748

Employee relations defined 751; Plan 752

50 The framework of employee relations 753
The elements of employee relations 754; Industrial relations as
a system of rules 754; Types of regulations and rules 755; Collective
bargaining 756; The unitary and pluralist views 758; The reconciliation of
interests 759; Individualism and collectivism 759; Voluntarism and its
decline 759; The HRM approach to employee relations 761; The context
of industrial relations 762; Developments in industrial relations 763; The
parties to industrial relations 766; Role of the HR function in employee
relations 771

51 Employee relations processes 773
Employee relations policies 774; Employee relations strategies 778;
Employee relations climate 779; Union recognition and
de-recognition 781; Collective bargaining arrangements 783; Informal
employee relations processes 788; Other features of the industrial
relations scene 789; Managing with trade unions 791; Managing
without trade unions 792

52 Negotiating and bargaining 795
The nature of negotiating and bargaining 795; Negotiating 796;
Negotiating and bargaining skills 803

xiv ❚ Contents

53 Employee voice 807
The concept of employee voice 807; Involvement and participation 808;
Purposes of employee voice 808; The framework for employee voice 808;
Expression of employee voice 809; Factors affecting choice 810; Forms of
employee voice 810; Joint consultation 811; Attitude surveys 812;
Suggestion schemes 814; Planning for voice 815

54 Communications 817
Communication areas and objectives 819; Communications strategy 819;
Communication systems 821


55 Health and safety 829
Managing health and safety at work 830; The importance of health
and safety in the workplace 830; Benefits of workplace health
and safety 831; Health and safety policies 832; Conducting risk
assessments 833; Health and safety audits 836; Safety inspections 838;
Occupational health programmes 838; Managing stress 839; Accident
prevention 841; Measuring health and safety performance 841;
Communicating the need for better health and safety practices 842;
Health and safety training 843; Organizing health and safety 843

56 Welfare services 845
Why provide welfare services? 845; What sort of welfare services? 847;
Individual services 848; Group welfare services 851; Provision of
employee welfare services 851; Internal counselling services 852;
Employee assistance programmes 852


57 Employment practices 857
Terms and conditions and contracts of employment 858; Mobility
clauses 860; Transfer practices 860; Promotion practices 861; Flexible
working 862; Attendance management 863; Equal opportunity 866;
Ethnic monitoring 867; Managing diversity 868; The Data
Protection Act 869; Sexual harassment 870; Smoking 872; Substance
abuse at work 873; Bullying 873; AIDS 874; E-mails 874; Work-life
balance 875

Contents ❚ xv

58 HRM procedures 879
Grievance procedure 880; Disciplinary procedure 881; Capability
procedure 883; Redundancy procedure 885

59 Computerized human resource information systems 889
Benefits of a computerized human resource information system 890;
HR information strategy 890; The functions of a computerized HR
system 891; The technical infrastructure 892; Rating of system
features 892; An effective system 893; Problems and how to deal with
them 894; Developing a computerized HR information system 895;
Applications 899; Auditing the system 906

Appendix: Example of an attitude survey 907
References 911
Subject index 953
Author index 977

xvi ❚ Contents

List of figures

0.1 Route map xxvi
0.2 Relationship between aspects of people management 2
1.1 HRM activities 5
1.2 The Human Resource Cycle 6
1.3 The Harvard Framework for Human Resource Management 7
1.4 Model of the link between HRM and performance 23
2.1 The Sears Roebuck Model: Employee-Customer-Profit chain 41
2.2 The balanced scorecard 43
2.3 The EFQM model 44
2.4 Human capital external reporting framework 49
2.5 Human capital reporting dashboard for area managers: Nationwide 51
4.1 Types of personnel management 78
4.2 The changing role of the HR practitioner 79
9.1 Strategic review sequence 142
13.1 Example of a role profile 192
15.1 Dimensions of the employment relationship 216
16.1 A model of the psychological contract 230
18.1 The process of motivation 253
18.2 Motivation model 260
20.1 Channels of communication within groups 294
25.1 The process of human resource planning 370

25.2 A survival curve 378
26.1 The elements of talent management 391
26.2 Career progression curves 401
26.3 The process of career management 401
26.4 Management succession schedule 404
26.5 Competence band career progression system 405
26.6 Career paths in a career family structure 406
26.7 Talent acquisition and development at Centrica 408
27.1 Person specification for an HR officer 412
27.2 Example of an application form (compressed) 426
27.3 Accuracy of some methods of selection 433
28.1 Part of a critical-incident interview for sales people 448
28.2 Behavioural-based interview set 449
29.1 A normal curve 467
33.1 The performance management cycle 504
34.1 360-degree feedback model 522
34.2 360-degree feedback profile 525
35.1 Components of human resource development 534
36.1 Single- and double-loop learning 541
36.2 Managing learning to add value; the learning cycle 542
37.1 The Kolb learning cycle 552
37.2 A standard learning curve 555
37.3 Different rates of learning 555
37.4 A stepped learning curve 556
38.1 Stages in preparing and implementing a personal development plan 572
38.2 Impact of development 575
38.3 Systematic training model 577
39.1 A blended learning programme 587
41.1 Learning needs analysis – areas and methods 611
41.2 A learning specification 613
42.1 Reward management: elements and interrelationships 630
42.2 The components of total reward 631
42.3 Model of total reward 633
43.1 A reward gap analysis 646
43.2 Reward philosophy and guiding principles at B&Q 650
43.3 A model of the reward strategy development process 651
43.4 Reward strategy priorities 652
43.5 The Norwich Union Insurance Progression, Performance & Pay 654


xviii ❚ List of figures

43.6 Integrated reward model – Kwik-fit 655
44.1 A paired comparison 665
44.2 A typical job evaluation programme 675
44.3 Design sequence 676
46.1 A narrow, multi-graded structure 692
46.2 A broad-graded structure 693
46.3 Narrow and broad-banded structures 694
46.4 A broad-banded structure with zones 694
46.5 A job family structure 694
46.6 A career family structure 696
46.7 A pay spine 697
46.8 Type of grade and pay structure 701
46.9 Flow chart: design of a new grade and pay structure 705
47.1 Incidence of contingent pay schemes 708
47.2 Line of sight model 713
47.3 Performance-related pay 713
47.4 Competence-related pay 714
47.5 Contribution pay model (1) 716
47.6 Contribution pay model (2) 716
47.7 Contribution-related pay 717
47.8 Contribution-related pay model (Shaw Trust) 718
50.1 Employee relations: reconciliation of interests 760
52.1 Negotiating range within a settlement range 799
52.2 Negotiating range with a negotiating gap 800
52.3 Stages of a negotiation 801
53.1 A framework for employee voice 809

List of figures ❚ xix

List of tables

1.1 Similarities and differences between HRM and personnel management 19
1.2 Outcomes of research on the link between HR and organizational

performance 21
4.1 Competency framework for HR professionals 90
4.2 Key competency areas 91
9.1 Linking HR and competitive strategies 136
9.2 HRM best practices 137
11.1 Incidence of different competency headings 162
14.1 Feelings at work 213
16.1 Job satisfaction 235
18.1 Summary of motivation theories 256
18.2 Motivation strategies 269
19.1 The Hay Group model of engaged performance 282
25.1 Survival rate analysis 378
25.2 Leavers by length of service 380
32.1 Performance appraisal compared with performance management 501
37.1 The implications of learning theory and concepts 557
38.1 Characteristics of formal and informal learning 565
41.1 Use of learning activities 615
41.2 Use of evaluation tools 619

42.1 Economic theories explaining pay levels 626
42.2 Summary of payment and incentive arrangements for sales staff 637
42.3 Comparison of shopfloor payment-by-result schemes 639
43.1 Examples of reward strategies and their derivation 656
44.1 Comparison of approaches to job evaluation 669
45.1 Summary of sources of market data 686
46.1 Summary analysis of different grade and pay structures 699
47.1 Comparison of individual contingent pay schemes 722
50.1 Contrasting dimensions of industrial relations and HRM 761
54.1 Communication areas and objectives 820
59.1 Computer system problems and solutions 894

xxii ❚ List of tables

About the author

Michael Armstrong is an honours graduate in economics from the London School of
Economics, a Companion of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
and a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultancy.

This book is largely based on Michael Armstrong’s hands-on experience as a
personnel practitioner, initially in the engineering industry, specializing in industrial
relations, and then in the engineering and food industries as an employee develop-
ment specialist.

For 12 years he was an executive director with responsibility for HR in a large
publishing firm and for three years of that period also acted as general manager for
an operating division. For a further 10 years he headed up the HR consultancy divi-
sion of Coopers & Lybrand. He is Managing Partner of and also practises
as an independent consultant. This experience has been supplemented recently by a
number of research projects carried out on behalf of the Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development. These covered the personnel function’s contribution to
the bottom line, strategic HRM, incentive pay, job evaluation, team rewards, broad-
banded pay structures, and performance management. He was Chief Examiner
Employee Reward for the CIPD from 1997–2001.

His publications for Kogan Page include Reward Management, Performance Manage-
ment, How to Be an Even Better Manager, A Handbook of Management Techniques and A
Handbook of Employee Reward, Management and Leadership.


This tenth edition of A Handbook of Human Resource Management Practice contains
many additions and revisions. It refers to major developments in HR practice in the
last two to three years such as the development of the theory and practice of human
capital management, talent management and approaches to learning and develop-
ment, all covered in new or substantially revised chapters. Reference is also made to a
number of significant research projects including those conducted by the CIPD, IES
and e-reward. Chapters on the following subjects have been either wholly replaced or
extensively revised in the light of new concepts of good practice, the experience of the
author as a practitioner and the outcomes of research:

● human resource management;
● role of the HR function;
● role of the HR practitioner;
● strategic human resource management;
● competency-based HRM;
● the delivery of learning and training;
● performance management;
● reward management fundamentals;
● grade and pay structures.

The plan of the handbook is illustrated in the ‘route map’ shown in Figure 0.1.

xxvi ❚ Preface

3 Role of HR function
4 Role of HR practitioner
5 Role of line manager

II HRM processes

7 Strategic HRM
8 HR strategies
9 Developing HR strategies

10 HRM policies
11 Competency-based HRM
12 Knowledge management
13 Analysing roles,

competencies and skills

V Organization

22 Organization

23 Job and role

24 Organization

VI People resourcing

25 Human resource

26 Talent

27 Recruitment and

28 Selection tests
29 Introduction to the

30 Release from the


VII Performance

32 Basis of

33 Performance

34 360-degree

VIII Human resource

35 Strategic HRD
36 Organizational

37 How people learn
38 Learning and

39 E-learning
40 Management

41 Learning and


IX Rewarding

42 Reward

43 Strategic reward
44 Job evaluation
45 Market rate

46 Grade and pay

47 Contingent pay
48 Employee benefits
49 Managing reward


X Employee

50 Framework of
employee relations

51 Employee relations

52 Negotiating and

53 Employee voice
54 Communications

XI Health, safety
and welfare

55 Health and safety
56 Welfare services

XII Employment and
HRM services

57 Employment

58 HRM procedures
59 Computerised

HR information

Factors affecting HRM strategy
policy and practice

III Work and employment
14 The nature of work
15 The employment relationship
16 The psychological contract
IV Organizational behaviour
17 Characteristics of people
18 Motivation
19 Commitment and engagement
20 How organizations function
21 Organizational culture

I People management
1 Human resource management
2 Human capital management

HRM strategy,
policy and

6 International HRM

Figure 0.1 Route map

Managing people

This part underpins the rest of the Handbook. It deals with the approaches and philosophies
that affect how people are managed in organizations, the roles of the HR function and its
members, and the special considerations that affect international people management. The
term ‘people management’ embraces the two related concepts of human resource management
(HRM) and human capital management (HCM), which are defined and explained in the first
two chapters. These have virtually replaced the term ‘personnel management’, although the
philosophies and practices of personnel management still provide the foundations for the
philosophy and practices of HRM and HCM. The relationships between these aspects of people
management are modelled in Figure 0.2.

Part I

2 ❚ Managing people

People management

The policies and practices which govern
how people are managed and developed
in organizations.

Human resource management

‘A strategic and coherent approach to the
management of an organization’s most
valued assets – the people working there
who individually and collectively contribute
to the achievement of its objectives.’

Human capital management

‘An approach to obtaining, analysing and
reporting on data which informs the direc-
tion of value-adding people management
strategic investment and operational deci-
sions at corporate level and at the level of
front line management.’

Personnel management

‘Personnel management is concerned with
obtaining, organizing and motivating the
human resources required by the enter-

(Armstrong, 1977)

Figure 0.2 Relationship between aspects of people management

Human resource management

The terms ‘human resource management’ (HRM) and ‘human resources’ (HR) have
largely replaced the term ‘personnel management’ as a description of the processes
involved in managing people in organizations. The concept of HRM underpins all the
activities described in this book, and the aim of this chapter is to provide a framework
for what follows by defining the concepts of HRM and an HR system, describing the
various models of HRM and discussing its aims and characteristics. The chapter
continues with a review of reservations about HRM and the relationship between
HRM and personnel management and concludes with a discussion of the impact
HRM can make on organizational performance.


Human resource management is defined as a strategic and coherent approach to the
management of an organization’s most valued assets – the people working there who
individually and collectively contribute to the achievement of its objectives.

Storey (1989) believes that HRM can be regarded as a ‘set of interrelated policies
with an ideological and philosophical underpinning’. He suggests four aspects that
constitute the meaningful version of HRM:


1. a particular constellation of beliefs and assumptions;
2. a strategic thrust informing decisions about people management;
3. the central involvement of line managers; and
4. reliance upon a set of ‘levers’ to shape the employment relationship.


Human resource management operates through human resource systems that bring
together in a coherent way:

● HR philosophies describing the overarching values and guiding principles adopted
in managing people.

● HR strategies defining the direction in which HRM intends to go.
● HR policies, which are the guidelines defining how these values, principles and

the strategies should be applied and implemented in specific areas of HRM.
● HR processes consisting of the formal procedures and methods used to put HR

strategic plans and policies into effect.
● HR practices comprising the informal approaches used in managing people.
● HR programmes, which enable HR strategies, policies and practices to be imple-

mented according to plan.

Becker and Gerhart (1996) have classified these components into three levels: the
system architecture (guiding principles), policy alternatives and processes and prac-

See Figure 1.1.


The matching model of HRM
One of the first explicit statements of the HRM concept was made by the Michigan
School (Fombrun et al, 1984). They held that HR systems and the organization struc-
ture should be managed in a way that is congruent with organizational strategy
(hence the name ‘matching model’). They further explained that there is a human
resource cycle (an adaptation of which is illustrated in Figure 1.2), which consists of
four generic processes or functions that are performed in all organizations. These are:

1. selection – matching available human resources to jobs;

4 ❚ Managing people

2. appraisal – performance management;
3. rewards – ‘the reward system is one of the most under-utilized and mishandled

managerial tools for driving organizational performance’; it must reward short
as well as long-term achievements, bearing in mind that ‘business must perform
in the present to succeed in the future’;

4. development – developing high quality employees.

Human resource management ❚ 5

Organization Resourcing

Human resource

Recruitment and


HR services





Job evaluation/
Market surveys



Grade and pay

Employee voice



Contingent pay Communications



and welfare


Human capital


Figure 1.1 HRM activities

The Harvard framework
The other founding fathers of HRM were the Harvard School of Beer et al (1984) who
developed what Boxall (1992) calls the ‘Harvard framework’. This framework is
based on the belief that the problems of historical personnel management can only be

when general managers develop a viewpoint of how they wish to see employees
involved in and developed by the enterprise, and of what HRM policies and practices
may achieve those goals. Without either a central philosophy or a strategic vision –
which can be provided only by general managers – HRM is likely to remain a set of
independent activities, each guided by its own practice tradition.

Beer and his colleagues believed that ‘Today, many pressures are demanding a
broader, more comprehensive and more strategic perspective with regard to the orga-
nization’s human resources.’ These pressures have created a need for: ‘A longer-term
perspective in managing people and consideration of people as potential assets rather
than merely a variable cost.’ They were the first to underline the HRM tenet that it
belongs to line managers. They also stated that: ‘Human resource management
involves all management decisions and action that affect the nature of the relation-
ship between the organization and its employees – its human resources.’

6 ❚ Managing people





Figure 1.2 The Human Resource Cycle (adapted from Fombrun et al, 1984)

The Harvard school suggested that HRM had two characteristic features: 1) line
managers accept more responsibility for ensuring the alignment of competitive
strategy and personnel policies; 2) personnel has the mission of setting policies that
govern how personnel activities are developed and implemented in ways that make
them more mutually reinforcing. The Harvard framework as modelled by Beer et al is
shown in Figure 1.3.

According to Boxall (1992) the advantages of this model are that it:

● incorporates recognition of a range of stakeholder interests;
● recognizes the importance of ‘trade-offs’, either explicitly or implicitly, between

the interests of owners and those of employees as well as between various interest

● widens the context of HRM to include ‘employee influence’, the organization of
work and the associated question of supervisory style;

Human resource management ❚ 7

● shareholders
● management
● employees
● government
● unions

● work force

● business

strategy and

● management

● labour market
● unions
● task technology
● laws and social


HR outcomes:
● commitment
● congruence
● cost


● individual well-

● organizational

● societal well-


HRM policy
● employee

● human resource

● reward systems
● work systems

Figure 1.3 The Harvard Framework for Human Resource Management (Source:
Beer et al, 1984)

● acknowledges a broad range of contextual influences on management’s choice of
strategy, suggesting a meshing of both product-market and socio-cultural logics;

● emphasizes strategic choice – it is not driven by situational or environmental

The Harvard model has exerted considerable influence over the theory and practice
of HRM, particularly in its emphasis on the fact that HRM is the concern of manage-
ment in general rather than the personnel function in particular.


The overall purpose of human resource management is to ensure that the organiza-
tion is able to achieve success through people. As Ulrich and Lake (1990) remark:
‘HRM systems can be the source of organizational capabilities that allow firms to
learn and capitalize on new opportunities.’ Specifically, HRM is concerned with
achieving objectives in the areas summarized below.

Organizational effectiveness
‘Distinctive human resource practices shape the core competencies that determine
how firms compete’ (Cappelli and Crocker-Hefter, 1996). Extensive research has
shown that such practices can make a significant impact on firm performance. HRM
strategies aim to support programmes for improving organizational effectiveness by
developing policies in such areas as knowledge management, talent management
and generally creating ‘a great place to work’. This is the ‘big idea’ as described by
Purcell et al (2003), which consists of a ‘clear vision and a set of integrated values’.
More specifically, HR strategies can be concerned with the development of contin-
uous improvement and customer relations policies.

Human capital management
The human capital of an organization consists of the people who work there and on
whom the success of the business depends. Human capital has been defined by
Bontis et al (1999) as follows:

Human capital represents the human factor in the organization; the combined intelli-
gence, skills and expertise that give the organization its distinctive character. The human
elements of the organization are those that are capable of learning, changing, innovating
and providing the creative thrust which if properly motivated can ensure the long-term
survival of the organization.

8 ❚ Managing people

Human capital can be regarded as the prime asset of an organization and businesses
need to invest in that asset to ensure their survival and growth. HRM aims to ensure
that the organization obtains and retains the skilled, committed and well-motivated
workforce it needs. This means taking steps to assess and satisfy future people needs
and to enhance and develop the inherent capacities of people – their contributions,
potential and employability – by providing learning and continuous development
opportunities. It involves the operation of ‘rigorous recruitment and selection proce-
dures, performance-contingent incentive compensation systems, and management
development and training activities linked to the needs of the business’ (Becker et al,
1997). It also means engaging in talent management – the process of acquiring and
nurturing talent, wherever it is and wherever it is needed, by using a number of inter-
dependent HRM policies and practices in the fields of resourcing, learning and devel-
opment, performance management and succession planning.

The process of human capital management (HCM) as described in the next
chapter is closely associated with human resource management. However, the
focus of HCM is more on the use of metrics (measurements of HR and people perfor-
mance) as a means of providing guidance on people management strategy and

Knowledge management
Knowledge management is ‘any process or practice of creating, acquiring, capturing,
sharing and using knowledge, wherever it resides, to enhance learning and perfor-
mance in organizations’ (Scarborough et al, 1999). HRM aims to support the develop-
ment of firm-specific knowledge and skills that are the result of organizational
learning processes.

Reward management
HRM aims to enhance motivation, job engagement and commitment by introducing
policies and processes that ensure that people are valued and rewarded for what they
do and achieve and for the levels of skill and competence they reach.

Employee relations
The aim is to create a climate in which productive and harmonious relationships can
be maintained through partnerships between management and employees and their
trade unions.

Human resource management ❚ 9

Meeting diverse needs
HRM aims to develop and implement policies that balance and adapt to the needs of
its stakeholders and provide for the management of a diverse workforce, taking into
account individual and group differences in employment, personal needs, work style
and aspirations and the provision of equal opportunities for all.

Bridging the gap between rhetoric and reality
The research conducted by Gratton et al (1999) found that there was generally a wide
gap between the sort of rhetoric expressed above and reality. Managements may start
with good intentions to do some or all of these things but the realization of them –
‘theory in use’ – is often very difficult. This arises because of contextual and process
problems: other business priorities, short-termism, limited support from line
managers, an inadequate infrastructure of supporting processes, lack of resources,
resistance to change and lack of trust. An overarching aim of HRM is to bridge this
gap by making every attempt to ensure that aspirations are translated into sustained
and effective action. To do this, members of the HR function have to remember that it
is relatively easy to come up with new and innovatory policies and practice. The
challenge is to get them to work. They must appreciate, in the phrase used by Purcell
et al (2003) that it is the front line managers who bring HR policies to life, and act


The models of HRM, the aims set out above and other definitions of HRM have been
distilled by Caldwell (2004) into 12 policy goals:

1. Managing people as assets that are fundamental to the competitive advantage of
the organization.

2. Aligning HRM policies with business policies and corporate strategy.
3. Developing a close fit of HR policies, procedures and systems with one another.
4. Creating a flatter and more flexible organization capable of responding more

quickly to change.
5. Encouraging team working and co-operation across internal organizational

6. Creating a strong customer-first philosophy throughout the organization.
7. Empowering employees to manage their own self-development and learning.

10 ❚ Managing people

8. Developing reward strategies designed to support a performance-driven

9. Improving employee involvement through better internal communication.
10. Building greater employee commitment to the organization.
11. Increasing line management responsibility for HR policies.
12. Developing the facilitating role of managers as enablers.


The characteristics of the HRM concept as they emerged from the writings of the
pioneers and later commentators are that it is:

● diverse;
● strategic with an emphasis on integration;
● commitment-oriented;
● based on the belief that people should be treated as assets (human capital);
● unitarist rather than pluralist, individualistic rather than collective in its approach

to employee relations;
● a management-driven activity – the delivery of HRM is a line management

● focused on business values.

The diversity of HRM
But these characteristics of HRM are by no means universal. There are many models,
and practices within different organizations are diverse, often only corresponding to
the conceptual version of HRM in a few respects.

Hendry and Pettigrew (1990) play down the prescriptive element of the HRM
model and extend the analytical elements. As pointed out by Boxall (1992), such an
approach rightly avoids labelling HRM as a single form and advances more slowly
by proceeding more analytically. It is argued by Hendry and Pettigrew that ‘better
descriptions of structures and strategy-making in complex organizations, and of
frameworks for understanding them, are an essential underpinning for HRM’.

A distinction was made by Storey (1989) between the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ versions of
HRM. The hard version of HRM emphasizes that people are important resources
through which organizations achieve competitive advantage. These resources have
therefore to be acquired, developed and deployed in ways that will benefit the orga-
nization. The focus is on the quantitative, calculative and business-strategic aspects of

Human resource management ❚ 11

managing human resources in as ‘rational’ a way as for any other economic factor. As
Guest (1999a) comments:

The drive to adopt HRM is… based on the business case of a need to respond to an
external threat from increasing competition. It is a philosophy that appeals to manage-
ments who are striving to increase competitive advantage and appreciate that to do this
they must invest in human resources as well as new technology.

He also commented that HRM ‘reflects a long-standing capitalist tradition in which
the worker is regarded as a commodity’. The emphasis is therefore on the interests of
management, integration with business strategy, obtaining added value from people
by the processes of human resource development and performance management and
the need for a strong corporate culture expressed in mission and value statements
and reinforced by communications, training and performance management

The soft version of HRM traces its roots to the human-relations school; it empha-
sizes communication, motivation and leadership. As described by Storey (1989) it
involves ‘treating employees as valued assets, a source of competitive advantage
through their commitment, adaptability and high quality (of skills, performance and
so on)’. It therefore views employees, in the words of Guest (1999a), as means rather
than objects, but it does not go as far as following Kant’s advice: ‘Treat people as ends
unto themselves rather than as means to an end.’ The soft approach to HRM stresses
the need to gain the commitment – the ‘hearts and minds’ – of employees through
involvement, communications and other methods of developing a high-commitment,
high-trust organization. Attention is also drawn to the key role of organizational

In 1998, Legge defined the ‘hard’ model of HRM as a process emphasizing ‘the
close integration of human resource policies with business strategy which regards
employees as a resource to be managed in the same rational way as any other
resource being exploited for maximum return’. In contrast, the soft version of HRM
sees employees as ‘valued assets and as a source of competitive advantage through
their commitment, adaptability and high level of skills and performance’.

It has, however, been observed by Truss (1999) that ‘even if the rhetoric of HRM is
soft, the reality is often hard, with the interests of the organization prevailing over
those of the individual’. And research carried out by Gratton et al (1999) found that in
the eight organizations they studied, a mixture of hard and soft HRM approaches was
identified. This suggested to the researchers that the distinction between hard and
soft HRM was not as precise as some commentators have implied.

12 ❚ Managing people

The strategic nature of HRM
Perhaps the most significant feature of HRM is the importance attached to strategic
integration, which flows from top management’s vision and leadership, and which
requires the full commitment of people to it. Guest (1987, 1989a, 1989b, 1991) believes
that this is a key policy goal for HRM, which is concerned with the ability of the orga-
nization to integrate HRM issues into its strategic plans, to ensure that the various
aspects of HRM cohere, and to encourage line managers to incorporate an HRM
perspective into their decision-making.

Legge (1989) considers that one of the common themes of the typical definitions of
HRM is that human resource policies should be integrated with strategic business
planning. Sisson (1990) suggests that a feature increasingly associated with HRM is a
stress on the integration of HR policies both with one another and with business plan-
ning more generally.

Storey (1989) suggests that: ‘The concept locates HRM policy formulation firmly at
the strategic level and insists that a characteristic of HRM is its internally coherent

The commitment-oriented nature of HRM
The importance of commitment and mutuality was emphasized by Walton (1985a) as

The new HRM model is composed of policies that promote mutuality – mutual goals,
mutual influence, mutual respect, mutual rewards, and mutual responsibility. The theory
is that policies of mutuality will elicit commitment, which in turn will yield both better
economic performance and greater human development.

Guest (1987) wrote that one of the HRM policy goals was the achievement of high
commitment – ‘behavioural commitment to pursue agreed goals, and attitudinal
commitment reflected in a strong identification with the enterprise’.

It was noted by Legge (1995) that human resources ‘may be tapped most effectively
by mutually consistent policies that promote commitment and which, as a conse-
quence, foster a willingness in employees to act flexibly in the interests of the “adap-
tive organization’s” pursuit of excellence’.

But this emphasis on commitment has been criticized from the earliest days of
HRM. Guest (1987) asked: ‘commitment to what?’ and Fowler (1987) has stated:

At the heart of the concept is the complete identification of employees with the aims and
values of the business – employee involvement but on the company’s terms. Power in

Human resource management ❚ 13

the HRM system remains very firmly in the hands of the employer. Is it really possible to
claim full mutuality when at the end of the day the employer can decide unilaterally to
close the company or sell it to someone else?

People as ‘human capital’
The notion that people should be regarded as assets rather than variable costs, in
other words, treated as human capital, was originally advanced by Beer et al (1984).
HRM philosophy, as mentioned by Karen Legge (1995), holds that ‘human resources
are valuable and a source of competitive advantage’. Armstrong and Baron (2002)
stated that:

People and their collective skills, abilities and experience, coupled with their ability to
deploy these in the interests of the employing organization, are now recognized as
making a significant contribution to organizational success and as constituting a signifi-
cant source of competitive advantage.

Unitary philosophy
The HRM approach to employee relations is basically unitary – it is believed that
employees share the same interests as employers. This contrasts with what could be
regarded as the more realistic pluralist view, which says that all organizations contain
a number of interest groups and that the interests of employers and employees do not
necessarily coincide.

HRM is individualistic in that it emphasizes the importance of maintaining links
between the organization and individual employees in preference to operating
through group and representative systems.

HRM as a management-driven activity
HRM can be described as a central, senior management-driven strategic activity that
is developed, owned and delivered by management as a whole to promote the inter-
ests of the organization that they serve. Purcell (1993) thinks that ‘the adoption of
HRM is both a product of and a cause of a significant concentration of power in the
hands of management’, while the widespread use ‘of the language of HRM, if not its
practice, is a combination of its intuitive appeal to managers and, more importantly, a
response to the turbulence of product and financial markets’. He asserts that HRM is
about the rediscovery of management prerogative. He considers that HRM policies

14 ❚ Managing people

and practices, when applied within a firm as a break from the past, are often associ-
ated with words such as commitment, competence, empowerment, flexibility,
culture, performance, assessment, reward, teamwork, involvement, cooperation,
harmonization, quality and learning. But ‘the danger of descriptions of HRM as
modern best-management practice is that they stereotype the past and idealize the

Sisson (1990) suggested that: ‘The locus of responsibility for personnel manage-
ment no longer resides with (or is “relegated to”) specialist managers.’ More recently,
Purcell et al (2003) underlined the importance of line management commitment and
capability as the means by which HR policies are brought to life.

Focus on business values
The concept of HRM is largely based on a management and business-oriented philos-
ophy. It is concerned with the total interests of the organization – the interests of the
members of the organization are recognized but subordinated to those of the enter-
prise. Hence the importance attached to strategic integration and strong cultures,
which flow from top management’s vision and leadership, and which require people
who will be committed to the strategy, who will be adaptable to change, and who will
fit the culture. By implication, as Guest (1991) says: ‘HRM is too important to be left to
personnel managers.’

In 1995 Legge noted that HRM policies are adapted to drive business values and
are modified in the light of changing business objectives and conditions. She
describes this process as ‘thinking pragmatism’ and suggests that evidence indicates
more support for the hard versions of HRM than the soft version.


For some time HRM was a controversial topic, especially in academic circles. The
main reservations have been that HRM promises more than it delivers and that its
morality is suspect.

HRM promises more than it can deliver
Noon (1992) has commented that HRM has serious deficiencies as a theory:

It is built with concepts and propositions, but the associated variables and hypotheses
are not made explicit. It is too comprehensive… If HRM is labelled a ‘theory’ it raises
expectations about its ability to describe and predict.

Human resource management ❚ 15

Guest (1991) believes that HRM is an ‘optimistic but ambiguous concept’; it is all
hype and hope.

Mabey et al (1998) follow this up by asserting that ‘the heralded outcomes (of HRM)
are almost without exception unrealistically high’. To put the concept of HRM into
practice involves strategic integration, developing a coherent and consistent set of
employment policies, and gaining commitment. This requires high levels of determi-
nation and competence at all levels of management and a strong and effective HR
function staffed by business-oriented people. It may be difficult to meet these criteria,
especially when the proposed HRM culture conflicts with the established corporate
culture and traditional managerial attitudes and behaviour.

Gratton et al (1999) are convinced on the basis of their research that there is:

a disjunction between rhetoric and reality in the area of human resource management
between HRM theory and HRM practice, between what the HR function says it is doing
and that practice as perceived by employers, and between what senior management
believes to be the role of the HR function, and the role it actually plays.

In their conclusions they refer to the ‘hyperbole and rhetoric of human resource

Caldwell (2004) believes that HRM ‘is an unfinished project informed by a self-
fulfilling vision of what it should be’.

In response to the above comments it is agreed that many organizations that think
they are practising HRM are doing nothing of the kind. It is difficult, and it is best not
to expect too much. Most of the managements who hurriedly adopted performance-
related pay as an HRM device that would act as a lever for change have been sorely

But the research conducted by Guest and Conway (1997) covering a stratified
random sample of 1,000 workers established that a notably high level of HRM was
found to be in place. This contradicts the view that management has tended to ‘talk
up’ the adoption of HRM practices. The HRM characteristics covered by the survey
included the opportunity to express grievances and raise personal concerns on such
matters as opportunities for training and development, communications about busi-
ness issues, single status, effective systems for dealing with bullying and harassment
at work, making jobs interesting and varied, promotion from within, involvement
programmes, no compulsory redundancies, performance-related pay, profit sharing
and the use of attitude surveys.

The morality of HRM
HRM is accused by many academics of being manipulative if not positively immoral.

16 ❚ Managing people

Willmott (1993) remarks that HRM operates as a form of insidious ‘control by compli-
ance’ when it emphasizes the need for employees to be committed to do what the
organization wants them to do. It preaches mutuality but the reality is that behind the
rhetoric it exploits workers. It is, they say, a wolf in sheep’s clothing (Keenoy, 1990a).
As Legge (1998) pointed out:

Sadly, in a world of intensified competition and scarce resources, it seems inevitable
that, as employees are used as means to an end, there will be some who will lose out.
They may even be in the majority. For these people, the soft version of HRM may be an
irrelevancy, while the hard version is likely to be an uncomfortable experience.

The accusation that HRM treats employees as means to an end is often made.
However, it could be argued that if organizations exist to achieve ends, which they
obviously do, and if those ends can only be achieved through people, which is clearly
the case, the concern of managements for commitment and performance from those
people is not unnatural and is not attributable to the concept of HRM – it existed in
the good old days of personnel management before HRM was invented. What
matters is how managements treat people as ends and what managements provide in

Much of the hostility to HRM expressed by a number of academics is based on the
belief that it is hostile to the interests of workers, ie that it is managerialist. However,
the Guest and Conway (1997) research established that the reports of workers on
outcomes showed that a higher number of HR practices were associated with higher
ratings of fairness, trust and management’s delivery of their promises. Those experi-
encing more HR activities also felt more secure in and more satisfied with their jobs.
Motivation was significantly higher for those working in organizations where more
HR practices were in place. In summary, as commented by Guest (1999b), it appears
that workers like their experience of HRM. These findings appear to contradict the
‘radical critique’ view produced by academics such as Mabey et al (1998) that HRM
has been ineffectual, pernicious (ie managerialist) or both. Some of those who adopt
this stance tend to dismiss favourable reports from workers about HRM on the
grounds that they have been brainwashed by management. But there is no evidence
to support this view. Moreover, as Armstrong (2000a) pointed out:

HRM cannot be blamed or given credit for changes that were taking place anyway. For
example, it is often alleged to have inspired a move from pluralism to unitarism in indus-
trial relations. But newspaper production was moved from Fleet Street to Wapping by
Murdoch, not because he had read a book about HRM but as a means of breaking the
print unions’ control.

Human resource management ❚ 17

Contradictions in the reservations about HRM
Guest (1999a) has suggested that there are two contradictory concerns about HRM.
The first as formulated by Legge (1995, 1998) is that while management rhetoric may
express concern for workers, the reality is harsher. Keenoy (1997) complains that: ‘The
real puzzle about HRMism is how, in the face of such apparently overwhelming crit-
ical “refutation”, it has secured such influence and institutional presence.’

Other writers, however, simply claim that HRM does not work. Scott (1994) for
example, finds that both management and workers are captives of their history and
find it very difficult to let go of their traditional adversarial orientations. But these
contentions are contradictory. Guest (1999b) remarks that, ‘It is difficult to treat HRM
as a major threat (though what it is a threat to is not always made explicit) deserving
of serious critical analysis while at the same time claiming that it is not practiced or is


A debate about the differences, if any, between HRM and personnel management
went on for some time. It has died down recently, especially as the terms HRM and
HR are now in general use both in their own right and as synonyms for personnel
management. But understanding of the concept of HRM is enhanced by analysing
what the differences are and how traditional approaches to personnel management
have evolved to become the present day practices of HRM.

Some commentators (Hope-Hailey et al, 1998; Keenoy, 1990b; Legge, 1989, 1995;
Sisson, 1990; Storey, 1993) have highlighted the revolutionary nature of HRM. Others
have denied that there is any significant difference in the concepts of personnel
management and HRM. Torrington (1989) suggested that: ‘Personnel management
has grown through assimilating a number of additional emphases to produce an even
richer combination of experience… HRM is no revolution but a further dimension to
a multi-faceted role.’

The conclusion based on interviews with HR and personnel directors reached by
Gennard and Kelly (1994) on this issue was that ‘it is six of one and half a dozen of the
other and it is a sterile debate’. An earlier answer to this question was made by
Armstrong (1987):

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 emphasizing the virtue
of treating people as a key resource, the management of which is the direct concern of

18 ❚ Managing people

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 orga-

The similarities and differences between HRM and personnel management are
summarized in Table 1.1.

Human resource management ❚ 19

Similarities Differences

1. Personnel management strategies, like 1. HRM places more emphasis on strategic
HRM strategies, flow from the business fit and integration.
strategy. 2. HRM is based on a management and

2. Personnel management, like HRM, business orientated philosophy.
recognizes that line managers are 3. HRM attaches more importance to the
responsible for managing people. The management of culture and the
personnel function provides the necessary achievement of commitment (mutuality).
advice and support services to enable 4. HRM places greater emphasis on the
managers to carry out their responsibilities. role of line managers as the implementers

3. The values of personnel management and of HR policies.
at least the ‘soft’ version of HRM are 5. HRM is a holistic approach concerned
identical with regard to ‘respect for the with the total interests of the business –
individual’, balancing organizational and the interests of the members of the
individual needs, and developing people organization are recognized but
to achieve their maximum level of subordinated to those of the enterprise.
competence both for their own satisfaction 6. HR specialists are expected to be business
and to facilitate the achievement of partners rather than personnel
organizational objectives. administrators.

4. Both personnel management and HRM 7. HRM treats employees as assets not costs.
recognize that one of their most essential
functions is that of matching people to
ever-changing organizational
requirements – placing and developing the
right people in and for the right jobs.

5. The same range of selection, competence
analysis, performance management,
training, management development and
reward management techniques are used
both in HRM and personnel management.

6. Personnel management, like the ‘soft’
version of HRM, attaches importance to
the processes of communication and
participation within an employee
relations system.

Table 1.1 Similarities and differences between HRM and personnel management

The differences between personnel management and human resource management
appear to be substantial but they can be seen as a matter of emphasis and approach
rather than one of substance. Or, as Hendry and Pettigrew (1990) put it, HRM can be
perceived as a ‘perspective on personnel management and not personnel manage-
ment itself’.


The assumption underpinning the practice of HRM is that people are the organiza-
tion’s key resource and organizational performance largely depends on them. If,
therefore, an appropriate range of HR policies and processes are developed and
implemented effectively, then HR will make a substantial impact on firm perfor-

The Holy Grail sought by many commentators on human resource management is
to establish that a clear positive link between HRM practices and organizational per-
formance exists. There has been much research, as summarized in Table 1.2, over the
last decade or so that has attempted to answer two basic questions: ‘Do HR practices
make a positive impact on organizational performance?’ ‘If so, how is the impact
achieved?’ The second question is the most important one. It is not enough to justify
HRM by proving that it is a good thing. What counts is what can be done to ensure
that it is a good thing. This is the ‘black box’ mentioned by Purcell et al (2003) that lies
between intentions and outcomes.

Ulrich (1997a) has pointed out that: ‘HR practices seem to matter; logic says it is so;
survey findings confirm it. Direct relationships between investment and attention to
HR practices are often fuzzy, however, and vary according to the population sampled
and the measures used’.

Purcell et al (2003) have cast doubts on the validity of some of the attempts through
research to make the connection:

Our study has demonstrated convincingly that research which only asks about the
number and extent of HR practices can never be sufficient to understand the link
between HR practices and business performance. As we have discussed it is misleading
to assume that simply because HR policies are present that they will be implemented as

Further comments about attempts to trace the link have been made by Truss (2001)
who, following research in Hewlett-Packard, remarked that:

20 ❚ Managing people

Our findings did lend strong support to the argument put forward by Mueller (1996) that
the informal organization has a key role to play in the HRM process such that informal
practice and norms of behaviour interact with formal HR policies… We cannot consider
how HRM and performance are linked without analysing, in some detail, how policy is
turned into practice through the lens of the informal organization.

Research outcomes
A considerable amount of research has been carried out to establish the link between
HRM and firm performance. The outcomes of some of the main projects are summa-
rized in Table 1.2.

Human resource management ❚ 21

Researcher(s) Methodology Outcomes

Arthur (1990, Data from 30 US strip mills used to Firms with a high commitment
1992, 1994) assess impact on labour efficiency strategy had significantly higher

and scrap rate by reference to the levels of both productivity and
existence of either a high quality than those with a
commitment strategy* or a control strategy.
control strategy*.

Huselid (1995) Analysis of the responses of 968 US Productivity is influenced by
firms to a questionnaire exploring employee motivation; financial
the use of high performance work performance is influenced by
practices*, the development of employee skills, motivation and
synergies between them and the organizational structures.
alignment of these practices with
the competitive strategy.

Huselid and An index of HR systems in 740 Firms with high values on the
Becker (1996) firms was created to indicate the index had economically and

degree to which each firm adopted statistically higher levels of
a high performance work system. performance.

Becker et al Outcomes of a number of research High performance systems make
(1997) projects were analysed to assess the an impact as long as they are

strategic impact on shareholder embedded in the management
value of high performance work infrastructure.

Table 1.2 Outcomes of research on the link between HR and organizational perfor-

22 ❚ Managing people

Patterson et al The research examined the link HR practices explained significant
(1997) between business performance and variations in profitability and

organization culture and the use of productivity (19% and 18%
a number of HR practices. respectively). Two HR practices

were particularly significant: (1) the
acquisition and development of
employee skills and (2) job design
including flexibility, responsibility,
variety and the use of formal teams.

Thompson (1998) A study of the impact of high The number of HR practices and
performance work practices such as the proportion of the workforce
teamworking, appraisal, job rotation, covered appeared to be the key
broad-banded grade structures and differentiating factor between more
sharing of business information in and less successful firms.
623 UK aerospace establishments.

The 1998 An analysis of the survey which A strong assocation exists between
Workplace sampled some 2,000 workplaces HRM and both employee
Employee and obtained the views of about attitudes and workplace
Relations Survey 28,000 employees. performance.
(as analysed by
Guest et al

The Future of 835 private sector organizations A greater use of HR practices is
Work Survey, were surveyed and interviews were associated with higher levels of
Guest et al carried out with 610 HR employee commitment and
(2000b) professionals and 462 chief contribution and is in turn linked

executives. to higher levels of productivity
and quality of services.

Purcell et al A University of Bath longitudinal The most successful companies had
(2003) study of 12 companies to establish what the researchers called ‘the big

how people management impacts on idea’. The companies had a clear
organizational performance. vision and a set of integrated values

which were embedded, enduring,
collective, measured and managed.
They were concerned with
sustaining performance and
flexibility. Clear evidence existed
between positive attitudes towards
HR policies and practices, levels of
satisfaction, motivation and

Table 1.2 continued


How HR makes an impact
In Guest et al (2000b) the relationship between HRM and performance was modelled
as shown in Figure 1.4.

Human resource management ❚ 23

commitment, and operational
performance. Policy and practice
implementation (not the number
of HR practices adopted) is the
vital ingredient in linking people
management to business
performance and this is primarily
the task of line managers.

* In the US research projects set out in Table 1.2 reference is made to the impact made by the following
strategies: A commitment strategy – a strategy, as described by Walton (1985b) which promotes mutuality
between employers and employees. A control strategy – as described by Walton (1985b), one in which the
aim is to establish order, exercise control and achieve efficiency in the application of the workforce but
where employees did not have a voice except through their unions. High performance work systems – these
aim to impact on performance through its people by the use of such practices as rigorous recruitment and
selection procedures, extensive and relevant training and management development activities, incentive
pay systems and performance management processes.

Table 1.2 continued


HR strategy

Quality of
goods and


HR effectiveness


HR practices

HR outcomes



Figure 1.4 Model of the link between HRM and performance (Source: Guest et al,

The messages from research, especially that carried out by Purcell et al (2003), are that
HR can make an impact by leading or contributing to:

● the development and successful implementation of high performance work prac-
tices, particularly those concerned with job and work design, flexible working,
resourcing (recruitment and selection and talent management), employee devel-
opment (increasing skills and extending the skills base), reward, and giving
employees a voice;

● the formulation and embedding of a clear vision and set of values (the big idea);
● the development of a positive psychological contract and means of increasing the

motivation and commitment of employees;
● the formulation and implementation of policies which, in the words of Purcell et al

(2003) meet the needs of individuals and ‘create a great place to work’;
● the provision of support and advice to line managers on their role in imple-

menting HR policies and practices;
● the effective management of change.


HRM processes take place within the context of the internal and external environ-
ment of the organization. They will be largely contingent on the environmental
factors that affect them.

Contingency theory
Contingency theory tells us that definitions of aims, policies and strategies, lists of
activities, and analyses of the role of the HR department are valid only if they are
related to the circumstances of the organization. Descriptions in books such as this
can only be generalizations that suggest approaches and provide guidelines for
action; they cannot be prescriptive in the sense of laying down what should be done.
Contingency theory is essentially about the need to achieve fit between what the
organization is and wants to become (its strategy, culture, goals, technology, the
people it employs and its external environment) and what the organization does
(how it is structured, and the processes, procedures and practices it puts into effect).

Contextual factors
There are three main contextual factors that influence HR policies and practices.

24 ❚ Managing people

1. Technology

The technology of the business exerts a major influence on the internal environment –
how work is organized, managed and carried out. The introduction of new tech-
nology may result in considerable changes to systems and processes. Different skills
are required and new methods of working are developed. The result may be an exten-
sion of the skills base of the organization and its employees, including multiskilling
(ensuring that people have a range of skills that enable them to work flexibly on a
variety of tasks, often within a teamworking environment). But it could result in de-
skilling and a reduction in the number of jobs (downsizing).

New technology can therefore present a considerable threat to employees. The
world of work has changed in many ways. Knowledge workers are employed in
largely computerized offices and laboratories, and technicians work in computer
integrated manufacturing systems. They may have to be managed differently from
the clerks or machine operators they displace. The service industries have become
predominant and manufacturing is in decline. New work environments such as call
centres have become common and tele-working (working from home with a net-
worked computer) is increasing.

2. Competitive pressures

Global competition in mature production and service sectors is increasing. This is
assisted by easily transferable technology and reductions in international trade
barriers. Customers are demanding more as new standards are reached through
international competition. Organizations are reacting to this competition by becom-
ing ‘customer-focused’, speeding up response times, emphasizing quality and contin-
uous improvement, accelerating the introduction of new technology, operating more
flexibly and ‘losing cost’.

The pressure has been for businesses to become ‘lean organizations’, downsizing
and cutting out layers of management and supervision. They are reducing permanent
staff to a core of essential workers, increasing the use of peripheral workers (sub-
contractors, temporary staff) and ‘outsourcing’ work to external service providers.
The aim is to reduce employment costs and enable the enterprise easily to increase or
reduce the numbers available for work in response to fluctuations in the level of
business activity. They become the so-called ‘flexible firms’. The ultimate develop-
ment of this process is the ‘virtual’ firm or corporation, where through the exten-
sive use of information technology a high proportion of marketing and professional
staff mainly work from home, only coming into the office on special occasions
to occupy their ‘hot desks’, and spending more time with their customers or

Human resource management ❚ 25

Another response to competitive pressures is business process re-engineering
(BPR), which examines the process that contains and links those functions together
from initiation to completion. It looks at processes in organizations horizontally to
establish how they can be integrated more effectively as well as streamlined. It can
therefore form the basis for an organizational redesign exercise. From an HR point of
view, the outcome of a BPR exercise may well be the need to attract or develop people
with new skills as well as pressure for the improvement of team working. It also
emphasizes the importance of an integrated – a coherent – approach to the develop-
ment and implementation of HR policies and employment practices. Re-engineering
often promises more than it achieves and is not regarded as highly as it once was, not
least because it often neglected the human aspects, giving insufficient attention to the
management of change and retraining staff.

3. Responses affecting people

The responses to the increased use of technology and to economic and competitive
pressures have changed the nature of people management in a number of ways.
These include slimmer and flatter organization structures in which cross-functional
operations and teamworking have become more important, more flexible working
patterns, total quality and lean production initiatives, and the decentralization and
devolvement of decision-making.

The challenge to HRM
Ulrich (1998) suggests that environmental and contextual changes present a number
of competitive challenges to organizations that mean that HR has to be involved in
helping to build new capabilities. These comprise:

● Globalization, which requires organizations to move people, ideas, products and
information around the world to meet local needs. New and important ingredi-
ents must be added to the mix when making strategy: volatile political situations,
contentious global trade issues, fluctuating exchange rates and unfamiliar

● Profitability through growth – the drive for revenue growth means that companies
must be creative and innovative and this means encouraging the free flow of
information and shared learning among employees.

● Technology – the challenge is to make technology a viable, productive part of the
work setting.

● Intellectual capital – this is the source of competitive advantage for organizations.
The challenge is to ensure that firms have the capability to find, assimilate,

26 ❚ Managing people

compensate and retain human capital in the shape of the talented individuals
they need who can drive a global organization that is both responsive to its
customers and ‘the burgeoning opportunities of technology’. They have also to
consider how the social capital of the organization – the ways in which people
interact – can be developed. Importantly, organizations have to focus on organi-
zational capital – the knowledge they own and how it should be managed.

● Change, change and more change – the greatest challenge companies face is
adjusting to – indeed, embracing – non-stop change. They must be able to ‘learn
rapidly and continuously, and take on new strategic imperatives faster and more

Human resource management ❚ 27

Human capital management

Human capital management (HCM) has been described as ‘a paradigm shift’ from
the traditional approach to human resource management (Kearns, 2005b) – a large
claim. It is considered in this chapter initially by defining the concept of human
capital management and its relationship to the concept of human resource manage-
ment. To understand HCM it is necessary to know about the concept of human
capital, which is the next section heading. The chapter is completed with an analysis
of the processes involved in HCM including a discussion of human capital measure-
ment and reporting.


Human capital management (HCM) is concerned with obtaining, analysing and
reporting on data that informs the direction of value-adding people management,
strategic investment and operational decisions at corporate level and at the level of
front line management. The defining characteristic of HCM is this use of metrics to
guide an approach to managing people that regards them as assets and emphasizes
that competitive advantage is achieved by strategic investments in those assets
through employee engagement and retention, talent management and learning and
development programmes.


The Accounting for People Task Force Report (2003) stated that HCM involves
the systematic analysis, measurement and evaluation of how people policies and
practices create value. The report defined HCM as ‘an approach to people manage-
ment that treats it as a high level strategic issue rather than an operational matter “to
be left to the HR people” ’. The Task Force expressed the view that HCM ‘has
been under-exploited as a way of gaining competitive edge’. As John Sunderland,
Task Force member and Executive Chairman of Cadbury Schweppes plc commented:
‘An organization’s success is the product of its people’s competence. That link
between people and performance should be made visible and available to all stake-

Nalbantian et al (2004) emphasize the measurement aspect of HCM. They define
human capital as, ‘The stock of accumulated knowledge, skills, experience, creativity
and other relevant workforce attributes’ and suggest that human capital management
involves ‘putting into place the metrics to measure the value of these attributes and
using that knowledge to effectively manage the organization’. HCM is defined by
Kearns (2005b) as ‘The total development of human potential expressed as organiza-
tional value.’ He believes that ‘HCM is about creating value through people’ and that
it is ‘a people development philosophy, but the only development that means
anything is that which is translated into value’.


In the opinion of Mayo (2001) the essential difference between HCM and HRM is that
the former treats people as assets while the latter treats them as costs. Kearns (2005b)
believes that in HCM ‘people are value adders, not overheads’ while in HRM ‘people
are (treated as) a significant cost and should be managed accordingly’. According to
Kearns, in HRM ‘the HR team is seen as a support service to the line’ – HR is based
around the function and the HR team performs ‘a distinct and separate role from
other functions’. Conversely, ‘HCM is clearly seen and respected as an equal business
partner at senior levels’ and is ‘holistic, organization-wide and systems-based’ as well
as being strategic and concerned with adding value.

The claim that in HRM employees are treated as costs is not supported by the
descriptions of the concept of HRM produced by American writers such as Beer et al
(1984). In one of the seminal texts on human resource management, they emphasized
the need for: ‘a longer-term perspective in managing people and consideration of
people as potential assets rather than merely a variable cost’. Fombrun et al (1984), in
the other seminal text, quite explicitly presented workers as a key resource that

30 ❚ Managing people

managers use to achieve competitive advantage for their companies. Grant (1991)
lists the main characteristics of human resources in his general classification of a
firm’s potential resources as follows:

● The training and expertise of employees determines the skills available to the

● The adaptability of employees determines the strategic flexibility of the firm.
● The commitment and loyalty of employees determine the firm’s ability to main-

tain competitive advantage.

Cappelli and Singh (1992) propose that competitive advantage arises from firm-
specific, valuable resources that are difficult to imitate, and stress ‘the role of human
resource policies in the creation of valuable, firm-specific skills’.

Other writers confirmed this view. For example:

HRM is an ‘approach to labour management which treats labour as a valued asset rather
than a variable cost and which consequently counsels investment in the labour resource
through training and development and through measures designed to attract and retain
a committed workforce’. (Storey, 1989)

Human resource management is a distinctive approach to employment management
that seeks to obtain competitive advantage through the strategic deployment of a highly
committed and capable workforce, using an integrated array of cultural, structural and
personnel techniques. (Storey, 1995)

The HRM argument is that people… are not to be seen as a cost, but as an asset in
which to invest, so adding to their inherent value. (Torrington, 1989, emphasis in the

Of course, all these commentators are writing about HRM as a belief system, not
about how it works in practice. The almost universal replacement of the term
‘personnel management’ with HR or HRM does not mean that everyone with the job
title of HR director or manager is basing their approach on the HRM philosophy.
Guest commented in 1991 that HRM was ‘all hype and hope’.

A survey conducted by Caldwell (2004) provided some support to this view by
establishing that the five most important HR policy areas identified by respondents
were also the five in which the least progress had been made. For example, while 89
per cent of respondents said the most important HR policy was ‘managing people as
assets which are fundamental to the competitive advantage of the organization’, only
37 per cent stated that they had made any progress in implementing it.

Human capital management ❚ 31

However, research conducted by Hoque and Moon (2001) found that there
were significant differences between the activities of those described as HR specialists
and those described as personnel specialists. For example, workplace-level
strategic plans are more likely to emphasize employee development in workplaces
with an HR specialist rather than a personnel specialist, and HR specialists are
more likely to be involved in the development of strategic plans than are personnel

Both HRM in its proper sense and HCM as defined above treat people as assets.
Although, as William Scott-Jackson, Director of the Centre for Applied HR Research
at Oxford Brookes University argues (Oracle, 2005), ‘You can’t simply treat people as
assets, because that depersonalizes them and leads to the danger that they are viewed
in purely financial terms, which does little for all-important engagement.’

However, there is more to both HRM and HCM than simply treating people as
assets. Each of them also focuses on the importance of adopting an integrated and
strategic approach to managing people, which is the concern of all the stakeholders in
an organization, not just the people management function. So how does the concept
of HCM reinforce or add to the concept of HRM? The answers to that question are
that HCM:

● draws attention to the importance of what Kearns (2005b) calls ‘management
through measurement’, the aim being to establish a clear line of sight between HR
interventions and organizational success;

● strengthens the HRM belief that people are assets rather than costs;
● focuses attention on the need to base HRM strategies and processes on the

requirement to create value through people and thus further the achievement of
organizational goals;

● reinforces the need to be strategic;
● emphasizes the role of HR specialists as business partners;
● provides guidance on what to measure and how to measure;
● underlines the importance of using the measurements to prove that superior

people management is delivering superior results and to indicate the direction in
which HR strategy needs to go.

The concept of HCM complements and strengthens the concept of HRM. It does not
replace it. Both HCM and HRM can be regarded as vital components in the process of
people management.

32 ❚ Managing people


Individuals generate, retain and use knowledge and skill (human capital) and create
intellectual capital. Their knowledge is enhanced by the interactions between them
(social capital) and generates the institutionalized knowledge possessed by an orga-
nization (organizational capital). These concepts of human, intellectual, social and
organizational capital are explained below.

Human capital
The term ‘human capital’ was originated by Schultz (1961) who elaborated his
concept in 1981 as follows: ‘Consider all human abilities to be either innate or
acquired. Attributes… which are valuable and can be augmented by appropriate
investment will be human capital.’

A more detailed definition was put forward by Bontis et al (1999) as follows:

Human capital represents the human factor in the organization; the combined intelli-
gence, skills and expertise that gives the organization its distinctive character. The
human elements of the organization are those that are capable of learning, changing,
innovating and providing the creative thrust which if properly motivated can ensure the
long-term survival of the organization.

Scarborough and Elias (2002) believe that: ‘The concept of human capital is most
usefully viewed as a bridging concept – that is, it defines the link between HR prac-
tices and business performance in terms of assets rather than business processes.’
They point out that human capital is to a large extent ‘non-standardized, tacit,
dynamic, context dependent and embodied in people’. These characteristics make it
difficult to evaluate human capital bearing in mind that the ‘features of human
capital that are so crucial to firm performance are the flexibility and creativity of indi-
viduals, their ability to develop skills over time and to respond in a motivated way to
different contexts’.

It is indeed the knowledge, skills and abilities of individuals that create value,
which is why the focus has to be on means of attracting, retaining, developing and
maintaining the human capital they represent. Davenport (1999) comments that:

People possess innate abilities, behaviours and personal energy and these elements
make up the human capital they bring to their work. And it is they, not their employers,
who own this capital and decide when, how and where they will contribute it. In other
words, they can make choices. Work is a two-way exchange of value, not a one-way
exploitation of an asset by its owner.

Human capital management ❚ 33

The choices they make include how much discretionary behaviour they are prepared
to exercise in carrying out their role (discretionary behaviour refers to the discretion
people at work can exercise about the way they do their job and the amount of effort,
care, innovation and productive behaviour they display). They can also choose
whether or not to remain with the organization.

Intellectual capital
The concept of human capital is associated with the overarching concept of intellec-
tual capital, which is defined as the stocks and flows of knowledge available to an
organization. These can be regarded as the intangible resources associated with
people who, together with tangible resources (money and physical assets), comprise
the market or total value of a business. Bontis (1996, 1998) defines intangible
resources as the factors other than financial and physical assets that contribute to the
value-generating processes of a firm and are under its control.

Social capital
Social capital is another element of intellectual capital. It consists of the knowledge
derived from networks of relationships within and outside the organization. The
concept of social capital has been defined by Putnam (1996) as ‘the features of social
life – networks, norms and trust – that enable participants to act together more effec-
tively to pursue shared objectives’. The World Bank (2000) offers the following defin-

Social capital refers to the institutions, relationships and norms that shape the quality
and quantity of a society’s social interactions… Social capital is not just the sum of the
institutions that underpin a society – it is the glue that holds them together.

It is necessary to capture individual knowledge through knowledge management
processes, as described in Chapter 12, but it is equally important to take into account
social capital considerations, that is, the ways in which knowledge is developed
through interaction between people. Bontis et al (1999) point out that it is flows as
well as stocks that matter. Intellectual capital develops and changes over time and a
significant part is played in these processes by people acting together.

Organizational capital
Organizational capital is the institutionalized knowledge possessed by an organiza-
tion, which is stored in databases, manuals, etc (Youndt, 2000). It is often called

34 ❚ Managing people

structural capital (Edvinson and Malone, 1997), but the term ‘organizational capital’ is
preferred by Youndt because, he argues, it conveys more clearly that this is the
knowledge that the organization actually owns.

The significance of human capital theory
The added value that people can contribute to an organization is emphasized by
human capital theory. It regards people as assets and stresses that investment by
organizations in people will generate worthwhile returns. The theory therefore
underpins the philosophies of human resource management and human capital

Human capital theory is associated with the resource-based view of the firm as
developed by Barney (1991). This proposes that sustainable competitive advantage is
attained when the firm has a human resource pool that cannot be imitated or substi-
tuted by its rivals. Boxall (1996) refers to this situation as one that confers ‘human
capital advantage’. But he also notes (1996 and 1999), that a distinction should be
made between ‘human capital advantage’ and ‘human process advantage’. The
former results from employing people with competitively valuable knowledge and
skills, much of it tacit. The latter, however, follows from the establishment of:

difficult to imitate, highly evolved processes within the firm, such as cross-departmental
co-operation and executive development. Accordingly, ‘human resource advantage’,
the superiority of one firm’s labour management over another’s, can be thought of as the
product of its human capital and human process advantages.

For the employer, investments in training and developing people is a means of
attracting and retaining human capital as well as getting better returns from those
investments. These returns are expected to be improvements in performance, produc-
tivity, flexibility and the capacity to innovate that should result from enlarging the
skill base and increasing levels of knowledge and competence. Schuller (2000)
suggests that: ‘The general message is persuasive: skills, knowledge and competences
are key factors in determining whether organizations and nations will prosper.’ This
point is also made powerfully by Reich (1991).

But Davenport (1999) has some cautionary words about the asset-based content of
human capital theory. He argues that workers should not be treated as passive assets
to be bought, sold and replaced at the whim of their owners – increasingly, they
actively control their own working lives. Workers, especially knowledge workers,
may regard themselves as free agents who can choose how and where they invest
their talents, time and energy. He suggests that the notion that companies own
human assets as they own machines is unacceptable in principle and inapplicable in

Human capital management ❚ 35

practice; it short-changes people by placing them in the same category as plant and

Important though human capital theory may be, interest in it should not divert
attention from the other aspects of intellectual capital – social and organizational
capital – which are concerned with developing and embedding the knowledge
possessed by the human capital of an organization. Schuller (2000) contends that:

The focus on human capital as an individual attribute may lead – arguably has already
led – to a very unbalanced emphasis on the acquisition by individuals of skills and
competences which ignores the way in which such knowledge is embedded in a
complex web of social relationships.


Human capital management is concerned with measurement, reporting measure-
ments and drawing conclusions about the significance of the outcomes of measure-
ment as a guide to future action. This is the process of human capital measurement
and reporting that is considered separately in the next two sections of this chapter.
But it is not the sole purpose. There is more to HCM than measurement. Human
capital management focuses the attention of an organization’s leadership team on the
strategies it should adopt as outlined below to increase the added value they obtain
from people. It identifies those aspects of people management that demonstrably
have the greatest bearing on business performance. It clarifies the returns that can be
obtained in terms of increased profitability, productivity and overall effectiveness
arising from the deployment, development and engagement of the people the organi-
zation needs to achieve its goals. HCM points the way to achieving human capital
advantage by highlighting where and how investments in people generate the
highest returns. It ensures that HRM policies and practices are developed to attain
this end. These policies include knowledge management, resourcing, talent manage-
ment, performance management, learning and development programmes, and
reward and recognition processes.

From an organizational perspective, an HCM approach generates the following
practical questions:

● What are the key performance drivers that create value?
● What skills have we got?

36 ❚ Managing people

● What skills do we need now and in the future to meet our strategic aims?
● How are we going to attract, develop and retain these skills?
● How can we develop a culture and environment in which organizational and

individual learning takes place that meets both our needs and the needs of our

● How can we provide for both the explicit and tacit knowledge created in our
organization to be captured, recorded and used effectively?

To provide guidelines for action a human capital strategy can be developed making
use of the data provided by human capital measurement and reporting. The Mercer
HR consulting organizational performance model (CIPD, 2004a) describes a firm’s
human capital strategy as consisting of six interconnected factors:

1. People – who is in the organization, their skills and competencies on hiring; what
skills competences they develop through training and experience; their level of
qualification; and the extent to which they apply firm-specific or generalized
human capital.

2. Work processes – how work gets done; the degree of teamwork and interdepen-
dence amongst organizational units; and the role of technology.

3. Managerial structure – the degree of employee discretion, management direction
and control; spans of control; performance management and work procedures.

4. Information and knowledge – how information is shared and interchanged between
employees and with suppliers and customers through formal or informal means.

5. Decision-making – how important decisions are made and who makes them; the
degree of decentralization, participation and timeliness of decisions.

6. Rewards – how monetary and non-monetary incentives are used; how much pay
is at risk; individual versus group rewards; current versus longer-term ‘career

The human capital strategy of an organization can be regarded as complementary to
its human resource strategy, as discussed in Chapters 7 and 8.


As Becker et al (2001) emphasize: ‘The most potent action HR managers can take to
ensure their strategic contribution is to develop a measurement system that convinc-
ingly showcases HR’s impact on business performance.’ They must ‘understand how

Human capital management ❚ 37

the firm creates value and how to measure the value creation process’. This means
getting involved in human capital measurement as defined and described below.

Human capital measurement defined
Human capital measurement has been defined by IDS (2004) as being ‘about finding
links, correlations and, ideally, causation, between different sets of (HR) data, using
statistical techniques’. The CIPD (2004a) emphasizes that it deals with the analysis of
‘the actual experience of employees, rather than stated HR programmes and policies’.

The need for human capital measurement
There is an overwhelming case for evolving methods of valuing human capital as an
aid to decision-making. This may mean identifying the key people management
drivers and modelling the effect of varying them. The issue is to develop a framework
within which reliable information can be collected and analysed such as added value
per employee, productivity and measures of employee behaviour (attrition and
absenteeism rates, the frequency/severity rate of accidents, and cost savings
resulting from suggestion schemes).

Becker et al (2001) refer to the need to develop a ‘high-performance perspective’ in
which HR and other executives view HR as a system embedded within the larger
system of the firm’s strategy implementation. They state that: ‘The firm manages and
measures the relationship between these two systems and firm performance.’ A high-
performance work system is a crucial part of this approach in that it:

● links the firm’s selection and promotion decisions to validated competency

● develops strategies that provide timely and effective support for the skills
demanded by the firm’s strategy implementation;

● enacts compensation and performance management policies that attract, retain
and motivate high-performance employees.

Reasons for the interest in measurement
The recognized importance of achieving human capital advantage has led to an
interest in the development of methods of measuring the value of that capital for the
following reasons:

● Human capital constitutes a key element of the market worth of a company. A
research study conducted in 2003 (CFO Research Studies) estimated that the

38 ❚ Managing people

value of human capital represented over 36 per cent of total revenue in a typical

● People in organizations add value and there is a case for assessing this value to
provide a basis for HR planning and for monitoring the effectiveness and impact
of HR policies and practices.

● The process of identifying measures and collecting and analysing information
relating to them will focus the attention of the organization on what needs to be
done to find, keep, develop and make the best use of its human capital.

● Measurements can be used to monitor progress in achieving strategic HR goals
and generally to evaluate the effectiveness of HR practices.

● You cannot manage unless you measure.

However, three voices have advised caution about measurement. Leadbeater (2000)
observed that measuring can ‘result in cumbersome inventories which allow
managers to manipulate perceptions of intangible values to the detriment of
investors. The fact is that too few of these measures are focused on the way compa-
nies create value and make money’. The Institute of Employment Studies (Hartley,
2005) emphasized that reporting on human capital is not simply about measurement.
Measures on their own such as those resulting from benchmarking are not enough;
they must be clearly linked to business performance. And Scarborough and Elias
(2002) concluded from their investigations that the specific set of measures or metrics
organizations reported were less important than the process of measuring and the
uses for the information gathered.

Approaches to measurement
Six of the main approaches to measurement are described below.

The human capital index – Watson Wyatt

On the basis of a survey of companies that have linked together HR management
practices and market value, Watson Wyatt (2001) identified four major categories of
HR practice that could be linked to a 30 per cent increase in shareholder value
creation. These are:

Practice Impact on market value (per cent)
total rewards and accountability 16.5
collegial, flexible workforce 9.0
recruiting and retention excellence 7.9
communication integrity 7.1

Human capital management ❚ 39

The organizational performance model – Mercer HR Consulting

As described by Nalbantian et al (2004) the Organizational Performance Model devel-
oped by Mercer HR Consulting is based on the following elements: people, work
processes, management structure, information and knowledge, decision-making and
rewards, each of which plays out differently within the context of the organization,
creating a unique DNA. If these elements have been developed piecemeal, as often
happens, the potential for misalignment is strong and it is likely that human capital is
not being optimised, creating opportunities for substantial improvement in returns.
Identifying these opportunities requires disciplined measurement of the organiza-
tion’s human capital assets and the management practices that affect their perfor-
mance. The statistical tool, ‘Internal Labour Market Analysis’ used by Mercer draws
on the running record of employee and labour market data to analyse the actual expe-
rience of employees rather than stated HR programmes and policies. Thus gaps can
be identified between what is required in the workforce to support business goals
and what is actually being delivered.

The human capital monitor – Andrew Mayo

Mayo (2001) has developed the ‘human capital monitor’ to identify the human value
of the enterprise or ‘human asset worth’, which is equal to ‘employment cost × indi-
vidual asset multiplier’. The latter is a weighted average assessment of capability,
potential to grow, personal performance (contribution) and alignment to the organi-
zation’s values set in the context of the workforce environment (ie how leadership,
culture, motivation and learning are driving success). The absolute figure is not
important. What does matter is that the process of measurement leads you to
consider whether human capital is sufficient, increasing, or decreasing, and high-
lights issues to address. Mayo advises against using too many measures and instead
to concentrate on a few organization-wide measures that are critical in creating share-
holder value or achieving current and future organizational goals.

A number of other areas for measurement and methods of doing so have been iden-
tified by Mayo (1999, 2001). He believes that value added per person is a good
measure of the effectiveness of human capital, especially for making inter-firm
comparisons. But he considers that the most critical indicator for the value of human
capital is the level of expertise possessed by an organization. He suggests that this
could be analysed under the headings of identified organizational core competencies.
The other criteria he mentions are measures of satisfaction derived from employee
opinion surveys and levels of attrition and absenteeism.

40 ❚ Managing people

The Sears Roebuck model

The Sears Roebuck model (Rucci et al, 1998) defines the employee-customer-profit
chain. It is sometimes called the ‘engagement model’. It explains that if you keep
employees satisfied in terms of their attitude to the company and their job you will
create a ‘compelling place to work’, which will encourage retention and lead to service
helpfulness and merchandize value, which leads to customer satisfaction, retention
and recommendations, thus creating ‘a compelling place to shop’. This in turn creates ‘a
compelling place to invest’, because of its impact on return on assets, operating margins
and revenue growth (Figure 2.1).

This model encourages the use of attitude surveys to measure job satisfaction and
engagement and has been used in a number of organizations in the UK.

Nationwide has developed its ‘Genome’ human capital investment model to quan-
tify the impact that employee commitment has on customer satisfaction and business
performance. The model uses data from existing sources such as employee opinion
surveys, customer satisfaction indices, business performance statistics and employee
metrics covering turnover, length of service and absence. Use of the model enabled

Human capital management ❚ 41

Attitude about
the job





Return on assets
Operation margin
Revenue growth

Attitude about
the job




A compelling place
to work

A compelling place
to shop

A compelling place
to invest

Figure 2.1 The Sears Roebuck Model: Employee-Customer-Profit chain

Nationwide to prove statistically that the more committed the employee the happier
the customer. It is possible to use data modelling to predict the impact that a change
in one factor affecting employee commitment would have on customer satisfaction
and ultimately on business performance. For example, increasing employee satisfac-
tion with basic pay by 5 per cent would produce an overall rise in customer satisfac-
tion of 0.5 per cent and an increase in personal loan sales of 2.3 per cent.

The balanced scorecard

The balanced scorecard as originally developed by Kaplan and Norton (1992, 1996) is
frequently used as the basis for measurement. Their aim was to counter the tendency
of companies to concentrate on short-term financial reporting. They take the view
that ‘what you measure is what you get’, and they emphasize that ‘no single measure
can provide a clear performance target or focus attention on the critical areas of the
business. Managers want a balanced presentation of both financial and operational
measures’. Their original concept of the scorecard required managers to answer four
basic questions, which means looking at the business from four related perspectives,
as shown in Figure 2.2.

Some organizations have replaced the innovation and learning perspective with a
broader people or human capital element.

Kaplan and Norton emphasize that the balanced scorecard approach ‘puts strategy
and vision, not control at the centre’. They suggest that while it defines goals, it
assumes that people will adopt whatever behaviours and take whatever actions are
required to achieve those goals: ‘Senior managers may know what the end result
should be, but they cannot tell employees exactly how to achieve that result, if only
because the conditions in which employees operate are constantly changing.’

They suggest that the balanced scorecard can help to align employees’ individual
performance with the overall strategy: ‘Scorecard users generally engage in three
activities: communicating and educating, setting goals, and linking rewards to
performance measures’. They comment that:

Many people think of measurement as a tool to control behaviour and to evaluate past
performance. The measures on a Balanced Scorecard, however, should be used as the
cornerstone of a management system that communicates strategy, aligns individuals and
teams to the strategy, establishes long-term strategic targets, aligns initiatives, allocates
long- and short-term resources and, finally, provides feedback and learning about the

Research by Deloitte & Touche and Personnel Today (2002) found that 32 per cent of
large UK companies are using the balanced scorecard methodology, although the

42 ❚ Managing people

methods adopted vary. At Lloyds TSB the balanced scorecard blends a mix of finan-
cial metrics and non-financial indicators to provide a single integrated measure of
performance that focuses on key indicators, from which a true reflection of organiza-
tion performance can be accomplished. The scorecard thus enables the organization
to focus on a small number of critical measures that create value for the organization.

Norwich Union Insurance describes its balanced scorecard as a ‘mechanism for
implementing our strategy and measuring performance against our objectives and
critical success factors to achieve the strategy’. The scorecard is cascaded throughout
the organization to measure the operational activities that are contributing to the
overall company strategy. The balanced scorecard changes from year to year. Most
recently, it set out to achieve three goals: positive benefit, staff impacts and financial
performance – in short, service, morale and profits. Previously, the emphasis was

Human capital management ❚ 43

Customer perspective

How do customers see us?

Internal perspective

What must we excel at?

Financial perspective

How do we appear to our

Innovation and learning
(people) perspective

Can we continue to improve
and add value

Figure 2.2 The balanced scorecard

predominantly on profit, in order to deliver the promises made to the City and share-
holders, but the company feels that more focus is now needed on service and morale.

The EFQM model of quality

The European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) model of quality as
shown in Figure 2.3 provides another framework for measuring and reporting on
human capital management. It indicates that customer satisfaction, people
(employee) satisfaction and impact on society are achieved through leadership. This
drives the policy and strategy, people management, resources and processes required
to produce excellence in business results.

The nine elements in the model are defined as follows:

1. Leadership – how the behaviour and actions of the executive team and all other
leaders inspire, support and promote a high performance culture.

2. Policy and strategy – how the organization formulates, deploys and reviews its
policy and strategy and turns them into plans and actions.

3. People management – how the organization realizes the full potential of its people.

44 ❚ Managing people




Impact on




Policy and


Enablers Results

Figure 2.3 The EFQM model

4. Resources – how the organization manages resources effectively and efficiently.
5. Processes – how the organization identifies, manages, reviews and improves its

6. Customer satisfaction – what the organization is achieving in relation to the satis-

faction of its external customers.
7. People satisfaction – what the organization is achieving in relation to the satisfac-

tion of its people.
8. Impact on society – what the organization is achieving in satisfying the needs and

expectations of the local, national and international community at large.
9. Business results – what the organization is achieving in relation to its planned

business objectives and in satisfying the needs and expectations of everyone with
a financial interest or stake in the organization.

Organizations that adopt the EFQM model accept the importance of performance
measurement and work all the time to improve the usefulness of their measures, but
they also recognize that simply measuring a problem does not improve it. There is a
risk that managers will exert their best energies to the analysis, leaving little left for
the remedy.

Measurement elements
The main data elements used for measurement are as follows:

● Basic workforce data – demographic data (numbers by job category, sex, race, age,
disability, working arrangements, absence and sickness, turnover and pay).

● People development and performance data – learning and development programmes,
performance management/potential assessments, skills and qualifications.

● Perceptual data – attitude/opinion surveys, focus groups, exit interviews.
● Performance data – financial, operational and customer.
● Non-financial variables – the top 10 as listed by Low and Siesfield (1998) are:

– quality of corporate strategy;
– execution of corporate strategy;
– management credibility;
– innovation;
– research leadership;
– ability to attract and retain talented people;
– market share;
– management expertise;
– alignment of compensation with shareholders’ interests;
– quality of major business processes.

Human capital management ❚ 45

In more detail the Council for Excellence in Management and Leadership (2002)
report listed the following measures:

A. Morale

1. Absenteeism.
2. Accidents.
3. Employee turnover.
4. Director and manager turnover.
5. Employee satisfaction (staff survey measure).
6. Sickness.

B. Motivation

1. Appraisal – completion rates.
2. Per cent of employees for whom documented annual appraisal has been agreed.
3. Per cent of jobs for which objectives have been documented.
4. Per cent of jobs for which job descriptions exist.
5. Employee understanding of strategy (staff survey measure).
6. Employee understanding of vision (staff survey measure).
7. Employee retention.
8. Director and manager retention.
9. Working hours.

C. Investment

1. Benchmarked remuneration levels.
2. Directors and managers’ salaries as a percentage of total salaries.
3. Human resource spend per employee.
4. Training investment.

D. Long-term development

1. Current management and leadership capability.
2. Potential management and leadership capability.
3. Management and leadership skill gaps.
4. Per cent of job holders for whom a development plan has been agreed.
5. Per cent of jobs for which competencies have been audited.
6. Training days.

46 ❚ Managing people

E. External perception

1. Job applications: vacancies.
2. Job offers: job acceptances.

Measuring human capital
The points that should be borne in mind when measuring human capital are:

● Identify sources of value including the competencies and abilities that drive busi-
ness performance.

● Analyse the relationships between people management practices and outcomes
and organizational effectiveness.

● Remember that human capital measurement is concerned with the impact of
people management practices on performance so that steps can be taken to do
better. It is not just about measuring the efficiency of the HR department in terms
of activity levels. It needs to be value-focused rather than activity-based. For
example, it is not enough just to record the number of training days or the expen-
diture on training; it is necessary to assess the return on investment generated by
that training.

● Keep measurements simple – concentrate on key areas of outcomes and behav-

● Only measure activities if it is clear that such measurements will inform decision-

● Analyse and evaluate trends rather than simply record actuals – compare the
present position with baseline data.

● Focus on readily available and reliable quantified information; however, although
quantification is desirable it should not be based on huge, loose assumptions.

● Remember that measurement is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Do not get
so mesmerized by the process of collecting data as to forget that the data is there
to be used to support decision-making and generate action.


Human capital reporting is concerned with providing information on how well the
human capital of an organization is managed. There are two aspects: first, external
reporting to stakeholders through, in the UK, the compulsory Operating and
Financial Review (OFR). The second aspect is internal reporting, which also informs
the leadership team and stakeholders generally about how human capital is being

Human capital management ❚ 47

managed, but extends this with statements of how the information will be used to
guide future action. The purpose is to inform decision-making about human capital
management, not just to record the figures.

External reporting
The Accounting for People Task Force Report (2003) recommended that operating
and financial review reports (OFRs) should be made by companies which have a
strategic focus, are balanced and objective and based on sound data’. The Task Force
specified that:

The report should clearly represent the Board’s understanding of the links between HCM
policies and practices and its business strategy and performance. This means that it
should normally include details on the size and composition of the workforce,
employee retention and motivation, skills, competencies and training, remuneration and
fair employment practice, and leadership and succession planning. The report should
follow a process that is susceptible to review by auditors, provide information in a form
that enables comparison over time, and use commonly accepted terms and definitions.

The CIPD (2003b) has recommended that the OFR should provide information on:

● the profile of the workforce and its diversity;
● senior executive remuneration;
● the quality of leadership and management strength;
● how well labour costs have been managed over time;
● evidence of a coherent, robust people strategy that is mapped to the stated busi-

ness strategy for the next three years;
● evidence that current people management practice (especially regarding acquisi-

tion, motivation and retention) are affecting organizational and business perfor-

● current and forecasted returns on people investment in the next three to five

● the value of human capital assets and future investments, especially in major
corporate decisions such as mergers and acquisitions;

● comparator listings in financial league tables – such as industry FTSE or analyst

The CIPD (2003b) also proposed the external reporting framework illustrated in
Figure 2.4.

48 ❚ Managing people

Internal reporting
Internal reporting should be linked to the external reporting framework but will
focus more on the practical implications of the data that has been assembled and
analysed. The information and the headings of the internal report have to be tailored
to the context and needs of the organization, but it could:

● set out the quantitative and qualitative information – this could include data on
the size and composition of the workforce, attraction and retention, absence,
motivation, skills and competencies, learning and development activities, remu-
neration and fair employment practices, leadership and succession planning, and
the outcomes of opinion or job satisfaction surveys;

● analyse measures of employee satisfaction and engagement, compare them with
data on business performance and demonstrate the links between them;

● analyse the outcomes of external benchmarking;
● identify the key performance drivers in the organization and indicate how human

capital management is contributing to adding value in each of these areas;
● review the extent to which people management strategy, policies and practices

are contributing to the achievement of business goals;

Human capital management ❚ 49

Human capital strategy

Learning and development

Human capital performance

Acquisition and retention

Human capital management

Management and leadership

Figure 2.4 Human capital external reporting framework (CIPD, 2003b)

● set out the returns on investments in people management and development
projects and evaluate the effectiveness of the investments;

● draw conclusions on the implications of the data for future people management
strategy, policy and practice.

An example of internal reporting is provided by Standard Chartered Bank. A range of
processes and benchmarks has been established to measure and enhance the contri-
bution of its employees. Work on human capital measurement has enabled the bank
to understand the difference that talented and motivated employees can make to the
business. A ‘Human Capital Roadmap’ has been developed to provide a clear people
agenda. The core of the roadmap is the five areas of focus which drive business
performance that are supported by key people processes and interventions. The latter
form the framework for metrics and evaluations. These include an engagement
survey (G12) developed by the Gallop Organization covering 12 factors that
underpin a productive and stimulating place to work. Research has established a
powerful link between engagement scores and business performance.

At Nationwide regular reports are made to area managers on key drivers. These
are presented graphically on dashboards, as illustrated in Figure 2.5, enabling
the manager to identify problem areas, investigate the circumstances and initiate

50 ❚ Managing people

Human capital management ❚ 51

Key drivers of committed employees Outcomes

Area Pay Length of Coaching Resource Values Retention Customer
service manage- commitment







Figure 2.5 Human capital reporting dashboard for area managers: Nationwide

Green Amber Red

Role of the HR function

HR functions are concerned with the management and development of people in
organizations. They are involved in the development and implementation of HR
strategies and policies and some or all of the following people management activities:
organization development, human resource planning, talent management, knowl-
edge management, recruitment and selection, learning and development, reward
management, employee relations, health and safety, welfare, HR administration,
fulfilment of statutory requirements, equal opportunity and diversity issues, and any
other matters related to the employment relationship.

The IRS survey of HR roles and responsibilities (IRS, 2004b) found that HR func-
tions were spending 20 per cent of their time on strategic activities, 40 per cent on
administration, 30 per cent on providing a consultancy service, and 10 per cent on
other activities.

The ‘clients’ or ‘customers’ of the HR function are not just management. They also
comprise the front-line managers who actually implement HR policies and on whom
the function relies to get things done, employees, and potential recruits.

This chapter deals with:

● the overall role of the function;
● the role of HR in facilitating and managing change;
● variations in practice;
● organization of the function;


● marketing the function;
● preparing, justifying and protecting the HR budget;
● outsourcing;
● the provision of shared services;
● the use of external consultants;
● evaluating the HR function.


The role of the HR function is to enable the organization to achieve its objectives by
taking initiatives and providing guidance and support on all matters relating to its
employees. The basic aim is to ensure that the organization develops HR strategies,
policies and practices that cater effectively for everything concerning the employ-
ment and development of people and the relationships that exist between manage-
ment and the workforce. The HR function can play a major part in the creation of an
environment that enables people to make the best use of their capacities and to realize
their potential to the benefit of both the organization and themselves.

Essentially, the HR function provides the advice and services that enable organiza-
tions to get things done through people. It is in the delivery business. Ulrich (1998)
points out that: ‘The activities of HR appear to be and often are disconnected from the
real work of the organization.’ He believes that HR ‘should not be defined by what it
does but by what it delivers’.

The more sophisticated HR functions aim to achieve strategic integration and
coherence in the development and operation of HRM policies and employment prac-
tices. Strategic integration could be described as vertical integration – the process of
ensuring that HR strategies are integrated with or ‘fit’ business strategies. The
concept of coherence could be defined as horizontal integration – the development of
a mutually reinforcing and interrelated set of HR employment and development poli-
cies and practices. These strategic aspects of the work of the function are dealt with in
Chapters 7, 8 and 9 of this book.


If HR is concerned – as it should be – with playing a major role in the achievement
of continuous improvement in organizational and individual performance and in
the HR processes that support that improvement, then it will be concerned with

54 ❚ Managing people

facilitating change. Ulrich (1997a) believes that one of the key roles of HR profes-
sionals is to act as change agents, delivering organizational transformation and cul-
ture change.

Strategic HRM is as much if not more about managing change during the process
of implementation as it is about producing long-term plans; a point emphasized by
Purcell (1999) who believes that: ‘We should be much more sensitive to processes of
organizational change and avoid being trapped in the logic of rational choice.’ In 2001
Purcell suggested that change is specially important in HRM strategies, ‘since their
concern is with the future, the unknown, thinking of and learning how to do things
differently, undoing the ways things have been done in the past, and managing its
implementation’. He believes that the focus of strategy is on implementation, where
HR can play a major part.

The importance of the human resource element in achieving change has been
emphasized by Johnson and Scholes (1997):

Organizations which successfully manage change are those which have integrated their
human resource management policies with their strategies and the strategic change
process… training, employee relations, compensation packages and so on are not
merely operational issues for the personnel department; they are crucially concerned
with the way in which employees relate to the nature and direction of the firm and as
such they can both block strategic change and be significant facilitators of strategic

The contribution of HR to change management
The HR function may be involved in initiating change but it can also act as a stabi-
lizing force in situations where change would be damaging. Mohrman and Lawler
(1998) believe that:

The human resources function can help the organization develop the capability to
weather the changes that will continue to be part of the organizational landscape. It can
help with the ongoing learning processes required to assess the impact of change and
enable the organization to make corrections and enhancements to the changes. It can
help the organization develop a new psychological contract and ways to give
employees a stake in the changes that are occurring and in the performance of the orga-

How HR can facilitate change
Ulrich (1998) argues that HR professionals are ‘not fully comfortable or compatible in
the role of change agent’, and that their task is therefore not to carry out change but to

Role of the HR function ❚ 55

get change done. But HR practitioners are in a good position to understand possible
points of resistance to change and they can help to facilitate the information flow and
understanding that will help to overcome that resistance.

Change guidelines for HR
To facilitate change, HR has to be fully aware of the reasons why people resist change
and the approaches that can be adopted to overcome that resistance, indeed to gain
agreement that change is desirable. These approaches are described in Chapter 24.

Useful guidelines (quoted by Ulrich, 1998) on how HR can facilitate change have
been produced by the HR department in General Electric. These are to ensure that:

● employees see the reason for change;
● employees understand why change is important and see how it will help them

and the business in the long and short term;
● the people who need to be committed to the change to make it happen are recog-

● a coalition of support is built for the change;
● the support of key individuals in the organization is enlisted;
● the link between the change and other HR systems such as staffing, training,

appraisal, rewards, structure and communication is understood;
● the systems implications of the change are recognized;
● a means of measuring the success of the change is identified;
● plans are made to monitor progress in the implementation of change;
● the first steps in getting change started are recognized;
● plans are made to keep attention focused on the change;
● the likely need to adapt the change over time is recognized and plans can readily

be made and implemented for such adaptations.


The role of the HR function and the practice of human resource management vary
immensely in different organizations. As Sisson (1995) has commented, HR manage-
ment is not a single homogeneous occupation – it involves a variety of roles and
activities that differ from one organization to another and from one level to another in
the same organization. Tyson (1987) has claimed that the HR function is often ‘balka-
nized’ – not only is there a variety of roles and activities but these tend to be relatively
self-centred, with little passage between them. Hope-Hailey et al (1998) believe that
HR could be regarded as a ‘chameleon function’ in the sense that the diversity of

56 ❚ Managing people

practice established by their research suggests that ‘contextual variables dictate
different roles for the function and different practices of people management’.

Adams (1991) has identified four approaches to the role of the function, each of
which can be seen as representing a ‘kind of scale of increasing degrees of external-
ization, understood as the application of market forces to the delivery of HR activi-

1. The in-house agency, in which the HR department is seen as a cost centre and the
activities are cross-charged to other departments or divisions.

2. The internal consultancy, in which the HR department sells its services to internal
customers (line managers), the implication being that managers have some
freedom to go elsewhere if they are not happy with the service that is being

3. The business within a business, in which some of the activities of the function are
formed into a quasi-independent organization that may trade not only with orga-
nizational units but also externally.

4. External consultancy, in which the organizational units go outside to completely
independent businesses for help and advice.

The common feature of all these approaches is that the services delivered are charged
for in some form of contract, which may incorporate a service level agreement.

The approach to the provision of services and their externalization will vary
between different organizations because of contextual factors such as the way in
which the business is organized and the type of people employed, the values and
beliefs of top management about the need for HR and the extent to which it will make
a contribution to the ‘bottom line’, and the reputation and credibility of the HR func-

Another area for variation is the extent to which the traditional methods of
managing HR functions have changed in the direction of setting up shared services
and outsourcing, as described later in this chapter.


The organization and staffing of the HR function clearly depends on the size of the
business, the extent to which operations are decentralized, the type of work carried
out, the kind of people employed and the role assigned to the HR function.

There is no standard ratio for the number of HR specialists to the number of
employees. It can vary from 1 to 80, to 1 to 1,000 or more. In the 128 organizations

Role of the HR function ❚ 57

covered by the IRS 2004b survey, there was on average one HR practitioner for every
109 employees.

The ratio is affected by all the factors mentioned above and can only be decided
empirically by analysing what HR services are required and then deciding on the
extent to which they are provided by full-time professional staff or can be purchased
from external agencies or consultants. The degree to which the organization believes
that the management of human resources is the prime responsibility of line managers
and team leaders affects not only the numbers of HR staff but also the nature of the
guidance and support services they provide.

There are, therefore, no absolute rules for organizing the HR function, but current
practice suggests that the following guidelines should be taken into account:

● The head of the function should report directly to the chief executive and should
be on the board, or at least be a member of the senior management or leadership
team, in order to contribute to the formulation of corporate strategies and play a
full part in the formulation and integration of HR strategies and policies. In prac-
tice, however, this does not happen as frequently as one would wish. Only four
out of 10 of the organizations surveyed by IRS in 2004 had a director with sole
responsibility for HR.

● In a decentralized organization, subsidiary companies, divisions, or operational
units should be responsible for their own HR management affairs within the
framework of broad strategic and policy guidelines from the centre.

● The central HR function in a decentralized organization should be slimmed down
to the minimum required to develop group human resource strategies and poli-
cies. It will probably be concerned with resourcing throughout the group at senior
management level and advising on both recruitment and career development. It
may also control remuneration and benefits policies for senior management. The
centre may co-ordinate industrial-relations negotiating if bargaining has been
decentralized, especially where bargaining is related to terms and conditions such
as hours of work, holidays and employee benefits. Although rates of pay may
vary among subsidiaries, it is generally desirable to develop a consistent
approach to benefit provision. A recent development is to operate as a ‘service
centre’, providing shared HR services to other parts of the organization, as
described later in this chapter.

● The HR function has to be capable of delivering the level of advice and services
required by the organization. Delivery may be achieved by the direct provision of
services but may be outsourced.

● The function will be organized in accordance with the level of support and
services it is required to give and the range of activities that need to be catered for,

58 ❚ Managing people

which could include resourcing, management development, training, reward
management, employee relations, knowledge management and HR services in
such areas as health and safety, welfare, HR information systems and employ-
ment matters generally. In a large department, each of these areas may be
provided for separately, but they can be combined in various ways.

The organization and staffing of the HR function needs to take account of its role in
formulating HR strategies and policies and intervening and innovating as required.
But the function also has to provide efficient and cost-effective services. These cannot
be neglected; the credibility and reputation of the function so far as line managers are
concerned will be largely a function of the quality of those services to the HR depart-
ment’s internal customers. It is, in fact, important for members of the function to
remember that line managers are their customers and deserve high levels of personal
service that meet their needs.

The most important principle to bear in mind about the organization of the HR
function is that it should fit the needs of the business. Against that background, there
will always be choice about the best structure to adopt, but this choice should be
made on the basis of an analysis of what the organization wants in the way of HR
management guidance and services. This is why there are considerable variations in
HR practice.


Top management and line managers are the internal customers whose wants and
needs the HR function must identify and meet. How can this be done?

First, it is necessary to understand the needs of the business and its critical success
factors – where the business is going, how it intends to get there and what are the
things that are going to make the difference between success and failure.

Market research data needs to be converted into marketing plans for the develop-
ment of products and services to meet ascertained needs – of the business and its
managers and employees. The marketing plan should establish the costs of intro-
ducing and maintaining these initiatives and the benefits that will be obtained from
them. Every effort must be made to quantify these benefits in financial terms.

The next step in the marketing process is to persuade management that this is a
product or service the business needs. This means spelling out its costs and benefits,
covering the financial and human resources required to develop, introduce and main-
tain it, and the impact it will make on the performance of the business. Identifying the
business need and convincing management that a product or service is worthwhile
will be easier if the initial customer research and product development activities have

Role of the HR function ❚ 59

been carried out thoroughly. Credibility is vital. This will be achieved if the proposal
for expenditure is credible in itself, but the track record of the HR function in deliv-
ering its promises is equally important.

This approach is akin to ‘branding’ in product planning. This identifies the product
or service, spells out the benefits it provides and differentiates it from other services,
thus bringing it to the attention of customers. Presentation is important through logos
and distinctive brochures. Some HR departments brand products with an immedi-
ately identifiable name such as ‘Genome’ or ‘Gemini’.


HR budgets are prepared like any other functional department budget in the
following stages:

1. Define functional objectives and plans.
2. Forecast the activity levels required to achieve objectives and plans in the light of

company budget guidelines and assumptions on future business activity levels
and any targets for reducing overheads or for maintaining them at the same

3. Assess the resources (people and finance) required to enable the activity levels to
be achieved.

4. Cost each activity area – the sum of these costs will be the total budget.

Justifying budgets means ensuring in advance that objectives and plans are generally
agreed – there should be no surprises in a budget submitted to top management. A
cast-iron case should then be prepared to support the forecast levels of activity in
each area and, on a cost/benefit basis, to justify any special expenditure. Ideally, the
benefit should be defined as a return on investment expressed in financial terms.

The best way to protect a budget is to provide in advance a rationale for each area of
expenditure that proves that it is necessary and will justify the costs involved. The
worst thing that can happen is to be forced on to the defensive. If service delivery

60 ❚ Managing people

standards (service level agreements) are agreed and achieved these will provide a
further basis for protecting the budget.


Increasingly, HR services, which would previously have been regarded as a busi-
ness’s own responsibility to manage, are now routinely being purchased from
external suppliers. Managements are facing Tom Peters’ (1988) challenge: ‘Prove it
can’t be subcontracted.’ The formal policy of a major global corporation reads:
‘Manufacture only those items – and internally source only those support services –
that directly contribute to, or help to maintain, our competitive advantage.’ The IPD
(1998a) states that ‘the biggest single cause in the increase of outsourcing has been the
concept of the core organization which focuses its in-house expertise on its primary
function and purchases any necessary support from a range of sources in its

The HR function is well positioned to outsource some of its activities to manage-
ment consultancies and other agencies or firms that act as service providers in such
fields as training, recruitment, executive search, occupational health and safety
services, employee welfare and counselling activities, childcare, payroll administra-
tion and legal advisory services. HR functions, which have been given responsibility
for other miscellaneous activities such as catering, car, fleet management, facilities
management and security (because there is nowhere else to put them), may gladly
outsource them to specialist firms.

The case for outsourcing
There are three reasons for outsourcing:

1. Cost saving – HR costs are reduced because the services are cheaper and the size
of the function can be cut back.

2. Concentration of HR effort – members of the function are not diverted from the key
tasks that add value.

3. Obtaining expertise – know-how and experience that are unavailable in the orga-
nization can be purchased.

Problems with outsourcing
The advantages of outsourcing seem to be high, but there are problems. Some firms
have unthinkingly outsourced core activities on an ad hoc basis to gain short-term

Role of the HR function ❚ 61

advantage, while others found that they were being leveraged by their suppliers to
pay higher rates. Firms may focus on a definition of the core activities and those that
can be outsourced that may be justified at the time but do not take account of the
future. Additionally, a seemingly random policy of outsourcing can lead to lower
employee morale and to a ‘who next’ atmosphere.

Deciding to outsource
The decision to outsource should be based on rigorous analysis and benchmarking to
establish how other organizations manage their HR activities. This will define the
level of service required. The cost of providing the existing service internally should
also be measured. This will be easier if an activity-based costing system is used in the

To minimize problems, careful consideration should be given to the case for out-
sourcing. It is necessary to assess each potential area with great care in order to deter-
mine whether it can and should be outsourced and exactly what such outsourcing is
intended to achieve. The questions to be answered include: Is the activity a core one
or peripheral? How efficiently is it run at present? What contribution does it make to
the qualitative and financial well-being of the organization? This is an opportunity to
re-engineer the HR function, subjecting each activity to critical examination to estab-
lish whether the services can be provided from within or outside the organization, if
at all. Outsourcing may well be worthwhile if it is certain that it can deliver a better
service at a lower cost.

Selecting service providers
Potential service providers should be required to present tenders in response to a
brief. Three or four providers should be approached so that a choice can be made. The
tender should set out how the brief will be met and how much it will cost. Selection
should take into account the degree to which the tender meets the specification, the
quality and reputation of the firm and the cost (this is an important consideration but
not the only one – the level of service that will be provided is critical). References
should be obtained before a contract is drawn up and agreed. The contract should be
very clear about services, costs and the basis upon which it can be terminated.

Managerial and legal implications of outsourcing
Service providers need to be managed just as carefully – if not more so – than internal
services. Service standards and budgets should be reviewed and agreed regularly
and management information systems should be set up so that performance can be

62 ❚ Managing people

monitored. Swift corrective action should be taken if things go wrong, and the
contract terminated if there is a serious shortcoming.

The legal implications of outsourcing are that it will be based on a service contract
and the purchaser of the services has the right to insist that the terms of the
contract are fulfilled. Purchasers also have a duty to fulfil their side of the contract, for
example, providing agreed facilities, meeting the leasing terms set out in a car fleet
management contract, and paying for the services as required by the contract.


The term ‘shared services’ refers to the central provision of HR services that are avail-
able to a number of parties and are therefore the same for all those who take them up.
The nature of the services is determined by both the provider and the user. The
customer or user defines the level of the service and decides which services to take
up. Thus, ‘the user is the chooser’ (Ulrich, 1995). As described by Reilly (2000),
administrative tasks tend to be those most commonly covered by shared services, for

● payroll changes;
● relocation services;
● recruitment administration;
● benefits administration (including flexible benefits and share schemes);
● company car provision;
● pensions administration;
● employee welfare support;
● training support;
● absence monitoring;
● management information.

Services can be provided through the internet, a telephone customer help line, a
consultancy pool of advisers, or ‘centres of excellence’ with expertise in such areas as
resourcing, employee relations, reward or training. The increasing interest in shared
services has been prompted by the more extensive and strategic use of HR informa-
tion systems.

The organizations covered by the research conducted by Reilly (2000) on behalf of
the Institute of Employment Studies identified one or more of the following reasons
for providing shared services:

Role of the HR function ❚ 63

● HR will be consumer-driven, more accessible, and more professional;
● the quality of HR services will be improved in terms of using better processes,

delivery to specification, time and budget, incorporation of good practice, the
achievement of greater consistency and accuracy;

● the process can help to achieve organizational flexibility – a common service will
support customers during business change;

● it can support the repositioning of HR, moving it from a purely operational to a
more strategic role so that HR is carrying out the role of ‘acting as a catalyst for
change… anticipating problems and making things happen’ (Hutchinson and
Wood, 1995).

The advantages of providing shared services include lower costs, better quality, more
efficient resourcing and better customer service. But there are disadvantages, which
include loss of face-to-face contact, de-skilling administrative jobs and, potentially,
remoteness from the users.

The steps required to introduce shared services in what is often described as an ‘HR
service centre’ are as follows (all should involve users as well as providers):

1. Identify present arrangements.
2. Obtain views from customers on the quality of existing services and what could

be done to improve them (including the scope for sharing services).
3. Define the areas for shared services.
4. Define how shared services would be supplied, including who provides the

service, where it is provided, how it is provided (this will include consideration
of outsourcing as discussed later in this chapter).

5. Decide on priorities.
6. Plan programme (this could be phased and might involve pilot testing).


Management consultants act as service providers in such fields as recruitment, execu-
tive search and training. They also provide outside help and guidance to their clients
by advising on the introduction of new systems or procedures or by going through
processes of analysis and diagnosis in order to produce recommendations or to assist
generally in the improvement of organizational performance. Their role is to provide
expertise and resources to assist in development and change.

The steps required to select and use consultants effectively are:

64 ❚ Managing people

1. Define the business need – what added value consultants will provide.
2. Justify their use in terms of their expertise, objectivity and ability to bring

resources to bear that might otherwise be unavailable. If the need has been estab-
lished in cost/benefit terms, the use of external consultants rather than internal
resources has to be justified.

3. Define clearly the objectives of the exercise in terms of the end-results and deliv-

4. Invite three or four firms or independent consultants to submit proposals.
5. Select the preferred consultants on the basis of their proposal and an interview (a

‘beauty contest’) – the criteria should be the degree to which the consultants
understand the need, the relevance and acceptability of their proposed deliver-
ables and programme of work, the capacity of the firm and the particular consul-
tants to deliver, whether the consultants will be able to adopt to the culture and
management style of the organization, the extent to which they are likely to be
acceptable to the people with whom they will work, and the cost (a consideration
but, as for service providers, not the ultimate consideration).

6. Take up references before confirming the appointment.
7. Agree and sign a contract – this should always be in writing and should set out

deliverables, timing and costs, methods of payment and arrangements for termi-

8. Agree detailed project programme.
9. Monitor the progress of the assignment carefully without unduly interfering in

the day-to-day work of the consultants, and evaluate the outcomes.

Legal implications
If there is a serious problem, a consultancy assignment can be cancelled if either party
has clearly failed to meet the terms of the contract (whether this is a formal contract or
simply an exchange of letters). Clients can also sue consultants for professional negli-
gence if they believe that their advice or actions have caused financial or some other
form of measurable loss. Professional negligence is, however, not always easy to
prove, especially in HR assignments. Consultants can always claim that their advice
was perfectly good but that it has been used incorrectly by the client (this may also be
difficult to prove). Suing consultants can be a messy business and should only be
undertaken when it is felt that they (or their insurers) should pay for their mistakes
and thus help to recoup the client’s losses. It should also be remembered that inde-
pendent consultants and even some small firms might not have taken out profes-
sional liability insurance. If that is the case, all the aggrieved client who sues would
do is to bankrupt them, which may give the client some satisfaction but could be a

Role of the HR function ❚ 65

somewhat pointless exercise. The latter problem can be overcome if the client selects
only consultants who are insured.


It is necessary to evaluate the contribution of the HR function to ensure that it is effec-
tive at both the strategic level and in terms of service delivery and support. In evalu-
ation it is useful to remember the distinction made by Tsui and Gomez-Mejia (1988)
between process criteria – how well things are done, and output criteria – the effective-
ness of the end-result. A ‘utility analysis’ approach as described by Boudreau (1988)
can be used. This focuses on the impact of HR activities measured wherever possible
in financial terms (quantity), improvements in the quality of those activities, and
cost/benefit (the minimization of the cost of the activities in relation to the benefits they

Huselid et al (1997) believe that HR effectiveness has two dimensions: 1) strategic
HRM – the delivery of services in a way that supports the implementation of the
firm’s strategy; and 2) technical HRM – the delivery of HR basics such as recruitment,
compensation and benefits. The methods that can be used to evaluate these dimen-
sions are described below.

Quantitative criteria
● Organizational: added value per employee, profit per employee, sales value per

employee, costs per employee and added value per £ of employment costs.
● Employee behaviour: retention and turnover rates, absenteeism, sickness, accident

rates, grievances, disputes, references to employment tribunals, successful
suggestion scheme outcomes.

● HR service levels and outcomes: time to fill vacancies, time to respond to applicants,
ratio of acceptances to offers made, cost of replies to advertisements, training
days per employee, time to respond to and settle grievances, measurable
improvements in organizational performance as a result of HR practices, ratio of
HR costs to total costs, ratio of HR staff to employees, the achievement of speci-
fied goals.

User reactions
The internal customers of HR (the users of HR services) can provide important feed-
back on HR effectiveness. Users can be asked formally to assess the extent to which
the members of the HR function demonstrate that they:

66 ❚ Managing people

● understand the business strategy;
● anticipate business needs and produce realistic proposals on how HR can help to

meet them;
● are capable of meeting performance standards and deadlines for the delivery of

HR initiatives and projects;
● provide relevant, clear, convincing and practical advice;
● provide efficient and effective services with regard to response and delivery times

and quality;
● generally demonstrate their understanding and expertise.

Service level agreements
A service level agreement (SLA) is an agreement between the provider of a service
and the customers who use the service on the level of service that should be provided.
It sets out the nature of the service provided, the volume and quality to be achieved
by the service, and the response times the provider must attain after receiving
requests for help. The headings of the agreement can be drawn from the list of HR
service level areas set out above. The agreement provides the basis for monitoring
and evaluating the level of service.

Employee satisfaction measures
The degree to which employees are satisfied with HR policies and practices can be
measured by attitude surveys. These can obtain opinions on such matters as their
work, their pay, how they are treated, their views about the company and their
managers, how well they are kept informed, the opportunities for learning and career
development, and their working environment and facilities.

In addition to internal data it is desirable to benchmark HR services. This means
comparing what the HR function is doing with what is happening in similar organi-
zations. This may involve making direct comparisons using quantified performance
data or exchanging information on ‘good practice’ that can be used to indicate where
changes are required to existing HR practices or to provide guidance on HR innova-
tions. Organizations such as Saratoga provide benchmarking data under standard-
ized and therefore comparable headings for their clients.

Role of the HR function ❚ 67

Measuring performance
The following key points about measuring HR performance have been made by
Likierrnan (2005):

● agree objectives against budget assumptions: this will ensure HR’s role reflects
changes in strategy implementation;

● use more sophisticated measures – get underneath the data and look not only at
the figures but also at the reasons behind them;

● use comparisons imaginatively, including internal and external benchmarking;
● improve feedback through face-to-face discussion rather than relying on

● be realistic about what performance measures can deliver – many measurement

problems can be mitigated, not solved.

The HR scorecard
The HR scorecard developed by Beatty et al (2003) follows the same principle as the
balanced scorecard described in Chapter 2, ie it emphasizes the need for a balanced
presentation and analysis of data. The four headings of the HR scorecard are:

1. HR competencies – administrative expertise, employee advocacy, strategy
execution and change agency.

2. HR practices – communication, work design, selection, development, measure-
ment and rewards.

3. HR systems – alignment, integration and differentiation.
4. HR deliverables – workforce mindset, technical knowledge, and workforce


These are all influenced by the factors that determine the strategic success of the
organization, ie operational excellence, product leadership and customer intimacy.

Preferred approach to evaluation
There is much to be said for the systematic HR scorecard approach, although every
organization would have to develop its own headings as a basis for evaluation. There
are plenty of typical measures but no standard set exists. Perhaps, as Guest and
Peccei (1994) suggest:

68 ❚ Managing people

The most sensible and important indicator of HRM effectiveness will be the judgements
of key stakeholders… The political, stakeholder, perspective on organizations acknowl-
edges that it is the interpretation placed on effectiveness in organizations and the attri-
butions of credit and blame that are derived from them that matter most in judging
effectiveness. In other words, at the end of the day, it is always the qualitative interpreta-
tion by those in positions of power that matters most.

However, they recognized ‘the desirability of also developing clearly specified goals
and quantitative indicators, together with financial criteria’.

Role of the HR function ❚ 69

The role of the HR practitioner

This chapter is concerned with what HR professionals do and how they do it, bearing
in mind the comment of Boxall and Purcell (2003) that ‘HRM does not belong to HR
specialists’. HRM belongs to line managers and the people they manage – the stake-
holders in people management.

This chapter starts with an analysis of the basic roles and activities of HR profes-
sionals and of the various models of these roles. A number of issues that affect the role
of HR people are then explored; these comprise gaining support and commitment,
role ambiguity, role conflict, ethics, and professionalism. The chapter concludes with
a discussion of the competencies required by HR practitioners.


The roles of HR practitioners vary widely according to the extent to which they are
generalist (eg, HR director or HR manager), or specialist (eg, head of learning and
development, head of talent management, or head of reward), the level at which they
work (strategic, executive or administrative) the needs of the organization, the
context within which they work and their own capabilities.

The role can be proactive, reactive or a mixture of both. At a strategic level, HR
people take on a proactive role. Research conducted by Hoque and Moon (2001)
established that: ‘The growing number of specialists using the HR title are well


qualified, are more likely to be involved in strategic decision-making processes and
are most likely to be found in workplaces within which sophisticated methods and
techniques have been adopted.’ As such, they act as business partners, develop inte-
grated HR strategies, intervene, innovate, operate as internal consultants and volun-
teer guidance on matters concerning upholding core values, ethical principles and the
achievement of consistency. They focus on business issues and working with line
managers to deliver performance targets.

In some situations they play a mainly reactive role. They spend much of their time
doing what they are told or asked to do. They provide the administrative systems
required by management. This is what Storey (1992a) refers to as the non-interven-
tionary role, in which HR people merely provide a service to meet the demands of
management and front-line managers. The various roles are described in more detail

Service provision
The basic role of HR specialists is that of providing services to internal customers.
These include management, line managers, team leaders and employees. The services
may be general, covering all aspects of HRM: human resource planning, recruitment
and selection, employee development, employee reward, employee relations, health
and safety management and welfare. Alternatively, services may only be provided in
one or two of these areas by specialists. The focus may be on the requirements of
management (eg, resourcing), or it may extend to all employees (eg, health and

The aims are to provide effective services that meet the needs of the business, its
management and its employees and to administer them efficiently.

Guidance and advice
To varying degrees, HR practitioners provide guidance and advice to management.
At the highest level, this will include recommendations on HR strategies that have
been developed by processes of analysis and diagnosis to address strategic issues
arising from business needs and human, organizational or environmental factors.
They will also provide advice on issues concerning culture change and approaches to
the improvement of process capability – the ability of the organization to get things
done through people.

Guidance will be given to managers to ensure that consistent decisions are made
on such matters as performance ratings, pay increases and disciplinary actions.
At all levels, guidance may be provided on HR policies and procedures and the

72 ❚ Managing people

implications of employment legislation. In the latter area, HR practitioners are
concerned with compliance – ensuring that legal requirements are met.

The business partner role
HR practitioners as business partners share responsibility with their line manage-
ment colleagues for the success of the enterprise and get involved with them in
running the business. They must have the capacity to identify business opportunities,
to see the broad picture and to understand how their HR role can help to achieve the
company’s business objectives.

As defined by Tyson (1985), HR professionals integrate their activities closely with
management and ensure that they serve a long-term strategic purpose. This is one of
the key roles assigned to HR by Ulrich (1998), who stated that HR should become a
partner with senior and line managers in strategy execution and that ‘HR executives
should impel and guide serious discussion of how the company should be organized
to carry out its strategy’. He suggested that HR should join forces with operating
managers in systematically assessing the importance of any new initiatives they
propose by asking: ‘Which ones are really aligned with strategy implementation?
Which ones should receive immediate attention and which can wait? Which ones, in
short, are truly linked to business results?’ But there is a danger of over-emphasizing
the glamorous albeit necessary role of business or strategic partner at the expense of
the service delivery aspect of the HR specialist’s role. As an HR specialist commented
to Caldwell (2004): ‘My credibility depends on running an extremely efficient and
cost-effective administrative machine… If I don’t get that right, and consistently, then
you can forget about any big ideas.’ Another person interviewed during Caldwell’s
research referred to personnel people as ‘reactive pragmatists’, a view that is in
accord with reality in many organizations.

The strategist role
As strategists, HR professionals address major long-term organizational issues
concerning the management and development of people and the employment rela-
tionship. They are guided by the business plans of the organization but they also
contribute to the formulation of those business plans. This is achieved by ensuring
that top managers focus on the human resource implications of the plans. HR strate-
gists persuade top managers that they must develop business strategies that make the
best use of the core competences of the organization’s human resources. They empha-
size, in the words of Hendry and Pettigrew (1986), that people are a strategic resource
for the achievement of competitive advantage.

The role of the HR practitioner ❚ 73

The innovation and change agent role
In their proactive role, HR practitioners are well placed to observe and analyse what
is happening in and to their organizations as it affects the employment of people, and
intervene accordingly. Following this analysis, they produce diagnoses that identify
opportunities and threats and the causes of problems. They propose innovations in
the light of these diagnoses that may be concerned with organizational processes
such as interaction between departments and people, teamwork, structural change
and the impact of new technology and methods of working, or HR processes such as
resourcing, employee development or reward. As innovators they have to be experts
in change management.

Impression management

The danger, according to Marchington (1995a), is that HR people may go in for
‘impression management’ – aiming to make an impact on senior managers and
colleagues through publicizing high-profile innovations. HR specialists who aim to
draw attention to themselves simply by promoting the latest flavour of the month,
irrespective of its relevance or practicality, are falling into the trap that Drucker
(1955), anticipating Marchington by 40 years, described as follows:

The constant worry of all personnel administrators is their inability to prove that they are
making a contribution to the enterprise. Their preoccupation is with the search for a
‘gimmick’ that will impress their management colleagues.

The HR specialist as change agent

Caldwell (2001) categorizes HR change agents in four dimensions:

1. Transformational change – a major change that has a dramatic effect on HR policy
and practice across the whole organization.

2. Incremental change – gradual adjustments of HR policy and practices that affect
single activities or multiple functions.

3. HR vision – a set of values and beliefs that affirm the legitimacy of the HR func-
tion as strategic business partner.

4. HR expertise – the knowledge and skills that define the unique contribution the
HR professional can make to effective people management.

Across these dimensions, the change agent roles that Caldwell suggests can be
carried out by HR professionals are those of change champions, change adapters,
change consultants and change synergists.

74 ❚ Managing people

Gratton (2000) stresses the need for HR practitioners to: ‘Understand the state of
the company, the extent of the embedding of processes and structures throughout the
organization, and the behaviour and attitudes of individual employees’. She believes
that ‘The challenge is to implement the ideas’ and the solution is to ‘build a guiding
coalition by involving line managers’, which means ‘creating issue-based cross-func-
tional action teams that will initially make recommendations and later move into
action’. This approach ‘builds the capacity to change’.

Guidelines for innovation and change

The following are 10 guidelines for HR innovators and change agents:

1. Be clear on what has to be achieved and why.
2. Ensure that what you do fits the strategy, culture and circumstances of the orga-

3. Don’t follow fashion – do your own thing.
4. Keep it simple – over-complexity is a common reason for failure.
5. Don’t rush – it will take longer than you think.
6. Don’t try to do too much at once – an incremental approach is generally best.
7. Assess resource requirements and costs.
8. Pay close attention to project planning and management.
9. Remember that the success of the innovation rests as much on the effectiveness

of the process of implementation (line manager buy-in and skills are crucial) as it
does on the quality of the concept, if not more so.

10. Pay close attention to change management – communicate, involve and train.

The internal consultancy role
As internal consultants, HR practitioners function like external management consul-
tants, working alongside their colleagues – their clients – in analysing problems, diag-
nosing issues and proposing solutions. They will be involved in the development of
HR processes or systems and in ‘process consulting’. The latter deals with process
areas such as organization, team building and objective setting.

The monitoring role
As monitors of the application of HR policies and procedures and the extent to which
the organization’s values relating to people management are upheld, HR practi-
tioners have a delicate, indeed a difficult, role to play. They are not there to ‘police’
what line managers do but it is still necessary to ensure that the policies and

The role of the HR practitioner ❚ 75

procedures are implemented with a reasonable degree of consistency. This role as
described by Storey (1992a) can mean that HR specialists can act as ‘regulators’ who
are ‘managers of discontent’ involved in formulating and monitoring employment
rules. The monitoring role is particularly important with regard to employment legis-
lation. HR practitioners have to ensure that policies and procedures comply with the
legislation and that they are implemented correctly by line managers.

Although the tendency is to devolve more responsibility for HR matters to line
managers, the latter cannot be given total freedom to flout company policy or to
contravene the provisions of employment, equal opportunity and health and safety
legislation. A balance has to be struck between freedom, consistency and legal obliga-

The guardian of values role
HR practitioners may act as the guardians of the organization’s values concerning
people. They point out when behaviour conflicts with those values or where
proposed actions would be inconsistent with them. In a sense, their roles require
them to act as the ‘conscience’ of management – a necessary role but not an easy one
to play.


A number of models classifying types of roles have been produced, as summarized
below. These simplify the complex roles that HR professionals often have to play
which, in different contexts or times, may change considerably or may mean
adopting varied approaches to meet altering circumstances. They are therefore not
universal but they do provide some insight into the different ways in which HR
specialists operate.

Karen Legge (1978)
Two types of HR managers are described in this model: 1) Conformist innovators who
go along with their organization’s ends and adjust their means to achieve them. Their
expertise is used as a source of professional power to improve the position of their
departments. 2) Deviant innovators who attempt to change this means/ends relation-
ship by gaining acceptance for a different set of criteria for the evaluation of organi-
zational success and their contribution to it.

76 ❚ Managing people

The Tyson and Fell (1986) model
This is the classic model, which describes three types of practitioner:

1. The clerk of works – all authority for action is vested in line managers. HR policies
are formed or created after the actions that led to the need. Policies are not inte-
gral to the business and are short term and ad hoc. Authority is vested in line
managers and HR activities are largely routine – employment and day-to-day

2. The contracts manager – policies are well established, often implicit, with a heavy
industrial relations emphasis, possibly derived from an employers association.
The HR department will use fairly sophisticated systems, especially in the field
of employee relations. The HR manager is likely to be a professional or very
experienced in industrial relations. He or she will not be on the board and,
although having some authority to ‘police’ the implementation of policies, acts
mainly in an interpretative, not a creative or innovative, role.

3. The architect – explicit HR policies exist as part of the corporate strategy. Human
resource planning and development are important concepts and a long-term
view is taken. Systems tend to be sophisticated. The head of the HR function is
probably on the board and his or her power is derived from professionalism and
perceived contribution to the business.

Although insightful and relevant at the time this model does not express the
complexities of the HR role as later ones do.

Kathleen Monks (1992)
The four types of practitioner identified by Monks following research in 97 organiza-
tions in Ireland extended those developed by Tyson and Fell:

1. Traditional/administrative – in this model the personnel practitioners have mainly
a support role with the focus on administrative matters, record-keeping and
adherence to rules and regulations.

2. Traditional/industrial relations – personnel practitioners concentrate on industrial
relations, giving their other functions lower priority.

3. Innovative/professional – personnel specialists are professional and expert. They
aim to remove traditional practices and replace them with improved human
resource planning, recruitment and development, and reward policies and

The role of the HR practitioner ❚ 77

4. Innovative/sophisticated – personnel specialists are on the board, take part in inte-
grating HR and business strategies, and are recognized as making an important
contribution to organizational success. They develop and deliver sophisticated
services in each of the main HR areas.

John Storey (1992a)
Storey’s model suggests a two-dimensional map: interventionary/non-interven-
tionary and strategic/tactical, as illustrated in Figure 4.1. From this he identifies four

1. Change masters (interventionary/strategic), which is close to the HRM model.
2. Advisers (non-interventionary/strategic) who act as internal consultants, leaving

much of HR practice to line managers.
3. Regulators (interventionary/tactical) who are ‘managers of discontent’ concerned

with formulating and monitoring employment rules.
4. Handmaidens (non-interventionary/tactical) who merely provide a service to

meet the demands of line managers.

78 ❚ Managing people





Interventionary Non-interventionary

Figure 4.1 Types of personnel management (Source: Storey, 1992a)

Paul Reilly (2000)
The different roles that practitioners can play as described by Reilly are illustrated in
Figure 4.2. He suggests that it is the ‘strategist/integrator’ who is most likely to make
the longest-term strategic contribution. The ‘administrator/controller’ is likely to
make a largely tactical short-term contribution, while the ‘adviser/consultant’ falls
between the two.

Dave Ulrich and Wayne Brockbank (2005a and 2005b)
In 1997 Dave Ulrich produced his model in which he suggested that as champions of
competitiveness in creating and delivering value, HR professionals carry out the roles
of strategic partners, administrative experts, employee champions and change
agents. The response to this formulation concentrated on the business partner role.
Ulrich, in conjunction with Brockbank, reformulated the 1997 model in 2005, listing
the following roles:

The role of the HR practitioner ❚ 79







short long

Time orientation

Figure 4.2 The changing role of the HR practitioner (Source: Reilly, 2000)

● Employee advocate – focuses on the needs of today’s employees through listening,
understanding and empathizing.

● Human capital developer – in the role of managing and developing human capital
(individuals and teams), focuses on preparing employees to be successful in the

● Functional expert – concerned with the HR practices that are central to HR value,
acting with insight on the basis of the body of knowledge they possess. Some are
delivered through administrative efficiency (such as technology or process
design), and others through policies, menus and interventions. Necessary to
distinguish between the foundation HR practices – recruitment, learning and
development, rewards, etc – and the emerging HR practices such as communica-
tions, work process and organization design, and executive leadership develop-

● Strategic partner – consists of multiple dimensions: business expert, change agent,
strategic HR planner, knowledge manager and consultant, combining them to
align HR systems to help accomplish the organization’s vision and mission,
helping managers to get things done, and disseminating learning across the orga-

● Leader – leading the HR function, collaborating with other functions and
providing leadership to them, setting and enhancing the standards for strategic
thinking and ensuring corporate governance.

Ulrich and Brockbank (2005b) explained that the revised formulation is in response to
the changes in HR roles they have observed recently. They commented on the impor-
tance of the employee advocate role, noting that HR professionals spend on average
about 19 per cent of their time on employee relations issues and that caring for,
listening to and responding to employees remains a centrepiece of HR work. They
noted that as a profession, HR possesses a body of knowledge that allows HR people
to act with insight. Functional expertise enables them to create menus of choice for
their business and thus identify options that are consistent with business needs rather
than those that are merely ones they are able to provide. The additional heading of
‘human capital developer’ was introduced because of the increased emphasis on
viewing people as critical assets and to recognize the significance of HR’s role in
developing the workforce. The concept of strategic partner remains broadly the same
as before, but the additional heading of ‘HR leader’ has been introduced to highlight
the importance of leadership by HR specialists of their own function – ‘before they
can develop other leaders, HR professionals must exhibit the leadership skills they
expect in others’.

The 2005 Ulrich and Brockbank model focuses on the multifaceted role of HR

80 ❚ Managing people

people. It serves to correct the impression that Ulrich was simply focusing on them as
business partners. This has had the unfortunate effect of implying that that was their
only worthwhile function and has led to undue emphasis on this aspect of their role,
important though it is, rather than a significant service delivery role. However, Ulrich
cannot be blamed for this. In 1998 he gave equal emphasis to the need for administra-
tive efficiency.


HR practitioners mainly get results by persuasion based on credibility and expertise.
As Guest and Hoque (1994) note: ‘By exerting influence, HR managers help to shape
the framework of HR policy and practice.’ Although line managers may make the
day-to-day decisions, influencing skills are necessary for HR specialists. But there is a
constant danger of HR professionals being so overcome by the beauty and truth of
their bright idea that they expect everyone else – management and employees alike –
to fall for it immediately. This is not how it is. Management and employees can create
blockages and barriers and their support and commitment needs to be gained, which
is not always easy.

Blockages and barriers within management
Managers will block or erect barriers to what the HR function believes to be progress
if they are not persuaded that it will benefit both the organization and themselves at
an acceptable cost (money and their time and trouble).

Blockages and barriers from employees
Employees will block or set up barriers to ‘progress’ or innovations if they feel they
conflict with their own interests. They are likely, with reason, to be cynical about
protestations that what is good for the organization will always be good for them.

Gaining support from top management
The support of top management is achievable by processes of marketing the HR func-
tion and persuasion. Boards and senior managers, like anyone else, are more likely to
be persuaded to take a course of action if:

● it can be demonstrated that it will meet both the needs of the organization and
their own personal needs;

The role of the HR practitioner ❚ 81

● the proposal is based on a persuasive and realistic business case that spells out the
benefits and the costs and, as far as possible, is justified either in added value
terms (ie the income generated by the proposal will significantly exceed the cost
of implementing it), and/or on the basis of a return on investment (ie the cost of
the investment, say in training, is justified by the financial returns in such terms
as increased productivity);

● there is proof that the innovation has already worked well within the organiza-
tion (perhaps as a pilot scheme) or represents ‘good practice’, which is likely to be
transferable to the organization;

● it can be shown that the proposal will increase the business’s competitive
edge, for example enlarging the skill base or multi-skilling to ensure that it can
achieve competitive advantage through innovation and/or reducing time-to-

● it can be implemented without too much trouble, for example not taking up a lot
of managers’ time, or not meeting with strong opposition from line managers,
employees or trade unions (it is as well to check the likely reaction before
launching a proposal);

● it will add to the reputation of the company by showing that it is a ‘world class’
organization, ie what it does is as good as, if not better than, the world leaders in
the sector in which the business operates (a promise that publicity will be
achieved through articles in professional journals, press releases and conference
presentations, will help);

● it will enhance the ‘employer brand’ of the company by making it a ‘best place to

● the proposal is brief, to the point and well argued – it should take no more than
five minutes to present orally and should be summarized in writing on the
proverbial one side of one sheet of paper (supplementary details can be included
in appendices).

Gaining the support and commitment of front line managers
This can sometimes be more difficult than gaining the support of top management.
Front line managers can be cynical or realistic about innovation – they have seen it all
before and/or they believe it won’t work (sometimes with good reason). Innovations
pushed down from the top can easily fail.

Gaining line management support requires providing an answer to the question,
‘What’s in it for me’? in terms of how the innovation will help them to achieve better
results without imposing unacceptable additional burdens on them. New employ-
ment practices that take up precious time and involve paperwork will be treated with

82 ❚ Managing people

particular suspicion. Many line managers, often from bitter experience, resent the
bureaucracy that can surround and, indeed, engulf systems favoured by HR people,
such as traditional performance appraisal schemes.

Obtaining support requires market research and networking – getting around to
talk to managers about their needs and testing new ideas to obtain reactions. The aim
is to build up a body of information that will indicate approaches that are likely to be
most acceptable, and therefore will most probably work, or at least to suggest areas
where particular efforts will need to be made to persuade and educate line manage-
ment. It is also useful to form ‘strategic alliances’ with influential managers who are
enthusiastic about the innovation and will not only lend it vocal support but will also
co-operate in pilot-testing it.

On the principle that ‘nothing succeeds like success’, support for new HR practices
can often be achieved by demonstrating that it has worked well elsewhere in the

Gaining commitment will be easier if managers have been consulted and know
that their opinions have been listened to and acted upon. It is even better to involve
them as members of project teams or task forces in developing the new process or
system. This is the way to achieve ownership and therefore commitment.

Gaining the support and commitment of employees
When it comes to new employment practices, employees generally react in exactly
the same way as managers: they will tend to resist change, wanting to know, ‘What’s
in it for us?’ They also want to know the hidden agenda – why is the company really
wanting to introduce a performance management process? Will it simply be used as a
means of gaining evidence for disciplinary proceedings? Or is it even going to
provide the information required to select people for redundancy? As far as possible
this kind of question needs to be answered in advance.

Sounding out employee opinion can be conducted through attitude surveys or
focus groups. The latter method involves getting groups of people together to discuss
(to ‘focus’ on) various issues and propositions. A well-run focus group can generate
valid information on employees’ feelings about and reaction to an initiative.

Employee commitment is also more likely if they are kept well informed of what
is proposed, why it has been proposed and how it will affect them. It will be
further enhanced if they participate in the development of the new employment
practice and if they know that their contributions have been welcomed and acted

The role of the HR practitioner ❚ 83


HR specialists are concerned with ethical standards in three ways: their conduct as
professionals, the values that govern their behaviour, and the ethical standards of
their firms.

Professional conduct
The CIPD Code of Professional Conduct states that:

In the public interest and in the pursuit of its objects, the Chartered Institute of Personnel
and Development is committed to the highest possible standards of professional
conduct and competency. To this end members:

● are required to exercise integrity, honesty, diligence and appropriate behaviour in all
their business, professional and related personal activities;

● must act within the law and must not encourage, assist or act in collusion with
employees, employers or others who may be engaged in unlawful conduct.

HR professionals are part of management. They are not there to act as surrogate
representatives of the interests of employees. But there will be occasions when in their
professional capacity HR specialists should speak out and oppose plans or actions
that are clearly at variance with the values of the organization. And they should do
their best to influence changes in those values where they feel they are necessary.
They must not tolerate injustice or inequality of opportunity. If redundancies are
inevitable as a result of business-led ‘slimming down’ or ‘taking costs out of the busi-
ness’ processes, they must ensure that the organization takes whatever steps it can to
mitigate detrimental effects by, for example, relying primarily on natural wastage and
voluntary redundancy or, if people have to go involuntarily, doing whatever they can
to help them find other jobs (outplacement).

HR specialists may often find themselves acting within a support function in a
hard-nosed, entrepreneurial environment. But this does not mean that they can
remain unconcerned about developing and helping to uphold the core values of
the organization in line with their own values on how people should be managed.
These may not always be reconcilable, and if this is strongly the case, the HR
professional may have to make a choice on whether he or she can remain with the

84 ❚ Managing people

Ethical standards in the firm

More and more companies are, rightly, developing and publishing value statements
and codes of ethics. The focus on such codes was encouraged by the Cadbury Report
on corporate governance, which in 1992 recommended that companies should adopt

An ethics code may include the guiding principles the organization follows in
conducting its business and relating to its stakeholders – employees, customers,
shareholders (or other providers of finance), suppliers, and society in general. A code
will also summarize the ethical standards expected of employees. These may include
conflicts of interest, the giving and receiving of gifts, confidentiality, environmental
pollution, health and safety, equal opportunities, managing diversity, sexual harass-
ment, moonlighting and political activity.

As suggested by Pickard (1995), HR practitioners can contribute to enhancing
awareness of ethical issues by:

● deploying professional expertise to develop and communicate an ethics policy
and field the response to it, holding training sessions to help people think through
the issues and monitoring the policy;

● contributing to the formation of company strategy, especially touching on mission
and values;

● setting an example through professional conduct, on issues such as fairness, equal
treatment and confidentiality.


If the term is used loosely, HR specialists are ‘professional’ because they display
expertise in doing their work. A professional occupation such as medicine or law
could, however, be defined as one that gives members of its association exclusive
rights to practise their profession. A profession is not so much an occupation as a
means of controlling an occupation. Human resource management is obviously not in
this category.

The nature of professional work was best defined by the Hayes Committee (1972)
as follows:

Work done by the professional is usually distinguished by its reference to a framework of
fundamental concepts linked with experience rather than by impromptu reaction to
events or the application of laid down procedures. Such a high level of distinctive

The role of the HR practitioner ❚ 85

competence reflects the skilful application of specialized education, training and expe-
rience. This should be accompanied by a sense of responsibility and an acceptance of
recognized standards.

A ‘profession’ may be identified on the basis of the following criteria:

● skills based on theoretical knowledge;
● the provision of training and education;
● a test of the competence of members administered by a professional body;
● a formal professional organization that has the power to regulate entry to the

● a professional code of conduct.

By these standards an institution such as the CIPD carries out most of the functions of
a professional body.

Another approach to the definition of a profession is to emphasize the service ethic
– the professional is there to serve others. This, however, leads to confusion when
applied to HR specialists. Whom do they serve? The organization and its values, or
the people in the organization and their needs? (Organizational values and personal
needs do not necessarily coincide.) As Tyson and Fell (1986) have commented:

In recent years the personnel manager seems to be encouraged to make the line
manager his (sic) client, while trying simultaneously to represent wider social standards,
and to possess a sense of service to employees. This results in confusion and difficulty
for the personnel executive.

In the face of this difficulty, the question has to be asked, why bother? The answer
was suggested by Watson (1977), who asserted that the adoption of a professional
image by personnel managers is a strategic response to their felt lack of authority.
They are in an ambiguous situation and sometimes feel they need all the help they
can get to clarify and, indeed, strengthen their authority and influence.

If a profession is defined rigidly as a body of people who possess a particular area
of competence, who control entry so that only members of the association can prac-
tise in that area, who unequivocally adopt the ‘service ethic’ and who are recognized
by themselves and others as belonging to a profession, then HR practitioners are not
strictly working in a profession. This is the case even when a professional institution
like the CIPD exists with the objective of acting as a professional body in the full sense
of the word, an aim that it does its best to fulfil.

On the basis of their research, Guest and Horwood (1981) expressed their doubts
about the professional model of personnel management as follows:

86 ❚ Managing people

The (research) data also highlights the range of career types in personnel management.
Given the diversity of personnel roles and organizational contexts, this is surely some-
thing to be welcomed. It is tempting but wrong to view personnel managers as homoge-
neous. Their different backgrounds and fields of operations raise doubts about the value
of a professional model and of any attempt to view personnel problems as amenable to
solution through a primary focus on professionalism.

However, a broader definition of professionalism as the practice of specific skills
based upon a defined body of knowledge in accordance with recognized standards of
behaviour would entitle the practice of HRM to be regarded as a profession.

The debate continues, but it is an academic one. What matters is that HR ‘profes-
sionals’ need expertise and have to use it responsibly. In other words, they should act
professionally but do not have to be members of a professional association to do so.
Such associations, however, have an important part to play in setting and improving
professional standards.

If this definition is accepted, then those who do practise specific HRM skills based
upon a defined body of knowledge in accordance with recognized standards of
behaviour can be regarded as members of a profession.


The activities and roles of HR specialists and the demands made upon them as
described above appear to be quite clear cut but, in Thurley’s (1981) words, HR prac-
titioners can be ‘specialists in ambiguity’. This may arise because their role is ill-
defined (they are unsure of where they stand), their status is not fully recognized, or
top management and line managers have equivocal views about their value to the

Ambiguity in the role of HR people can result in confusion between ideals and
reality. Tyson and Fell (1986) see a contrast between the ideologies and actual realities
of organizational life to which HR managers, ‘as organization men or women’, have
to conform.

This ambiguity is reflected in the comments that have been made about the role of
the HR function. For example, Mackay and Torrington (1986) suggested that:
‘Personnel management is never identified with management interests, as it becomes
ineffective when not able to understand and articulate the aspirations of the work-
force.’ In complete contrast, Tyson and Fell (1986) believe that:

The role of the HR practitioner ❚ 87

Classical personnel management has not been granted a position in decision-making
circles because it has frequently not earned one. It has not been concerned with the
totality of the organization but often with issues that have not only been parochial but
esoteric to boot.

The debate on HRM versus personnel management has been generated by, but has
also contributed to this ambiguity. HRM is management-oriented, and sees people as
a key resource to be used to further the objectives of the business. Traditional
personnel management, however, has tended to be more people-oriented, taking the
view that if their needs are satisfied, the organization as well as its members will
benefit. HR professionals can find themselves being pulled in both directions. It does
not make their life any easier.


One of the questions HR practitioners sometimes have to ask themselves is, ‘Who is
the client – the company or the employee?’ HR professionals may have to walk a fine
line between serving the company that pays their salary and serving individual
employees. They may be involved in counselling employees over work problems.
This can only be carried out successfully if the employee trusts the HR practitioner
to maintain confidentiality. But something might be revealed which is of interest to
management and that places the counsellor in a dilemma – to betray or not to
betray the trust? There is no pat answer to this question, but the existence of a code of
professional conduct, a set of values and a company ethical code can provide guid-

HR specialists, as Thurley (1981) put it, often ‘work against the grain’. Their values
may be different from those of line managers and this is a potential cause of conflict.
But conflict is inevitable in organizations that are pluralistic societies, the members of
which have different frames of reference and interests, particularly self-interest.
Management may have their own priorities: ‘Increase shareholder value’, ‘Keep the
City happy’, ‘Innovate’, ‘Get the work done’. Employees might have a completely
different set: ‘Pay me well and equitably’, ‘Give me security’, ‘Provide good working
conditions’, ‘Treat me fairly’. HR specialists, as noted above, may find themselves
somewhere in the middle.

Conflicts in the HR contribution can arise in the following ways:

● A clash of values – line managers may simply regard their workers as factors of
production to be used, exploited and dispensed with in accordance with organi-
zational imperatives.

88 ❚ Managing people

● Different priorities – management’s priority may be to add value – make more out
of less – and if this involves getting rid of people, that’s too bad. HR people may
recognize the need to add value but not at the expense of employees.

● Freedom versus control – line managers may want the freedom to get on with things
their own way, interpreting company policies to meet their needs; the thrust for
devolution has encouraged such feelings. But HR specialists will be concerned
about the achievement of a consistent and equitable approach to managing
people and implementing HR policies. They will also be concerned with the
attainment of a proper degree of compliance to employment and health and
safety law. They may be given the responsibility for exercising control, and
conflict is likely if they use this authority too rigidly.

● Disputes – if unions are recognized, HR specialists may be involved in conflict
during the process of resolution. Even when there are no unions, there may be
conflict with individuals or groups of employees about the settlement of griev-

As Follett (1924) wrote, there is the possibility that conflict can be creative if an inte-
grative approach is used to settle it. This means clarifying priorities, policies and
roles, using agreed procedures to deal with grievances and disputes, bringing differ-
ences of interpretation out into the open and achieving consensus through a solution
that recognizes the interests of both parties – a win-win process. Resolving conflict by
the sheer exercise of power (win-lose) will only lead to further conflict. Resolving
conflict by compromise may lead to both parties being dissatisfied (lose-lose).


A competency framework for HR professionals is set out in Table 4.1.
An alternative formulation, as shown in Table 4.2, established by research conduc-

ted at the University of Michigan Business School (Brockbank et al, 1999) shows the
key competency areas (domains) and their components are set out in Table 4.2.

The CIPD professional standards
The CIPD has produced the following list of competencies required by its profes-
sional members:

● Personal drive and effectiveness. The existence of a positive ‘can do’ mentality,
anxious to find ways round obstacles and willing to exploit all the available
resources to accomplish objectives.

The role of the HR practitioner ❚ 89

90 ❚ Managing people

Business and Understands: (1) the business environment, the competitive pressures
cultural awareness the organization faces and the drivers of high performance, (2) the

business’ key activities and processes and how these affect business
strategies, (3) the culture (core values and norms) of the business, (4) how
HR policies and practices impact on business performance, and puts
this to good use.

Strategic capability (1) Seeks involvement in business strategy formulation and contributes
to the development of the strategy, (2) contributes to the development
for the business of a clear vision and a set of integrated values, (3)
develops and implements coherent HR strategies which are aligned to
the business strategy and integrated with one another, (4) understands
the importance of human capital measurement, introduces
measurement systems and ensures that good use is made of them.

Organizational (1) Contributes to the analysis and diagnosis of people issues and
effectiveness proposes practical solutions, (2) helps to develop resource capability by

ensuring that the business has the skilled, committed and engaged
workforce it needs, (3) helps to develop process capability by influencing
the design of work systems to make the best use of people, (4) contributes
to the development of knowledge management processes.

Internal (1) Carries out the analysis and diagnosis of people issues and proposes
consultancy practical solutions, (2) adopts interventionist style to meet client needs,

acts as a catalyst, facilitator and expert as required, (uses process
consultancy approaches to resolve people problems, (4) coaches clients
to deal with their own problems, transfers skills.

Service delivery (1) Anticipates requirements and sets up and operates appropriate
services, (2) provides efficient and cost-effective services in each HR
area; (3) responds promptly and efficiently to requests for HR services,
help and advice, (4) promotes the empowerment of line managers to
make HR decisions but provides guidance as required.

Continuous (1) Continually develops professional knowledge and skills, (2)
professional benchmarks good HR practice, (3) keeps in touch with new HR
development concepts, practices and techniques, (keeps up-to-date with HR research

and its practical implications.

Table 4.1 Competency framework for HR professionals

● People management and leadership. The motivation of others (whether subordinates,
seniors or project team members) towards the achievement of shared goals, not
through the application of formal authority but rather by personal role modelling,
the establishment of professional credibility, and the creation of reciprocal trust.

● Professional competence. Possession of the professional skills and technical capabil-
ities associated with successful achievement in personnel and development.

● Adding value through people. A desire not only to concentrate on tasks, but rather to
select meaningful outputs which will produce added-value outcomes for the
organization, or eliminate/reduce the existence of performance inhibitors, whilst
simultaneously complying with all legal and ethical considerations.

● Continuing learning. Commitment to continuous improvement and change by the
application of self-managed learning techniques, supplemented where appro-
priate by deliberate planned exposure to external learning sources (mentoring,
coaching, etc).

● Thinking and applied resourcefulness. Application of a systematic approach to situa-
tional analysis, development of convincing, business-focused action plans, and

The role of the HR practitioner ❚ 91

Competency domain Components

1 Personal credibility Live the firm’s values, maintain relationships founded on trust,
act with an ‘attitude’ (a point of view about how the business can
win, backing up opinion with evidence).

2 Ability to manage Drive change: ability to diagnose problems, build relationships
change with clients, articulate a vision, set a leadership agenda, solve

problems, and implement goals.

3 Ability to manage Act as ‘keepers of the culture’, identify the culture required to
culture meet the firm’s business strategy, frames culture in a way that

excites employees, translates desired culture into specific
behaviours, encourages executives to behave consistently with
the desired culture.

4 Delivery of human Expert in speciality, able to deliver state-of-the-art innovative
resource practices HR practices in such areas as recruitment, employee development,

compensation and communication.

5 Understanding of the Strategy, organization, competitors, finance, marketing, sales,
business operations and IT.

Table 4.2 Key competency areas (Source: Brockbank et al, 1999)

(where appropriate) the deployment of intuitive/creative thinking to generate
innovative solutions and proactively seize opportunities.

● ‘Customer’ focus. Concern for the perceptions of personnel’s customers, including
(principally) the central directorate of the organization, a willingness to solicit
and act upon ‘customer’ feedback as one of the foundations for performance

● Strategic capability. The capacity to create an achievable vision for the future, to
foresee longer-term developments, to envisage options (and their probable conse-
quences), to select sound courses of action, to rise above the day-to-day detail, to
challenge the status quo.

● Influencing and interpersonal skills. The ability to transmit information to others,
especially in written (report) form, both persuasively and cogently; display of
listening, comprehension and understanding skills, plus sensitivity to the
emotional, attitudinal and political aspects of corporate life.

An important competency that the CIPD has omitted from this list is service delivery,
ie the capacity to provide effective levels of service that meet the needs of internal
customers. Ultimately, this is what HR professionals are there to do, bearing in mind
that the services they provide will be concerned with the development and imple-
mentation of value-adding and integrated HR strategies as well as operational

HR professionals as ‘thinking performers’
The CIPD has stated that:

All personnel and development specialists must be thinking performers. That is, their
central task is to be knowledgeable and competent in their various fields and to be able
to move beyond compliance to provide a critique of organizational policies and proce-
dures and to advise on how organizations should develop in the future.

This concept can be interpreted as meaning that HR professionals have to think care-
fully about what they are doing in the context of their organization and within the
framework of a recognized body of knowledge, and they have to perform effectively
in the sense of delivering advice, guidance and services which will help the organiza-
tion to achieve its strategic goals. Legge (1995) made a similar point when she
referred to HRM as a process of ‘thinking pragmatism’.

92 ❚ Managing people

Role of the front-line manager

Front-line managers are crucial to the success of HR policies and practices. This
chapter starts with an analysis of their role generally and their people management
responsibilities particularly. It continues with an examination of the respective roles
of HR and line management and a discussion of the line manager’s role in imple-
menting HR. The chapter concludes with suggestions on how to improve front-line
managers as people managers.


Front-line managers as defined by Hutchinson and Purcell (2003) are managers who
are responsible for a work group to a higher level of management hierarchy, and are
placed in the lower layers of the management hierarchy, normally at the first level.
They tend to have employees reporting to them who themselves do not have any
management or supervisory responsibility and are responsible for the day-to-day
running of their work rather than strategic matters. The roles of such managers
typically include a combination of the following activities:

● people management;
● managing operational costs;


● providing technical expertise;
● organizing, such as planning work allocation and rotas;
● monitoring work processes;
● checking quality;
● dealing with customers/clients;
● measuring operational performance.

Hutchinson and Purcell noted that in all the 12 organizations in which they conduc-
ted their research, the most common people management activity handled by front-
line managers was absence management. This could include not just monitoring
absence and lateness but also phoning (and even visiting) absent staff at home,
conducting back-to-work interviews, counselling staff and conducting disciplinary
hearings. Other people management activities were coaching and develop-
ment, performance appraisal, involvement and communication (thus providing a
vital link between team members and more senior managers), and discipline and
grievances. In many organizations, recruitment and selection was also carried out
by line managers, often in conjunction with HR. Thus in all these organizations front-
line managers were carrying out activities that traditionally had been the bread
and butter of personnel or HR departments. These people-management duties
were larger and encompassed more responsibilities than the traditional supervisory


The CIPD research on employee well-being and the psychological contract (Guest
and Conway, 2005) established that too many line managers are failing to motivate
and improve the performance of the people they manage. Under half of respondents
to the CIPD survey reported that they were regularly motivated by their line
manager, only 45 per cent were happy with the level of feedback they received and
just 37 per cent said that their manager helped them to improve their performance.
This suggests that the organizations concerned were failing to get managers to under-
stand their role in motivating people and were also failing to manage performance
as effectively as they might. As the report emphasizes, ‘One of the biggest chal-
lenges for HR is to support line managers in managing and developing their people
and this means that the respective roles of line and HR managers need to be under-

94 ❚ Managing people


It has been the accepted tradition of HR management that HR specialists are there to
provide support and services to line managers, not to usurp the latter’s role of
‘getting things done through people’ – their responsibility for managing their own
HR affairs. In practice, the HR function has frequently had the role of ensuring that
HR policies are implemented consistently throughout the organization, as well as the
more recent onerous responsibility for ensuring that both the letter and the spirit of
employment law are implemented consistently. The latter responsibility has often
been seen as a process of ensuring that the organization does not get involved in
tedious, time-wasting and often expensive employment tribunal proceedings.

Carrying out this role has often led to the HR function ‘policing’ line management,
which can be a cause of tension and ambiguity. To avoid this, HR specialists may have
to adopt a reasonably light touch: providing advice rather than issuing dicta, except
when a manager is clearly contravening the law or when his or her actions are likely
to lead to an avoidable dispute or an employment tribunal case that the organization
will probably lose.

It has also frequently been the case that, in spite of paying lip-service to the prin-
ciple that ‘line managers must manage’, HR departments have usurped the line
managers’ true role of being involved in key decisions concerning the recruitment,
development and remuneration of their people, thus diminishing the managers’
capacity to manage their key resource effectively. This situation has arisen most
frequently in large bureaucratic organizations and/or those with a powerful central-
ized HR function. It still exists in some quarters, but as decentralization and devolu-
tion increase and organizations are finding that they are having to operate more
flexibly, it is becoming less common.

It is necessary to reconcile what might be called the ‘functional control’ aspects of
an HR specialist’s role (achieving the consistent application of policies and acting as
the guardian of the organization’s values concerning people) and the role of
providing services, support and, as necessary, guidance to managers, without issuing
commands or relieving them of their responsibilities. However, the distinction
between giving advice and telling people what to do, or between providing help and
taking over can be blurred, and the relationship is one that has to be developed and
nurtured with great care. The most appropriate line for HR specialists to take is that
of emphasizing that they are there to help line managers achieve their objectives
through their people, not to do their job for them.

In practice, however, some line managers may be only too glad to let the HR
department do its people management job for them, especially the less pleasant

Role of the front-line manager ❚ 95

aspects like handling discipline and grievance problems. A delicate balance has there-
fore to be achieved between providing help and advice when it is clearly needed and
creating a ‘dependency culture’ that discourages managers from thinking and acting
for themselves on people matters for which they are responsible. Managers will not
learn about dealing with people if they are over-dependent on HR specialists. The
latter therefore have to stand off sometimes and say, in effect, ‘That’s your problem.’

How HR and the line work together
Research into HR management and the line conducted by the IPD (Hutchinson and
Wood, 1995) produced the following findings:

● Most organizations reported a trend towards greater line management responsi-
bility for HR management without it causing any significant tension between HR
and the line.

● Devolution offered positive opportunities for the HR function to become
involved in strategic, proactive and internal consultancy roles because they were
less involved in day-to-day operational HR activities.

● Both HR and line management were involved in operational HR activities. Line
managers were more heavily involved in recruitment, selection and training deci-
sions and in handling discipline issues and grievances. HR were still largely
responsible for such matters as analysing training needs, running internal courses
and pay and benefits.

● There is an underlying concern that line managers are not sufficiently competent
to carry out their new roles. This may be for a number of reasons including lack of
training, pressures of work, because managers have been promoted for their tech-
nical rather than managerial skills, or because they are used to referring certain
issues to the HR department.

● Some HR specialists also have difficulty in adopting their new roles because they
do not have the right skills (such as an understanding of the business) or because
they see devolution as a threat to their own job security.

● Other problems over devolution include uncertainty on the part of line managers
about the role of the HR function, lack of commitment by line managers to
performing their new roles, and achieving the right balance between providing
line managers with as much freedom as possible and the need to retain core
controls and direction.

The conclusions reached by the researchers were that:

96 ❚ Managing people

If line managers are to take an effective greater responsibility for HR management activ-
ities then, from the outset, the rules and responsibilities of personnel and line managers
must be clearly defined and understood. Support is needed from the personnel depart-
ment in terms of providing a procedural framework, advice and guidance on all
personnel management matters, and in terms of training line managers so they have the
appropriate skills and knowledge to carry out their new duties.

The research conducted by Hope-Hailey et al (1998) in eight UK-based organizations
revealed that all of them were shifting responsibility for people management down
the line. In practice, this often meant that responsibility for decision-making on HR
issues had been devolved to line managers, but that the HR function continued to be
responsible for operational functions such as recruitment and pay systems. As they
commented: ‘There seemed to be little indication that this move had reduced in any
way the level of necessary bureaucracy associated with the implementation of
personnel policies and procedures.’ However, they noted that ‘personnel was no
longer seen as a rule maker or enforcer, but it was still regarded – in part – as an
administrative function’. With reference to the activities of the HR functions in these
organizations, the research established that there was ‘more emphasis on achieving
behavioural change through a more “nuts and bolts” systems approach rather than
large scale organizational development activities’.


HR can initiate new policies and practices but it is the line that has the main responsi-
bility for implementing them. In other words, ‘HR proposes but the line disposes.’ If
line managers are not disposed favourably towards what HR wants them to do they
won’t do it, or if compelled to, they will be half-hearted about it. As pointed out by
Purcell et al (2003), high levels of organizational performance are not achieved simply
by having a range of well-conceived HR policies and practices in place. What makes
the difference is how these policies and practices are implemented. That is where the
role of line managers in people management is crucial: ‘The way line managers
implement and enact policies, show leadership in dealing with employees and in
exercising control come through as a major issue.’ Purcell et al noted that dealing with
people is perhaps the aspect of their work in which line managers can exercise the
greatest amount of discretion. If they use their discretion not to put HR’s ideas into
practice, the result is that the rhetoric is unlikely to be converted into reality.
Performance management schemes often fail because of the reluctance of managers

Role of the front-line manager ❚ 97

to carry out reviews. It is, as Purcell et al point out, line managers who bring HR poli-
cies to life.

A further factor affecting the role of line management is their ability to do the HR
tasks assigned to them. People-centred activities such as defining roles, interviewing,
reviewing performance, providing feedback, coaching and identifying learning and
development needs all require special skills. Some managers have them, many don’t.
Performance-related pay schemes sometimes fail because of untrained line managers.

Further research and analysis at Bath University (Hutchinson and Purcell, 2003)
confirmed that: ‘The role of line managers in bringing policy to life and in leading
was one of the most important of all factors in explaining the difference between
success and mediocrity in people management.’


The following suggestions were made by Hutchinson and Purcell (2003) on how to
improve the quality of front-line managers in people management:

● Front-line managers need time to carry out their people management duties,
which are often superseded by other management duties.

● They need to be carefully selected with much more attention being paid to the
behavioural competencies required.

● They need the support of strong organizational values concerning leadership and
people management.

● They need a good working relationship with their own managers.
● They need to receive sufficient skills training to enable them to perform their

people management activities, such as performance management.

98 ❚ Managing people

International HRM


International human resource management is the process of employing, developing
and rewarding people in international or global organizations. It involves the world-
wide management of people, not just the management of expatriates.

An international firm is one in which operations take place in subsidiaries over-
seas, which rely on the business expertise or manufacturing capacity of the parent
company. International firms may be highly centralized with tight controls. A multi-
national firm is one in which a number of businesses in different countries are
managed as a whole from the centre. The degree of autonomy they have will vary.
Global firms offer products or services that are rationalized and standardized to
enable production or provision to be carried out locally in a cost-efficient way. Their
subsidiaries are not subject to rigid control except over the quality and presentation
of the product or service. They rely on the technical know-how of the parent
company, but carry out their own manufacturing, service delivery or distribution


Bartlett and Goshal (1991) argue that the main issue for multinational companies is


the need to manage the challenges of global efficiency and multinational flexibility –
‘the ability of an organization to manage the risks and exploit the opportunities that
arise from the diversity and volatility of the global environment’. The dilemma facing
all multinational corporations is that of achieving a balance between international
consistency and local autonomy. Laurent (1986) commented that:

In order to build, maintain and develop the corporate identity, multinational organiza-
tions need to strive for consistency in their ways of managing people on a worldwide
basis. Yet, and in order to be effective locally, they also need to adapt those ways to the
specific cultural requirements of different societies. While the global nature of business
may call for increased consistency, the variety of cultural environments may be calling
for differentiation.

International HRM involves a number of issues not present when the activities of the
firm are confined to one country. These issues comprise the variety of international
organizational models that exist, the extent to which HRM policy and practice should
vary in different countries (convergence or divergence), the problems of managing in
different cultures and environments, and the approaches used to select, deploy,
develop and reward expatriates who could be nationals of the parent company or
‘third-country nationals’ (TCNs) – nationals of countries other than the parent
company who work abroad in subsidiaries of that company.


Four international organizational models have been identified by Bartlett and Goshal

1. Decentralized federation in which each national unit is managed as a separate
entity that seeks to optimize its performance in the local environment. This is the
traditional multinational corporation.

2. Coordinated federation in which the centre develops sophisticated management
systems enabling it to maintain overall control, although scope is given to local
management to adopt practices that recognize local market conditions.

3. Centralized hub in which the focus is on the global market rather than on local
markets. Such organizations are truly global rather than multinational, which is
the case when adopting a federated approach.

4. Transnational in which the corporation develops multi-dimensional strategic
capabilities directed towards competing globally but also allows local respon-
siveness to market requirements.

100 ❚ Managing people

Perkins and Hendry (1999) argue that notwithstanding this fourfold model, interna-
tional firms seem to be polarizing around two organizational approaches: 1) regional-
ization, where local customer service is important; and 2) global business streams,
which involve setting up centrally controlled business segments that deal with a
related range of products worldwide.

An issue facing all international firms is the extent to which their HR policies should
either ‘converge’ worldwide to be basically the same in each location, or ‘diverge’ to
be differentiated in response to local requirements. There is a natural tendency for
managerial traditions in the parent company to shape the nature of key decisions, but
there are strong arguments for giving as much local autonomy as possible in order to
ensure that local requirements are sufficiently taken into account.

As noted by Adler and Ghader (1990), organizations have to follow very different
HRM policies and practices according to the relevant stage of international corporate
evolution: domestic, international, multinational and global. Harris and Brewster
(1999) refer to this as ‘the global/local dilemma’, the issue being the extent to which
operating units across the world are to be differentiated and at the same time inte-
grated, controlled and coordinated. They suggest that the alternative strategies are
the global approach in which the company’s culture predominates and HRM is
centralized and relatively standardized (an ‘ethnocentric’ policy), or the decentral-
ized approach in which HRM responsibility is devolved to subsidiaries. They state
that the factors affecting choice are:

● the extent to which there are well-defined local norms;
● the degree to which an operating unit is embedded in the local environment;
● the strength of the flow of resources – finance, information and people – between

the parent and the subsidiary;
● the orientation of the parent to control;
● the nature of the industry – the extent to which it is primarily a domestic industry

at local level;
● the specific organizational competences including HRM that are critical for

achieving competitive advantage in a global environment.

Brewster (2004) believes that convergence may be increasing as a result of the
power of the markets, the importance of cost, quality and productivity pressures,
the emergence of transaction cost economies and the development of like-minded
international cadres. The widespread practice of benchmarking ‘best practice’ may
have contributed to convergence.

International HRM ❚ 101

However, Brewster considers that European firms at least are so locked into their
respective national institutional settings that no common model is likely to emerge in
the foreseeable future. Since HR systems reflect national institutional contexts and
cultures, they do not respond readily to the imperatives of technology or the market.
Managers in each country operate within a national institutional context and share a
set of cultural assumptions. Neither institutions nor cultures change quickly and
rarely in ways that are the same as other countries. As Hofstede (1980) points out, it
follows that managers in one country behave in a way that is noticeably different
from managers in other countries.

Brewster (2004) concludes on the basis of his research that there is some conver-
gence in Europe in the general direction of developments (directional convergence)
such as the decreasing size of the HR function, increases in training and development
and the increasing provision of information about strategy and finances. But there is
little evidence of final convergence in the sense of companies becoming more alike in
the way in which they manage their human resources.

Developing an international approach
Laurent (1986) proposes that a truly international approach to human resource
management would require the following steps:

1. An explicit recognition by the parent organization that its own peculiar ways of
managing human resources reflect some of the assumptions and values of its
home culture.

2. An explicit recognition by the parent organization that its peculiar ways are
neither universally better nor worse than others, but are different and likely to
exhibit strengths and weaknesses, particularly abroad.

3. An explicit recognition by the parent organization that its foreign subsidiaries
may have other preferred ways of managing people that are neither intrinsically
better nor worse, but could possibly be more effective locally.

4. Willingness from headquarters not only to acknowledge cultural differences, but
also to take action in order to make them discussable and therefore useable.

5. The building of a genuine belief by all parties that more creative and effective
ways of managing people could be developed as a result of cross-cultural


Cultural and environmental diversity is a key issue in international HRM. As Haley
(1999) remarks:

102 ❚ Managing people

In cultures where people are emphasized, it is the quality of interpersonal relationships
which is important. In cultures where ideologies are emphasized, sharing common
beliefs is more important than group membership. In cultures where action is empha-
sized, what is done is more important than what is said.

Hofstede (1980) emphasizes that there are a number of cultural dimensions that affect
international operations. His framework has been adapted by Bento and Ferreira
(1992) to produce the following cultural dualities:

● equality versus inequality;
● certainty versus uncertainty;
● controllability versus uncontrollability;
● individualism versus collectivism;
● materialistic versus personalization.

Sparrow and Hiltrop (1997) note the following HR areas that may be affected by
national culture:

● decisions on what makes an effective manager;
● giving face-to-face feedback;
● readiness to accept international assignments;
● pay systems and different concepts of social justice;
● approaches to organizational structuring and strategic dynamics.

Harris et al (2003) provide the following instance of cultural differences:

A performance management system based on openness between manager and subordi-
nate, each explaining plainly how they feel the other has done well or badly in the job,
may work in some European countries, but is unlikely to fit with the greater hierarchical
assumptions and ‘loss of face’ fears of some of the Pacific countries.

Sparrow (1999a) gives examples of different approaches to managerial qualities. The
Anglo-Saxon sees management as something separate and definable, based on
general and transferable skills, especially interpersonal skills. In Germany, an entirely
opposite view is adopted: value is placed on entrepreneurial skills, technical compe-
tence, functional expertise and creativity, and managers rely more on formal
authority than in other European countries. In France, management is seen as an
intellectually demanding task and management development systems are elitist.

Brewster (1999) comments that the ‘universalistic’ approach to HRM prevalent in
the USA is rejected in Europe where the basic functions of HRM are given different

International HRM ❚ 103

weights between countries and are carried out differently. If a convergent and
therefore universalistic approach is adopted by a US international company, it might
be difficult to get it accepted in Europe. Divergences to respect cultural differences
may be more appropriate if the full potential of the overseas company is to be


The cultural differences mentioned above have produced the slogan ‘think globally
and act locally’. This means that an international balancing act is required, which
leads to the fundamental assumption made by Bartlett and Ghoshal (1991) that:
‘Balancing the needs of co-ordination, control and autonomy and maintaining the
appropriate balance are critical to the success of the multinational company.’

Ulrich (1998) suggests that to achieve this balancing act, there are six capabilities
that enable firms to integrate and concentrate international activities and also
separate and adopt local activities:

1. being able to determine core activities and non-core activities;
2. achieving consistency while allowing flexibility;
3. building global brand equity while honouring local customs;
4. obtaining leverage (bigger is better) while achieving focus (smaller is better);
5. sharing learning and creating new knowledge;
6. engendering a global perspective while ensuring local accountability.


International HR policies will deal with the extent to which there should be conver-
gence or divergence in the HR practices adopted in overseas subsidiaries or units.
These will have to take account of differences in employment law, the character of the
labour market, different employee relations processes and any cultural differences in
the ways in which people are treated.


The management of expatriates is a major factor determining success or failure in an
international business. Expatriates are expensive; they can cost three or four times as

104 ❚ Managing people

much as the employment of the same individual at home. They are difficult to
manage because of the problems associated with adapting to and working in unfa-
miliar environments, concerns about their development and careers, difficulties
encountered when they re-enter their parent company after an overseas assignment,
and how they should be remunerated. Policies to address all these issues are
required, as described below.

Resourcing policies
The challenge is that of resourcing international operations with people of the right
calibre. As Perkins (1997) points out, it is necessary for businesses to ‘remain compet-
itive with their employment offering in the market place, to attract and retain high
quality staff with worldwide capabilities’.

Policies are required on the employment of local nationals and the use of expatri-
ates for long periods or shorter assignments. The advantages of employing local
nationals are that they:

● are familiar with local markets, the local communities, the cultural setting and the
local economy;

● speak the local language and are culturally assimilated;
● can take a long-term view and contribute for a long period (as distinct from expa-

triates who are likely to take a short-term perspective);
● do not take the patronizing (neo-colonial) attitude that expatriates sometimes


Expatriates (nationals of the parent company or third-country nationals) may be
required to provide the experience and expertise that local nationals lack, at least for
the time being. But there is much to be said for a long-term resourcing policy that
states that the aim is to fill all or the great majority of posts with local people. Parent
companies who staff their overseas subsidiaries with local nationals always have the
scope to ‘parachute in’ specialist staff to deal with particular issues such as the start-
up of a new product or service.

Recruitment and selection policies
Policies for recruitment and selection should deal with specifying requirements,
providing realistic previews and preparation for overseas assignments.

International HRM ❚ 105

Role specifications

Role specifications should take note of the behaviours required for those who work
internationally. Leblanc (2001) suggested that they should be able to:

● recognize the diversity of overseas countries;
● accept differences between countries as a fact and adjust to these differences effec-

● tolerate and adjust to local conditions;
● cope in the long term with a large variety of foreign contexts;
● manage local operations and personnel abroad effectively;
● gain acceptance as a representative of one’s company abroad;
● obtain and interpret information about foreign national contexts (institutions,

legislations, practices, market specifics, etc);
● inform and communicate effectively with a foreign environment about the home

company’s policies;
● take into account the foreign environment when negotiating contracts and part-

● identify and accept adjustments to basic product specifications in order to meet

the needs of the foreign market;
● develop elements of a common framework for company strategies, policies and

● accept that the practices that will operate best in an overseas environment will not

necessarily be the same as the company’s ‘home’ practices.

Realistic previews

At interviews for candidates from outside the organization, and when talking to
internal staff about the possibility of an overseas assignment, it is advisable to have a
policy of providing a realistic preview of the job. The preview should provide infor-
mation on the overseas operation, any special features of the work, what will need to
be done to adjust to local conditions, career progression overseas, re-entry policy on
completion of the assignment, pay, and special benefits such as home leave and chil-
dren’s education.

Preparation policy

The preparation policy for overseas assignments should include the provision of
cultural familiarization for the country(ies) in which the expatriate will work (some-
times called ‘acculturization’), the preferred approach to leading and working in
international teams, and the business and HR policies that will apply.

106 ❚ Managing people

Tarique and Calligiri (1995) propose that the following steps should be taken to
design a training programme for expatriates:

1. Identify the type of global assignment, eg technical, functional, tactical, develop-
mental or strategic/executive.

2. Conduct a cross-cultural training needs analysis covering organizational analysis
and requirements, assignment analysis of key tasks and individual analysis of

3. Establish training goals and measures – cognitive (eg understanding the role of
cultural values and norms) and affective (modifying perception about culture
and increasing confidence in dealing with individual behaviours to form adap-
tive behaviours such as interpersonal skills).

4. Develop the programme – the content should cover both general and specific
cultural orientation; a variety of methods should be used.

5. Evaluate training given.

Assimilation and review policies
Assimilation policies will provide for the adaptation of expatriates to overseas posts
and their progress in them to be monitored and reviewed. This may take the form of
conventional performance management processes, but additional information may
be provided on potential and the ability of individuals to cope with overseas condi-
tions. Where a number of expatriates are employed it is customary for someone at
headquarters to have the responsibility of looking after them.

Re-entry policies
Re-entry policies should be designed to minimize the problems that can arise when
expatriates return to their parent company after an overseas posting. They want to be
assured that they will be given a position appropriate to their qualifications, and they
will be concerned about their careers, suspecting that their overseas experience will
not be taken into account. Policies should allow time for expatriates to adjust. The
provision of mentors or counsellors is desirable.

Pay and allowances policies
The factors that are likely to impact on the design of reward systems as suggested by
Bradley et al (1999) are the corporate culture of the multinational enterprise, expa-
triate and local labour markets, local cultural sensitivities and legal and institutional

International HRM ❚ 107

factors. They refer to the choice that has to be made between seeking internal
consistency by developing common reward policies in order to facilitate the move-
ment of employees across borders and preserve internal equity, and responding to
pressures to conform to local practices. But they point out that: ‘Studies of cultural
differences suggest that reward system design and management need to be tailored
to local values to enhance the performance of overseas operations.’ As Sparrow
(1999b) asserts: ‘Differences in international reward are not just a consequence of
cultural differences, but also of differences in international influences, national busi-
ness systems and the role and competence of managers in the sphere of HRM.’

The policy of most organizations is to ensure that expatriates are no worse off
because they have been posted abroad. In practice, various additional allowances or
payments, such as hardship allowances, mean that they are usually better off finan-
cially than if they had stayed at home. The basic choice is whether to adopt a home-
based or host-based policy for expatriates.

Home-based pay

The home-based pay approach aims to ensure that the value of the salary of expatri-
ates is the same as in their home country. The home-base salary may be a notional one
for long-term assignments (ie the salary which it is assumed would be paid to expa-
triates were they employed in a job of equivalent level at the parent company). For
shorter-term assignments it may be the actual salary of the individual. The notional
or actual home-base salary is used as the foundation upon which the total remunera-
tion package is built. This is sometimes called the ‘build-up’ or ‘balance sheet’

The salary ‘build-up’ starts with the actual or notional home-base salary. To it is
added a cost of living adjustment, which is applied to ‘spendable income’ – the
portion of salary that would be used at home for everyday living. It usually excludes
income tax, social security, pensions and insurance and can exclude discretionary
expenditure on major purchases or holidays on the grounds that these do not consti-
tute day-to-day living expenses.

The expatriate’s salary would then consist of the actual or notional home-base
salary plus the cost of living adjustment. In addition, it may be necessary to adjust
salaries to take account of the host country’s tax regime in order to achieve tax equal-
ization. Moves of less than a year that might give rise to double taxation require
particular attention.

Some or all of the following allowances may be added to this salary:

● ‘incentive to work abroad’ premium;
● hardship and location;

108 ❚ Managing people

● housing and utilities;
● school fees;
● ‘rest and recuperation’ leave.

Host-based pay

The host-based pay approach provides expatriates with salaries and benefits such as
company cars and holidays that are in line with those given to nationals of the host
country in similar jobs. This method ensures equity between expatriates and host
country nationals. It is adopted by companies using the so-called ‘market rate’
system, which ensures that the salaries of expatriates match the market levels of pay
in the host country.

Companies using the host-based approach commonly pay additional allowances
such as school fees, accommodation and medical insurance. They may also fund
long-term benefits like social security, life assurance and pensions from home.

The host-based method is certainly equitable from the viewpoint of local nationals,
and it can be less expensive than home-based pay. But it may be much less attractive
as an inducement for employees to work abroad, especially in unpleasant locations,
and it can be difficult to collect market rate data locally to provide a basis for setting
pay levels.

International HRM ❚ 109

Human resource
management processes

Human resource management processes are those concerned with the development of
HR strategies (strategic HRM), policies and practices that affect all aspects of HR and
employment management. This part also covers other processes that affect most
aspects of HRM, namely competency-based approaches, knowledge management and
role and competency analysis.

Part II

Strategic HRM

An important defining characteristic of human resource management is that it is
strategic. This characteristic is expressed by the concept of strategic HRM – an inte-
grated approach to the development of HR strategies that enable the organization to
achieve its goals. To understand the notion of strategic HRM it is necessary to appre-
ciate the concept of strategy upon which it is based, and this is considered in the first
section of the chapter. This leads into a definition of the concept of strategic HRM
followed by expositions of its aims and approaches.


Strategy has been defined by Johnson and Scholes (1993) as: ’The direction and scope
of an organization over the longer term, which ideally matches its resources to its
changing environment, and in particular, to its markets, customers and clients to
meet stakeholder expectations.’

Strategy determines the direction in which the organization is going in relation to
its environment. It is the process of defining intentions (strategic intent) and allocating
or matching resources to opportunities and needs (resource-based strategy). Busi-
ness strategy is concerned with achieving competitive advantage. The effective
development and implementation of strategy depends on the strategic capability of the


organization’s managers. As expressed in the Professional Standards of the CIPD, this
means the capacity to create an achievable vision for the future, to foresee longer-
term developments, to envisage options (and their probable consequences), to select
sound courses of action, to rise above the day-to-day detail, to challenge the status
quo. Strategy is expressed in strategic goals and developed and implemented in
strategic plans through the process of strategic management. Strategy is about imple-
mentation, which includes the management of change, as well as planning. An
important aspect of strategy is the need to achieve strategic fit. This is used in three

1. matching the organization’s capabilities and resources to the opportunities avail-
able in the external environment;

2. matching one area of strategy, eg human resource management, to the business
strategy; and

3. ensuring that different aspects of a strategy area cohere and are mutually

The concept of strategy is not a straightforward one. There are many different theo-
ries about what it is and how it works. Mintzberg et al (1988) suggest that strategy can
have a number of meanings, namely:

● A plan, or something equivalent – a direction, a guide, a course of action.
● A pattern, that is, consistency in behaviour over time.
● A perspective, an organization’s fundamental way of doing things.
● A ploy, a specific ’manoeuvre’ intended to outwit an opponent or a competitor.

The formulation of corporate strategy can be defined as a process for developing and
defining a sense of direction. It has often been described as a logical, step-by-step
affair, the outcome of which is a formal written statement that provides a definitive
guide to the organization’s long-term intentions. Many people still believe that this is
the case, but it is a misrepresentation of reality. In practice the formulation of strategy
is never as rational and linear a process as some writers describe it or as some
managers attempt to make it.

Mintzberg (1987) believes that strategy formulation is not necessarily rational
and continuous. In theory, he says, strategy is a systematic process: first we think,
then we act; we formulate then we implement. But we also ’act in order to think’. In
practice, ’a realized strategy can emerge in response to an evolving situation’ and the
strategic planner is often ’a pattern organizer, a learner if you like, who manages a
process in which strategies and visions can emerge as well as be deliberately

114 ❚ HRM processes

conceived’. He has emphasized the concept of ’emergent strategies’, and a key aspect
of this process is the production of something that is new to the organization even if
it is not developed as logically as the traditional corporate planners believed to be

Tyson (1997) confirms that:

● strategy has always been emergent and flexible – it is always ’about to be’, it
never exists at the present time;

● strategy is not only realized by formal statements but also comes about by actions
and reactions;

● strategy is a description of a future-oriented action that is always directed
towards change;

● the management process itself conditions the strategies that emerge.


Strategic HRM is an approach to making decisions on the intentions and plans of the
organization in the shape of the policies, programmes and practices concerning the
employment relationship, resourcing, learning and development, performance
management, reward, and employee relations. The concept of strategic HRM is
derived from the concepts of HRM and strategy. It takes the HRM model with its
focus on strategy, integration and coherence and adds to that the key notions of
strategy, namely, strategic intent, resource-based strategy, competitive advantage,
strategic capability and strategic fit.

Strategic HRM and HR strategies
Strategic HRM is an approach to the strategic management of human resources in
accordance with the intentions of the organization on the future direction it wants to
take. What emerges from this process is a stream of decisions over time that form the
pattern adopted by the organization for managing its human resources and which
define the areas in which specific HR strategies need to be developed. These focus on
the decisions of the organization on what needs to be done and what needs to be
changed in particular areas of people management.

The meaning of strategic HRM
According to Hendry and Pettigrew (1986), strategic HRM has four meanings:

Strategic HRM ❚ 115

1. the use of planning;
2. a coherent approach to the design and management of personnel systems based

on an employment policy and manpower strategy and often underpinned by a

3. matching HRM activities and policies to some explicit business strategy;
4. seeing the people of the organization as a ’strategic resource’ for the achievement

of ’competitive advantage’.

Purcell (2001) draws attention to the implications for strategic HRM of the concept of
strategy as an emerging rather than a deliberate process:

Big strategies in HRM are most unlikely to come, ex cathedra, from the board as a fully
formed, written strategy or planning paper. Strategy is much more intuitive and often
only ’visible’ after the event, seen as ’emerging patterns of action’. This is especially the
case when most of the strategy, as in HRM, is to do with internal implementation and
performance strategies, not exclusively to do with external market ploys.

Strategic HRM as an integrated process
Strategic HRM is essentially an integrated process that aims to achieve ’strategic fit’.
A strategic HRM approach produces HR strategies that are integrated vertically with
the business strategy and are ideally an integral part of that strategy, contributing to
the business planning process as it happens. Walker (1992) defines strategic HRM as
’the means of aligning the management of human resources with the strategic content
of the business’. Vertical integration is necessary to provide congruence between
business and human resource strategy so that the latter supports the accomplishment
of the former and, indeed, helps to define it. Strategic HRM is also about horizontal
integration, which aims to ensure that the different elements of the HR strategy fit
together and are mutually supportive.


The fundamental aim of strategic HRM is to generate a perspective on the way in
which critical issues relating to people can be addressed. It enables strategic decisions
to be made that have a major and long-term impact on the behaviour and success of
the organization by ensuring that the organization has the skilled, committed and
well-motivated employees it needs to achieve sustained competitive advantage. Its
rationale is the advantage of having an agreed and understood basis for developing
approaches to people management in the longer term by providing a sense of

116 ❚ HRM processes

direction in an often turbulent environment. As Dyer and Holder (1998) remark,
strategic HRM should provide ’unifying frameworks which are at once broad, contin-
gency based and integrative’.

When examining the aims of strategic HRM it is necessary to consider the need for
HR strategy to take into account the interests of all the stakeholders in the organiza-
tion, employees in general as well as owners and management. In Storey’s (1989)
terms, ’soft strategic HRM’ will place greater emphasis on the human relations aspect
of people management, stressing continuous development, communication, involve-
ment, security of employment, the quality of working life and work-life balance.
Ethical considerations will be important. ’Hard strategic HRM’ on the other hand will
emphasize the yield to be obtained by investing in human resources in the interests of
the business. This is also the philosophy of human capital management.

Strategic HRM should attempt to achieve a proper balance between the hard and
soft elements. All organizations exist to achieve a purpose and they must ensure that
they have the resources required to do so, and that they use them effectively. But they
should also take into account the human considerations contained in the concept of
soft strategic HRM. In the words of Quinn Mills (1983) they should plan with people
in mind, taking into account the needs and aspirations of all the members of the orga-
nization. The problem is that hard considerations in many businesses will come first,
leaving soft ones some way behind.


Strategic HRM adopts an overall resource-based philosophy, as described below.
Within this framework there are three possible approaches, namely, high-perfor-
mance management (high-performance working), high-commitment management
and high-involvement management.

Resource-based strategic HRM
A resource-based approach to strategic HRM focuses on satisfying the human capital
requirements of the organization. The notion of resource-based strategic HRM is
based on the ideas of Penrose (1959), who wrote that the firm is ’an administrative
organization and a collection of productive resources’. It was developed by Hamel
and Prahalad (1989), who declared that competitive advantage is obtained if a firm
can obtain and develop human resources that enable it to learn faster and apply its
learning more effectively than its rivals. Barney (1991) states that sustained competi-
tive advantage stems from the acquisition and effective use of bundles of distinctive
resources that competitors cannot imitate. As Purcell et al (2003) suggest, the values

Strategic HRM ❚ 117

and HR policies of an organization constitute an important non-imitable resource.
This is achieved by ensuring that:

● the firm has higher quality people than its competitors;
● the unique intellectual capital possessed by the business is developed and

● organizational learning is encouraged;
● organization-specific values and a culture exist which ’bind the organization

together (and) gives it focus’.

The aim of a resource-based approach is to improve resource capability – achieving
strategic fit between resources and opportunities and obtaining added value from the
effective deployment of resources. In line with human capital theory, resource-based
theory emphasizes that investment in people adds to their value to the firm. Re-
source-based strategy, as Barney (1991) indicates, can develop strategic capability and
produce what Boxall and Purcell (2003) refer to as ’human resource advantage’.

The high-performance management approach
High-performance working involves the development of a number of interrelated
processes which together make an impact on the performance of the firm through its
people in such areas as productivity, quality, levels of customer service, growth,
profits and, ultimately, the delivery of increased shareholder value. This is achieved
by ’enhancing the skills and engaging the enthusiasm of employees’ (Stevens, 1998).
According to Stevens, the starting point is leadership, vision and benchmarking to
create a sense of momentum and direction. Progress must be measured constantly. He
suggests that the main drivers, support systems and culture are:

● decentralized, devolved decision-making made by those closest to the customer –
so as constantly to renew and improve the offer to customers;

● development of people capacities through learning at all levels, with particular
emphasis on self-management and team capabilities – to enable and support
performance improvement and organizational potential;

● performance, operational and people management processes aligned to organiza-
tional objectives – to build trust, enthusiasm and commitment to the direction
taken by the organization;

● fair treatment for those who leave the organization as it changes, and engagement
with the needs of the community outside the organization – this is an important
component of trust and commitment-based relationships both within and outside
the organization.

118 ❚ HRM processes

High-performance management practices include rigorous recruitment and selection
procedures, extensive and relevant learning and development activities, incentive
pay systems and performance management processes.

The strategy may be expressed as a drive to develop a performance culture in an
organization. In the box below is an example of the high-performance strategy
formulated by the Corporation of London.

The high-commitment management model
One of the underpinning characteristics of HRM is its emphasis on the importance of
enhancing mutual commitment (Walton, 1985b). High-commitment management has
been described by Wood (1996) as:

A form of management which is aimed at eliciting a commitment so that behaviour is
primarily self-regulated rather than controlled by sanctions and pressures external to the
individual, and relations within the organization are based on high levels of trust.

The approaches to creating a high-commitment organization as defined by Beer et al
(1984) and Walton (1985b) are:

Strategic HRM ❚ 119

The fundamental business need the strategy should meet is to develop and main-
tain a high performance culture. The characteristics of such a culture are:

● a clear line of sight exists between the strategic aims of the authority and those
of its departments and its staff at all levels;

● management defines what it requires in the shape of performance improve-
ments, sets goals for success and monitors performance to ensure that the
goals are achieved;

● leadership from the top, which engenders a shared belief in the importance of
continuing improvement;

● focus on promoting positive attitudes that result in a committed and moti-
vated workforce;

● performance management processes aligned to the authority’s objectives to
ensure that people are engaged in achieving agreed goals and standards;

● capacities of people developed through learning at all levels to support
performance improvement;

● people provided with opportunities to make full use of their skills and abili-

● people valued and rewarded according to their contribution.

● the development of career ladders and emphasis on trainability and commitment
as highly valued characteristics of employees at all levels in the organization;

● a high level of functional flexibility with the abandonment of potentially rigid job

● the reduction of hierarchies and the ending of status differentials;
● a heavy reliance on team structure for disseminating information (team briefing),

structuring work (team working) and problem solving (quality circles).

Wood and Albanese (1995) added to this list:

● job design as something management consciously does in order to provide jobs
that have a considerable level of intrinsic satisfaction;

● a policy of no compulsory lay-offs or redundancies and permanent employment
guarantees, with the possible use of temporary workers to cushion fluctuations in
the demand for labour;

● new forms of assessment and payment systems and, more specifically, merit pay
and profit sharing;

● a high involvement of employees in the management of quality.

Approaches to achieving commitment are described in Chapter 19.

High-involvement management
This approach involves treating employees as partners in the enterprise whose inter-
ests are respected and who have a voice on matters that concern them. It is concerned
with communication and involvement. The aim is to create a climate in which a
continuing dialogue between managers and the members of their teams take place to
define expectations and share information on the organization’s mission, values and
objectives. This establishes mutual understanding of what is to be achieved and a
framework for managing and developing people to ensure that it will be achieved.

The following high-involvement work practices have been identified by Pil and
McDuffie (1999):

● ‘on-line’ work teams;
● ‘off-line’ employee involvement activities and problem-solving groups;
● job rotation;
● suggestion programmes;
● decentralization of quality efforts.

120 ❚ HRM processes


The implementation of strategic HRM is carried out within the framework of the
approaches described above. The overarching imperative will be to achieve human
resource advantage. A high-performance approach will emphasize the importance of
creating and maintaining a performance culture, and both high-commitment and
high-involvement management will contribute to the development of a committed
and engaged workforce. Strategic HRM involves the formulation and implementa-
tion of specific strategies in each area of HRM as described in the next two chapters.

Strategic HRM ❚ 121

HR strategies

Strategic HRM leads to the formulation of HR strategies. In this chapter:

● HR strategies are defined;
● the purpose of HR strategies is examined;
● the distinction is made between strategic HRM and HR strategies;
● types of HR strategies are described with examples;
● criteria for an effective HR strategy are given.


HR strategies set out what the organization intends to do about the different aspects
of its human resource management policies and practices. They will be integrated
with the business strategy and each other. HR strategies are described by Dyer and
Reeves (1995) as ‘internally consistent bundles of human resource practices’, and in
the words of Boxall (1996), they provide ‘a framework of critical ends and means’.
Richardson and Thompson (1999) suggest that:

A strategy, whether it is an HR strategy or any other kind of management strategy must
have two key elements: there must be strategic objectives (ie things the strategy is
supposed to achieve), and there must be a plan of action (ie the means by which it is
proposed that the objectives will be met.



The purpose of HR strategies is to guide HRM development and implementation
programmes. They provide a means of communicating to all concerned the intentions
of the organization about how its human resources will be managed. They provide
the basis for strategic plans and enable the organization to measure progress and
evaluate outcomes against objectives. HR strategies provide visions for the future but
they are also vehicles that define the actions required and how the vision should be
realized. As Gratton (2000) commented: ‘There is no great strategy, only great execu-


Strategic HRM as described in the last chapter is the process that results in the formu-
lation of HR strategies. The terms ‘strategic HRM’ and ‘HR strategy’ are often used
interchangeably, but a distinction can be made between them.

Strategic HRM can be regarded as a general approach underpinned by a philos-
ophy to the strategic management of human resources in accordance with the inten-
tions of the organization on the future direction it wants to take. What emerges from
this process is a stream of decisions over time that form the pattern adopted by the
organization for managing its human resources and define the areas in which specific
HR strategies need to be developed. HR strategies will focus on the intentions of the
organization on what needs to be done and what needs to be changed.


Because all organizations are different, all HR strategies are different. Research into
HR strategy conducted by Armstrong and Long (1994) and Armstrong and Baron
(2002) revealed many variations. Some strategies are simply very general declarations
of intent; others go into much more detail. But two basic types of HR strategies can be
identified: 1) overarching strategies; and 2) specific strategies relating to the different
aspects of human resource management.

Overarching HR strategies
Overarching strategies describe the general intentions of the organization about how
people should be managed and developed, what steps should be taken to ensure that

124 ❚ HRM processes

the organization can attract and retain the people it needs, and ensure so far as
possible that employees are committed, motivated and engaged. They are likely to be
expressed as broad-brush statements of aims and purpose that set the scene for more
specific strategies. They are concerned with overall organizational effectiveness –
achieving human resource advantage by, as Boxall and Purcell (2003) explain,
employing ‘better people in organizations with better process’, developing high-
performance work systems and generally creating a great place to work.

The following are some examples of overarching HR strategy statements.


‘The Human Resources Integrated Approach aims to ensure that from whatever angle
staff now look at the elements of pay management, performance, career development
and reward, they are consistent and linked.’


‘Enhance employee commitment and minimize the loss of B&Q’s best people.
Position B&Q as one of the best employers in the UK.’


‘The major factor influencing HR strategy was the need to attract, maintain and retain
the right people to deliver it. The aim was to introduce a system that complemented
the business, that reflected the way we wanted to treat our customers – treating our
people the same. What we would do for our customers we would also do for our
people. We wanted to make an impact on the culture – the way people do business.’
(HR Director)


‘We want GSK to be a place where the best people do their best work.’

An insurance company

‘Without the people in this business we don’t have anything to deliver. We are driven
to getting the people issues right in order to deliver the strategy. To a great extent it’s
the people that create and implement the strategy on behalf of the organization. We
put people very much at the front of our strategic thought process. If we have the
right people, the right training, the right qualifications and the right sort of culture
then we can deliver our strategy. We cannot do it otherwise.’ (Chief Executive)

HR strategies ❚ 125

Lands’ End

‘Based on the principle that staff who are enjoying themselves, are being supported
and developed, and who feel fulfilled and respected at work, will provide the best
service to customers.’

Pilkington Optronics

‘The business strategy defines what has to be done to achieve success and that HR
strategy must complement it, bearing in mind that one of the critical success factors
for the company is its ability to attract and retain the best people. HR strategy must be
in line with what is best in industry.’

A public utility

‘The only HR strategy you really need is the tangible expression of values and the
implementation of values… unless you get the human resource values right you can
forget all the rest’. (Managing Director)

A manufacturing company

‘The HR strategy is to stimulate changes on a broad front aimed ultimately at
achieving competitive advantage through the efforts of our people. In an industry of
fast followers, those who learn quickest will be the winners.’ (HR Director)

A retail stores group

‘The biggest challenge will be to maintain (our) competitive advantage and to do that
we need to maintain and continue to attract very high calibre people. The key differ-
entiator on anything any company does is fundamentally the people, and I think that
people tend to forget that they are the most important asset. Money is easy to get hold
of, good people are not. All we do in terms of training and manpower planning is
directly linked to business improvement.’ (Managing Director)

Specific HR strategies
Specific HR strategies set out what the organization intends to do in areas such as:

● Talent management – how the organization intends to ‘win the war for talent’.
● Continuous improvement – providing for focused and continuous incremental

innovation sustained over a period of time.

126 ❚ HRM processes

● Knowledge management – creating, acquiring, capturing, sharing and using knowl-
edge to enhance learning and performance.

● Resourcing – attracting and retaining high quality people.
● Learning and developing – providing an environment in which employees are

encouraged to learn and develop.
● Reward – defining what the organization wants to do in the longer term to

develop and implement reward policies, practices and processes that will further
the achievement of its business goals and meet the needs of its stakeholders.

● Employee relations – defining the intentions of the organization about what needs
to be done and what needs to be changed in the ways in which the organization
manages its relationships with employees and their trade unions.

The following are some examples of specific HR strategies.

The Children’s Society

● Implement the rewards strategy of the Society to support the corporate plan and
secure the recruitment, retention and motivation of staff to deliver its business

● Manage the development of the human resources information system to secure
productivity improvements in administrative processes.

● Introduce improved performance management processes for managers and staff
of the Society.

● Implement training and development which supports the business objectives of
the Society and improves the quality of work with children and young people.


There are three broad strands to the ‘Organization and People Strategy’:

1. Reward and recognition: use recognition and reward programmes to stimulate
outstanding team and individual performance contributions.

2. Talent management: drive the attraction, retention and professional growth of a
deep pool of diverse, talented employees.

3. Organizational effectiveness: ensure that the business adapts its organization to
maximize employee contribution and deliver performance goals.

It provides direction to the company’s talent, operational effectiveness and perfor-
mance and reward agendas. The company’s underlying thinking is that the people
strategy is not for the human resource function to own but is the responsibility of the
whole organization, hence the title ‘Organization and People Strategy’.

HR strategies ❚ 127

A government agency

The key components of the HR strategy are:

● Investing in people – improving the level of intellectual capital.
● Performance management – integrating the values contained in the HR strategy

into performance management processes and ensuring that reviews concentrate
on how well people are performing those values.

● Job design – a key component concerned with how jobs are designed and how
they relate to the whole business.

● The reward system – in developing rewards strategies, taking into account that
this is a very hard driven business.

HR strategies for higher education institutions (The Higher Education Funding

1. Address recruitment and retention difficulties in a targeted and cost-effective

2. Meet specific staff development and training objectives that not only equip staff
to meet their current needs but also prepare them for future changes, such as
using new technologies for learning and teaching. This would include manage-
ment development.

3. Develop equal opportunity targets with programmes to implement good practice
throughout an institution. This would include ensuring equal pay for work of
equal value, using institution-wide systems of job evaluation. This could involve
institutions working collectively – regionally or nationally.

4. Carry out regular reviews of staffing needs, reflecting changes in market
demands and technology. The reviews would consider overall numbers and the
balance of different categories of staff.

5. Conduct annual performance reviews of all staff, based on open and objective
criteria, with reward connected to the performance of individuals including,
where appropriate, their contribution to teams.

6. Take action to tackle poor performance.

A local authority

The focus is on the organization of excellence. The strategy is broken down into eight
sections: employee relations, recruitment and retention, training, performance
management, pay and benefits, health and safety, absence management and equal

128 ❚ HRM processes


An effective HR strategy is one that works in the sense that it achieves what it sets out
to achieve. In particular, it:

● will satisfy business needs;
● is founded on detailed analysis and study, not just wishful thinking;
● can be turned into actionable programmes that anticipate implementation

requirements and problems;
● is coherent and integrated, being composed of components that fit with and

support each other;
● takes account of the needs of line managers and employees generally as well as

those of the organization and its other stakeholders. As Boxall and Purcell (2003)
emphasize: ‘HR planning should aim to meet the needs of the key stakeholder
groups involved in people management in the firm.’

Here is a comment from a chief executive (Peabody Trust) on what makes a good HR

A good strategy is one which actually makes people feel valued. It makes them knowl-
edgeable about the organization and makes them feel clear about where they sit as a
group, or team, or individual. It must show them how what they do either together or
individually fits into that strategy. Importantly, it should indicate how people are going to
be rewarded for their contribution and how they might be developed and grow in the

HR strategies ❚ 129

Developing and implementing
HR strategies

There is an ever-present risk that the concept of strategic HRM can become somewhat
nebulous – nice to have but hard to realize. The danger of creating a rhetoric/reality
gap is acute. Broad and often bland statements of strategic intent can be readily
produced. What is much more difficult is to turn them into realistic plans that are
then implemented effectively. Strategic HRM is more about getting things done than
thinking about them. It leads to the formulation of HR strategies that first define what
an organization intends to do in order to attain defined goals in overall human
resource management policy and in particular areas of HR process and practice, and
secondly set out how they will be implemented.

Difficult though it may be, a strategic approach is desirable in order to give a sense
of direction and purpose and as a basis for the development of relevant and coherent
HR policies and practices.

This chapter starts by giving general consideration to the development process,
setting out various propositions and describing the levels of strategic decision-
making. Reference is also made to the existence of strategic options and choices. This
provides the background against which the approaches to formulating and imple-
menting HR strategies are described.



The following propositions about the formulation of HR strategy have been drawn
up by Boxall (1993) from the literature:

● the strategy formation process is complex, and excessively rationalistic models
that advocate formalistic linkages between strategic planning and HR planning
are not particularly helpful to our understanding of it;

● business strategy may be an important influence on HR strategy but it is only one
of several factors;

● implicit (if not explicit) in the mix of factors that influence the shape of HR strate-
gies is a set of historical compromises and trade-offs from stakeholders.

It is also necessary to stress that coherent and integrated HR strategies are only likely
to be developed if the top team understands and acts upon the strategic imperatives
associated with the employment, development and motivation of people. This will be
achieved more effectively if there is an HR director who is playing an active and
respected role as a business partner. A further consideration is that the effective
implementation of HR strategies depends on the involvement, commitment and
cooperation of line managers and staff generally. Finally, there is too often a wide gap
between the rhetoric of strategic HRM and the reality of its impact, as Gratton et al
(1999) emphasize. Good intentions can too easily be subverted by the harsh realities
of organizational life. For example, strategic objectives such as increasing commit-
ment by providing more security and offering training to increase employability may
have to be abandoned or at least modified because of the short-term demands made
on the business to increase shareholder value.

The development process as described below takes place at different levels and
involves analysing options and making choices. A methodology is required for the
process that can be conducted by means of a strategic review. The methodology can
be applied in three different ways. One of the most important aims in the develop-
ment programme will be to align the HR strategy to the organizational culture and
the business strategy by achieving vertical integration or fit.


Ideally, the formulation of HR strategies is conceived as a process, which is closely
aligned to the formulation of business strategies. HR strategy can influence as well as

132 ❚ HRM processes

be influenced by business strategy. In reality, however, HR strategies are more likely
to flow from business strategies, which will be dominated by product/market and
financial considerations. But there is still room for HR to make a useful, even essential
contribution at the stage when business strategies are conceived, for example by
focusing on resource issues. This contribution may be more significant if strategy
formulation is an emergent or evolutionary process – HR strategic issues will then be
dealt with as they arise during the course of formulating and implementing the
corporate strategy.

A distinction is made by Purcell (1989) between:

● ‘upstream’ first-order decisions, which are concerned with the long-term direction of
the enterprise or the scope of its activities;

● ‘downstream’ second-order decisions, which are concerned with internal operating
procedures and how the firm is organized to achieve its goals;

● ‘downstream’ third-order decisions, which are concerned with choices on human
resource structures and approaches and are strategic in the sense that they estab-
lish the basic parameters of employee relations management in the firm.

It can indeed be argued that HR strategies, like other functional strategies such as
product development, manufacturing and the introduction of new technology, will
be developed within the context of the overall business strategy, but this need not
imply that HR strategies come third in the pecking order. Observations made by
Armstrong and Long (1994) during research into the strategy formulation processes
of 10 large UK organizations suggested that there were only two levels of strategy
formulation: 1) the corporate strategy relating to the vision and mission of the organi-
zation but often expressed in terms of marketing and financial objectives; 2) the
specific strategies within the corporate strategy concerning product-market develop-
ment, acquisitions and divestments, human resources, finance, new technology, orga-
nization, and such overall aspects of management as quality, flexibility, productivity,
innovation and cost reduction.


The process of developing HR strategies involves generating strategic HRM options
and then making appropriate strategic choices. It has been noted by Cappelli (1999)
that: ‘The choice of practices that an employer pursues is heavily contingent on a
number of factors at the organizational level, including their own business and
production strategies, support of HR policies, and co-operative labour relations.’ The

Developing and implementing HR strategies ❚ 133

process of developing HR strategies involves the adoption of a contingent approach
in generating strategic HRM options and then making appropriate strategic choices.
There is seldom if ever one right way forward.

Choices should relate to but also anticipate the critical needs of the business. They
should be founded on detailed analysis and study, not just wishful thinking, and
should incorporate the experienced and collective judgement of top management
about the organizational requirements while also taking into account the needs of line
managers and employees generally. The emerging strategies should anticipate the
problems of implementation that may arise if line managers are not committed to the
strategy and/or lack the skills and time to play their part, and the strategies should be
capable of being turned into actionable programmes.


The starting point of HR strategy development is the alignment of HR strategy to the
business strategy and the organizational culture – the achievement of vertical inte-
gration. This provides the necessary framework for the three approaches to the de-
velopment of HR strategies that have been identified by Delery and Doty (1996)
as the ‘universalistic’, the ‘contingency’ and the ‘configurational’. Richardson and
Thompson (1999) redefined the first two approaches as best practice and best fit, and
retained the word ‘configurational’, meaning the use of ‘bundles’, as the third

Aligning HR strategy
A fundamental requirement in developing HR strategy is that it should be aligned to
the business strategy (vertical integration) and should fit the organizational culture.
Everything else flows from this process of alignment.

Integration with the business strategy

The key business issues that may impact on HR strategies include:

● intentions concerning growth or retrenchment, acquisitions, mergers, divest-
ments, diversification, product/market development;

● proposals on increasing competitive advantage through innovation leading to
product/service differentiation, productivity gains, improved quality/customer
service, cost reduction (downsizing);

134 ❚ HRM processes

● the felt need to develop a more positive, performance-oriented culture and any
other culture management imperatives associated with changes in the philoso-
phies of the organization in such areas as gaining commitment, mutuality,
communications, involvement, devolution and teamworking.

Business strategies may be influenced by HR factors, although not excessively so. HR
strategies are concerned with making business strategies work. But the business
strategy must take into account key HR opportunities and constraints.

Wright and Snell (1998) suggest that seeking fit requires knowledge of the skills
and behaviour needed to implement the strategy, knowledge of the HRM practices
necessary to elicit those skills and behaviours, and the ability quickly to implement
the desired system of HRM practices.

A framework for aligning HR and business strategies is provided by a competitive
strategy approach that relates the different HR strategies to the firm’s competitive
strategies, including those listed by Porter (1985). An illustration of how this might be
expressed is given in Table 9.1.

Culture fit

HR strategies need to be congruent with the existing culture of the organization, or
designed to produce cultural change in specified directions. This will be a necessary
factor in the formulation stage but could be a vital factor when it comes to implemen-
tation. In effect, if what is proposed is in line with ‘the way we do things around here’,
then it will be more readily accepted. However, in the more likely event that it
changes ‘the way we do things around here’, then careful attention has to be given to
the real problems that may occur in the process of trying to embed the new initiative
in the organization.

The best practice approach
This approach is based on the assumption that there is a set of best HRM practices
and that adopting them will inevitably lead to superior organizational performance.
Four definitions of best practice are given in Table 9.2.

The ‘best practice’ rubric has been attacked by a number of commentators. Cappelli
and Crocker-Hefter (1996) comment that the notion of a single set of best practices has
been overstated: ‘There are examples in virtually every industry of firms that have
very distinctive management practices… Distinctive human resource practices shape
the core competencies that determine how firms compete.’

Purcell (1999) has also criticized the best practice or universalist view by pointing
out the inconsistency between a belief in best practice and the resource-based view

Developing and implementing HR strategies ❚ 135

136 ❚ HRM processes

Competitive Strategy
HR Strategy

Resourcing HR Development Reward

Achieve competitive Recruit and retain Develop strategic Provide financial
advantage through high quality people capability and provide incentives and
innovation with innovative skills encouragement and rewards and

and a good track facilities for enhancing recognition for
record in innovation. innovative skills and successful

enhancing the innovations.
intellectual capital of
the organization.

Achieve competitive Use sophisticated Encourage the Link rewards to
advantage through selection procedures development of a quality performance
quality to recruit people who learning organization, and the achievement

are likely to deliver develop and of high standards of
quality and high implement knowledge customer service.
levels of customer management
service. processes, support

total quality and
customer care
initiatives with
focused training.

Achieve competitive Develop core/ Provide training Review all reward
advantage through periphery designed to improve practices to ensure
cost-leadership employment productivity; that they provide

structures; recruit inaugurate just-in-time value for money
people who are likely training that is closely and do not lead to
to add value; if linked to immediate unnecessary
unavoidable, plan and business needs and expenditure.
manage downsizing can generate
humanely measurable

improvements in

Achieve competitive Use sophisticated Develop Develop performance
advantage by recruitment and organizational management
employing people selection procedures learning processes; processes which
who are better than based on a rigorous encourage self- enable both financial
those employed analysis of the managed learning and non-financial
by competitors special capabilities through the use of rewards to be related

required by the personal development to competence and
organization. plans as part of a skills; ensure that

performance pay levels are
management process. competitive.

Table 9.1 Linking HR and competitive strategies

Developing and implementing HR strategies ❚ 137

Guest (1999a) Patterson et al (1997) Pfeffer (1994) US Department of
Labor (1993)

● Selection and the ● Sophisticated ● Employment ● Careful and
careful use of selection and security extensive systems
selection tests to recruitment ● Selective hiring for recruitment,
identify those with processes ● Self-managed selection and
potential to make a ● Sophisticated teams training
contribution induction ● High compensation ● Formal systems for

● Training, and in programmes contingent on sharing information
particular a ● Sophisticated performance with employees
recognition that training ● Training to provide ● Clear job design
training is an on- ● Coherent appraisal a skilled and ● High-level
going activity systems motivated participation

● Job design to ensure ● Flexibility of workforce processes
flexibility, workforce skills ● Reduction of status ● Monitoring of
commitment and ● Job variety on shop differentials attitudes
motivation, floor ● Sharing ● Performance
including steps to ● Use of formal teams information appraisals
ensure that ● Frequent and ● Properly
employees have the comprehensive functioning
responsibility and communication to grievance
autonomy fully to workforce procedures
use their knowledge ● Use of quality ● Promotion and
and skills. improvement teams compensation

● Communication to ● Harmonized terms schemes that
ensure that a two- and conditions provide for the
way process keeps ● Basic pay higher recognition and
everyone fully than competition reward of high-
informed ● Use of incentive performing

● Employee share schemes employees
programmes to
increase employees’
awareness of the
implications of their
actions, for the
performance of the

Table 9.2 HRM best practices

which focuses on the intangible assets, including HR, that allow the firm to do better
than its competitors. He asks how can ‘the universalism of best practice be squared
with the view that only some resources and routines are important and valuable by
being rare and imperfectly imitable?’ The danger, as Legge (1995) points out, is that of
‘mechanistically matching strategy with HRM policies and practices’.

In accordance with contingency theory, which emphasizes the importance of inter-
actions between organizations and their environments so that what organizations do
is dependent on the context in which they operate, it is difficult to accept that there is
any such thing as universal best practice. What works well in one organization will
not necessarily work well in another because it may not fit its strategy, culture,
management style, technology or working practices. As Becker et al (1997) remark,
‘Organizational high-performance work systems are highly idiosyncratic and must
be tailored carefully to each firm’s individual situation to achieve optimum results.’
But knowledge of best practice can inform decisions on what practices are most likely
to fit the needs of the organization as long as it is understood why it is best practice.
And Becker and Gerhart (1996) argue that the idea of best practice might be more
appropriate for identifying the principles underlying the choice of practices, as
opposed to the practices themselves.

The best fit approach
The best fit approach emphasizes the importance of ensuring that HR strategies are
appropriate to the circumstances of the organization, including its culture, opera-
tional processes and external environment. HR strategies have to take account of the
particular needs of both the organization and its people. For the reasons given above,
it is accepted by most commentators that ‘best fit’ is more important than ‘best prac-
tice’. There can be no universal prescriptions for HRM policies and practices. It all
depends. This is not to say that ‘good practice’, or ‘leading edge practice’ ie practice
that does well in one successful environment, should be ignored. ‘Benchmarking’
(comparing what the organization does with what is done elsewhere) is a valuable
way of identifying areas for innovation or development that are practised to good
effect elsewhere by leading companies. But having learnt about what works and,
ideally, what does not work in comparable organizations, it is up to the firm to decide
what may be relevant in general terms and what lessons can be learnt that can be
adapted to fit its particular strategic and operational requirements. The starting point
should be an analysis of the business needs of the firm within its context (culture,
structure, technology and processes). This may indicate clearly what has to be done.
Thereafter, it may be useful to pick and mix various ‘best practice’ ingredients, and
develop an approach that applies those that are appropriate in a way that is aligned
to the identified business needs.

138 ❚ HRM processes

But there are problems with the best fit approach, as stated by Purcell (1999):

Meanwhile, the search for a contingency or matching model of HRM is also limited by
the impossibility of modelling all the contingent variables, the difficulty of showing their
interconnection, and the way in which changes in one variable have an impact on

In Purcell’s view, organizations should be less concerned with best fit and best prac-
tice and much more sensitive to processes of organizational change so that they can
‘avoid being trapped in the logic of rational choice’.

The configurational approach (bundling)
As Richardson and Thompson (1999) comment, ‘A strategy’s success turns on
combining “vertical” or external fit and “horizontal” or internal fit.’ They conclude
that a firm with bundles of HR practices should have a higher level of performance,
provided it also achieves high levels of fit with its competitive strategy. Emphasis is
given to the importance of ‘bundling’ – the development and implementation of
several HR practices together so that they are interrelated and therefore complement
and reinforce each other. This is the process of horizontal integration, which is also
referred to as the adoption of a ‘configurational mode’ (Delery and Doty, 1996) or the
use of ‘complementarities’ (MacDuffie, 1995), who explained the concept of bundling
as follows:

Implicit in the notion of a ‘bundle’ is the idea that practices within bundles are interre-
lated and internally consistent, and that ‘more is better’ with respect to the impact on
performance, because of the overlapping and mutually reinforcing effect of multiple

Dyer and Reeves (1995) note that: ‘The logic in favour of bundling is straightfor-
ward… Since employee performance is a function of both ability and motivation, it
makes sense to have practices aimed at enhancing both.’ Thus there are several ways
in which employees can acquire needed skills (such as careful selection and training)
and multiple incentives to enhance motivation (different forms of financial and non-
financial rewards). A study by Dyer and Reeves (1995) of various models listing HR
practices which create a link between HRM and business performance found that the
activities appearing in most of the models were involvement, careful selection, exten-
sive training and contingent compensation.

The aim of bundling is to achieve coherence, which is one of the four ‘meanings’ of
strategic HRM defined by Hendry and Pettigrew (1986). Coherence exists when a

Developing and implementing HR strategies ❚ 139

mutually reinforcing set of HR policies and practices have been developed that
jointly contribute to the attainment of the organization’s strategies for matching re-
sources to organizational needs, improving performance and quality and, in commer-
cial enterprises, achieving competitive advantage.

The process of bundling HR strategies (horizontal integration or fit) is an important
aspect of the concept of strategic HRM. In a sense, strategic HRM is holistic; it is
concerned with the organization as a total entity and addresses what needs to be
done across the organization as a whole in order to enable it to achieve its corporate
strategic objectives. It is not interested in isolated programmes and techniques, or in
the ad hoc development of HR practices.

In their discussion of the four policy areas of HRM (employee influence, human
resource management flow, reward systems and work systems) Beer et al (1984)
suggested that this framework can stimulate managers to plan how to accomplish the
major HRM tasks ‘in a unified, coherent manner rather than in a disjointed approach
based on some combination of past practice, accident and ad hoc response to outside

The problem with the bundling approach is that of deciding which is the best
way to relate different practices together. There is no evidence that one bundle
is generally better than another, although the use of performance management
practices and competence frameworks are two ways that are typically adopted to
provide for coherence across a range of HR activities. Pace the findings of MacDuffie,
there is no conclusive proof that in the UK bundling has actually improved


A methodology for formulating HR strategies was developed by Dyer and Holder
(1998) as follows:

1. Assess feasibility – from an HR point of view, feasibility depends on whether the
numbers and types of key people required to make the proposal succeed can be
obtained on a timely basis and at a reasonable cost, and whether the behavioural
expectations assumed by the strategy are realistic (eg retention rates and produc-
tivity levels).

2. Determine desirability – examine the implications of strategy in terms of sacrosanct
HR policies (eg, a strategy of rapid retrenchment would have to be called into
question by a company with a full employment policy).

140 ❚ HRM processes

3. Determine goals – these indicate the main issues to be worked on and they derive
primarily from the content of the business strategy. For example, a strategy to
become a lower-cost producer would require the reduction of labour costs. This
in turn translates into two types of HR goals: higher performance standards
(contribution) and reduced headcounts (composition).

4. Decide means of achieving goals – the general rule is that the closer the external and
internal fit, the better the strategy, consistent with the need to adapt flexibly to
change. External fit refers to the degree of consistency between HR goals on the
one hand and the exigencies of the underlying business strategy and relevant
environmental conditions on the other. Internal fit measures the extent to which
HR means follow from the HR goals and other relevant environmental condi-
tions, as well as the degree of coherence or synergy among the various HR

But many different routes may be followed when formulating HR strategies – there is
no one right way. On the basis of their research in 30 well-known companies, Tyson
and Witcher (1994) commented that: ‘The different approaches to strategy formation
reflect different ways to manage change and different ways to bring the people part of
the business into line with business goals.’

In developing HR strategies, process may be as important as content. Tyson and
Witcher (1994) also noted from their research that: ‘The process of formulating HR
strategy was often as important as the content of the strategy ultimately agreed. It
was argued that by working through strategic issues and highlighting points of
tension, new ideas emerged and a consensus over goals was found.’

Although HR strategies can and will emerge over a period of time, there is much to
be said for adopting a systematic approach by conducting a strategic review.


A strategic review systematically assesses strategy requirements in the light of an
analysis of present and future business and people needs. Such a review provides
answers to three basic questions:

1. Where are we now?
2. Where do we want to be in one, two or three years’ time?
3. How are we going to get there?

The stages of a strategic review are illustrated in Figure 9.1.

Developing and implementing HR strategies ❚ 141

142 ❚ HRM processes

Figure 9.1 Strategic review sequence

● What is the business strategy and the business needs emerging from it?
● What are the cultural and environmental factors we need to take into account?
● What are the key HR weaknesses and issues?
● What are the gaps between what we are doing and what we ought to do?

● Why do the HR weaknesses and issues exist?
● What is the cause of any gaps?
● What factors are influencing the situation (cultural, environmental, competition,

political etc)?

Conclusions and recommendations:
● What are our conclusions from the analysis/diagnosis?
● What do we need to do to fill the gaps?
● What alternative strategies are available?
● Which alternative is recommended and why?

Action planning:
● What actions do we need to take to implement the proposals?
● What problems might we meet and how will we overcome them?
● Who takes the action and when?
● How do we ensure that we have the committed and capable line managers


Resource planning:
● What resources will we need (money, people, time)?
● How will we obtain these resources?
● How do we convince management that these resources are required?
● What supporting processes are required?

Costs and benefits:
● What are the costs and benefits to the organization of implementing these

● How do they benefit individual employees?
● How do they satisfy business needs?


A strategic review can provide the basis for setting out the strategy. There is no stan-
dard model for doing this, but the following headings are typical.

1. Basis
– business needs in terms of the key elements of the business strategy;
– analysis of business and environmental factors (SWOT/PESTLE);
– cultural factors – possible helps or hindrances to implementation.

2. Content – details of the proposed HR strategy.
3. Rationale – the business case for the strategy against the background of business

needs and environmental/cultural factors.
4. Implementation plan

– action programme;
– responsibility for each stage;
– resources required;
– proposed arrangements for communication, consultation, involvement and

– project management arrangements.

5. Costs and benefits analysis – an assessment of the resource implications of the plan
(costs, people and facilities) and the benefits that will accrue, for the organization
as a whole, for line managers and for individual employees (so far as possible
these benefits should be quantified in value-added terms).


Getting HR strategies into action is not easy even if they have been developed by
means of a systematic review and set out within a clear framework. Because strate-
gies tend to be expressed as abstractions, they must be translated into programmes
with clearly stated objectives and deliverables. The term ‘strategic HRM’ has been
devalued in some quarters, sometimes to mean no more than a few generalized ideas
about HR policies, at other times to describe a short-term plan, for example, to
increase the retention rate of graduates. It must be emphasized that HR strategies are
not just ad hoc programmes, policies, or plans concerning HR issues that the HR
department happens to feel are important. Piecemeal initiatives do not constitute

The problem, as noted by Gratton et al (1999), is that too often there is a gap
between what the strategy states will be achieved and what actually happens to it. As
they put it:

Developing and implementing HR strategies ❚ 143

One principal strand that has run through this entire book is the disjunction between
rhetoric and reality in the area of human resource management, between HRM theory
and HRM practice, between what the HR function says it is doing and how that practice
is perceived by employees, and between what senior management believes to be the
role of the HR function, and the role it actually plays.

The factors identified by Gratton et al that contributed to creating this gap include:

● the tendency of employees in diverse organizations only to accept initiatives they
perceive to be relevant to their own areas;

● the tendency of long-serving employees to cling to the status quo;
● complex or ambiguous initiatives may not be understood by employees or will be

perceived differently by them, especially in large, diverse organizations;
● it is more difficult to gain acceptance of non-routine initiatives;
● employees will be hostile to initiatives if they are believed to be in conflict with

the organization’s identity, eg downsizing in a culture of ‘job-for-life’;
● the initiative is seen as a threat;
● inconsistencies between corporate strategies and values;
● the extent to which senior management is trusted;
● the perceived fairness of the initiative;
● the extent to which existing processes could help to embed the initiative;
● a bureaucratic culture that leads to inertia.

Barriers to the implementation of HR strategies
Each of the factors listed by Gratton et al can create barriers to the successful imple-
mentation of HR strategies. Other major barriers include failure to understand the
strategic needs of the business, inadequate assessment of the environmental and
cultural factors that affect the content of the strategies, and the development of ill-
conceived and irrelevant initiatives, possibly because they are current fads or because
there has been a poorly digested analysis of best practice that does not fit the organi-
zation’s requirements. These problems are compounded when insufficient attention
is paid to practical implementation problems, the important role of line managers in
implementing strategies, and the need to have established supporting processes for
the initiative (eg, performance management to support performance pay).

Overcoming the barriers
To overcome these barriers it is necessary to:

144 ❚ HRM processes

● conduct a rigorous preliminary analysis of needs and requirements;
● formulate the strategy;
● enlist support for the strategy;
● assess barriers and deal with them;
● prepare action plans;
● project-manage implementation;
● follow up and evaluate progress so that remedial action can be taken as necessary.

Developing and implementing HR strategies ❚ 145

HRM policies


HR policies are continuing guidelines on the approach the organization intends to
adopt in managing its people. They define the philosophies and values of the organi-
zation on how people should be treated, and from these are derived the principles
upon which managers are expected to act when dealing with HR matters. HR policies
therefore serve as reference points when employment practices (described in Chapter
57) are being developed, and when decisions are being made about people. They help
to define ‘the way things are done around here’.

HR policies should be distinguished from procedures, as discussed in Chapter 58.
A policy provides generalized guidance on the approach adopted by the organiza-
tion, and therefore its employees, concerning various aspects of employment. A
procedure spells out precisely what action should be taken in line with the policy.


HR or employment policies help to ensure that when dealing with matters
concerning people, an approach in line with corporate values is adopted throughout
the organization. They serve as the basis for enacting values – converting espoused
values into values in use. They provide frameworks within which consistent


decisions are made, and promote equity in the way in which people are treated.
Because they provide guidance on what managers should do in particular circum-
stances they facilitate empowerment, devolution and delegation. While they should
fit the corporate culture, they can also help to shape it.


All organizations have HR policies. Some, however, exist implicitly as a philosophy
of management and an attitude to employees that is expressed in the way in which
HR issues are handled; for example, the introduction of new technology. The advan-
tage of explicit policies in terms of consistency and understanding may appear to be
obvious, but there are disadvantages: written policies can be inflexible, constrictive,
platitudinous or all three. To a degree, policies have often to be expressed in abstract
terms, and managers do not care for abstractions. But they do prefer to know where
they stand – people like structure – and formalized HR policies can provide the
guidelines they need.

Formalized HR policies can be used in induction, team leader and management
training to help participants understand the philosophies and values of the organiza-
tion, and how they are expected to behave within that context. They are a means for
defining the employment relationship and the psychological contract (see Chapters
15 and 16).

Although written policies are important, their value is reduced if they are not
backed up by a supportive culture. This particularly applies to work-life balance poli-


HR policies can be expressed as overall statements of the values of the organization.
The main points that can be included in an overall policy statement and specific
policy areas are set out below.

Overall policy
The overall policy defines how the organization fulfils its social responsibilities for its
employees and sets out its attitudes towards them. It is an expression of its values or
beliefs about how people should be treated. Peters and Waterman (1982) wrote that if
they were asked for one all-purpose bit of advice for management, one truth that

148 ❚ HRM processes

they could distil from all their research on what makes an organization excellent, it
would be, ‘Figure out your value system. Decide what the organization stands for.’
Selznick (1957) emphasized the key role of values in organizations, when he wrote
‘The formation of an institution is marked by the making of value commitments, that
is, choices which fix the assumptions of policy makers as to the nature of the enter-
prise, its distinctive aims, methods and roles.’

The values expressed in an overall statement of HR policies may explicitly or
implicitly refer to the following concepts:

● Equity: treating employees fairly and justly by adopting an ‘even handed’
approach. This includes protecting individuals from any unfair decisions made
by their managers, providing equal opportunities for employment and promo-
tion, and operating an equitable payment system.

● Consideration: taking account of individual circumstances when making decisions
that affect the prospects, security or self-respect of employees.

● Organizational learning: a belief in the need to promote the learning and develop-
ment of all the members of the organization by providing the processes and
support required.

● Performance through people: the importance attached to developing a performance
culture and to continuous improvement; the significance of performance manage-
ment as a means of defining and agreeing mutual expectations; the provision of
fair feedback to people on how well they are performing.

● Work-life balance: striving to provide employment practices that enable people to
balance their work and personal obligations.

● Quality of working life: consciously and continually aiming to improve the quality
of working life. This involves increasing the sense of satisfaction people obtain
from their work by, so far as possible, reducing monotony, increasing variety,
autonomy and responsibility, and avoiding placing people under too much stress.

● Working conditions: providing healthy, safe and so far as practicable pleasant
working conditions.

These values are espoused by many organizations in one form or another, but to
what extent are they practised when making ‘business-led’ decisions, which can
of course be highly detrimental to employees if, for example, they lead to redun-
dancy? One of the dilemmas facing all those who formulate HR policies is, how can
we pursue business-led policies focusing on business success, and also fulfil our
obligations to employees in such terms as equity, consideration, work-life balance,
quality of working life and working conditions? To argue, as some do, that HR strate-
gies should be entirely business-led seems to imply that human considerations are

HRM policies ❚ 149

unimportant. Organizations have obligations to all their stakeholders, not just their

It may be difficult to express these policies in anything but generalized terms, but
employers are increasingly having to recognize that they are subject to external as
well as internal pressures, which act as constraints on the extent to which they can
disregard the higher standards of behaviour towards their employees that are
expected of them.

Specific policies
The specific policies should cover the following areas as described below: equal
opportunity, managing diversity, age and employment, promotion, work-life balance,
employee development, reward, involvement and participation, employee relations,
new technology, health and safety, discipline, grievances, redundancy, sexual harass-
ment, bullying, substance abuse, smoking, AIDS, and e-mails.

Equal opportunity

The equal opportunity policy should spell out the organization’s determination to
give equal opportunities to all, irrespective of sex, race, creed, disability, age or
marital status. The policy should also deal with the extent to which the organization
wants to take ‘affirmative action’ to redress imbalances between numbers employed
according to sex or race, or to differences in the levels of qualifications and skills they
have achieved.

The policy could be set out as follows:

1. We are an equal opportunity employer. This means that we do not permit direct
or indirect discrimination against any employee on the grounds of race, nation-
ality, sex, sexual orientation, disability, religion, marital status or age.

2. Direct discrimination takes place when a person is treated less favourably than
others are, or would be, treated in similar circumstances.

3. Indirect discrimination takes place when, whether intentionally or not, a condi-
tion is applied that adversely affects a considerable proportion of people of one
race, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, religion or marital status, those with
disabilities, or older employees.

4. The firm will ensure that equal opportunity principles are applied in all its HR
policies, and in particular to the procedures relating to the recruitment, training,
development and promotion of its employees.

5. Where appropriate and where permissible under the relevant legislation and
codes of practice, employees of under-represented groups will be given positive
training and encouragement to achieve equal opportunity.

150 ❚ HRM processes

Managing diversity

A policy on managing diversity recognizes that there are differences among
employees and that these differences, if properly managed, will enable work to be
done more efficiently and effectively. It does not focus exclusively on issues of dis-
crimination, but instead concentrates on recognizing the differences between people.
As Kandola and Fullerton (1994) express it, the concept of managing diversity ‘is
founded on the premise that harnessing these differences will create a productive
environment in which everyone will feel valued, where their talents are fully utilized,
and in which organizational goals are met’.

Managing diversity is a concept that recognizes the benefits to be gained from
differences. It differs from equal opportunity, which aims to legislate against discrim-
ination, assumes that people should be assimilated into the organization, and often
relies on affirmative action.

A management of diversity policy could:

● acknowledge cultural and individual differences in the workplace;
● state that the organization values the different qualities people bring to their jobs;
● emphasize the need to eliminate bias in such areas as selection, promotion,

performance assessment, pay and learning opportunities;
● focus attention on individual differences rather than group differences.

Age and employment

The policy on age and employment should take into account the following facts as
listed by the CIPD:

● Age is a poor predictor of job performance.
● It is misleading to equate physical and mental ability with age.
● More of the population are living active, healthy lives as they get older.

The policy should define the approach the organization adopts to engaging,
promoting and training older employees. It should emphasize that the only criterion
for selection or promotion should be ability to do the job; and for training, the belief
that the employee will benefit, irrespective of age. The policy should also state that
age requirements should not be set out in external or internal job advertisements.


A promotion policy could state the organization’s intention to promote from within

HRM policies ❚ 151

wherever this is appropriate as a means of satisfying its requirements for high quality
staff. The policy could, however, recognize that there will be occasions when the orga-
nization’s present and future needs can only be met by recruitment from outside. The
point could be made that a vigorous organization needs infusions of fresh blood from
time to time if it is not to stagnate. In addition, the policy might state that employees
will be encouraged to apply for internally advertised jobs, and will not be held back
from promotion by their managers, however reluctant the latter may be to lose them.

Work-life balance

Work-life balance policies define how the organization intends to allow employees
greater flexibility in their working patterns so that they can balance what they do at
work with the responsibilities and interests they have outside work. The policy will
indicate how flexible work practices can be developed and implemented. It will
emphasize that the numbers of hours worked must not be treated as a criterion for
assessing performance. It will set out guidelines on specific arrangements that can be
made, such as flexible hours, compressed working week, term-time working
contracts, working at home, special leave for parents and carers, career breaks and
various kinds of child care.

Employee development

The employee development policy could express the organization’s commitment to
the continuous development of the skills and abilities of employees in order to maxi-
mize their contribution and to give them the opportunity to enhance their skills,
realize their potential, advance their careers and increase their employability both
within and outside the organization.


The reward policy could cover such matters as:

● providing an equitable pay system;
● equal pay for work of equal value;
● paying for performance, competence, skill or contribution;
● sharing in the success of the organization (gain sharing or profit sharing);
● the relationship between levels of pay in the organization and market rates;
● the provision of employee benefits, including flexible benefits if appropriate;
● the importance attached to the non-financial rewards resulting from recognition,

accomplishment, autonomy, and the opportunity to develop.

152 ❚ HRM processes

Involvement and participation

The involvement and participation (employee voice policy) should spell out the orga-
nization’s belief in giving employees an opportunity to have a say in matters that
affect them. It should define the mechanisms for employee voice, such as joint consul-
tation and suggestion schemes.

Employee relations

The employee relations policy will set out the organization’s approach to the rights of
employees to have their interests represented to management through trade unions,
staff associations or some other form of representative system. It will also cover the
basis upon which the organization works with trade unions, for example, empha-
sizing that this should be regarded as a partnership.

New technology

A new technology policy statement could state that there will be consultation about
the introduction of new technology, and the steps that would be taken by the organi-
zation to minimize the risk of compulsory redundancy or adversely affect other terms
and conditions or working arrangements.

Health and safety

Health and safety policies cover how the organization intends to provide healthy and
safe places and systems of work (see Chapter 55).


The disciplinary policy should state that employees have the right to know what is
expected of them and what could happen if they infringe the organization’s rules. It
would also make the point that, in handling disciplinary cases, the organization will
treat employees in accordance with the principles of natural justice.


The policy on grievances could state that employees have the right to raise their
grievances with their manager, to be accompanied by a representative if they so wish,
and to appeal to a higher level if they feel that their grievance has not been resolved

HRM policies ❚ 153


The redundancy policy could state that it is the organization’s intention to use its
best endeavours to avoid involuntary redundancy through its redeployment
and retraining procedures. However, if redundancy is unavoidable those affected
will be given fair and equitable treatment, the maximum amount of warning, and
every help that can be provided by the organization to obtain suitable alternative

Sexual harassment

The sexual harassment policy should state that:

1. Sexual harassment will not be tolerated.
2. Employees subjected to sexual harassment will be given advice, support and

counselling as required.
3. Every attempt will be made to resolve the problem informally with the person

complained against.
4. Assistance will be given to the employee to complain formally if informal discus-

sions fail.
5. A special process will be available for hearing complaints about sexual harass-

ment. This will provide for employees to bring their complaint to someone of
their own sex if they so wish.

6. Complaints will be handled sensitively and with due respect for the rights of
both the complainant and the accused.

7. Sexual harassment is regarded as gross industrial misconduct and, if proved,
makes the individual liable for instant dismissal. Less severe penalties may be
reserved for minor cases but there will always be a warning that repetition will
result in dismissal.


An anti-bullying policy will state that bullying will not be tolerated by the organiza-
tion and that those who persist in bullying their staff will be subject to disciplinary
action, which could be severe in particularly bad cases. The policy will make it clear
that individuals who are being bullied should have the rights to discuss the problem
with a management representative or a member of the HR function, and to make a
complaint. The policy should emphasize that if a complaint is received it will be thor-
oughly investigated.

154 ❚ HRM processes

Substance abuse

A substance abuse policy could include assurances that:

● Employees identified as having substance abuse problems will be offered advice
and help.

● Any reasonable absence from work necessary to receive treatment will be granted
under the organization’s sickness scheme provided that there is full cooperation
from the employee.

● An opportunity will be given to the employee to discuss the matter once it has
become evident or suspected that work performance is being affected by
substance-related problems.

● The employee has the right to be accompanied by a friend or employee represen-
tative in any such discussion.

● Agencies will be recommended to which the employee can go for help if neces-

● Employment rights will be safeguarded during any reasonable period of treat-


The smoking policy would define no-smoking rules including where, if at all,
smoking is permitted.


An AIDS policy could include the following points:

● The risks of infection in most workplaces are negligible.
● Where the occupation involves blood contact, as in hospitals, doctors’ surgeries

and laboratories, the special precautions advised by the Health and Safety
Commission will be implemented.

● Employees who know that they are infected with AIDS will not be obliged to
disclose the fact to the company, but if they do, the fact will remain completely

● There will be no discrimination against anyone with or at risk of acquiring AIDS.
● Employees infected by HIV or suffering from AIDS will be treated no differently

from anyone else suffering a severe illness.

HRM policies ❚ 155


The policy on e-mails could state that the sending or downloading of offensive e-
mails is prohibited, and that those sending or downloading such messages will be
subject to normal disciplinary procedures. They may also prohibit any browsing or
downloading of material not related to the business, although this can be difficult to
enforce. Some companies have always believed that reasonable use of the telephone
is acceptable, and that policy may be extended to e-mails.

If it is decided that employees’ e-mails should be monitored to check on excessive
or unacceptable use, then this should be included in an e-mail policy which would
therefore be part of the contractual arrangements. A policy statement could be
included to the effect that ‘The company reserves the right to access and monitor all e-
mail messages created, sent, received or stored on the company’s system’.

The following steps should be taken to formulate and implement HR policies:

1. Gain understanding of the corporate culture and its core values.
2. Analyse existing policies, written and unwritten. HR policies will exist in any

organization, even if they are implicit rather than expressed formally.
3. Analyse external influences. HR policies are subject to the influence of UK

employment legislation, European Community Employment Regulations, and
the official codes of practice issued by bodies in the UK such as ACAS (Advisory,
Conciliation and Arbitration Service), the EOC (Equal Opportunities
Commission), the CRR (Commission on Racial Relations) and the Health and
Safety Executive. The codes of practice issued by relevant professional institu-
tions, such as the CIPD, should also be consulted.

4. Assess any areas where new policies are needed or existing policies are inade-

5. Check with managers, preferably starting at the top, on their views about HR
policies and where they think they could be improved.

6. Seek the views of employees about the HR policies, especially the extent to
which they are inherently fair and equitable and are implemented fairly and
consistently. Consider doing this through an attitude survey.

7. Seek the views of union representatives.
8. Analyse the information obtained in the first seven steps and prepare draft


156 ❚ HRM processes

9. Consult, discuss and agree policies with management and union representa-

10. Communicate the policies, with guidance notes on their implementation as
required (although they should be as self-explanatory as possible). Supplement
this communication with training.


The aim will be to implement policies fairly and consistently. Line managers have a
key role in doing this. As pointed out by Purcell et al (2003), ‘there is a need for HR
policies to be designed for and focused on front line managers’. It is they who will be
largely responsible for policy implementation. Members of the HR can give guidance,
but it is line managers who are on the spot and have to make decisions about people.
The role of HR is to communicate and interpret the policies, convince line managers
that they are necessary, and provide training and support that will equip managers to
implement them. As Purcell et al emphasize, it is line managers who bring HR poli-
cies to life.

HRM policies ❚ 157

Competency-based HRM

Competency-based HRM is about using the concept of competency and the results of
competency analysis to inform and improve the processes of performance manage-
ment, recruitment and selection, employee development and employee reward. The
language has dominated much of HR thinking and practice in recent years.

The concept of competency has achieved this degree of prominence because it is
essentially about performance. Mansfield (1999) defines competency as ‘an under-
lying characteristic of a person that results in effective or superior performance’.
Rankin (2002) describes competencies as ‘definitions of skills and behaviours that
organizations expect their staff to practice in their work’ and explains that:

Competencies represent the language of performance. They can articulate both the
expected outcomes from an individual’s efforts and the manner in which these activities
are carried out. Because everyone in the organization can learn to speak this language,
competencies provide a common, universally understood means of describing expected
performance in many different contexts.

Competency-based HR is primarily based on the concepts of behavioural and tech-
nical competencies as defined in the first section of this chapter. But it is also associ-
ated with the use of National and Scottish Vocational qualifications (NVQs/SNVQs)
as also examined in the first section. The next five sections of the chapter concentrate
on the application and use of behavioural and technical competencies under the
following headings:


● competency frameworks;
● reasons for using competencies;
● use of competencies;
● guidelines on the development of competency frameworks;
● keys to success in using competencies.

The final section describes the associated concept of emotional intelligence.


The three types of competencies are behavioural competencies, technical competen-
cies and NVQs and SNVQs.

Behavioural competencies
Behavioural competencies define behavioural expectations, ie the type of behaviour
required to deliver results under such headings as teamworking, communication,
leadership and decision-making. They are sometimes known as ‘soft skills’.
Behavioural competencies are usually set out in a competency framework.

The behavioural competency approach was first advocated by McClelland (1973).
He recommended the use of criterion-referenced assessment. Criterion referencing or
validation is the process of analysing the key aspects of behaviour that differentiate
between effective and less effective performance.

But the leading figure in defining and popularizing the concept of competency in
the USA and elsewhere was Boyatzis (1982). He conducted research that established
that there was no single factor but a range of factors that differentiated successful
from less successful performance. These factors included personal qualities, motives,
experience and behavioural characteristics. Boyatzis defined competency as:
‘capacity that exists in a person that leads to behaviour that meets the job demands
within the parameters of the organizational environment and that, in turn, brings
about desired results’.

The ‘clusters’ of competencies he identified were goal and action management,
directing subordinates, human resource management and leadership. He made a
distinction between threshold competencies, which are the basic competencies
required to do a job, and performance competences, which differentiate between high
and low performance.

160 ❚ HRM processes

Technical competencies
Technical competencies define what people have to know and be able to do (knowl-
edge and skills) to carry out their roles effectively. They are related to either generic
roles (groups of similar jobs), or individual roles (as ‘role-specific competencies’).

The term ‘technical competency’ has been adopted fairly recently to avoid the
confusion that existed between the terms ‘competency’ and ‘competence’. Com-
petency, as mentioned above, is about behaviours, while competence as defined by
Woodruffe (1990) is: ‘A work-related concept which refers to areas of work at which
the person is competent. Competent people at work are those who meet their perfor-
mance expectations.’ Competences are sometimes known as ‘hard skills’. The terms
technical competencies and competences are closely related although the latter has a
particular and more limited meaning when applied to NVQs/SNVQs, as discussed

NVQ/SNVQ competences
The concept of competence was conceived in the UK as a fundamental part of the
process of developing standards for NVQs/SNVQs. These specify minimum stan-
dards for the achievement of set tasks and activities expressed in ways that can be
observed and assessed with a view to certification. An element of competence in
NVQ language is a description of something that people in given work areas should
be able to do. They are assessed on being competent or not yet competent. No attempt
is made to assess the degree of competence.


A competency framework contains definitions of all the behavioural competencies
used in the whole or part of an organization. It provides the basis for the use of
competencies in such areas as recruitment, employee development and reward. The
2003/4 Competency and Emotional Intelligence survey established that the 49 frame-
works reviewed had a total of 553 competency headings. Presumably, many of these
overlapped. The most common number of competencies was eight.

Competency headings
The competency headings included in the frameworks of 20 per cent or more of the
organizations responding to the survey are shown in Table 11.1. The first seven of
these are used in over 50 per cent of the respondents.

Competency-based HRM ❚ 161

162 ❚ HRM processes

Competency heading Summary definition % used

Team orientation The ability to work co-operatively and flexibly with other 85
members of the team with a full understanding of the role to
be played as a team member.

Communication The ability to communicate clearly and persuasively, orally 73
or in writing.

People management The ability to manage and develop people and gain their 67
trust and cooperation to achieve results.

Customer focus The exercise of unceasing care in looking after the interests 65
of external and internal customers to ensure that their wants,
needs and expectations are met or exceeded.

Results orientation The desire to get things done well and the ability to set and 59
meet challenging goals, create own measures of excellence
and constantly seek ways of improving performance.

Problem-solving The capacity to analyse situations, diagnose problems, 57
identify the key issues, establish and evaluate alternative
courses of action and produce a logical, practical and
acceptable solution.

Planning and The ability to decide on courses of action, ensuring that the 51
organizing resources required to implement the action will be available

and scheduling the programme of work required to achieve
a defined end-result.

Technical skills Possession of the knowledge, understanding and expertise 49
required to carry out the work effectively.

Leadership The capacity to inspire individuals to give of their best to 43
achieve a desired result and to maintain effective
relationships with individuals and the team as a whole.

Business awareness The capacity continually to identify and explore business 37
opportunities, understand the business needs and priorities of
of the organization and constantly to seek methods of
ensuring that the organization becomes more business-like.

Decision-making The capacity to make sound and practical decisions which 37
deal effectively with the issues and are based on thorough
analysis and diagnosis.

Change-orientation The ability to manage and accept change. 33

Table 11.1 Incidence of different competency headings



The two prime reasons for organizations to use competencies, as established by
Miller et al (2001) were first, that the application of competencies to appraisal, training
and other personnel processes will help to increase the performance of employees;
and second, that competencies provide a means of articulating corporate values so
that their requirements can be embodied in HR practices and be readily understood
by individuals and teams within the organization. Other reasons include the use of
competencies as a means of achieving cultural change and of raising skill levels.

Competency-based HRM ❚ 163

Developing others The desire and capacity to foster the development of 33
members of his or her team, providing feedback, support,
encouragement and coaching.

Influence and The ability to convince others to agree on or to take a 33
persuasion course of action.

Initiative The capacity to take action independently and to assume 29
responsibility for one’s actions.

Interpersonal skills The ability to create and maintain open and constructive 29
relationships with others, to respond helpfully to their
requests and to be sensitive to their needs.

Strategic orientation The capacity to take a long-term and visionary view of the 29
direction to be followed in the future.

Creativity The ability to originate new practices, concepts and ideas. 26

Information The capacity to originate and use information effectively. 26

Quality focus The focus on delivering quality and continuous 24

Self-confidence and Belief in oneself and standing up for one’s own rights. 24

Self-development Managing one’s own learning and development. 22

Managing Managing resources, people, programmes and projects. 20

Table 11.1 continued


The Miller et al research found that employers adopted different approaches to the
parts of the workforce covered by competencies:

● 22 per cent covered the whole workforce with a single set or framework of core
competencies (modified in a further 10 per cent of employers by the incorporation
of additional behavioural competencies for managers and other staff);

● 48 per cent confined competencies to specific work groups, functions or depart-

● 20 per cent have a core competency framework that covers all staff in respect of
behavioural competencies, alongside sets of technical/functional or departments.

Subsequent research (Rankin, 2002) found that:

● 25 per cent of employers using behavioural competencies had a core framework;
● 19 per cent supplemented the core framework with additional competencies for

single groups such as managers.

The ‘menu’ approach
Rankin notes that 21 per cent of respondents adopted a ‘menu’ approach. This
enables competencies to be selected that are relevant to generic or individual roles.
Approaches vary. Some organizations provide guidelines on the number of compe-
tencies to be selected (eg four to eight) and others combine their core framework with
a menu so that users are required to select the organization-wide core competencies
and add a number of optional ones.

Role-specific competencies
Role-specific competencies are also used by some organizations for generic or indi-
vidual roles. These may be incorporated in a role profile in addition to information
about the key output or result areas of the role. This approach is likely to be adopted
by employers who use competencies in their performance management processes,
but role-specific competencies also provide the basis for person specifications used in
recruitment and for the preparation of individual learning programmes.

Graded competencies
A further, although less common, application of competencies is in graded career or

164 ❚ HRM processes

job family structures (career or job families consist of jobs in a function or occupation
such as marketing, operations, finance, IT, HR, administration or support services,
which are related through the activities carried out and the basic knowledge and
skills required, but in which the levels of responsibility, knowledge, skill or compe-
tence needed differ). In such families, the successive levels in each family are defined
in terms of competencies as well as the key activities carried out. (Career and job
family structures are described in Chapter 46.)


The Competency and Emotional Intelligence 2003/4 survey found that 95 per cent of
respondents used behavioural competencies and 66 per cent used technical compe-
tencies. It was noted that because the latter deal with specific activities and tasks they
inevitably result in different sets of competencies for groups of related roles, func-
tions or activities. The top four uses of competencies were:

1. Performance management – 89 per cent.
2. Training and development – 85 per cent.
3. Selection – 85 per cent.
4. Recruitment – 81 per cent.

Only 35 per cent of organizations link competencies to reward. The ways in which
these competencies are used are described below.

Performance management
Competencies in performance management are used to ensure that performance
reviews do not simply focus on outcomes but also consider the behavioural aspects of
how the work is carried out that determine those outcomes. Performance reviews
conducted on this basis are used to inform personal improvement and development
plans and other learning and development initiatives.

As noted by Competency and Emotional Intelligence (2003/4): ‘Increasingly,
employers are extending their performance management systems to assess not only
objectives but also qualitative aspects of the job.’ The alternative approaches are: 1)
the assessment has to be made by reference to the whole set of core competencies in
the framework; or 2) the manager and the individual carry out a joint assessment of
the latter’s performance and agree on the competencies to be assessed, selecting those
most relevant to the role. The joint assessments may be guided by examples known as
‘behavioural indicators’ of how the competency may be demonstrated in the

Competency-based HRM ❚ 165

employee’s day-to-day work and in some cases the assessment is linked to defined
levels of competency (see Chapter 33 for further details of how this process works).

Learning and development
Role profiles, which are either generic (covering a range of similar jobs) or individual
(role-specific), can include statements of the technical competencies required. These
can be used as the basis for assessing the levels of competency achieved by individ-
uals and so identifying their learning and development needs.

Career family grade structures (see Chapter 46) can define the competencies
required at each level in a career family. These definitions provide a career map
showing the competencies people need to develop in order to progress their career.

Competencies are also used in development centres (see Chapter 40), which help
participants build up their understanding of the competencies they require now and
in the future so that they can plan their own self-directed learning programmes.

Recruitment and selection
The language of competencies is used in many organizations as a basis for the person
specification, which is set out under competency headings as developed through role
analysis. The competencies defined for a role are used as the framework for recruit-
ment and selection.

A competencies approach can help to identify which selection techniques such as
psychological testing are most likely to produce useful evidence. It provides the
information required to conduct a structured interview in which questions can focus
on particular competency areas to establish the extent to which candidates meet the
specification as set out in competency terms.

In assessment centres, competency frameworks are used to define the competency
dimensions that distinguish high performance. This indicates what exercises or simu-
lations are required and the assessment processes that should be used.

Reward management
In the 1990s, when the competency movement came to the fore, the notion of linking
pay to competencies – competency-related pay – emerged. But it has never taken off;
only 8 per cent of the respondents to the e-reward 2004 survey of contingent pay used
it. However, more recently, the concept of contribution-related pay has emerged,
which provides for people to be rewarded according to both the results they achieve
and their level of competence, and the e-reward 2004 survey established that 33 per
cent of respondents had introduced it.

166 ❚ HRM processes

Another application of competencies in reward management is that of career
family grade and pay structures.


The language used in competency frameworks should be clear and jargon-
free. Without clear language and examples it can be difficult to assess the level of
competency achieved. When defining competencies, especially when they are used
for performance management or competency-related pay, it is essential to ensure
that they can be assessed. They must not be vague or overlap with other competen-
cies and they must specify clearly the sort of behaviour that is expected and the
level of technical or functional skills (competencies) required to meet acceptable stan-
dards. As Rankin (2002) suggests, it is helpful to address the user directly (’you
will…’) and give clear and brief examples of how the competency needs to be

Developing a behavioural competency framework that fits the culture and purpose
of the organization and provides a sound basis for a number of key HR processes is
not an undertaking to be taken lightly. It requires a lot of hard work, much of it
concerned with involving staff and communicating with them to achieve under-
standing and buy-in. The steps required are described below.

Step 1. Programme launch

Decide on the purpose of the framework and the HR processes for where it will be
used. Make out a business case for its development, setting out the benefits to the
organization in such areas as improved performance, better selection outcomes, more
focused performance management, employee development and reward processes.
Prepare a project plan that includes an assessment of the resources required and the

Step 2. Involvement and communication

Involve line managers and employees in the design of the framework (stages 3 and 4)
by setting up a task force. Communicate the objectives of the exercise to staff.

Step 3. Framework design – competency list

First, get the task force to draw up a list of the core competencies and values of the
business – what it should be good at doing and the values it believes should influence

Competency-based HRM ❚ 167

behaviour. This provides a foundation for an analysis of the competencies required
by people in the organization. The aim is to identify and define the behaviours that
contribute to the achievement of organizational success, and there should be a
powerful link between these people competencies and the organization’s core compe-
tencies (more guidance on defining competencies is provided in Chapter 13).

The production of the list may be done by brainstorming. The list should be
compared with examples of other competency frameworks. The purpose of this
comparison is not to replicate other lists. It is essential to produce a competency
framework that fits and reflects the organization’s own culture, values, core compe-
tencies and operations. But referring to other lists will help to clarify the conclusions
reached in the initial analysis and serve to check that all relevant areas of competency
have been included. When identifying competencies care must be taken to avoid bias
because of sex or race.

Step 4. Framework design – definition of competencies

Care needs to be exercised to ensure that definitions are clear and unambiguous and
that they will serve their intended purpose. If, for example, one of the purposes is to
provide criteria for conducting performance reviews, then it is necessary to be certain
that the way the competency is defined, together with supporting examples, will
enable fair assessments to be made. The following four questions have been
produced by Mirabile (1998) to test the extent to which a competency is valid and can
be used:

1. Can you describe the competency in terms that others understand and agree

2. Can you observe it being demonstrated or failing to be demonstrated?
3. Can you measure it?
4. Can you influence it in some way, eg by training, coaching or some other method

of development?

It is also important at this stage to ensure that definitions are not biased.

Step 5. Define uses of competency framework

Define exactly how it is intended the competency framework should be used,
covering such applications as performance management, recruitment, learning and
development, and reward.

168 ❚ HRM processes

Step 6. Test the framework

Test the framework by gauging the reactions of a balanced selection of line managers
and other employees to ensure that they understand it and believe that it is relevant
to their roles. Also pilot test the framework in live situations for each of its proposed

Step 7. Finalize the framework

Amend the framework as necessary following the tests and prepare notes for guid-
ance on how it should be used.

Step 8. Communicate

Let everyone know the outcome of the project – what the framework is, how it will be
used and how people will benefit. Group briefings and any other suitable means
should be used.

Step 9. Train

Give line managers and HR staff training in how to use the framework.

Step 10. Monitor and evaluate

Monitor and evaluate the use of the framework and amend it as required.


Technical competencies are most often produced for generic roles within job families
or functions, although they can be defined for individual roles as ‘role-specific
competencies’. They are not usually part of a behaviour-based competency frame-
work, although of course the two are closely linked when considering and assessing
role demands and requirements. Guidelines on defining technical competencies are
provided in Chapter 13.


The keys to success in using competencies are:

Competency-based HRM ❚ 169

● frameworks should not be over-complex;
● there should not be too many headings in a framework – seven or eight will often

● the language used should be clear and jargon-free;
● competencies must be selected and defined in ways that ensure they can be

assessed by managers – the use of ‘behavioural indicators’ is helpful;
● frameworks should be regularly updated.


Goleman (1995) has defined emotional intelligence as: ‘The capacity for recognizing
our own feelings and that of others, for motivating ourselves, for managing emotions
well in ourselves as well as others.’ The four components of emotional intelligence

1. Self-management – the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and
moods and regulate your own behaviour coupled with a propensity to pursue
goals with energy and persistence. The six competencies associated with this
component are self-control, trustworthiness and integrity, initiative, adaptability
– comfort with ambiguity, openness to change and strong desire to achieve.

2. Self-awareness – the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions
and drives as well as their effect on others. This is linked to three competencies:
self-confidence, realistic self-assessment and emotional self-awareness.

3. Social awareness – the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people
and skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions. This is linked
to six competencies: empathy, expertise in building and retaining talent, organi-
zational awareness, cross-cultural sensitivity, valuing diversity and service to
clients and customers.

4. Social skills – proficiency in managing relationships and building networks to get
the desired result from others and reach personal goals, and the ability to find
common ground and build rapport. The five competencies associated with this
component are: leadership, effectiveness in leading change, conflict manage-
ment, influence/communication, and expertise in building and leading teams.

According to Goleman it is not enough to have a high IQ (intelligence quotient);
emotional intelligence is also required.

In 1998 Goleman defined emotional intelligence in a way that encompasses many
of the areas covered by typical competency frameworks. Miller et al (2001) found that

170 ❚ HRM processes

one-third of employers covered by their survey had consciously included emotional
intelligence-type factors such as interpersonal skills in their frameworks.

Dulewicz and Higgs (1999) have produced a detailed analysis of how the
emotional intelligence elements of self-awareness, emotional management, empathy,
relationships, communication and personal style correspond to competencies such as
sensitivity, flexibility, adaptability, resilience, impact, listening, leadership, persua-
siveness, motivating others, energy, decisiveness and achievement motivation. They
conclude that there are distinct associations between competency modes and
elements of emotional intelligence.

As noted by Miller et al (2001), a quarter of the employers they surveyed have
provided or funded training that is based on emotional intelligence. The most
common areas are in leadership skills, people management skills and teamworking.
The application of emotional intelligence concepts to management development is
dealt with in Chapter 40.

Competency-based HRM ❚ 171

Knowledge management

Knowledge management is concerned with storing and sharing the wisdom, under-
standing and expertise accumulated in an organization about its processes, tech-
niques and operations. It treats knowledge as a key resource. As Ulrich (1998)
comments, ‘Knowledge has become a direct competitive advantage for companies
selling ideas and relationships.’ There is nothing new about knowledge management.
Hansen et al (1999) remark that ‘For hundreds of years, owners of family businesses
have passed on their commercial wisdom to children, master craftsmen have
painstakingly taught their trades to apprentices, and workers have exchanged ideas
and know-how on the job.’ But they also remark that, ‘As the foundation of industri-
alized economies has shifted from natural resources to intellectual assets, executives
have been compelled to examine the knowledge underlying their business and how
that knowledge is used.’

Knowledge management deals as much with people and how they acquire,
exchange and disseminate knowledge as with information technology. That is why it
has become an important area for HR practitioners, who are in a strong position to
exert influence in this aspect of people management. Scarborough et al (1999) believe
that they should have ‘the ability to analyse the different types of knowledge
deployed by the organization… [and] to relate such knowledge to issues of organiza-
tional design, career patterns and employment security.’

The concept of knowledge management is closely associated with intellectual
capital theory as described in Chapter 2 in that it refers to the notions of human, social


and organizational or structural capital. It is also linked to the concepts of organiza-
tional learning and the learning organization as discussed in Chapter 36. Knowledge
management is considered in this chapter under the following headings:

● definition of the process of knowledge management;
● the concept of knowledge;
● types of knowledge;
● the purpose and significance of knowledge management;
● approaches to knowledge management;
● knowledge management issues;
● the contribution of HR to knowledge management.


Knowledge management is ‘any process or practice of creating, acquiring, capturing,
sharing and using knowledge, wherever it resides, to enhance learning and perfor-
mance in organizations’ (Scarborough et al, 1999). They suggest that it focuses on the
development of firm-specific knowledge and skills that are the result of organiza-
tional learning processes. Knowledge management is concerned with both stocks and
flows of knowledge. Stocks included expertise and encoded knowledge in computer
systems. Flows represent the ways in which knowledge is transferred from people to
people or from people to a knowledge database. Knowledge management has also
been defined by Tan (2000) as: ‘The process of systematically and actively managing
and leveraging the stores of knowledge in an organization’.

Knowledge management involves transforming knowledge resources by identi-
fying relevant information and then disseminating it so that learning can take place.
Knowledge management strategies promote the sharing of knowledge by linking
people with people, and by linking them to information so that they learn from docu-
mented experiences.

Knowledge can be stored in databanks and found in presentations, reports,
libraries, policy documents and manuals. It can be moved around the organization
through information systems and by traditional methods such as meetings,
workshops, courses, ‘master classes’, written publications, videos and tapes. The
intranet provides an additional and very effective medium for communicating

174 ❚ HRM processes


A distinction was made by Ryle (1949) between ‘knowing how’ and ‘knowing that’.
Knowing how is the ability of a person to perform tasks, and knowing that is holding
pieces of knowledge in one’s mind.

Blackler (1995) notes that ‘Knowledge is multifaceted and complex, being both
situated and abstract, implicit and explicit, distributed and individual, physical and
mental, developing and static, verbal and encoded. He categorizes forms of knowl-
edge as:

● embedded in technologies, rules and organizational procedures;
● encultured as collective understandings, stories, values and beliefs;
● embodied into the practical activity-based competencies and skills of key members

of the organization (ie practical knowledge or ‘know-how’);
● embraced as the conceptual understanding and cognitive skills of key members (ie

conceptual knowledge or ‘know-how’).

Nonaka (1991) suggests that knowledge is held either by individuals or collectively.
In Blackler’s terms, embodied or embraced knowledge is individual and embedded,
and cultural knowledge is collective.

It can be argued (Scarborough and Carter, 2000) that knowledge emerges from the
collective experience of work and is shared between members of a particular group or

It is useful to distinguish between data, information and knowledge:

● data consists of the basic facts – the building blocks for information and knowl-

● information is data that have been processed in a way which is meaningful to
individuals, it is available to anyone entitled to gain access to it; as Drucker (1988)
wrote, ‘information is data endowed with meaning and purpose’;

● knowledge is information put to productive use; it is personal and often intangible
and it can be elusive – the task of tying it down, encoding it and distributing it is

Explicit and tacit knowledge
Nonaka (1991) and Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) stated that knowledge is either
explicit or tacit. Explicit knowledge can be codified: it is recorded and available,
and is held in databases, in corporate intranets and intellectual property portfolios.

Knowledge management ❚ 175

Tacit knowledge exists in people’s minds. It is difficult to articulate in writing and is
acquired through personal experience. As suggested by Hansen et al (1999), it
includes scientific or technological expertise, operational know-how, insights about
an industry, and business judgement. The main challenge in knowledge management
is how to turn tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge.


As explained by Blake (1998), the purpose of knowledge management is to capture a
company’s collective expertise and distribute it to ‘wherever it can achieve the
biggest payoff’. This is in accordance with the resource-based view of the firm which,
as argued by Grant (1991), suggests that the source of competitive advantage lies
within the firm (ie in its people and their knowledge), not in how it positions itself in
the market. Trussler (1998) comments that ‘the capability to gather, lever, and use
knowledge effectively will become a major source of competitive advantage in many
businesses over the next few years’. A successful company is a knowledge-creating

Knowledge management is about getting knowledge from those who have it to
those who need it in order to improve organizational effectiveness. In the information
age, knowledge rather than physical assets or financial resources is the key to
competitiveness. In essence, as pointed out by Mecklenberg et al (1999), ‘Knowledge
management allows companies to capture, apply and generate value from their
employees’ creativity and expertise’.


The codification and personalization approaches
Two approaches to knowledge management have been identified by Hansen et al

1. The codification strategy – knowledge is carefully codified and stored in databases
where it can be accessed and used easily by anyone in the organization.
Knowledge is explicit and is codified using a ‘people-to-document’ approach.
This strategy is therefore document driven. Knowledge is extracted from the
person who developed it, made independent of that person and re-used for

176 ❚ HRM processes

various purposes. It will be stored in some form of electronic repository for
people to use. This allows many people to search for and retrieve codified knowl-
edge without having to contact the person who originally developed it. This
strategy relies largely on information technology to manage databases and also
on the use of the intranet.

2. The personalization strategy – knowledge is closely tied to the person who has
developed it and is shared mainly through direct person-to-person contacts. This
is a ‘person-to-person’ approach which involves sharing tacit knowledge. The
exchange is achieved by creating networks and encouraging face-to-face commu-
nication between individuals and teams by means of informal conferences, work-
shops, brainstorming and one-to-one sessions.

Hansen et al state that the choice of strategy should be contingent on the organization;
what it does, how it does it, and its culture. Thus consultancies such as Ernst &
Young, using knowledge to deal with recurring problems, may rely mainly on codifi-
cation so that recorded solutions to similar problems are easily retrievable. Strategy
consultancy firms such as McKinsey or Bains, however, will rely mainly on a person-
alization strategy to help them to tackle the high-level strategic problems they are
presented with, which demand the provision of creative, analytically rigorous advice.
They need to channel individual expertise, and they find and develop people who are
able to use a person-to-person knowledge-sharing approach effectively. In this sort of
firm, directors or experts can be established who can be approached by consultants
by telephone, e-mail or personal contact.

The research conducted by Hansen et al established that companies which use
knowledge effectively pursue one strategy predominantly and use the second
strategy to support the first. Those who try to excel at both strategies risk failing at

The knowledge-creating company
In the opinion of Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995), a core competitive activity of organi-
zations is knowledge creation – ‘an organic, fluid and socially constructed process in
which different knowledges are blended to produce innovative outcomes that are
predicted or predictable’. Fundamental to knowledge creation is the blending of tacit
and explicit knowledge through processes of socialization (tacit to tacit), externaliza-
tion (tacit to explicit), internalization (explicit to tacit) and combination (explicit to

Knowledge management ❚ 177

The resource-based approach
Scarborough and Carter (2000) describe knowledge management as ‘the attempt by
management to actively create, communicate and exploit knowledge as a resource for
the organization’. They suggest that this attempt has technical, social and economic

● In technical terms knowledge management involves centralizing knowledge that
is currently scattered across the organization and codifying tacit forms of knowl-

● In social and political terms, knowledge management involves collectivizing
knowledge so that it is no longer the exclusive property of individuals or groups.

● In economic terms, knowledge management is a response by organizations to the
need to intensify their creation and exploitation of knowledge.


A survey of 431 US and European firms by Ruggles (1998) found that the following
systems were used:

● Creating an intranet (47 per cent).
● Creating ‘data warehouses’, large physical databases that hold information from a

wide variety of sources (33 per cent).
● Using decision support systems which combine data analysis and sophisticated

models to support non-routine decision making (33 per cent).
● Using ‘groupware’, information communication technologies such as e-mail or

Lotus Notes discussion bases, to encourage collaboration between people to share
knowledge (33 per cent).

● Creating networks and communities of interest or practice of knowledge workers
to share knowledge (24 per cent).

● Mapping sources of internal expertise by, for example, producing ‘expert yellow
pages’ and directories of communities (18 per cent).


The various approaches referred to above do not provide easy answers. The issues
that need to be addressed in developing knowledge management processes are
discussed below.

178 ❚ HRM processes

The pace of change
One of the main issues in knowledge management is how to keep up with the pace of
change and identify what knowledge needs to be captured and shared.

Relating knowledge management strategy to business strategy
As Hansen et al (1999) show, it is not knowledge per se but the way it is applied to
strategic objectives that is the critical ingredient in competitiveness. They point out
that ‘competitive strategy must drive knowledge management strategy’, and that
managements have to answer the question: ‘How does knowledge that resides in the
company add value for customers?’ Mecklenberg et al (1999) argue that organizations
should ‘start with the business value of what they gather. If it doesn’t generate value,
drop it.’

Technology and people
Technology may be central to companies adopting a codification strategy but for
those following a personalization strategy, IT is best used in a supportive role. As
Hansen et al (1999) comment:

In the codification model, managers need to implement a system that is much like a
traditional library – it must contain a large cache of documents and include search
engines that allow people to find and use the documents they need. In the personaliza-
tion model, it’s more important to have a system that allows people to find other people.

Scarborough et al (1999) suggest that ‘technology should be viewed more as a means
of communication and less as a means of storing knowledge’. Knowledge manage-
ment is more about people than technology. As research by Davenport (1996) estab-
lished, managers get two-thirds of their information from face-to-face or telephone

There is a limit to how much tacit knowledge can be codified. In organizations
relying more on tacit than explicit knowledge, a person-to-person approach works
best, and IT can only support this process; it cannot replace it.

The significance of process and social capital and culture
A preoccupation with technology may mean that too little attention is paid to the
processes (social, technological and organizational) through which knowledge
combines and interacts in different ways (Blackler, 1995). The key process is the inter-
actions between people. This constitutes the social capital of an organization, ie the

Knowledge management ❚ 179

‘network of relationships [that] constitute a valuable resource for the conduct of
social affairs’ (Nahpiet and Ghoshal, 1998). Social networks can be particularly
important in ensuring that knowledge is shared. What is also required is another
aspect of social capital: trust. People will not be willing to share knowledge with
those whom they do not trust.

The culture of the company may inhibit knowledge sharing. The norm may be for
people to keep knowledge to themselves as much as they can because ‘knowledge is
power’. An open culture will encourage people to share their ideas and knowledge.

Knowledge workers
Knowledge workers as defined by Drucker (1993) are individuals who have high
levels of education and specialist skills combined with the ability to apply these skills
to identify and solve problems. As Argyris (1991) points out: ‘The nuts and bolts of
management… increasingly consists of guiding and integrating the autonomous but
interconnected work of highly skilled people.’ Knowledge management is about the
management and motivation of knowledge workers who create knowledge and will
be the key players in sharing it.


HR can make an important contribution to knowledge management simply because
knowledge is shared between people; it is not just a matter of capturing explicit
knowledge through the use of information technology. The role of HR is to ensure
that the organization has the intellectual capital it needs. The resource-based view of
the firm emphasizes, in the words of Cappelli and Crocker-Hefter (1996), that
‘distinctive human resource practices help to create unique competencies that differ-
entiate products and services and, in turn, drive competitiveness’.

Ten ways in which HR can contribute
The main ways in which HR can contribute to knowledge management are summa-
rized below and described in more detail in the rest of this section.

1. Help to develop an open culture in which the values and norms emphasize the
importance of sharing knowledge.

2. Promote a climate of commitment and trust.

180 ❚ HRM processes

3. Advise on the design and development of organizations which facilitate knowl-
edge sharing through networks and communities of practice (groups of people
who share common concerns about aspects of their work), and teamwork.

4. Advise on resourcing policies and provide resourcing services which ensure that
valued employees who can contribute to knowledge creation and sharing are
attracted and retained.

5. Advise on methods of motivating people to share knowledge and rewarding
those who do so.

6. Help in the development of performance management processes which focus on
the development and sharing of knowledge.

7. Develop processes of organizational and individual learning which will
generate and assist in disseminating knowledge.

8. Set up and organize workshops, conferences, seminars and symposia which
enable knowledge to be shared on a person-to-person basis.

9. In conjunction with IT, develop systems for capturing and, as far as possible,
codifying explicit and tacit knowledge.

10. Generally, promote the cause of knowledge management with senior managers
to encourage them to exert leadership and support knowledge management

Culture development
An open culture is one in which as Schein (1985) suggests, people contribute out of a
sense of commitment and solidarity. Relationships are characterized by mutuality
and trust. In such a culture, organizations place a high priority on mutual support,
collaboration and creativity, and on constructive relationships. There is no ‘quick fix’
way in which a closed culture where these priorities do not exist can be converted
into an open culture. Long-established cultures are difficult to change. HR can
encourage management to develop purpose and value statements which spell out
that an important aim of the organization is to achieve competitive advantage by
developing and effectively using unique resources of knowledge and expertise, and
that to achieve the aim, sharing knowledge is core value. Such statements may be
rhetoric but they can be converted into reality through the various processes
described below.

Promote a climate of commitment and trust
Gaining commitment is a matter of trying to get everyone to identify with the
purpose and values of the organization, which will include processes for developing
and sharing knowledge. Commitment can be enhanced by developing a strategy

Knowledge management ❚ 181

which will include the implementation of communication, education and training
programmes, initiatives to increase involvement and ‘ownership’, and the introduc-
tion of performance and reward processes.

Developing a high-trust organization means creating trust between management
and employees as a basis for encouraging trust between individual employees or
groups of employees. People are more likely to trust management if its actions are
fair, equitable, consistent and transparent, and if it keeps its word.

It is difficult although not impossible to develop trust between management and
employees. But it is not possible to make individual employees trust one another, and
such trust is important if knowledge is to be shared. Developing a climate of trust in
the organization helps, otherwise it is a matter of developing social capital in the
sense of putting people into positions where they have to work together, and encour-
aging interaction and networking so that individuals recognize the value of sharing
knowledge because it helps achieve common and accepted aims. This process can be
helped by team-building activities. Trust may also be enhanced if knowledge is
exchanged as a matter of course in forums, conferences etc. Dialogue occurs between
people who want to connect and are given opportunities to do so in a collaborative,
creative and adaptive culture.

Organization design and development
HR can contribute to effective knowledge management by advising on the design of
process-based organizations in which the focus is on horizontal processes that cut
across organizational boundaries. Such organizations rely largely on networking and
cross-functional or inter-disciplinary project teams or task forces, and knowledge-
sharing is an essential part of the operation. Attention is paid to identifying and
encouraging ‘communities of practice’ which, as defined by Wenger and Snyder
(2000), are ‘groups of people informally bound together by shared expertise and
a passion for joint enterprise’. They are seen as important because it is within
such communities that much of the organization’s tacit knowledge is created and

The role definitions that emerge from organization design activities should empha-
size knowledge-sharing as both an accountability (a key result area) and a compe-
tency (an expected mode of behaviour). Thus it can become an accepted part of the
fabric and therefore the culture of the organization.

Organizational development activities can focus on team-building in communities
with an emphasis on processes of interaction, communication and participation. The
aims would be to develop a ‘sharing’ culture.

182 ❚ HRM processes

HR contributes to enhancing knowledge management processes by advising on how
to attract and retain people with the required skills and abilities, including those who
are likely to exhibit the behaviours needed in a knowledge-sharing culture. This
means devising competency frameworks for recruitment and development purposes
which include knowledge-sharing as a key behaviour. Such a competency could be
defined as ‘The disposition to share knowledge fully and willingly with other
members of the community’. Questions would be asked at the interview stage on the
approach adopted by candidates to sharing knowledge in their present organization.
Other questions along the lines of the one given below could be put to test candidates
on their views:

This organization relies to a considerable extent on achieving success through the devel-
opment of new products and techniques. We believe that it is important to ensure that
the knowledge generated by such developments is spread around the business as widely
as possible to those who might put it to good use. What part do you think you could play
as an individual in this process?

Posing this sort of question at the interview stage helps to define expectations as part
of the psychological contract.

Assessment centres can also include exercises and tests designed to test the dispo-
sition and ability of individuals to share knowledge.

Retaining knowledge workers is a matter of providing a supportive workplace
environment and motivating them through both tangible and intangible rewards as
discussed below.

A study by Tampoe (1993) identified four key motivators for knowledge workers:

1. Personal growth – the opportunity for individuals to fully realize their potential.
2. Occupational autonomy – a work environment in which knowledge workers can

achieve the task assigned to them.
3. Task achievement – a sense of accomplishment from producing work that is of

high quality and relevance to the organization.
4. Money rewards – an income that is a just reward for their contribution to corpo-

rate success and that symbolizes their contribution to that success.

Hansen et al (1999) state that in their ‘codification model’, managers need to develop
a system that encourages people to write down what they know and to get these

Knowledge management ❚ 183

documents into the electronics depository. They believe that real incentives – not just
enticements – are required to get people to take these steps. In companies following
the personalization model, rewards for sharing knowledge directly with other people
may have to be different. Direct financial rewards for contributing to the codification
and sharing of knowledge may often be inappropriate, but this could be a subject for
discussion in a performance review as part of a performance management process.

Performance management
The promotion and development of performance management processes by HR can
make an important contribution to knowledge management, by providing for behav-
ioural expectations which are related to knowledge-sharing to be defined, and
ensuring that actual behaviours are reviewed and, where appropriate, rewarded by
financial or non-financial means. Performance management reviews can identify
weaknesses and development needs in this aspect and initiate personal development
plans which are designed to meet these needs.

One starting point for the process could be the cascading of corporate core values
for knowledge-sharing to individuals, so that they understand what they are
expected to do to support those core values. As mentioned earlier, knowledge-
sharing can be included as an element of a competency framework, and the desired
behaviour would be spelt out and reviewed. For example, positive indicators such as
those listed below could be used as a basis for agreeing competency requirements
and assessing the extent to which they are met. The following are examples of posi-
tive behaviour in meeting competency expectations for knowledge-sharing:

● is eager to share knowledge with colleagues;
● takes positive steps to set up group meetings to exchange relevant information

and knowledge;
● builds networks which provide for knowledge sharing;
● ensures as appropriate that knowledge is captured, codified, recorded and

disseminated through the intranet and/or other means of communication.

Hansen et al mention that at Ernst & Young, consultants are evaluated at performance
reviews along five dimensions, one of which is their ‘contribution to and utilization
of the knowledge asset of the firm’. At Bain, partners are evaluated each year on a
variety of dimensions, including how much direct help they have given colleagues.

In a 360-degree feedback process (see Chapter 34), one of the dimensions for an
assessment by colleagues and direct reports could be the extent to which an indi-
vidual shares knowledge.

184 ❚ HRM processes

Organizational and individual learning
Organizational learning takes place when people learn collaboratively (Hoyle, 1995).
It involves accumulating, analysing and utilizing knowledge resources which
contribute to the achievement of business objectives. Knowledge management
approaches as described in the chapter can make a major contribution to the enhance-
ment of learning in an organization. Practices associated with creating the right envi-
ronment for sharing knowledge will in particular promote organizational learning by
creating a ‘rich landscape of learning and development opportunities’ (Kessels, 1996).

The concept of a learning organization (see Chapter 36) is also relevant. As defined
by Miller and Stewart (1999), one of the characteristics of such an organization is that
‘there are well-defined processes for defining, creating, capturing, sharing and acting
on knowledge’. And Garvin (1993) postulates that learning organizations ‘transfer
knowledge quickly and efficiently throughout the organization by means of formal
training programmes linked to implementation’.

Organizational learning, however, is based on individual learning, and the signifi-
cance of knowledge management and the techniques available to support it can be
learnt in formal training sessions or monitoring programmes designed and facilitated
by the HR function.

Workshops and conferences etc
HR can play an important part in knowledge management by setting up and facili-
tating workshops, conferences, seminars and forums in which members exchange
information and ideas, discuss what they have learnt and agree on what use can be
made of the knowledge they have acquired. Apart from their value in disseminating
knowledge, such gatherings can help to develop an environment in which knowl-
edge-sharing is accepted as a natural and continuing activity.

Working with IT
Knowledge management is neither the preserve of the IT function nor that of HR. The
two functions need to work together. IT ensures that knowledge is recorded and
made acceptable through means such as the intranet. HR collaborates by providing
means for tacit knowledge to be collected and, where feasible, codified.

Promoting the cause
Some organizations such as ICL have appointed a ‘knowledge programme director’
to develop corporate knowledge assets. Others have relied upon IT or business

Knowledge management ❚ 185

teams. But HR can make a major contribution not only in the specific activities
referred to above, but also in generally promoting the cause of knowledge manage-
ment, emphasizing to senior management at every opportunity the importance of
developing a culture in which the significance of knowledge management is recog-

186 ❚ HRM processes

Analysing roles, competencies
and skills

Role analysis is a fundamental HR process. It provides the information needed to
produce role profiles and for use in recruitment, learning and development, perfor-
mance management and job evaluation. For reasons given below, the terms ‘role
analysis’ and ‘role profile’ are rapidly replacing the terms ‘job analysis’ and ‘job
description’. However, role analysis uses basically the same techniques as job
analysis and many features of role profiles are found in more traditional job descrip-
tions. Job analysis is also still used to provide the data for job evaluation, as explained
in Chapter 44.

In this chapter, role analysis is covered first and the chapter continues with descrip-
tions of the associated techniques of competency and skills analysis.


Role analysis defined
Role analysis is the process of finding out what people are expected to achieve when
carrying out their work and the competencies and skills they need to meet these


Role profiles
The result of role analysis is a role profile, which defines the outcomes role holders
are expected to deliver in terms of key result areas or accountabilities. It also lists the
competencies required to perform effectively in the role – what role holders need to
know and be able to do. Profiles can be individual or generic (covering similar roles).

Roles and jobs
If it is used in its strictest sense, the term ‘role’ refers to the part people play in their
work – the emphasis is on their behaviour. For example, a role profile may stress the
need for flexibility. In this sense, a role can be distinguished from a job, which consists
of a group of prescribed tasks/activities to be carried out or duties to be performed.

Job analysis defines those tasks or duties in order to produce a job description. This
is usually prescriptive and inflexible. It spells out exactly what job holders are
required to do. It gives people the opportunity to say: ‘It’s not in my job description’,
meaning that they only feel they have to do the tasks listed there.

Increasingly, the practice is to refer to roles, role analysis and role profiles rather
than to jobs, job analysis and job descriptions. The latter are no longer in favour
because they tend to be prescriptive, restrict flexibility and do not focus on outcomes
or the competencies needed to achieve them. Role profiles are preferred because they
are concerned with performance, results, and knowledge and skill requirements and
are therefore in accord with the present-day emphasis on high-performance working,
outcomes and competencies.

Purpose of role analysis
Role analysis aims to produce the following information about a role for use in
recruitment, performance management and learning and development evaluation:

● Overall purpose – why the role exists and, in essence, what the role holder is
expected to contribute.

● Organization – to whom the role holder reports and who reports to the role holder.
● Key result areas or accountabilities – what the role holder is required to achieve in

each of the main elements of the role.
● Competency requirements – the specific technical competencies attached to the role;

what the role holder is expected to know and to be able to do.

For job evaluation purposes, the role will also be analysed in terms of the factors used
in the job evaluation scheme.

188 ❚ HRM processes

Role analysis may be carried out by HR or other trained people acting as role
analysts. But line managers can also carry out role analysis in conjunction with indi-
vidual members of their teams as an important part of their performance manage-
ment responsibilities (see Chapter 33).

Approach to role analysis by specialized role analysts
The essence of role analysis is the application of systematic methods to the collection
of the information required to produce a role profile under the headings set out
above. The steps required to collect this information are:

1. Obtain documents such as the organization structure, existing job descriptions
(treat these with caution, they are likely to be out of date), and procedure or
training manuals that give information about the job.

2. Ask managers for fundamental information concerning the overall purpose of
the role, the key result areas and the technical competencies required.

3. Ask the role holders similar questions about their roles.

The methods that can be used are interviews, questionnaires or observation.


To obtain the full flavour of a role, it is best to interview role holders and check
the findings with their managers or team leaders. The aim of the interview is to
obtain all the relevant facts about the role to provide the information required for a
role profile. It is helpful to use a checklist when conducting the interview. Elaborate
checklists are not necessary; they only confuse people. The basic questions to be
answered are:

1. What is the title of your role?
2. To whom are you responsible?
3. Who is responsible to you? (An organization chart is helpful.)
4. What is the main purpose of your role, ie in overall terms, what are you expected

to do?
5. What are the key activities you have to carry out in your role? Try to group them

under no more than 10 headings.
6. What are the results you are expected to achieve in each of those key activities?
7. What are you expected to know to be able to carry out your role?
8. What skills should you have to carry out your role?

Analysing roles, competencies and skills ❚ 189

The answers to these questions may need to be sorted out – they can often result in a
mass of jumbled information that has to be analysed so that the various activities can
be distinguished and refined to seven or eight key areas.

The advantages of the interviewing method are that it is flexible, can provide in-
depth information and is easy to organize and prepare. It is therefore the most
common approach. But interviewing can be time-consuming, which is why in large
role analysis exercises, questionnaires as described below may be used to provide
advance information about the job. This speeds up the interviewing process or even
replaces the interview altogether, although this means that much of the ‘flavour’ of
the job – ie what it is really like – may be lost.


Questionnaires about their roles can be completed by role holders and approved by
the role holder’s manager or team leader. They are helpful when a large number of
roles have to be covered. They can also save interviewing time by recording purely
factual information and by enabling the analyst to structure questions in advance to
cover areas that need to be explored in greater depth. The simpler the questionnaire
the better. It need only cover the eight questions listed above.

The advantage of questionnaires is that they can produce information quickly and
cheaply for a large number of jobs. But a substantial sample is needed, and the
construction of a questionnaire is a skilled job that should only be carried out on the
basis of some preliminary fieldwork. It is highly advisable to pilot test questionnaires
before launching into a full-scale exercise. The accuracy of the results also depends on
the willingness and ability of job holders to complete questionnaires. Many people
find it difficult to express themselves in writing about their work.


Observation means studying role holders at work, noting what they do, how they do
it, and how much time it takes. This method is most appropriate for routine adminis-
trative or manual roles, but it is seldom used because of the time it takes.

Role analysis as part of a performance management process
As explained in more detail in Chapter 33, the basis of performance planning and
review processes is provided by a role profile. To develop a role profile it is necessary
for the line manager and the individual to get together and agree the key result areas
and competencies. The questions are similar to those that would be put by a role
analyst, but for line managers can be limited to the following:

190 ❚ HRM processes

● What do you think are the most important things you have to do?
● What do you believe you are expected to achieve in each of these areas?
● How will you – or anyone else – know whether or not you have achieved them?
● What do you have to know and be able to do to perform effectively in these areas?
● What knowledge and skills in terms of qualifications, technical and procedural

knowledge, problem-solving, planning and communication skills, etc do role
holders need to carry out the role effectively?

This process requires some skill, which needs to be developed by training followed
by practice. It is an area in which HR specialists can usefully coach and follow-up on
a one-to-one basis after an initial training session.

Role profile content
Role profiles are set out under the following headings:

● Role title.
● Department.
● Responsible to.
● Responsible to role holder.
● Purpose of the role – defined in one reasonably succinct sentence that defines why

the role exists in terms of the overall contribution the role holder makes.
● Key result areas – if at all possible these should be limited to seven or eight,

certainly not more than 10. Each key result area should be defined in a single
sentence beginning with an active verb (eg, identify, develop, support), which
provides a positive indication of what has to be done and eliminates unnecessary
wording. Describe the object of the verb (what is done) as succinctly as possible,
for example: test new systems, post cash to the nominal and sales ledgers,
schedule production, ensure that management accounts are produced, prepare
marketing plans. State briefly the purpose of the activity in terms of outputs or
standards to be achieved, for example: test new systems to ensure they meet
agreed systems specifications, post cash to the nominal and sales ledgers in order
to provide up-to-date and accurate financial information, schedule production in
order to meet output and delivery targets, ensure that management accounts are
produced that provide the required level of information to management and indi-
vidual managers on financial performance against budget and on any variances,
prepare marketing plans that support the achievement of the marketing strategies
of the enterprise, are realistic, and provide clear guidance on the actions to be
taken by the development, production, marketing and sales departments.

Analysing roles, competencies and skills ❚ 191

● Need to know – the knowledge required overall or in specific key result areas of the
business and its competitors and customers, techniques, processes, procedures or

● Need to be able to do – the skills required in each area of activity.
● Expected behaviour – the behaviours particularly expected of the role holder

(behavioural competencies), which may be extracted from the organization’s
competency framework.

An example of a role profile is given in Figure 13.1.

192 ❚ HRM processes

Role title: Database administrator

Department: Information systems

Purpose of role: Responsible for the development and support of databases and their underlying environ-

Key result areas
➢ Identify database requirements for all projects that require data management in order to meet the

needs of internal customers.
➢ Develop project plans collaboratively with colleagues to deliver against their database needs.
➢ Support underlying database infrastructure.
➢ Liaise with system and software providers to obtain product information and support.
➢ Manage project resources (people and equipment) within predefined budget and criteria, as agreed

with line manager and originating department.
➢ Allocate work to and supervise contractors on day-to-day basis.
➢ Ensure security of the underlying database infrastructure through adherence to established protocols

and to develop additional security protocols where needed.

Need to know
➢ Oracle database administration.
➢ Operation of Designer 2000 and oracle forms SQL/PLSQL, Unix administration, shell programming.

Able to:
➢ Analyse and choose between options where the solution is not always obvious.
➢ Develop project plans and organize own workload on a timescale of 1–2 months.
➢ Adapt to rapidly changing needs and priorities without losing sight of overall plans and priorities.
➢ Interpret budgets in order to manage resources effectively within them.
➢ Negotiate with suppliers.
➢ Keep abreast of technical developments and trends, bring these into day-to-day work when feasible

and build them into new project developments.

Behavioural competencies
➢ Aim to get things done well and set and meet challenging goals, create own measures of excellence

and constantly seek ways of improving performance.
➢ Analyse information from range of sources and develop effective solutions/recommendations.
➢ Communicate clearly and persuasively, orally or in writing, dealing with technical issues in a non-

technical manner.
➢ Work participatively on projects with technical and non-technical colleagues.
➢ Develop positive relationships with colleagues as the supplier of an internal service.

Figure 13.1 Example of a role profile


Competency analysis uses behavioural analysis to establish the behavioural dimen-
sions that affect role performance and produce competency frameworks. Functional
analysis or a version of it can be used to define technical competencies.

Analysing behavioural competencies
There are six approaches to behavioural competency analysis. In ascending order of
complexity these are:

1. expert opinion;
2. structured interview;
3. workshops;
4. critical-incident technique;
5. repertory grid analysis;
6. job competency assessment.

Expert opinion

The basic, crudest and least satisfactory method is for an ‘expert’ member of the HR
department, possibly in discussion with other ‘experts’ from the same department, to
draw up a list from their own understanding of ‘what counts’ coupled with an
analysis of other published lists, such as those given in Chapter 11.

This is unsatisfactory because the likelihood of the competencies being appro-
priate, realistic and measurable in the absence of detailed analysis, is fairly remote.
The list tends to be bland and, because line managers and job holders have not been
involved, unacceptable.

Structured interview

This method begins with a list of competencies drawn up by ‘experts’ and pro-
ceeds by subjecting a number of role holders to a structured interview. The inter-
viewer starts by identifying the key result areas of the role and goes on to analyse the
behavioural characteristics that distinguish performers at different levels of compe-

The basic question is: ‘What are the positive or negative indicators of behaviour
that are conducive or non-conducive to achieving high levels of performance?’ These
may be analysed under such headings as:

Analysing roles, competencies and skills ❚ 193

● personal drive (achievement motivation);
● impact on results;
● analytical power;
● strategic thinking;
● creative thinking (ability to innovate);
● decisiveness;
● commercial judgement;
● team management and leadership;
● interpersonal relationships;
● ability to communicate;
● ability to adapt and cope with change and pressure;
● ability to plan and control projects.

In each area instances will be sought which illustrate effective or less effective behav-

One of the problems with this approach is that it relies too much on the ability of
the expert to draw out information from interviewees. It is also undesirable to use a
deductive approach, which pre-empts the analysis with a prepared list of competency
headings. It is far better to do this by means of an inductive approach that starts from
specific types of behaviour and then groups them under competence headings. This
can be done in a workshop by analysing positive and negative indicators to gain an
understanding of the competence dimensions of an occupation or job, as described

Workshops bring a group of people together who have ‘expert’ knowledge or experi-
ence of the role – managers and role holders as appropriate – with a facilitator,
usually but not necessarily a member of the HR department or an outside consultant.

The members of the workshop begin by getting agreement to the overall purpose
of the role and its key result areas. They then develop examples of effective and less
effective behaviour for each area, which are recorded on flipcharts. For example, one
of the key result areas for a divisional HR director might be human resource plan-
ning, defined as: Prepares forecasts of human resource requirements and plans for the acqui-
sition, retention and effective utilization of employees, which ensure that the company’s needs
for people are met.

The positive indicators for this competence area could include:

● seeks involvement in business strategy formulation;

194 ❚ HRM processes

● contributes to business planning by taking a strategic view of longer-term human
resource issues that are likely to affect business strategy;

● networks with senior management colleagues to understand and respond to the
human resource planning issues they raise;

● suggests practical ways to improve the use of human resources, for example the
introduction of annual hours.

Negative indicators could include:

● takes a narrow view of HR planning – does not seem to be interested in or under-
stand the wider business context;

● lacks the determination to overcome problems and deliver forecasts;
● fails to anticipate skills shortages, for example unable to meet the multiskilling

requirements implicit in the new computer integrated manufacturing system;
● does not seem to talk the same language as line management colleagues – fails to

understand their requirements;
● slow in responding to requests for help.

When the positive and negative indicators have been agreed the next step is to distil
the competency dimensions that can be inferred from the lists. In this example they
could be:

● strategic capability;
● business understanding;
● achievement motivation;
● interpersonal skills;
● communication skills;
● consultancy skills.

These dimensions might also be reflected in the analysis of other areas of competency
so that, progressively, a picture of the competencies is built up that is linked to actual
behaviour in the workplace.

The facilitator’s job is to prompt, help the group to analyse its findings and assist
generally in the production of a set of competence dimensions that can be illustrated
by behaviour-based examples. The facilitator may have some ideas about the sort of
headings that may emerge from this process, but should not try to influence the
group to come to a conclusion that it has not worked out for itself, albeit with some
assistance from the facilitator.

Workshops can use the critical incident or repertory grid techniques, as described

Analysing roles, competencies and skills ❚ 195

Critical-incident technique

The critical-incident technique is a means of eliciting data about effective or less effec-
tive behaviour that is related to examples of actual events – critical incidents. The
technique is used with groups of job holders and/or their managers or other ‘experts’
(sometimes, less effectively, with individuals) as follows:

● Explain what the technique is and what it is used for, ie, ‘to assess what consti-
tutes good or poor performance by analysing events that have been observed to
have a noticeably successful or unsuccessful outcome, thus providing more
factual and “real” information than by simply listing tasks and guessing perfor-
mance requirements’.

● Agree and list the key result in the role to be analysed. To save time, the analyst
can establish these prior to the meeting but it is necessary to ensure that they are
agreed provisionally by the group, which can be told that the list may well be
amended in the light of the forthcoming analysis.

● Take each area of the role in turn and ask the group for examples of critical inci-
dents. If, for instance, one of the job responsibilities is dealing with customers, the
following request could be made: ‘I want you to tell me about a particular occa-
sion at work which involved you – or that you observed – in dealing with a
customer. Think about what the circumstances were, for example who took part,
what the customer asked for, what you or the other member of the staff did and
what the outcome was.’

● Collect information about the critical incident under the following headings:
what the circumstances were; what the individual did; the outcome of what the
individual did.

● Record this information on a flipchart.
● Continue this process for each key result area.
● Refer to the flipchart and analyse each incident by obtaining ratings of the

recorded behaviour on a scale such as 1 for least effective to 5 for most effective.
● Discuss these ratings to get initial definitions of effective and ineffective perfor-

mance for each of the key result areas.
● Refine these definitions as necessary after the meeting – it can be difficult to get a

group to produce finished definitions.
● Produce the final analysis, which can list the competencies required and include

performance indicators or standards of performance for each key result area.

Repertory grid

Like the critical incident technique, the repertory grid can be used to identify the

196 ❚ HRM processes

dimensions that distinguish good from poor standards of performance. The tech-
nique is based on Kelly’s (1955) personal construct theory. Personal constructs are the
ways in which we view the world. They are personal because they are highly indi-
vidual and they influence the way we behave or view other people’s behaviour. The
aspects of the role to which these ‘constructs’ or judgements apply are called

To elicit judgements, a group of people are asked to concentrate on certain
elements, which are the tasks carried out by role holders, and develop constructs
about these elements. This enables them to define the qualities that indicate the essen-
tial requirements for successful performance.

The procedure followed by the analyst is known as the ‘triadic method of elicita-
tion’ (a sort of three-card trick) and involves the following steps:

1. Identify the tasks or elements of the role to be subjected to repertory grid
analysis. This is done by one of the other forms of job analysis, eg interviewing.

2. List the tasks on cards.
3. Draw three cards at random from the pack and ask the members of the group to

nominate which of the three tasks is the odd one out from the point of view of the
qualities and characteristics needed to perform it.

4. Probe to obtain more specific definitions of these qualities or characteristics in the
form of expected behaviour. If, for example, a characteristic has been described as
the ‘ability to plan and organize’, ask questions such as: ‘What sort of behaviour
or actions indicate that someone is planning effectively?’ or, ‘How can we tell if
someone is not organizing his or her work particularly well?’

5. Draw three more cards from the pack and repeat steps 3 and 4.
6. Repeat this process until all the cards have been analysed and there do not

appear to be any more constructs left to be identified.
7. List the constructs and ask the group members to rate each task on every quality,

using a six or seven point scale.
8. Collect and analyse the scores in order to assess their relative importance. This

can be done statistically, as described by Markham (1987).

Like the critical-incident technique, repertory grid analysis helps people to articulate
their views by reference to specific examples. An additional advantage is that the
repertory grid makes it easier for them to identify the behavioural characteristics or
competencies required in a job by limiting the area of comparison through the triadic

Although a full statistical analysis of the outcome of a repertory grid exercise is
helpful, the most important results that can be obtained are the descriptions of what
constitute good or poor performance in each element of the job.

Analysing roles, competencies and skills ❚ 197

Both the repertory grid and the critical incident techniques require a skilled analyst
who can probe and draw out the descriptions of job characteristics. They are quite
detailed and time-consuming, but even if the full process is not followed, much of the
methodology is of use in a less elaborate approach to competency analysis.

Choice of approach

Workshops are probably the best approach. They get people involved and do not rely
on ‘expert’ opinion. Critical incident or repertory grid techniques are more sophisti-
cated but they take more time and expertise to run.

Analysing technical competencies (functional analysis)
The approach to the definition of technical competencies differs from that used for
behavioural competencies. As technical competencies are in effect competences, a
functional analysis process can be used. This methodology was originally developed
by Mansfield and Mitchell (1986) and Fine (1988). In essence, functional analysis
focuses on the outcomes of work performance. Note that the analysis is not simply
concerned with outputs in the form of quantifiable results but deals with the broader
results that have to be achieved by role holders. An outcome could be a satisfied
customer, a more highly motivated subordinate or a better-functioning team.
Functional analysis deals with processes such as developing staff, providing feedback
and monitoring performance as well as tasks. As described by Miller et al (2001) it
starts with an analysis of the roles fulfilled by an individual in order to arrive at a
description of the separate components or ‘units’ of performance that make up that
role. The resulting units consist of performance criteria, described in terms of
outcomes, and a description of the knowledge and skill requirements that underpin
successful performance.

Functional analysis is the method used to define competence-based standards for


Skills analysis determines the skills required to achieve an acceptable standard of
performance. It is mainly used for technical, craft, manual and office jobs to provide
the basis for devising learning and training programmes. Skills analysis starts from a
broad job analysis but goes into details of not only what job holders have to do but
also the particular abilities and skills they need to do it. Skills analysis techniques are
described below.

198 ❚ HRM processes

Job breakdown
The job breakdown technique analyses a job into separate operations, processes, or
tasks, which can be used as the elements of an instruction sequence. A job breakdown
analysis is recorded in a standard format of three columns:

1. The stage column in which the different steps in the job are described – most semi-
skilled jobs can easily be broken down into their constituent parts.

2. The instruction column in which a note is made against each step of how the task
should be done. This, in effect, describes what has to be learnt by the trainee.

3. The key points column in which any special points such as quality standards or
safety instructions are noted against each step so that they can be emphasized to
a trainee learning the job.

Manual skills analysis
Manual skills analysis is a technique developed from work study. It isolates for
instructional purposes the skills and knowledge employed by experienced workers
in performing tasks that require manual dexterity. It is used to analyse short-cycle,
repetitive operations such as assembly tasks and other similar factory work.

The hand, finger and other body movements of experienced operatives are
observed and recorded in detail as they carry out their work. The analysis concen-
trates on the tricky parts of the job which, while presenting no difficulty to the expe-
rienced operative, have to be analysed in depth before they can be taught to trainees.
Not only are the hand movements recorded, but particulars are also noted of the cues
(visual and other senses) that the operative absorbs when performing the tasks.
Explanatory comments are added when necessary.

Task analysis
Task analysis is a systematic analysis of the behaviour required to carry out a task
with a view to identifying areas of difficulty and the appropriate training techniques
and learning aids necessary for successful instruction. It can be used for all types of
jobs but is specifically relevant to administrative tasks.

The analytical approach used in task analysis is similar to those adopted in the job
breakdown and manual skills analysis techniques. The results of the analysis are
usually recorded in a standard format of four columns as follows:

1. Task – a brief description of each element.
2. Level of importance – the relative significance of each task to the successful perfor-

mance of the role.

Analysing roles, competencies and skills ❚ 199

3. Degree of difficulty – the level of skill or knowledge required to perform each

4. Training method – the instructional techniques, practice and experience required.

Faults analysis
Faults analysis is the process of analysing the typical faults that occur when per-
forming a task, especially the more costly faults. It is carried out when the incidence
of faults is high. A study is made of the job and, by questioning workers and team
leaders, the most commonly occurring faults are identified. A faults specification is
then produced, which provides trainees with information on what faults can be
made, how they can be recognized, what causes them, what effect they have, who is
responsible for them, what action the trainees should take when a particular fault
occurs, and how a fault can be prevented from recurring.

Job learning analysis
Job learning analysis, as described by Pearn and Kandola (1993), concentrates on the
inputs and process rather than the content of the job. It analyses nine learning skills
that contribute to satisfactory performance. A learning skill is one used to increase
other skills or knowledge and represents broad categories of job behaviour that need
to be learnt. The learning skills are the following:

1. physical skills requiring practice and repetition to get right;
2. complex procedures or sequences of activity that are memorized or followed

with the aid of written material such as manuals;
3. non-verbal information such as sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, which is

used to check, assess or discriminate, and which usually takes practice to get

4. memorizing facts or information;
5. ordering, prioritizing and planning, which refer to the degree to which a role

holder has any responsibility for and flexibility in determining the way a partic-
ular activity is performed;

6. looking ahead and anticipating;
7. diagnosing, analysing and problem-solving, with or without help;
8. interpreting or using written manuals and other sources of information such as

diagrams or charts;
9. adapting to new ideas and systems.

200 ❚ HRM processes

In conducting a job learning analysis interview, the interviewer obtains information
on the main aims and principal activities of the job and then, using question cards for
each of the nine learning skills, analyses each activity in more depth, recording
responses and obtaining as many examples as possible under each heading.

Analysing roles, competencies and skills ❚ 201

Work and employment

This part of the handbook is concerned with the factors affecting employment in
organizations. It explores the nature of work, the employment relationship and the
important concept of the psychological contract.

Part III

The nature of work

In this chapter the nature of work is explored – what it is, the various theories about
work, the organizational factors that affect it and attitudes towards work.


Work is the exertion of effort and the application of knowledge and skills to achieve a
purpose. Most people work to earn a living – to make money. But they also work
because of the other satisfactions it brings, such as doing something worthwhile, a
sense of achievement, prestige, recognition, the opportunity to use and develop abili-
ties, the scope to exercise power, and companionship. Within organizations, the
nature of the work carried out by individuals and what they feel about it are
governed by the employment relationship as discussed in Chapter 15 and the psycho-
logical contract as considered in Chapter 16.

In this chapter the various theories of work are summarized in the first section. The
following sections deal with the organizational factors that affect work such as the
‘lean’ and ‘flexible’ organization, changes in the pattern of working, unemployment,
careers and attitudes to work.



The theories about work described in this section consist of labour process theory,
agency theory and exchange theory. The concept of the pluralist and unitarist frame
of reference is also considered.

Labour process theory
Labour process theory was originally formulated by Karl Marx (translated in 1976).
His thesis was that surplus is appropriated from labour by paying it less than the
value it adds to the labour process. Capitalists therefore design the labour process to
secure the extraction of surplus value. The human capacity to produce is subordi-
nated to the exploitative demands of the capitalist, which is an alien power
confronting the worker who becomes a ‘crippled monstrosity by furthering his skill
as if in a forcing house through the suppression of a whole world of productive drives
and inclinations’.

Considerably later, a version of labour process theory was set out by Braverman
(1974). His view was that the application of modern management techniques, in
combination with mechanization and automation, secures the real subordination of
labour and de-skilling of work in the office as well as the shop-floor. He stated that
the removal of all forms of control from the worker is ‘the ideal towards which
management tends, and in pursuit of which it uses every productive innovation
shaped by science’. He saw this as essentially the application of ‘Taylorism’ (ie F. W
Taylor’s concept of scientific management, meaning the use of systematic observation
and measurement, task specialism and, in effect, the reduction of workers to the level
of efficiently functioning machines).

Braverman’s notion of labour process theory has been criticized as being simplistic
by subsequent commentators such as Littler and Salaman (1982) who argue that there
are numerous determinants in the control of the labour process. And Friedman (1977)
believes that Braverman’s version neglects the diverse and sophisticated character of
management control as it responds not only to technological advances but also to
changes in the degree and intensity of worker resistance and new product and labour
market conditions. Storey (1995) has commented that ‘the labour process band-
wagon… is now holed and patched beyond repair’.

But more recent commentators such as Newton and Findlay (1996) believe that
labour process theory explains how managements have at their disposal a range
of mechanisms through which control is exercised: ‘Job performance and its assess-
ment is at the heart of the labour process.’ Managements, according to Newton
and Findlay, are constantly seeking ways to improve the effectiveness of control

206 ❚ Work and employment

mechanisms to achieve compliance. They ‘try to squeeze the last drop of surplus
value’ out of their labour.

Agency theory
Agency or principal agent theory indicates that principals (owners and managers)
have to develop ways of monitoring and controlling the activities of their agents
(staff). Agency theory suggests that principals may have problems in ensuring that
agents do what they are told. It is necessary to clear up ambiguities by setting objec-
tives and monitoring performance to ensure that objectives are achieved.

Agency theory has been criticized by Gomez-Mejia and Balkin (1992) as ‘manageri-
alist’. As Armstrong (1996) wrote: ‘It looks at the employment relationship purely
from management’s point of view and regards employees as objects to be motivated
by the carrot and stick. It is a dismal theory, which suggests that people cannot be

Exchange theory
Exchange theory sets out to explain organizational behaviour in terms of the rewards
and costs incurred in the interaction between employers and employees. There are
four concepts:

● Rewards – payoffs that satisfy needs emerging from the interactions between indi-
viduals and their organizations.

● Costs – fatigue, stress, anxiety, punishments and the value of rewards that people
have lost because of lack of opportunity.

● Outcomes – rewards minus costs: if positive, the interaction yields a ‘profit’ and
this is satisfactory as long as it exceeds the minimum level of expectation.

● Level of comparisons – people evaluate the outcome of an interaction against the
profit they are foregoing elsewhere.

Unitary and pluralist frames of reference
One of the often expressed aims of human resource management is to increase the
commitment of people to the organization by getting them to share its views and
values and integrate their own work objectives with those of the organization. This
concept adopts a unitary frame of reference; in other words, as expressed by Gennard
and Judge (1997), organizations are assumed to be ‘harmonious and integrated, all
employees sharing the organisational goals and working as members of one team’.

The nature of work ❚ 207

Alternatively, the pluralist perspective as expressed by Cyert and March (1963) sees
organizations as coalitions of interest groups and recognizes the legitimacy of
different interests and values. Organizational development programmes, which,
amongst other things, aim to increase commitment and teamwork, adopt a unitary
framework. But it can be argued that this is a managerialist assumption and that the
legitimate interests of the other members of a pluralist society – the stakeholders –
will have their own interests, which should be respected.


The nature of work changes as organizations change in response to new demands
and environmental pressures. Business-process engineering, downsizing and delay-
ering all have significant effects on the type of work carried out, on feelings of secu-
rity and on the career opportunities available in organizations. Three of the most
important factors – the ‘lean’ organization, the changing role of the process worker
and the flexible firm – are discussed below.

The lean organization
The term ‘lean production’ was popularized by Womack and Jones (1970) in The
Machine That Changed the World. But the drive for leaner methods of working was
confined initially to the car industry. In the classic case of Toyota, one of the pioneers
of lean production, or more loosely, ‘world class manufacturing’, seven forms of
waste were identified, which had to be eliminated. These were overproduction,
waiting, transporting, over-processing, inventories, moving, and making defective
parts or products. Lean production aims to add value by minimizing waste in
terms of materials, time, space and people. Production systems associated with lean-
ness include just-in-time, supply chain management, material resources planning
and zero defects/right first time. Business process re-engineering programmes often
accompany drives for leaner methods of working and total quality management
approaches are used to support drives for greater levels of customer satisfaction and

The concept of ‘leanness’ has since been extended to non-manufacturing organiza-
tions. This can often be number driven and is implemented by means of a reduction
in headcounts (downsizing) and a reduction in the number of levels of management
and supervision (delayering). But there is no standard model of what a lean organi-
zation looks like. According to the report on the research conducted by the Institute
of Personnel and Development (IPD) on lean and responsive organizations (IPD,

208 ❚ Work and employment

1998b), firms select from a menu the methods that meet their particular business
needs. These include, other than delayering or the negative approach of downsizing,
positive steps such as:

● team-based work organizations;
● shop-floor empowerment and problem-solving practices;
● quality built in, not inspected in;
● emphasis on horizontal business processes rather than vertical structures;
● partnership relationships with suppliers;
● cross-functional management and development teams;
● responsiveness to customer demand;
● human resource management policies aimed at high motivation and commitment

and including communication programmes and participation in decision-

The IPD report emphasizes that qualitative change through people is a major feature
of lean working but that the issue is not just that of launching change. The key
requirement is to sustain it. The report also noted that HR practitioners can play a
number of important roles in the process of managing change. These include that of
supporter, interpreter, champion, monitor, resourcer, and anticipator of potential

A question posed by Purcell et al (1998) was: ‘Are lean organizations usually mean
organizations?’ But they commented that the IPD research did not indicate that leaner
methods of work have positive implications for employees. The evidence suggested
that the impact on people is often negative, particularly when restructuring means
downsizing and re-engineering. Employees work longer hours, stress rises, career
opportunities are reduced and morale and motivation fall. They also made the point
that it is clear that many initiatives fail because they do not take into account the
people implications, and that the first and most significant barrier was middle
management resistance.

The changing role of the process worker
A report published on a research project into process working by the Institute of
Employment Studies (Giles et al 1997) revealed that management structures designed
in response to technological advances and competitive pressures are transforming the
role of process workers.

Increasing automation and the application of new technologies to the production
process mean that low-skilled manual jobs continue to disappear, and that process

The nature of work ❚ 209

workers are becoming progressively less involved in manual operating tasks. Instead,
they are being given more responsibility for the processes they work on, while being
expected to become more customer and business oriented and, in many cases, to
carry out simple engineering and maintenance tasks.

The flexible firm
The concept of the ‘flexible firm’ was originated by Atkinson (1984) who claimed that
there is a growing trend for firms to seek various forms of structural and operational
flexibility. The three kinds of flexibility areas follow:

● Functional flexibility is sought so that employees can be redeployed quickly and
smoothly between activities and tasks. Functional flexibility may require multi-
skilling – craft workers who possess and can apply a number of skills covering,
for example, both mechanical and electrical engineering, or manufacturing and
maintenance activities.

● Numerical flexibility is sought so that the number of employees can be quickly and
easily increased or decreased in line with even short-term changes in the level of
demand for labour.

● Financial flexibility provides for pay levels to reflect the state of supply and
demand in the external labour market and also means the use of flexible pay
systems that facilitate either functional or numerical flexibility.

The new structure in the flexible firm involves the break-up of the labour force
into increasingly peripheral, and therefore numerically flexible, groups of workers
clustered around a numerically stable core group that will conduct the organization’s
key, firm-specific activities. At the core, the focus is on functional flexibility. Shifting
to the periphery, numerical flexibility becomes more important. As the market grows,
the periphery expands to take up slack; as growth slows, the periphery contracts.
At the core, only tasks and responsibilities change; the workers here are insulated
from medium-term fluctuations in the market and can therefore enjoy job security,
whereas those in the periphery are exposed to them.


The most important developments over the past decade have been a consider-
able increase in the use of part-timers, a marked propensity for organizations to
subcontract work and to outsource services, and a greater requirement for specialists
(knowledge workers) and professionals in organizations. Teleworking has increased

210 ❚ Work and employment

(working at home with a computer terminal link to the firm) and call centre work has

Under the pressures to be competitive and to achieve ‘cost leadership’, organiza-
tions are not only ‘downsizing’ but are also engaging people on short-term contracts
and make no pretence that they are there to provide careers. They want specific
contributions to achieving organizational goals now and, so far as people are
concerned, they may let the future take care of itself, believing that they can purchase
the talent required as and when necessary. This may be short-sighted, but it is the
way many businesses now operate.

When preparing and implementing human resource plans, HR practitioners need
to be aware of these factors and trends within the context of their internal
and external environments. A further factor that affects the way in which the
labour market operates, and therefore human resource planning decisions, is unem-

In general there is far less security in employment today, and the old tradition of
the life-long career is no longer so much in evidence. Employers are less likely to be
committed to their employees. At the same time, employees tend to be less
committed to their employers and more committed to their careers, which they may
perceive are likely to progress better if they change jobs rather than remain with their
present employer. They are concerned with their employability, and are determined
to extract as much value as possible from their present employment to provide for
their future elsewhere.

The Economic and Social Research Council and the Tomorrow Project (2005)
reported that, today, more than 5 million people, almost a fifth of employees,
spend some time working at home or on the move. The report predicts the rise of the
‘mobile worker’, moving – laptop and mobile in tow – between office, home, airport
lounge or motorway service station as the needs of a job demand. As stated in the

Individuals at work will not necessarily see themselves as working from home. They
could equally be working from the office. But they will be on the move from place to
place… There will be a shift from personalized space to personalized time and the
boundaries between work and leisure time will be less distinct.

The report says that managers will have to find new ways to control these mobile
workers, possibly based on capturing workers’ hearts and minds to create a culture of
hard work even at a distance.

The nature of work ❚ 211


Economists are unable to agree on the causes of or cures for unemployment (or
anything else, it seems). The essence of the Keynesian explanation is that firms
demand too little labour because individuals demand too few goods. The classical
view was that unemployment was voluntary and could be cleared by natural market
forces. The neo-classical theory is that there is a natural rate of unemployment, which
reflects a given rate of technology, individual preferences and endowments. With
flexible wages in a competitive labour market, wages adjust to clear the market and
any unemployment that remains is voluntary. The latter view was that held by Milton
Friedman and strongly influenced government policy in the early 1980s, but without
success. There is, of course, no simple explanation of unemployment and no simple


The IPD research into employee motivation and the psychological contract (Guest
et al, 1996; Guest and Conway, 1997) obtained the following responses from the
people they surveyed:

● Work remains a central interest in the lives of most people.
● If they won the lottery, 39 per cent would quit work, but most of the others would

continue working.
● Asked to cite the three most important things they look for in a job, 70 per cent of

respondents cited pay, 62 per cent wanted interesting and varied work and only
22 per cent were looking for job security.

● 35 per cent claimed that they were putting in so much effort that they could not
work any harder and a further 34 per cent claimed they were working very hard.


The 2004 Workplace Employee Relations Survey (WERS, 2005) covering 700,000
workplaces and 22.5 million employees surveyed 21,624 employees in workplaces
employing more than 10 people on how they felt at work. The results are summarized
in Table 14.1.

This does not present an unduly gloomy picture. The percentage of people feeling
either tense or calm some, more or all of the time was much the same. An equal

212 ❚ Work and employment

number of people were never relaxed or worried, and rather more were never uneasy.
Sixty-nine per cent were content all, most or part of the time. The WERS survey also
revealed that job-related well-being was higher in small organizations and work-
places than in large ones, higher among union members, fell with increased educa-
tion and is U-shaped with regard to age (ie higher amongst younger and older
employees than amongst the middle-aged).

The nature of work ❚ 213

The job All of the Most of the Some of the Occasionally Never %
makes you time % time % time % %

Tense 4 15 42 27 12

Calm 3 30 29 27 11

Relaxed 2 10 35 32 21

Worried 2 10 35 32 21

Uneasy 2 8 28 33 29

Content 5 33 30 22 11

Table 14.1 Feelings at work (WERS, 2005)

The employment relationship

This chapter explores the nature of the employment relationship and the creation of a
climate of trust within that relationship.


The term employment relationship describes the interconnections that exist between
employers and employees in the workplace. These may be formal, eg contracts of
employment, procedural agreements. Or they may be informal, in the shape of the
psychological contract, which expresses certain assumptions and expectations about
what managers and employer have to offer and are willing to deliver (Kessler and
Undy, 1996). They can have an individual dimension, which refers to individual
contracts and expectations, or a collective dimension, which refers to relationships
between management and trade unions, staff associations or members of joint consul-
tative bodies such as works councils.


The dimensions of the employment relationship as described by Kessler and Undy
(1996) are shown in Figure 15.1.


The parties are managers, employees and employee representatives. The ‘substance’
incorporates the job, reward and career of individuals and the communications and
culture of the organization as it affects them. It can also include collective agreements
and joint employee relations machinery (works councils and the like). The formal
dimensions include rules and procedures, and the informal aspect covers under-
standing, expectations and assumptions. Finally, the employment relationship exists
at different levels in the organization (management to employees generally, and
managers to individual employees and their representatives or groups of people).
The operation of the relationship will also be affected by processes such as communi-
cations and consultation, and by the management style prevailing throughout the
organization or adopted by individual managers.

216 ❚ Work and employment

Figure 15.1 Dimensions of the employment relationship

(Source: S Kessler and R Undy, The New Employment Relationship: Examining the psychological
contract, Institute of Personnel and Development, London, 1996)


● Managers
● Employees
● Employees’



● Level
● Process
● Style


● Formal

● Informal


● job
● reward
● career
● communications
● culture

The employment relationship


The starting point of the employment relationship is an undertaking by an employee
to provide skill and effort to the employer in return for which the employer provides
the employee with a salary or a wage. Initially the relationship is founded on a legal
contract. This may be a written contract but the absence of such a contract does not
mean that no contractual relationship exists. Employers and employees still have
certain implied legal rights and obligations. The employer’s obligations include the
duty to pay salary or wages, to provide a safe workplace, to act in good faith towards
the employee and not to act in such a way as to undermine the trust and confidence
of the employment relationship. The employee has corresponding obligations, which
include obedience, competence, honesty and loyalty.

An important factor to remember about the employment relationship is that, gener-
ally, it is the employer who has the power to dictate the contractual terms unless they
have been fixed by collective bargaining. Individuals, except when they are much in
demand, have little scope to vary the terms of the contract imposed upon them by


Two types of contracts defining the employment relationship have been distin-
guished by Macneil (1985) and Rousseau and Wade-Benzoni (1994):

● Transactional contracts have well-described terms of exchange, which are usually
expressed financially. They are of limited duration, with specified performance

● Relational contracts are less well defined with more abstract terms and refer to an
open-ended membership of the organization. Performance requirements attached
to this continuing membership are incomplete or ambiguous.

However, the employment relationships can also be expressed in terms of a psycholog-
ical contract, which, according to Guzzo and Noonan (1994), has both transactional
and relational qualities. The concept of a psychological contract expresses the view
that at its most basic level the employment relationship consists of a unique combina-
tion of beliefs held by an individual and his or her employer about what they expect
of one another. This concept is discussed in more detail in Chapter 16.

The employment relationship ❚ 217


The concept of the employment relationship is significant to HR specialists because it
governs much of what organizations need to be aware of in developing and applying
HR processes, policies and procedures. These need to be considered in terms of what
they will or will not contribute to furthering a productive and rewarding employ-
ment relationship between all the parties concerned.


As noted by Gallie et al (1998) in their analysis of the outcome of their ‘employment in
Britain’ research programme, while there have been shifts in the ways in which
people are employed: ‘The evidence for a major change in the nature of the employ-
ment relationship was much less convincing.’ But they did note the following charac-
teristics of employment as revealed by the survey:

● New forms of management, often based explicitly or implicitly on HRM princi-
ples and emphasizing individual contracts rather than collective bargaining.

● There was some increase in task discretion but there was no evidence of a signifi-
cant decline in managerial control; indeed, in some important respects control
was intensified.

● Supervisory activity was still important.
● Integrative forms of management policy were centred on non-manual employees.
● The great majority of employees continued to attach a high level of importance to

the intrinsically motivating aspects of work.
● The higher the level of skill, the more people were involved with their work.
● The raising of skill levels and the granting of increased discretion to employers

are key factors in improving the quality of work experience.
● High levels of commitment to the organization can reduce absenteeism and

labour turnover but there was no evidence that organizational commitment
‘added anything over and above other organizational and task characteristics
with regard to the quality of work performance’.


The dynamic and often nebulous nature of the employment relationship increases the
difficulty of managing it. The problem is compounded because of the multiplicity of

218 ❚ Work and employment

factors that influence the contract: the culture of the organization; the prevailing
management style; the values, espoused and practised, of top management; the exis-
tence or non-existence of a climate of trust; day-to-day interactions between
employees and line managers; and the HR policies and practices of the business.

The latter are particularly important. The nature of the employment relationship
is strongly influenced by HR actions. These cover all aspects of HR management.
But how people are treated in such areas as recruitment, performance reviews,
promotion, career development, reward, involvement and participation, grievance
handling, disciplinary procedures and redundancy will be particularly important.
How people are required to carry out their work (including flexibility and
multi-skilling), how performance expectations are expressed and communicated,
how work is organized and how people are managed will also make a signifi-
cant impact on the employment relationship. HR specialists can contribute to the
development of a positive and productive employment relationship in the following

● during recruitment interviews – presenting the unfavourable as well as the
favourable aspects of a job in a ‘realistic job preview’;

● in induction programmes – communicating to new starters the organization’s
personnel policies and procedures and its core values, indicating to them the stan-
dards of performance expected in such areas as quality and customer service, and
spelling out requirements for flexibility;

● by issuing and updating employee handbooks that reinforce the messages delivered
in induction programmes;

● by encouraging the development of performance management processes that ensure
that performance expectations are agreed and reviewed regularly;

● by encouraging the use of personal development plans that spell out how continuous
improvement of performance can be achieved, mainly by self-managed learning;

● by using learning and development programmes to underpin core values and define
performance expectations;

● by ensuring through manager and team leader training that managers and team
leaders understand their role in managing the employment relationship through
such processes as performance management and team leadership;

● by encouraging the maximum amount of contact between managers and team
leaders and their team members to achieve mutual understanding of expectations
and to provide a means of two-way communications;

● by adopting a general policy of transparency – ensuring that in all matters that
affect them, employees know what is happening, why it is happening and the
impact it will make on their employment, development and prospects;

The employment relationship ❚ 219

● by developing HR procedures covering grievance handling, discipline, equal
opportunities, promotion and redundancy and ensuring that they are imple-
mented fairly and consistently;

● developing and communicating HR policies covering the major areas of employ-
ment, development, reward and employee relations;

● by ensuring that the reward system is developed and managed to achieve equity,
fairness and consistency in all aspects of pay and benefits;

● generally, by advising on employee relations procedures, processes and issues that
further good collective relationships.

These approaches to managing the employment relationship cover all aspects of
people management. It is important to remember, however, that this is a continuous
process. The effective management of the relationship means ensuring that values are
upheld and that a transparent, consistent and fair approach is adopted in dealing
with all aspects of employment.


The IPD suggested in its statement People Make the Difference (1994) that building trust
is the only basis upon which commitment can be generated. The IPD commented
that: ‘In too many organizations inconsistency between what is said and what is done
undermines trust, generates employee cynicism and provides evidence of contradic-
tions in management thinking.’

It has also been suggested by Herriot et al (1998) that trust should be regarded as
social capital – the fund of goodwill in any social group that enables people within it
to collaborate with one another. Thompson (1998) sees trust as a ‘unique human
resource capability that helps the organization fulfil its competitive advantage’ – a
core competency that leads to high business performance. Thus there is a business
need to develop a climate of trust, as there is a business need to introduce effective
pay-for-contribution processes, which are built on trust.

The meaning of trust
Trust, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is a firm belief that a person may
be relied on. An alternative definition has been provided by Shaw (1997) to the effect
that trust is the ‘belief that those on whom we depend will meet our expectations of
them’. These expectations are dependent on ‘our assessment of another’s responsi-
bility to meet our needs’.

220 ❚ Work and employment

A climate of trust
A high-trust organization has been described by Fox (1973) as follows:

Organizational participants share certain ends or values; bear towards each other a
diffuse sense of long-term obligations; offer each other spontaneous support without
narrowly calculating the cost or anticipating any short-term reciprocation; communicate
honestly and freely; are ready to repose their fortunes in each other’s hands; and
give each other the benefit of any doubt that may arise with respect to goodwill or

This ideal state may seldom, if ever, be attained, but it does represent a picture of an
effective organization in which, as Thompson (1998) notes, trust ‘is an outcome of
good management’.

When do employees trust management?
Management is more likely to be trusted by employees when the latter:

● believe that the management means what it says;
● observe that management does what it says it is going to do – suiting the action to

the word;
● know from experience that management, in the words of David Guest (Guest and

Conway, 1998), ‘delivers the deal – it keeps its word and fulfils its side of the

● feel they are treated fairly, equitable and consistently.

Developing a high-trust organization
As Thompson (1998) comments, a number of writers have generally concluded that
trust is ‘not something that can, or should, be directly managed’. He cites Sako (1994)
who wrote that: ‘Trust is a cultural norm which can rarely be created intentionally
because attempts to create trust in a calculative manner would destroy the effective
basis of trust.’

It may not be possible to ‘manage’ trust but, as Thompson argues, trust is an
outcome of good management. It is created and maintained by managerial behaviour
and by the development of better mutual understanding of expectations – employers
of employees, and employees of employers. But Herriot et al (1998) point out that
issues of trust are not in the end to do with managing people or processes, but are
more about relationships and mutual support through change.

The employment relationship ❚ 221

Clearly, the sort of behaviour that is most likely to engender trust is when manage-
ment is honest with people, keeps its word (delivers the deal) and practises what it
preaches. Organizations that espouse core values (‘people are our greatest asset’) and
then proceed to ignore them will be low-trust organizations.

More specifically, trust will be developed if management acts fairly, equitably and
consistently, if a policy of transparency is implemented, if intentions and the reasons
for proposals or decisions are communicated both to employees generally and to
individuals, if there is full involvement in developing HR processes, and if mutual
expectations are agreed through performance management.

Failure to meet these criteria, wholly or in part, is perhaps the main reason
why so many performance-related pay schemes have not lived up to expectations.
The starting point is to understand and apply the principles of distributive and
procedural justice.


To treat people justly is to deal with them fairly and equitably. Leventhal
(1980), following Adams (1965), distinguished between distributive and procedural

Distributive justice refers to how rewards are distributed. People will feel that they
have been treated justly in this respect if they believe that rewards have been distrib-
uted in accordance with their contributions, that they receive what was promised to
them and that they get what they need.

Procedural justice refers to the ways in which managerial decisions are made and
HR procedures are managed. People will feel that they have been treated justly if
management’s decisions and procedures are fair, consistent, transparent, non-
discriminatory and properly consider the views and needs of employees.

Renewing trust

As suggested by Herriot et al (1998), if trust is lost, a four-step programme is required
for its renewal:

1. admission by top management that it has paid insufficient attention in the past to
employees’ diverse needs;

2. a limited process of contracting whereby a particular transition to a different way
of working for a group of employees is done in a form that takes individual
needs into account;

222 ❚ Work and employment

3. establishing ‘knowledge-based’ trust, which is based not on a specific transac-
tional deal but on a developing perception of trustworthiness;

4. achieving trust based on identification in which each party empathizes with each
other’s needs and therefore takes them on board themselves (although this final
state is seldom reached in practice).

The employment relationship ❚ 223

The psychological contract

The employment relationship, as described in Chapter 15, is a fundamental feature of
all aspects of people management. At its most basic level, the employment relation-
ship consists of a unique combination of beliefs held by an individual and his or her
employer about what they expect of one another. This is the psychological contract,
and to manage the employment relationship effectively it is necessary to understand
what the psychological contract is, how it is formed and its significance.


Fundamentally, the psychological contract expresses the combination of beliefs held
by an individual and his or her employer about what they expect of one another. It
can be described as the set of reciprocal but unarticulated expectations that exist
between individual employees and their employers. As defined by Schein (1965):
‘The notion of a psychological contract implies that there is an unwritten set of expec-
tations operating at all times between every member of an organization and the
various managers and others in that organization.’

This definition was amplified by Rousseau and Wade-Benzoni (1994) who stated


Psychological contracts refer to beliefs that individuals hold regarding promises made,
accepted and relied upon between themselves and another. (In the case of organiza-
tions, these parties include an employee, client, manager, and/or organization as a
whole.) Because psychological contracts represent how people interpret promises and
commitments, both parties in the same employment relationship (employer and
employee) can have different views regarding specific terms.

Sparrow (1999b) defined the psychological contract as:

an open-ended agreement about what the individual and the organization expect to give
and receive in return from the employment relationship… psychological contracts
represent a dynamic and reciprocal deal… New expectations are added over time as
perceptions about the employer’s commitment evolve. These unwritten individual
contracts are therefore concerned with the social and emotional aspects of the exchange
between employer and employee.

Within organizations, as Katz and Kahn (1966) pointed out, every role is basically
a set of behavioural expectations. These expectations are often implicit – they are
not defined in the employment contract. Basic models of motivation such as
expectancy theory (Vroom, 1964) and operant conditioning (Skinner, 1974) maintain
that employees behave in ways they expect will produce positive outcomes. But
they do not necessarily know what to expect. As Rousseau and Greller (1994)

The ideal contract in employment would detail expectations of both employee and
employer. Typical contracts, however, are incomplete due to bounded rationality, which
limits individual information seeking, and to a changing organizational environment
that makes it impossible to specify all conditions up front. Both employee and employer
are left to fill up the blanks.

The notion of bounded rationality expresses the belief that while people often try to
act rationally, the extent to which they do so is limited by their emotional reactions to
the situation they are in.

Employees may expect to be treated fairly as human beings, to be provided with
work that uses their abilities, to be rewarded equitably in accordance with their
contribution, to be able to display competence, to have opportunities for further
growth, to know what is expected of them and to be given feedback (preferably posi-
tive) on how they are doing. Employers may expect employees to do their best on
behalf of the organization – ‘to put themselves out for the company’ – to be fully
committed to its values, to be compliant and loyal, and to enhance the image of the

226 ❚ Work and employment

organization with its customers and suppliers. Sometimes these assumptions are
justified – often they are not. Mutual misunderstandings can cause friction and stress
and lead to recriminations and poor performance, or to a termination of the employ-
ment relationship.

To summarize, in the words of Guest and Conway (1998), the psychological
contract lacks many of the characteristics of the formal contract: ‘It is not generally
written down, it is somewhat blurred at the edges, and it cannot be enforced in a
court or tribunal.’ They believe that: ‘The psychological contract is best seen as a
metaphor; a word or phrase borrowed from another context which helps us make
sense of our experience. The psychological contract is a way of interpreting the state
of the employment relationship and helping to plot significant changes.’


As suggested by Spindler (1994): ‘A psychological contract creates emotions and atti-
tudes which form and control behaviour.’ The significance of the psychological
contract was further explained by Sims (1994) as follows: ‘A balanced psychological
contract is necessary for a continuing, harmonious relationship between the
employee and the organization. However, the violation of the psychological contract
can signal to the participants that the parties no longer share (or never shared) a
common set of values or goals.’

The concept highlights the fact that employee/employer expectations take the
form of unarticulated assumptions. Disappointments on the part of management as
well as employees may therefore be inevitable. These disappointments can, however,
be alleviated if managements appreciate that one of their key roles is to manage
expectations, which means clarifying what they believe employees should achieve,
the competencies they should possess and the values they should uphold. And this is
a matter not just of articulating and stipulating these requirements but of discussing
and agreeing them with individuals and teams.

The psychological contract governs the continuing development of the employ-
ment relationship, which is constantly evolving over time. But how the contract
is developing and the impact it makes may not be fully understood by any of the
parties involved. Spindler (1994) comments that: ‘In a psychological contract the
rights and obligations of the parties have not been articulated, much less agreed to.
The parties do not express their expectations and, in fact, may be quite incapable of
doing so.’

The psychological contract ❚ 227

People who have no clear idea about what they expect may, if such unexpressed
expectations have not been fulfilled, have no clear idea why they have been disap-
pointed. But they will be aware that something does not feel right. And a company
staffed by ‘cheated’ individuals who expect more than they get is heading for trouble.

The importance of the psychological contract was emphasized by Schein (1965)
who suggested that the extent to which people work effectively and are committed to
the organization depends on:

● the degree to which their own expectations of what the organization will provide
to them and what they owe the organization in return match that organization’s
expectations of what it will give and get in return;

● the nature of what is actually to be exchanged (assuming there is some agreement) –
money in exchange for time at work; social need satisfaction and security in
exchange for hard work and loyalty; opportunities for self-actualization and chal-
lenging work in exchange for high productivity, high-quality work, and creative
effort in the service of organizational goals; or various combinations of these and
other things.

The research conducted by Guest and Conway (2002) led to the conclusion that ‘The
management of the psychological contract as Schalk and Rousseau (2001) suggest, is
a core task of management and acknowledged as such by many senior HR and
employment relations managers, and shows that it has a positive association with a
range of outcomes within the employment relationship and is a useful way of concep-
tualising that relationship.’


A psychological contract is a system of beliefs that may not have been articulated. It
encompasses the actions employees believe are expected of them and what response
they expect in return from their employer. As described by Guest et al (1996): ‘It is
concerned with assumptions, expectations, promises and mutual obligations.’ It
creates attitudes and emotions that form and govern behaviour. A psychological
contract is implicit. It is also dynamic – it develops over time as experience accumu-
lates, employment conditions change and employees re-evaluate their expectations.

The psychological contract may provide some indication of the answers to the two
fundamental employment relationship questions that individuals pose: ‘What can
I reasonably expect from the organization?’ and ‘What should I reasonably be
expected to contribute in return?’ But it is unlikely that the psychological contract

228 ❚ Work and employment

and therefore the employment relationship will ever be fully understood by either

The aspects of the employment relationship covered by the psychological contract
will include, from the employee’s point of view:

● how they are treated in terms of fairness, equity and consistency;
● security of employment;
● scope to demonstrate competence;
● career expectations and the opportunity to develop skills;
● involvement and influence;
● trust in the management of the organization to keep their promises;
● safe working environment.

From the employer’s point of view, the psychological contract covers such aspects of
the employment relationship as:

● competence;
● effort;
● compliance;
● commitment;
● loyalty.

As Guest et al (1996) point out:

While employees may want what they have always wanted – security, a career, fair
rewards, interesting work and so on – employers no longer feel able or obliged to
provide these. Instead, they have been demanding more of their employees in terms of
greater input and tolerance of uncertainty and change, while providing less in return, in
particular less security and more limited career prospects.

An operational model of the psychological contract
An operational model of the psychological contract as formulated by Guest et al
(1996) suggests that the core of the contract can be measured in terms of fairness of
treatment, trust, and the extent to which the explicit deal or contract is perceived to be
delivered. The full model is illustrated in Figure 16.1.


Psychological contracts are not developed by means of a single transaction. There are
many contract makers who exert influence over the whole duration of an employee’s
involvement with an organization. As Spindler (1994) comments:

The psychological contract ❚ 229

Every day we create relationships by means other than formal contracts… As individuals
form relationships they necessarily bring their accumulated experience and developed
personalities with them. In ways unknown to them, what they expect from the relation-
ship reflects the sum total of their conscious and unconscious learning to date.

The problem with psychological contracts is that employees are often unclear about
what they want from the organization or what they can contribute to it. Some
employees are equally unclear about what they expect from their employees.

Because of these factors, and because a psychological contract is essentially
implicit, it is likely to develop in an unplanned way with unforeseen consequences.
Anything that management does or is perceived as doing that affects the interests of
employees will modify the psychological contract. Similarly the actual or perceived
behaviour of employees, individually or collectively, will affect an employer’s
concept of the contract.

230 ❚ Work and employment


HRM policy
and practice







and well-being



The delivery of the deal

Causes Content Consequences

Figure 16.1 A model of the psychological contract

(Source: D Guest, N Conway, R Briner and M Dickman, The State of the Psychological Contract in
Employment: Issues in people management, Institute of Personnel and Development, London,


Many commentators have delivered warnings about changes to the psychological
contract that are not all advantageous to employees. And the nature of the psycho-
logical contract is changing in many organizations in response to changes in their
external and internal environments. This is largely because of the impact of global
competition and the effect this has had on how businesses operate, including moves
into ‘lean’ forms of operation.

The psychological contract has not been an issue in the past because usually it did
not change much. This is no longer the case because:

● business organizations are neither stable nor long-lived – uncertainty prevails, job
security is no longer on offer by employers who are less anxious to maintain a
stable workforce – as Mirvis and Hall (1994) point out, organizations are making
continued employment explicitly contingent on the fit between people’s compe-
tences and business needs;

● flexibility, adaptability and speed of response are all-important and individual
roles may be subject to constant change – continuity and predictability are no
longer available for employees;

● leaner organizations mean that careers may mainly develop laterally – expecta-
tions that progress will be made by promotion through the hierarchy are no
longer so valid;

● leaner organizations may make greater demands on employees and are less likely
to tolerate people who no longer precisely fit their requirements.

But, more positively, some organizations are realizing that steps have to be taken to
increase mutuality and to provide scope for lateral career development and improve-
ment in knowledge and skills through opportunities for learning. They recognize that
because they can no longer guarantee long-term employment they have the responsi-
bility to help people to continue to develop their careers if they have to move on. In
other words they take steps to improve employability. Even those that have fully
embraced the ‘core–periphery’ concept may recognize that they still need to obtain
the commitment of their core employees and pay attention to their continuous devel-
opment, although in most organizations the emphasis is likely to be on self-

Kissler (1994) summed up the differences between old and new employment
contracts as follows:

The psychological contract ❚ 231

Old New

Relationship is pre- Relationship is mutual
determined and imposed and negotiated

You are who you work You are defined by multiple
for and what you do roles, many external to the


Loyalty is defined by Loyalty is defined by
performance output and quality

Leaving is treason People and skills only
needed when required

Employees who do what Long-term employment
they are told will work is unlikely; expect and
until retirement prepare for multiple


The following ways in which psychological contracts are changing have been
suggested by Hiltrop (1995):

From To

Imposed relationship (compliance, Mutual relationship
command and control) (commitment, participation and


Permanent employment Variable employment
relationship relationship – people and

skills only obtained or
retained when required

Focus on promotion Focus on lateral career

Finite job duties Multiple roles

Meet job requirements Add value

Emphasis on job security Emphasis on employability
and loyalty to company and loyalty to own career

and skills

Training provided by Opportunities for self-
organization managed learning

232 ❚ Work and employment

Hiltrop suggests that a new psychological contract is emerging – one that is more
situational and short term and which assumes that each party is much less dependent
on the other for survival and growth. He believes that in its most naked form, the new
contract could be defined as follows:

There is no job security. The employee will be employed as long as he or she adds value
to the organization, and is personally responsible for finding new ways to add value. In
return, the employee has the right to demand interesting and important work, has the
freedom and resources to perform it well, receives pay that reflects his or her contribu-
tion, and gets the experience and training needed to be employable here or elsewhere.

But this could hardly be called a balanced contract. To what extent do employees in
general have ‘the right to demand interesting and important work’? Employers still
call the shots, except when dealing with the special cases of people who are much in
demand and in short supply. In Britain, as Mant (1996) pointed out, ‘people often
really are regarded as merely “resources” to be acquired or divested according to
short-term economic circumstances’. It is the employer who has the power to dictate
contractual terms unless they have been fixed by collective bargaining. Individuals,
except when they are highly sought after, have little scope to vary the terms of the
contract imposed upon them by employers.

Perhaps one of the most important trends in the employment relationship as
expressed by the psychological contract is that employees are now being required to
bear risks that were previously carried by the organization. As Elliott (1996) notes:
‘The most profound change in the labour market over the past two decades has been
the massive shift in power from employee to employer. This has not only meant that
workers have had their rights eroded, but also that much of the risk involved in a
business has been shifted from capital to labour.’


But the dire warnings about the state of the psychological contract referred to above
were not borne out by three research projects commissioned by the Institute of
Personnel and Development. The research conducted by Guest et al (1996) established
that the psychological contract (defined in terms of workers’ judgements of fairness,
trust and organizational delivery of ‘the deal’) was in better shape than many pundits
suggest. A follow-up survey (Guest and Conway, 1997) found that a very high
proportion of employees (90 per cent) believe that on balance they are fairly treated
by their employers and 79 per cent say they trust management ‘a lot’ or ‘somewhat’ to
keep its promises. Job security is not a major concern – 86 per cent feel very or fairly

The psychological contract ❚ 233

secure in their jobs. A majority (62 per cent) believe that management and workers are
on the same side and only 18 per cent disagree. However, job satisfaction was only
moderate (38 per cent express high satisfaction, but 22 per cent express low satisfac-
tion), although commitment to the organization was high (49 per cent felt ‘a lot’ and
36 per cent ‘some’ loyalty to their organization).

A further survey (Guest and Conway, 1998) established that:

● there had been no significant changes in attitudes and behaviour since the
previous survey;

● workers continue to believe that they are fairly treated – 67 per cent report fair
treatment by management and 64 per cent say that they get a fair day’s pay for a
fair day’s work;

● the number of progressive HRM practices in place is the key determinant of
whether workers believe they are fairly treated, because they exert a major influ-
ence on work attitudes;

● people report that home is for relaxation, work is for challenge;
● feelings of security remain high – 88 per cent felt very or fairly secure in their

● people still expect a career – 60 per cent believe that their employer has made a

career promise and of these, 65 per cent think that management has largely kept
its promise (these feelings are more prevalent amongst younger workers).

The overall conclusion of the researchers in 1998 was that ‘the psychological contract
is very healthy’. On the whole, management is seen as fair, trustworthy and likely to
keep its promises. The key influences on a healthy psychological contract are the use
of progressive human resource practices, scope for direct participation at work and
working in a smaller organization.


As Guest et al (1996) point out: ‘A positive psychological contract is worth taking seri-
ously because it is strongly linked to higher commitment to the organization, higher
employee satisfaction and better employment relations. Again this reinforces the
benefits of pursuing a set of progressive HRM practices.’ They also emphasize the
importance of a high-involvement climate and suggest in particular that HRM prac-
tices such as the provision of opportunities for learning, training and development,
focus on job security, promotion and careers, minimizing status differentials, fair

234 ❚ Work and employment

reward systems and comprehensive communication and involvement processes will
all contribute to a positive psychological contract.

Steps taken to manage the employment relationship as specified in Chapter 15 will
also help to form a positive psychological contract. These include:

● defining expectations during recruitment and induction programmes;
● communicating and agreeing expectations as part of the continuing dialogue

implicit in good performance management practices;
● adopting a policy of transparency on company policies and procedures and on

management’s proposals and decisions as they affect people;
● generally treating people as stakeholders, relying on consensus and cooperation

rather than control and coercion.

The 2004 Workplace Employee Relations Survey (WERS, 2005) covering 700,000
workplaces and 22.5 million employees, surveyed 21,624 employees in workplaces
employing more than 10 people about their level of job satisfaction. The results are
shown in Table 16.1.

The psychological contract ❚ 235

Very Satisfied Neither Dissatisfied Very
satisfied % % % dissatisfied
% %

Sense of achievement 18 52 19 8 3

Scope for using initiative 20 52 19 8 3

Influence over job 12 15 28 11 3

Training 11 40 26 16 7

Pay 4 31 26 28 13

Job security 13 50 22 11 5

Work itself 17 55 19 7 3

Involvement in 8 30 39 17 6

Table 16.1 Job satisfaction (WERS, 2005)

The only area in which there was more dissatisfaction than satisfaction was pay. A
higher proportion than might have been expected (72 per cent) were satisfied or very
satisfied with the work itself, and equally high percentages were satisfied with regard
to having a sense of achievement and scope for using initiative.

People will feel that they have been treated justly if management’s decisions and
procedures are fair, consistent, transparent and non-discriminatory, and properly
consider the views and needs of employees.

236 ❚ Work and employment


People perform their roles within complex systems called organizations. The study of
organizational behaviour is concerned with how people within organizations act,
individually or in groups, and how organizations function, in terms of their structure
and processes. All managers and HR specialists are in the business of influencing
behaviour in directions that will meet business needs. An understanding of organiza-
tional processes and skills in the analysis and diagnosis of patterns of organizational
behaviour are therefore important. As Nadler and Tushman (1980) have said:

The manager needs to be able to understand the patterns of behaviour that are
observed to predict in what direction behaviour will move (particularly in the light
of managerial action), and to use this knowledge to control behaviour over the
course of time. Effective managerial action requires that the manager be able to
diagnose the system he or she is working in.

The purpose of this part of the book is to outline a basic set of concepts and to provide
analytical tools which will enable HR specialists to diagnose organizational behaviour
and to take appropriate actions. This purpose is achieved by initially (Chapter 17)
providing a general analysis of the characteristics of individuals at work. The concepts

Part IV

of individual motivation, job satisfaction, commitment and job engagement are then
explored in Chapters 18 and 19 before reviewing generally in Chapter 20 the ways in
which organizations function – formal and informal structures – and how people work
together in groups. The cultural factors that affect organizational behaviour are then
examined in Chapter 21.

238 ❚ Organizational behaviour

Characteristics of people

To manage people effectively, it is necessary to understand the factors that affect how
people behave at work. This means taking into account the fundamental characteris-
tics of people as examined in this chapter under the following headings:

● individual differences – as affected by people’s abilities, intelligence, personality,
background and culture, gender and race;

● attitudes – causes and manifestations;
● influences on behaviour – personality and attitudes;
● attribution theory – how we make judgements about people;
● orientation – the approaches people adopt to work;
● roles – the parts people play in carrying out their work.


The management of people would be much easier if everyone were the same, but
they are, of course, different because of their ability, intelligence, personality, back-
ground and culture (the environment in which they were brought up), as discussed
below. Gender, race and disability are additional factors to be taken into account.
Importantly, the needs and wants of individuals will also differ, often fundamentally,
and this affects their motivation, as described in the next chapter.


The headings under which personal characteristics can vary have been classified
by Mischel (1981) as follows:

● competencies – abilities and skills;
● constructs – the conceptual framework which governs how people perceive their

● expectations – what people have learned to expect about their own and others’

● values – what people believe to be important;
● self-regulatory plans – the goals people set themselves and the plans they make to

achieve them.

Environmental or situational variables include the type of work individuals carry
out; the culture, climate and management style in the organization, the social group
within which individuals work; and the ‘reference groups‘ that individuals use for
comparative purposes (eg comparing conditions of work between one category of
employee and another).

Ability is the quality that makes an action possible. Abilities have been analysed by
Burt (1954) and Vernon (1961). They classified them into two major groups:

● V:ed – standing for verbal, numerical, memory and reasoning abilities;
● K:m – standing for spatial and mechanical abilities, as well as perceptual

(memory) and motor skills relating to physical operations such as eye/hand coor-
dination and mental dexterity.

They also suggested that overriding these abilities there is a ‘g’ or general intelligence
factor which accounts for most variations in performance.

Alternative classifications have been produced by

● Thurstone (1940) – spatial ability, perceptual speed, numerical ability, verbal
meaning, memory, verbal fluency and inductive reasoning;

● Gagne (1977) – intellectual skills, cognitive (understanding and learning) skills,
verbal and motor skills;

● Argyle (1989) – judgement, creativity and social skills.

240 ❚ Organizational behaviour

Intelligence has been defined as:

● ‘the capacity to solve problems, apply principles, make inferences and perceive
relationships’ (Argyle, 1989);

● ‘the capacity for abstract thinking and reasoning with a range of different
contents and media’ (Toplis et al 1991);

● ‘the capacity to process information’ (Makin et al, 1996);
● ‘what is measured by intelligence tests’ (Wright and Taylor, 1970).

The last, tautological definition is not facetious. As an operational definition, it can be
related to the specific aspects of reasoning, inference, cognition (ie knowing,
conceiving) and perception (ie understanding, recognition) that intelligence tests
attempt to measure.

General intelligence, as noted above, consists of a number of mental abilities that
enable a person to succeed at a wide variety of intellectual tasks that use the faculties
of knowing and reasoning. The mathematical technique of factor analysis has been
used to identify the constituents of intelligence, such as Thurstone’s (1940) multiple
factors listed above. But there is no general agreement among psychologists as to
what these factors are or, indeed, whether there is such a thing as general intelligence.

An alternative approach to the analysis of intelligence was put forward by Guilford
(1967), who distinguished five types of mental operation: thinking, remembering,
divergent production (problem-solving which leads to unexpected and original solu-
tions), convergent production (problem-solving which leads to the one, correct solu-
tion) and evaluating.


As defined by Toplis et al (1991), the term personality is all-embracing in terms of the
individual’s behaviour and the way it is organized and coordinated when he or she
interacts with the environment. Personality can be described in terms of traits or

The trait concept of personality

Personality can be defined as the relatively stable and enduring aspects of individuals
that distinguish them from other people. This is the ‘trait‘ concept, traits being predis-

Characteristics of people ❚ 241

positions to behave in certain ways in a variety of different situations. The assump-
tion that people are consistent in the ways they express these traits is the basis for
making predictions about their future behaviour. We all attribute traits to people in
an attempt to understand why they behave in the way they do. As Chell (1987)
says: ‘This cognitive process gives a sense of order to what might otherwise appear to
be senseless uncoordinated behaviours. Traits may therefore be thought of as classifi-
cation systems, used by individuals to understand other people’s and their own

The so-called big five personality traits as defined by Deary and Matthews (1993)

● neuroticism – anxiety, depression, hostility, self-consciousness, impulsiveness,

● extraversion – warmth, gregariousness, assertiveness, activity, excitement seeking,
positive emotions;

● openness – feelings, actions, ideas, values;
● agreeableness – trust, straightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty, tender-

● conscientiousness – competence, order, dutifulness, achievement-striving, self-

discipline, deliberation.

A widely used instrument for assessing traits is Cattell’s (1963) 16PF test. But the trait
theory of personality has been attacked by people such as Mischel (1981), Chell (1985)
and Harre (1979). The main criticisms have been as follows:

● People do not necessarily express the same trait across different situations or even
the same trait in the same situation. Different people may exhibit consistency in
some traits and considerable variability in others.

● Classical trait theory as formulated by Cattell (1963) assumes that the manifesta-
tion of trait behaviour is independent of the situations and the persons with
whom the individual is interacting – this assumption is questionable, given that
trait behaviour usually manifests itself in response to specific situations.

● Trait attributions are a product of language – they are devices for speaking about
people and are not generally described in terms of behaviour.

Type theories of personality

Type theory identifies a number of types of personality that can be used to categorize
people and may form the basis of a personality test. The types may be linked to
descriptions of various traits.

242 ❚ Organizational behaviour

One of the most widely used type theories is that of Jung (1923). He identified four
major preferences of people:

● relating to other people – extraversion or introversion;
● gathering information – sensing (dealing with facts that can be objectively veri-

fied) or intuitive (generating information through insight);
● using information – thinking (emphasizing logical analysis as the basis for deci-

sion-making) or feeling (making decisions based on internal values and beliefs);
● making decisions – perceiving (collecting all the relevant information before

making a decision) or judging (resolving the issue without waiting for a large
quantity of data).

This theory of personality forms the basis of personality tests such as the Myers-
Briggs Types Indicator.

Eysenck (1953) identified three personality traits: extroversion/introversion,
neuroticism and psychoticism, and classified people as stable or unstable extroverts
or introverts. For example, a stable introvert is passive, careful, controlled and
thoughtful, while a stable extrovert is lively, outgoing, responsive and sociable.

As Makin et al (1996) comment, studies using types to predict work-related behav-
iours are less common and may be difficult to interpret: ‘In general it would be fair to
say that their level of predictability is similar to that for trait measures.’

The influence of background
Individual differences may be a function of people’s background, which will include
the environment and culture in which they have been brought up and now exist.
Levinson (1978) suggested that ‘individual life structure‘ is shaped by three types of
external event:

● the socio-cultural environment;
● the roles they play and the relationships they have;
● the opportunities and constraints that enable or inhibit them to express and

develop their personality.

Differences arising from gender, race or disability
It is futile, dangerous and invidious to make assumptions about inherent differences
between people because of their sex, race or degree of disability. If there are differ-
ences in behaviour at work, these are more likely to arise from environmental and
cultural factors than from differences in fundamental personal characteristics. The

Characteristics of people ❚ 243

work environment undoubtedly influences feelings and behaviour for each of these
categories. Research cited by Arnold et al (1991) established that working women
as a whole ‘experienced more daily stress, marital dissatisfaction, and ageing worries,
and were less likely to show overt anger than either housewives or men’. Ethnic
minorities may find that the selection process is biased against them, promotion
prospects are low and that they are subject to other overt or subtle forms of discrimi-
nation. The behaviour of people with disabilities can also be affected by the fact
that they are not given equal opportunities. There is, of course, legislation against
discrimination in each of those areas but this cannot prevent the more covert forms of


An attitude can broadly be defined as a settled mode of thinking. Attitudes are evalu-
ative. As described by Makin et al (1996), ‘Any attitude contains an assessment of
whether the object to which it refers is liked or disliked.’ Attitudes are developed
through experience but they are less stable than traits and can change as new experi-
ences are gained or influences absorbed. Within organizations they are affected by
cultural factors (values and norms), the behaviour of management (management
style), policies such as those concerned with pay, recognition, promotion and the
quality of working life, and the influence of the ‘reference group’ (the group with
whom people identify).


Factors affecting behaviour
Behaviour at work is dependent on both the personal characteristics of individuals
(personality and attitudes) and the situation in which they are working. These factors
interact, and this theory of behaviour is sometimes called interactionism. It is because
of this process of interaction and because there are so many variables in personal
characteristics and situations that behaviour is difficult to analyse and predict. It is
generally assumed that attitudes determine behaviour, but there is not such a direct
link as most people suppose. As Arnold et al (1991) comment, research evidence has
shown that: ‘People’s avowed feelings and beliefs about someone or something
seemed only loosely related to how they behaved towards it.’

Behaviour will be influenced by the perceptions of individuals about the situation
they are in. The term psychological climate has been coined by James and Sells (1981) to

244 ❚ Organizational behaviour

describe how people’s perceptions of the situation give it psychological significance
and meaning. They suggested that the key environmental variables are:

● role characteristics such as role ambiguity and conflict (see the last section in this

● job characteristics such as autonomy and challenge;
● leader behaviours, including goal emphasis and work facilitation;
● work group characteristics, including cooperation and friendliness;
● organizational policies that directly affect individuals, such as the reward system.


The ways in which we perceive and make judgements about people at work are
explained by attribution theory, which concerns the assignment of causes to events.
We make an attribution when we perceive and describe other people’s actions and try
to discover why they behaved in the way they did. We can also make attributions
about our own behaviour. Heider (1958) has pointed out that: ‘In everyday life we
form ideas about other people and about social situations. We interpret other people’s
actions and we predict what they will do under certain circumstances.’

In attributing causes to people’s actions we distinguish between what is in the
person’s power to achieve and the effect of environmental influence. A personal
cause, whether someone does well or badly, may, for example, be the amount of effort
displayed, while a situational cause may be the extreme difficulty of the task. Kelley
(1967) has suggested that there are four criteria that we apply to decide whether
behaviour is attributable to personal rather than external (situational) causes:

● distinctiveness – the behaviour can be distinguished from the behaviour of other
people in similar situations;

● consensus – if other people agree that the behaviour is governed by some personal

● consistency over time – whether the behaviour is repeated;
● consistency over modality (ie the manner in which things are done) – whether or not

the behaviour is repeated in different situations.

Attribution theory is also concerned with the way in which people attribute success
or failure to themselves. Research by Weiner (1974) and others has indicated that
when people with high achievement needs have been successful, they ascribe this to
internal factors such as ability and effort. High achievers tend to attribute failure to

Characteristics of people ❚ 245

lack of effort and not lack of ability. Low achievers tend not to link success with effort
but to ascribe their failures to lack of ability.


Orientation theory examines the factors that are instrumental, ie serve as a means, in
directing people’s choices about work. An orientation is a central organizing prin-
ciple that underlies people’s attempts to make sense of their lives. In relation to work,
as defined by Guest (1984): ‘An orientation is a persisting tendency to seek certain
goals and rewards from work which exists independently of the nature of the work
and the work content.’ The orientation approach stresses the role of the social envi-
ronment factor as a key factor affecting motivation.

Orientation theory is primarily developed from fieldwork carried out by sociolo-
gists rather than from laboratory work conducted by psychologists. Goldthorpe et al
(1968) studied skilled and semi-skilled workers in Luton, and, in their findings, they
stressed the importance of instrumental orientation, that is, a view of work as a
means to an end, a context in which to earn money to purchase goods and leisure.
According to Goldthorpe, the ‘affluent’ worker interviewed by the research team
valued work largely for extrinsic reasons.

In their research carried out with blue-collar workers in Peterborough, Blackburn
and Mann (1979) found a wider range of orientations. They suggested that different
ones could come into play with varying degrees of force in different situations. The
fact that workers, in practice, had little choice about what they did contributed to this
diversity – their orientations were affected by the choice or lack of choice presented to
them and this meant that they might be forced to accept alternative orientations.

But Blackburn and Mann confirmed that pay was a key preference area, the top
preferences being:

1. pay;
2. security;
3. workmates;
4. intrinsic job satisfaction;
5. autonomy.

They commented that: ‘An obsession with wages clearly emerged… A concern to
minimize unpleasant work was also widespread.’ Surprisingly, perhaps, they also
revealed that the most persistent preference of all was for outside work, ‘a fairly clear
desire for a combination of fresh air and freedom’.

246 ❚ Organizational behaviour


When faced with any situation, eg carrying out a job, people have to enact a role in
order to manage that situation. This is sometimes called the ‘situation-act model’. As
described by Chell (1985), the model indicates that: ‘The person must act within situ-
ations: situations are rule-governed and how a person behaves is often prescribed by
these socially acquired rules. The person thus adopts a suitable role in order to
perform effectively within the situation.’

At work, the term role describes the part to be played by individuals in fulfilling
their job requirements. Roles therefore indicate the specific forms of behaviour
required to carry out a particular task or the group of tasks contained in a position or
job. Work role profiles primarily define the requirements in terms of the ways tasks
are carried out rather than the tasks themselves. They may refer to broad aspects of
behaviour, especially with regard to working with others and styles of management.
A distinction can therefore be made between a job description, which simply lists the
main tasks an individual has to carry out, and a role profile, which is more concerned
with the behavioural aspects of the work and the outcomes the individual in the role
is expected to achieve. The concept of a role emphasizes the fact that people at work
are, in a sense, always acting a part; they are not simply reciting the lines but inter-
preting them in terms of their own perceptions of how they should behave in relation
to the context in which they work, especially with regard to their interactions with
other people and their discretionary behaviour.

Role theory, as formulated by Katz and Kahn (1966) states that the role individuals
occupy at work – and elsewhere – exists in relation to other people – their role set.
These people have expectations about the individuals’ role, and if they live up to
these expectations they will have successfully performed the role. Performance in a
role is a product of the situation individuals are in (the organizational context and the
direction or influence exercised from above or elsewhere in the organization) and
their own skills, competences, attitudes and personality. Situational factors are
important, but the role individuals perform can both shape and reflect their personal-
ities. Stress and inadequate performance result when roles are ambiguous, incompat-
ible, or in conflict with one another.

Role ambiguity
When individuals are unclear about what their role is, what is expected of them,
or how they are getting on, they may become insecure or lose confidence in

Characteristics of people ❚ 247

Role incompatibility
Stress and poor performance may be caused by roles having incompatible elements,
as when there is a clash between what other people expect from the role and what
individuals believe is expected of them.

Role conflict
Role conflict results when, even if roles are clearly defined and there is no incompati-
bility between expectations, individuals have to carry out two antagonistic roles. For
example, conflict can exist between the roles of individuals at work and their roles at


The main implications for HR specialists of the factors that affect individuals at work
are as follows:

● Individual differences – when designing jobs, preparing learning programmes,
assessing and counselling staff, developing reward systems and dealing with
grievances and disciplinary problems, it is necessary to remember that all people
are different. This may seem obvious but it is remarkable how many people
ignore it. What fulfils one person may not fulfil another. Abilities, aptitudes and
intelligence differ widely and particular care needs to be taken in fitting the right
people into the right jobs and giving them the right training. Personalities and
attitudes also differ. It is important to focus on how to manage diversity as
described in Chapter 57. This should take account of individual differences,
which will include any issues arising from the employment of women, people
from different ethnic groups, those with disabilities and older people.

● Personalities should not be judged simplistically in terms of stereotyped traits.
People are complex and they change, and account has to be taken of this. The
problem for HR specialists and managers in general is that, while they have to
accept and understand these differences and take full account of them, they have
ultimately to proceed on the basis of fitting them to the requirements of the situa-
tion, which are essentially what the organization needs to achieve. There is
always a limit to the extent to which an organization, which relies on collective
effort to achieve its goals, can adjust itself to the specific needs of individuals. But
the organization has to appreciate that the pressures it makes on people can result
in stress and therefore become counter-productive.

248 ❚ Organizational behaviour

● Judgements about people (attribution theory) – we all ascribe motives to other
people and attempt to establish the causes of their behaviour. We must be careful,
however, not to make simplistic judgements about causality (ie what has moti-
vated someone’s behaviour) – for ourselves as well as in respect of others – espe-
cially when we are assessing performance.

● Orientation theory – the significance of orientation theory is that it stresses the
importance of the effect of environmental factors on the motivation to work.

● Role theory – role theory helps us to understand the need to clarify with individ-
uals what is expected of them in behavioural and outcome terms and to ensure
when designing roles that they do not contain any incompatible elements. We
must also be aware of the potential for role conflict so that steps can be taken to
minimize stress.

Characteristics of people ❚ 249


All organizations are concerned with what should be done to achieve sustained high
levels of performance through people. This means giving close attention to how
individuals can best be motivated through such means as incentives, rewards, leader-
ship and, importantly, the work they do and the organization context within which
they carry out that work. The aim is to develop motivation processes and a work
environment that will help to ensure that individuals deliver results in accordance
with the expectations of management.

Motivation theory examines the process of motivation. It explains why people at
work behave in the way they do in terms of their efforts and the directions they are
taking. It describes what organizations can do to encourage people to apply their
efforts and abilities in ways that will further the achievement of the organization’s
goals as well as satisfying their own needs. It is also concerned with job satisfaction –
the factors that create it and its impact on performance.

In understanding and applying motivation theory, the aim is to obtain added value
through people in the sense that the value of their output exceeds the cost of gener-
ating it. This can be achieved through discretionary effort. In most if not all roles there
is scope for individuals to decide how much effort they want to exert. They can do
just enough to get away with it, or they can throw themselves into their work and
deliver added value. Discretionary effort can be a key component in organizational


Unfortunately, approaches to motivation are too often underpinned by simplistic
assumptions about how it works. The process of motivation is much more complex
than many people believe. People have different needs, establish different goals to
satisfy those needs and take different actions to achieve those goals. It is wrong to
assume that one approach to motivation fits all. That is why the assumptions under-
lying belief in the virtues of performance-related pay as a means of providing a moti-
vational incentive are simplistic. Motivational practices are most likely to function
effectively if they are based on proper understanding of what is involved. This
chapter therefore covers the following:

● the process of motivation;
● the various theories of motivation which explain and amplify the basic process;
● the practical implications of motivation theory;
● job satisfaction.


What is motivation? A motive is a reason for doing something. Motivation is
concerned with the factors that influence people to behave in certain ways. The three
components of motivation as listed by Arnold et al (1991) are:

● direction – what a person is trying to do;
● effort – how hard a person is trying;
● persistence – how long a person keeps on trying.

Motivating other people is about getting them to move in the direction you want
them to go in order to achieve a result. Motivating yourself is about setting the direc-
tion independently and then taking a course of action which will ensure that you get
there. Motivation can be described as goal-directed behaviour. People are motivated
when they expect that a course of action is likely to lead to the attainment of a goal
and a valued reward – one that satisfies their needs.

Well-motivated people are those with clearly defined goals who take action that
they expect will achieve those goals. Such people may be self-motivated, and as long
as this means they are going in the right direction to achieve what they are there to
achieve, then this is the best form of motivation. Most people, however, need to be
motivated to a greater or lesser degree. The organization as a whole can provide the
context within which high levels of motivation can be achieved by providing incen-
tives and rewards, satisfying work, and opportunities for learning and growth. But

252 ❚ Organizational behaviour

managers still have a major part to play in using their motivating skills to get people
to give of their best, and to make good use of the motivational processes provided by
the organization. To do this it is necessary to understand the process of motivation –
how it works and the different types of motivation that exist.

A needs-related model of the process of motivation is shown in Figure 18.1. This
suggests that motivation is initiated by the conscious or unconscious recognition of
unsatisfied needs. These needs create wants, which are desires to achieve or obtain
something. Goals are then established which it is believed will satisfy these needs and
wants and a behaviour pathway is selected which it is expected will achieve the goal.
If the goal is achieved, the need will be satisfied and the behaviour is likely to be
repeated the next time a similar need emerges. If the goal is not achieved, the same
action is less likely to be repeated. This process of repeating successful behaviour or
actions is called reinforcement or the law of effect (Hull, 1951). It has, however, been
criticised by Allport (1954) as ignoring the influence of expectations and therefore
constituting ‘hedonism of the past’.


Motivation at work can take place in two ways. First, people can motivate themselves
by seeking, finding and carrying out work (or being given work) that satisfies their
needs or at least leads them to expect that their goals will be achieved. Secondly,
people can be motivated by management through such methods as pay, promotion,
praise, etc.

Motivation ❚ 253





Figure 18.1 The process of motivation

There are two types of motivation as originally identified by Herzberg et al (1957):

● Intrinsic motivation – the self-generated factors that influence people to behave in
a particular way or to move in a particular direction. These factors include
responsibility (feeling that the work is important and having control over one’s
own resources), autonomy (freedom to act), scope to use and develop skills and
abilities, interesting and challenging work and opportunities for advancement.

● Extrinsic motivation – what is done to or for people to motivate them. This includes
rewards, such as increased pay, praise, or promotion, and punishments, such as
disciplinary action, withholding pay, or criticism.

Extrinsic motivators can have an immediate and powerful effect, but it will not neces-
sarily last long. The intrinsic motivators, which are concerned with the ‘quality of
working life’ (a phrase and movement that emerged from this concept), are likely to
have a deeper and longer-term effect because they are inherent in individuals and not
imposed from outside.


Approaches to motivation are underpinned by motivation theory. The most influen-
tial theories are classified as follows:

● Instrumentality theory, which states that rewards or punishments (carrots or sticks)
serve as the means of ensuring that people behave or act in desired ways.

● Content theory, which focuses on the content of motivation. It states that motiva-
tion is essentially about taking action to satisfy needs, and identifies the main
needs that influence behaviour. Needs theory was originated by Maslow (1954),
and in their two-factor model, Herzberg et al (1957) listed needs which they
termed ‘satisfiers’.

● Process theory, which focuses on the psychological processes which affect motiva-
tion, by reference to expectations (Vroom, 1964), goals (Latham and Locke, 1979)
and perceptions of equity (Adams, 1965).

These are summarized in Table 18.1 on page 256.


‘Instrumentality’ is the belief that if we do one thing it will lead to another. In its
crudest form, instrumentality theory states that people only work for money.

254 ❚ Organizational behaviour

The theory emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century with its emphasis
on the need to rationalize work and on economic outcomes. It assumes that a person
will be motivated to work if rewards and penalties are tied directly to his or
her performance, thus the awards are contingent upon effective performance.
Instrumentality theory has its roots in Taylorism, ie the scientific management
methods of F W Taylor (1911), who wrote: ‘It is impossible, through any long period
of time, to get workmen to work much harder than the average men around them
unless they are assured a large and permanent increase in their pay.’

This theory is based on the principle of reinforcement as influenced by Skinner’s
(1974) concept of conditioning – the theory that people can be ‘conditioned’ to act in
certain ways if they are rewarded for behaving as required. It is also called the law of
effect. Motivation using this approach has been, and still is, widely adopted and can
be successful in some circumstances. But it is based exclusively on a system of
external controls and fails to recognize a number of other human needs. It also fails to
appreciate the fact that the formal control system can be seriously affected by the
informal relationship existing between workers.


The basis of this theory is the belief that the content of motivation consists of needs.
An unsatisfied need creates tension and a state of disequilibrium. To restore the
balance, a goal that will satisfy the need is identified, and a behaviour pathway that
will lead to the achievement of the goal is selected. All behaviour is therefore moti-
vated by unsatisfied needs.

Not all needs are equally important for a person at any one time – some may
provide a much more powerful drive towards a goal than others, depending on the
individual’s background and present situation. Complexity is further increased
because there is no simple relationship between needs and goals. The same need can
be satisfied by a number of different goals and the stronger the need and the longer
its duration, the broader the range of possible goals. At the same time, one goal may
satisfy a number of needs – a new car provides transport as well as an opportunity to
impress the neighbours.

Needs theory was developed originally by Maslow (1954), who postulated the
concept of a hierarchy of needs which he believed were fundamental to the person-
ality. Herzberg et al’s (1957) two-factor model (see page 262) cannot strictly be classi-
fied as needs theory but he did identify a number of fundamental needs.

Motivation ❚ 255

256 ❚ Organizational behaviour

Category Type Theorist(s) Summary of theory Implications

Instrumentality Taylorism Taylor If we do one thing it Basis of crude attempts
leads to another. People to motivate people by
will be motivated to incentives. Often used
work if rewards and as the implied rationale
punishments are for performance-
directly related to related pay although
their performance this is seldom an

effective motivator

Content Hierarchy Maslow A hierarchy of five Focuses attention
(needs) of needs needs exist: on the various needs
theory physiological, that motivate people

safety, social, and the notion that
esteem, self-fulfilment. a satisfied need is no
Needs at a higher longer a motivator.
level only emerge The concept of a
when a lower need hierarchy has no
is satisfied practical significance

Two-factor Satisfiers/ Herzberg Two groups of factors Identifies a number of
model dissatisfiers affect job satisfaction: fundamental needs,

(1) those intrinsic to ie achievement,
the job (intrinsic recognition,
motivators or advancement,
satisfiers) such as autonomy and the
achievement, work itself. Strongly
recognition, the work influences approaches
itself, responsibility to job design (job
and growth; (2) those enrichment). Drew
extrinsic to the job attention to the
(extrinsic motivators or concept of intrinsic
hygiene factors) such as and extrinsic motivation
pay and working and the fact that
conditions intrinsic motivation

mainly derived from the
work itself will have a
longer-lasting effect.
Therefore underpins
the proposition that
reward systems should
provide for both
financial and non-
financial rewards

Table 18.1 Summary of motivation theories


In addition, Alderfer (1972) developed his ERG theory, which refers to the need for
existence, relatedness and growth. Maslow’s theory has been most influential.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
The most famous classification of needs is the one formulated by Maslow (1954). He
suggested that there are five major need categories which apply to people in general,
starting from the fundamental physiological needs and leading through a hierarchy
of safety, social and esteem needs to the need for self-fulfilment, the highest need of
all. Maslow‘s hierarchy is as follows:

1. Physiological – the need for oxygen, food, water and sex.

Motivation ❚ 257

Table 18.1 continued

Process/ Expectancy Vroom, Motivation and The key theory
cognitive theory Porter and performance are informing approaches
theory Lawler influenced by: (1) the to rewards, ie that

perceived link there must be a link
between effort and between effort and
performance, (2) the reward (line of sight),
perceived link the reward should be
between performance achievable and
and outcomes, and should be
(3) the significance worthwhile
(valence) of the
outcome to the person.
Effort (motivation)
depends on the
likelihood that rewards
will follow effort and
that the reward is

Goal Latham Motivation and Provides the rationale
theory and Locke performance will for performance

improve if people have management
difficult but agreed goals processes, goal
and receive feedback setting and feedback

Equity Adams People are better Need to develop
theory motivated if treated equitable reward and

equitably employment practices

2. Safety – the need for protection against danger and the deprivation of physiolog-
ical needs.

3. Social – the need for love, affection and acceptance as belonging to a group.
4. Esteem – the need to have a stable, firmly based, high evaluation of oneself (self-

esteem) and to have the respect of others (prestige). These needs may be classi-
fied into two subsidiary sets: first, the desire for achievement, for adequacy, for
confidence in the face of the world, and for independence and freedom, and,
second, the desire for reputation or status defined as respect or esteem from other
people, and manifested by recognition, attention, importance, or appreciation.

5. Self-fulfilment (self-actualization) – the need to develop potentialities and skills, to
become what one believes one is capable of becoming.

Maslow’s theory of motivation states that when a lower need is satisfied, the next
highest becomes dominant and the individual’s attention is turned to satisfying
this higher need. The need for self-fulfilment, however, can never be satisfied. He
said that ‘man is a wanting animal’; only an unsatisfied need can motivate behaviour
and the dominant need is the prime motivator of behaviour. Psychological develop-
ment takes place as people move up the hierarchy of needs, but this is not necessarily
a straightforward progression. The lower needs still exist, even if temporarily
dormant as motivators, and individuals constantly return to previously satisfied

One of the implications of Maslow’s theory is that the higher-order needs for
esteem and self-fulfilment provide the greatest impetus to motivation – they grow in
strength when they are satisfied, while the lower needs decline in strength on satis-
faction. But the jobs people do will not necessarily satisfy their needs, especially
when they are routine or deskilled.

Maslow’s needs hierarchy has an intuitive appeal and has been very influential.
But it has not been verified by empirical research and it has been criticized for its
apparent rigidity – different people may have different priorities and it is difficult to
accept that people’s needs progress steadily up the hierarchy. In fact, Maslow himself
expressed doubts about the validity of a strictly ordered hierarchy.


In process theory, the emphasis is on the psychological processes or forces that affect
motivation, as well as on basic needs. It is also known as cognitive theory because it is
concerned with people’s perceptions of their working environment and the ways in
which they interpret and understand it. According to Guest (1992a), process theory

258 ❚ Organizational behaviour

provides a much more relevant approach to motivation than the theories of Maslow
and Herzberg, which, he suggests, have been shown by extensive research to be

Process or cognitive theory can certainly be more useful to managers than needs
theory because it provides more realistic guidance on motivation techniques. The
processes are:

● expectations (expectancy theory);
● goal achievement (goal theory);
● feelings about equity (equity theory).

Expectancy theory
The concept of expectancy was originally contained in the valency–instrumen-
tality–expectancy (VIE) theory which was formulated by Vroom (1964). Valency
stands for value, instrumentality is the belief that if we do one thing it will lead to
another, and expectancy is the probability that action or effort will lead to an out-
come. This concept of expectancy was defined in more detail by Vroom as follows:

Where an individual chooses between alternatives which involve uncertain outcomes, it
seems clear that his behaviour is affected not only by his preferences among these
outcomes but also by the degree to which he believes these outcomes to be possible. An
expectancy is defined as a momentary belief concerning the likelihood that a particular
act will be followed by a particular outcome. Expectancies may be described in terms of
their strength. Maximal strength is indicated by subjective certainty that the act will be
followed by the outcome, while minimal (or zero) strength is indicated by subjective
certainty that the act will not be followed by the outcome.

The strength of expectations may be based on past experiences (reinforcement), but
individuals are frequently presented with new situations – a change in job, payment
system, or working conditions imposed by management – where past experience is
not an adequate guide to the implications of the change. In these circumstances, moti-
vation may be reduced.

Motivation is only likely when a clearly perceived and usable relationship exists
between performance and outcome, and the outcome is seen as a means of satisfying
needs. This explains why extrinsic financial motivation – for example, an incentive or
bonus scheme – works only if the link between effort and reward is clear (in the
words of Lawler (1990) there is a ‘line of sight’) and the value of the reward is worth
the effort. It also explains why intrinsic motivation arising from the work itself can be

Motivation ❚ 259

more powerful than extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation outcomes are more
under the control of individuals, who can place greater reliance on their past experi-
ences to indicate the extent to which positive and advantageous results are likely to
be obtained by their behaviour.

This theory was developed by Porter and Lawler (1968) into a model, illustrated in
Figure 18.2, which follows Vroom’s ideas by suggesting that there are two factors
determining the effort people put into their jobs:

1. the value of the rewards to individuals in so far as they satisfy their needs for
security, social esteem, autonomy, and self-actualization;

2. the probability that rewards depend on effort, as perceived by individuals – in
other words, their expectations about the relationships between effort and

Thus, the greater the value of a set of awards and the higher the probability that
receiving each of these rewards depends upon effort, the greater the effort that will be
put forth in a given situation.

But, as Porter and Lawler emphasize, mere effort is not enough. It has to be effec-
tive effort if it is to produce the desired performance. The two variables additional to
effort which affect task achievement are:

● ability – individual characteristics such as intelligence, manual skills, know-how;
● role perceptions – what the individual wants to do or thinks he or she is required to

do. These are good from the viewpoint of the organization if they correspond
with what it thinks the individual ought to be doing. They are poor if the views of
the individual and the organization do not coincide.

260 ❚ Organizational behaviour

Value of rewards Abilities

Effort Performance

Probability that
reward depends

upon effort
Role expectations

Figure 18.2 Motivation model (Porter and Lawler, 1968)

Goal theory
Goal theory as developed by Latham and Locke (1979) states that motivation
and performance are higher when individuals are set specific goals, when goals
are difficult but accepted, and when there is a feedback on performance. Participation
in goal setting is important as a means of getting agreement to the setting of
higher goals. Difficult goals must be agreed and their achievement reinforced by
guidance and advice. Finally, feedback is vital in maintaining motivation, particularly
towards the achievement of even higher goals.

Erez and Zidon (1984) emphasized the need for acceptance of and commitment to
goals. They found that, as long as they are agreed, demanding goals lead to better
performance than easy ones. Erez (1977) also emphasized the importance of feed-
back. As Robertson et al (1992) point out:

Goals inform individuals to achieve particular levels of performance, in order for them
to direct and evaluate their actions; while performance feedback allows the individual
to track how well he or she has been doing in relation to the goal, so that, if necessary,
adjustments in effort, direction or possibly task strategies can be made.

Goal theory is in line with the 1960s concept of management by objectives. The latter
approach, however, often failed because it was tackled bureaucratically without
gaining the real support of those involved and, importantly, without ensuring that
managers were aware of the significance of the processes of agreement, reinforcement
and feedback, and were skilled in practising them.

Goal theory, however, plays a key part in the performance management process
which was evolved from the largely discredited management-by-objectives
approach. Performance management is dealt with in Part VII.

Equity theory
Equity theory is concerned with the perceptions people have about how they are
being treated compared with others. To be dealt with equitably is to be treated fairly
in comparison with another group of people (a reference group) or a relevant other
person. Equity involves feelings and perceptions and is always a comparative
process. It is not synonymous with equality, which means treating everyone the same,
since this would be inequitable if they deserve to be treated differently.

Equity theory states, in effect, that people will be better motivated if they are
treated equitably and demotivated if they are treated inequitably. It explains only one
aspect of the process of motivation and job satisfaction, although it may be significant
in terms of morale.

Motivation ❚ 261

As suggested by Adams (1965), there are two forms of equity: distributive equity,
which is concerned with the fairness with which people feel they are rewarded in
accordance with their contribution and in comparison with others; and procedural
equity, or procedural justice, which is concerned with the perceptions employees
have about the fairness with which procedures in such areas as performance
appraisal, promotion and discipline are being operated.

Interpersonal factors are closely linked to feelings about procedural fairness. Five
factors that contribute to perceptions of procedural fairness have been identified by
Tyler and Bies (1990). These are:

1. adequate considerations of an employee’s viewpoint;
2. suppression of personal bias towards the employee;
3. applying criteria consistently across employees;
4. providing early feedback to employees concerning the outcome of decisions;
5. providing employees with an adequate explanation of the decision made.


The two-factor model of satisfiers and dissatisfiers was developed by Herzberg et al
(1957) following an investigation into the sources of job satisfaction and dissatisfac-
tion of accountants and engineers. It was assumed that people have the capacity to
report accurately the conditions that made them satisfied and dissatisfied with their
jobs. Accordingly, the subjects were asked to tell their interviewers about the times
during which they felt exceptionally good and exceptionally bad about their jobs and
how long their feelings persisted. It was found that the accounts of ‘good’ periods
most frequently concerned the content of the job, particularly achievement, recogni-
tion, advancement, autonomy, responsibility, and the work itself. On the other hand,
accounts of ‘bad’ periods most frequently concerned the context of the job. Company
policy and administration, supervision, salary and working conditions more
frequently appeared in these accounts than in those told about ‘good’ periods. The
main implications of this research, according to Herzberg, are that:

The wants of employees divide into two groups. One group revolves around the need to
develop in one’s occupation as a source of personal growth. The second group operates
as an essential base to the first and is associated with fair treatment in compensation,
supervision, working conditions and administrative practices. The fulfilment of the
needs of the second group does not motivate the individual to high levels of job satis-
faction and to extra performance on the job. All we can expect from satisfying this
second group of needs is the prevention of dissatisfaction and poor job performance.

262 ❚ Organizational behaviour

Motivation ❚ 263

These groups form the two factors in Herzberg’s model: one consists of the satisfiers
or motivators, because they are seen to be effective in motivating the individual to
superior performance and effort. The other consists of the dissatisfiers, which essen-
tially describe the environment and serve primarily to prevent job dissatisfaction,
while having little effect on positive job attitudes. The latter were named the hygiene
factors in the medical use of the term, meaning preventive and environmental.

Reservations about Herzberg’s theory
Herzberg’s two-factor model has been attacked. The research method has been criti-
cized because no attempt was made to measure the relationship between satisfaction
and performance. It has been suggested that the two-factor nature of the theory is an
inevitable result of the questioning method used by the interviewers. It has also been
suggested that wide and unwarranted inferences have been drawn from small and
specialized samples and that there is no evidence to suggest that the satisfiers do
improve productivity.

In spite of these criticisms (or perhaps because of them, as they are all from acade-
mics), the Herzberg theory continues to thrive; partly because for the layman it is
easy to understand and seems to be based on ‘real-life’ rather than academic abstrac-
tion, and partly because it fits in well with the highly respected ideas of Maslow
(1954) and McGregor (1960) in its emphasis on the positive value of the intrinsic moti-
vating factors. It is also in accord with a fundamental belief in the dignity of labour
and the Protestant ethic – that work is good in itself. As a result, Herzberg had
immense influence on the job enrichment movement, which sought to design jobs in
a way that would maximize the opportunities to obtain intrinsic satisfaction from
work and thus improve the quality of working life. His emphasis on the distinction
between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is also important.


The basic requirements for job satisfaction may include comparatively higher pay,
an equitable payment system, real opportunities for promotion, considerate and
participative management, a reasonable degree of social interaction at work, inter-
esting and varied tasks and a high degree of autonomy: control over work pace
and work methods. The degree of satisfaction obtained by individuals, however,
depends largely upon their own needs and expectations, and the working environ-


The term ‘job satisfaction’ refers to the attitudes and feelings people have about their
work. Positive and favourable attitudes towards the job indicate job satisfaction.
Negative and unfavourable attitudes towards the job indicate job dissatisfaction.

Morale is often defined as being equivalent to job satisfaction. Thus Guion (1958)
defines morale as ‘the extent to which an individual’s needs are satisfied and the
extent to which the individual perceives that satisfaction as stemming from his (sic)
total work situation’. Other definitions stress the group aspects of morale. Gilmer
(1961) suggests that morale ‘is a feeling of being accepted by and belonging to a
group of employees through adherence to common goals’. He distinguishes between
morale as a group variable, related to the degree to which group members feel
attracted to their group and desire to remain a member of it, and job attitude as an
individual variable related to the feelings employees have about their job.

Factors affecting job satisfaction
The level of job satisfaction is affected by intrinsic and extrinsic motivating factors,
the quality of supervision, social relationships with the work group and the degree to
which individuals succeed or fail in their work. Purcell et al (2003) believe that discre-
tionary behaviour which helps the firm to be successful is most likely to happen
when employees are well motivated and feel committed to the organization and
when the job gives them high levels of satisfaction. Their research found that the key
factors affecting job satisfaction were career opportunities, job influence, teamwork
and job challenge.

Job satisfaction and performance
It is a commonly held and a seemingly not unreasonable belief that an increase in job
satisfaction will result in improved performance. But research has not established any
strongly positive connection between satisfaction and performance. A review of the
extensive literature on this subject by Brayfield and Crockett (1955) concluded that
there was little evidence of any simple or appreciable relationship between employee
attitudes and their performance. An updated review of their analysis by Vroom (1964)
covered 20 studies, in each of which one or more measures of job satisfaction or
employee attitudes was correlated with one or more criteria of performance. The
median correlation of all these studies was 0.14, which is not high enough to suggest
a marked relationship between satisfaction and performance. Brayfield and Crockett
concluded that:

264 ❚ Organizational behaviour

Productivity is seldom a goal in itself but a means to goal attainment. Therefore we
might expect high satisfaction and high productivity to occur together when productivity
is perceived as a path to certain important goals and when these goals are achieved.
Under such conditions, satisfaction and productivity might be unrelated or even nega-
tively related.

It can be argued that it is not job satisfaction that produces high performance but high
performance that produces job satisfaction, and that a satisfied worker is not neces-
sarily a productive worker and a high producer is not necessarily a satisfied worker.
People are motivated to achieve certain goals and will be satisfied if they achieve
these goals through improved performance. They may be even more satisfied if they
are then rewarded by extrinsic recognition or an intrinsic sense of achievement. This
suggests that performance improvements can be achieved by giving people the
opportunity to perform, ensuring that they have the knowledge and skill required to
perform, and rewarding them by financial or non-financial means when they do
perform. It can also be argued that some people may be complacently satisfied with
their job and will not be inspired to work harder or better. They may find other ways
to satisfy their needs.

Measuring job satisfaction
The level of job satisfaction can be measured by the use of attitude surveys. There are
four methods of conducting them:

1. By the use of structured questionnaires. These can be issued to all or a sample of
employees. The questionnaires may be standardized ones, such as the Brayfield
and Rothe Index of Job Satisfaction, or they may be developed specially for the
organization. The advantage of using standardized questionnaires is that they
have been thoroughly tested and in many cases norms are available against
which results can be compared. Benchmarking can be carried out with other
organizations, possibly using the services provided by the Saratoga Institute.
Additional questions especially relevant to the company can be added to the
standard list. A tailor-made questionnaire can be used to highlight particular
issues, but it may be advisable to obtain professional help from an experienced
psychologist, who can carry out the skilled work of drafting and pilot-testing the
questionnaire and interpreting the results. Questionnaires have the advantage of
being relatively cheap to administer and analyse, especially when there are large
numbers involved. An example of a questionnaire is given in the Appendix.

2. By the use of interviews. These may be ‘open-ended’ or depth interviews in which
the discussion is allowed to range quite freely. Or they may be semi-structured in

Motivation ❚ 265

that there is a checklist of points to be covered, although the aim of the inter-
viewer should be to allow discussion to flow around the points so that the frank
and open views of the individual are obtained. Alternatively, and more rarely,
interviews can be highly structured so that they become no more than the spoken
application of a questionnaire. Individual interviews are to be preferred because
they are more likely to be revealing, but they are expensive and time-consuming
and not so easy to analyse. Discussions through ‘focus groups’ (ie groups of
employees convened to focus their attention on particular issues) are a quicker
way of reaching a large number of people, but the results are not so easy to quan-
tify and some people may have difficulty in expressing their views in public.

3. By a combination of questionnaire and interview. This is the ideal approach because it
combines the quantitative data from the questionnaire with the qualitative data
from the interviews. It is always advisable to accompany questionnaires with
some depth interviews, even if time permits only a limited sample. An alterna-
tive approach is to administer the questionnaire to a group of people and then
discuss the reactions to each question with the group. This ensures that a quanti-
fied analysis is possible but enables the group, or at least some members of it, to
express their feelings more fully.

4. By the use of focus groups. A focus group is a representative sample of employees
whose attitudes and opinions are sought on issues concerning the organization
and their work. The essential features of a focus group are that it is structured,
informed, constructive and confidential.

Assessing results
It is an interesting fact that when people are asked directly if they are satisfied with
their job, many will say that on the whole they are. This can be regardless of the work
being done and in spite of strongly held grievances. The possible reason for this
phenomenon is that while most people are willing to admit to having grievances – in
fact, if invited to complain, they will complain – they may be reluctant to admit, even
to themselves, to being dissatisfied with a job that they have no immediate intention
of leaving. Many employees have become reconciled to their work, even if they do
not like some aspects of it, and have no real desire to do anything else. So they are, in
a sense, satisfied enough to continue, even if they have complaints. Finally, many
people are satisfied with their job overall, although they may grumble about some
aspects of it.

Overall measures of satisfaction do not, therefore, always reveal anything really
interesting. It is more important to look at particular aspects of satisfaction or dissat-
isfaction to decide whether or not anything needs to be done. In these circumstances,

266 ❚ Organizational behaviour

the questionnaire will indicate only a line to be followed up. It will not provide the
answers, hence the advantage of individual meetings or focus group discussions to
explore in depth any issue raised.


Money, in the form of pay or some other sort of remuneration, is the most obvious
extrinsic reward. Money provides the carrot that most people want.

Doubts have been cast by Herzberg et al (1957) on the effectiveness of money
because, they claimed, while the lack of it can cause dissatisfaction, its provision does
not result in lasting satisfaction. There is something in this, especially for people on
fixed salaries or rates of pay who do not benefit directly from an incentive scheme.
They may feel good when they get an increase; apart from the extra money, it is a
highly tangible form of recognition and an effective means of helping people to feel
that they are valued. But this feeling of euphoria can rapidly die away. Other dissatis-
factions from Herzberg’s list of hygiene factors, such as working conditions or the
quality of management, can loom larger in some people’s minds when they fail to get
the satisfaction they need from the work itself. However, it must be re-emphasized
that different people have different needs and wants and Herzberg’s two-factor
theory has not been validated. Some will be much more motivated by money than
others. What cannot be assumed is that money motivates everyone in the sameway
and to the same extent. Thus it is naive to think that the introduction of a
performance-related pay (PRP) scheme will miraculously transform everyone over-
night into well-motivated, high-performing individuals.

Nevertheless, money provides the means to achieve a number of different ends. It
is a powerful force because it is linked directly or indirectly to the satisfaction of
many needs. It clearly satisfies basic needs for survival and security, if it is coming in
regularly. It can also satisfy the need for self-esteem (as noted above, it is a visible
mark of appreciation) and status – money can set you in a grade apart from your
fellows and can buy you things they cannot to build up your prestige. Money satisfies
the less desirable but still prevalent drives of acquisitiveness and cupidity.

Money may in itself have no intrinsic meaning, but it acquires significant moti-
vating power because it comes to symbolize so many intangible goals. It acts as a
symbol in different ways for different people, and for the same person at different
times. As noted by Goldthorpe et al (1968) from their research into the ‘affluent
worker’, pay is the dominant factor in the choice of employer and considerations of
pay seem most powerful in binding people to their present job.

Do financial incentives motivate people? The answer is yes, for those people who

Motivation ❚ 267

are strongly motivated by money and whose expectations that they will receive a
financial reward are high. But less confident employees may not respond to incen-
tives that they do not expect to achieve. It can also be argued that extrinsic rewards
may erode intrinsic interest – people who work just for money could find their tasks
less pleasurable and may not, therefore, do them so well. What we do know is that a
multiplicity of factors are involved in performance improvements and many of those
factors are interdependent.

Money can therefore provide positive motivation in the right circumstances, not
only because people need and want money but also because it serves as a highly
tangible means of recognition. It can also be argued that money may be an important
factor in attracting people to organizations and is one of the factors that will influence
their retention. But badly designed and managed pay systems can demotivate.
Another researcher in this area was Jaques (1961), who emphasized the need for such
systems to be perceived as being fair and equitable. In other words, the reward
should be clearly related to effort or level of responsibility and people should not
receive less money than they deserve compared with their fellow workers. Jaques
called this the ‘felt-fair’ principle.


The factors that affect motivational strategies and the contribution that HR can make
to achieving higher levels of motivation are summarized in Table 18.2.

268 ❚ Organizational behaviour

Motivation ❚ 269

Table 18.2 Motivation strategies

Factors affecting motivation strategies The HR contribution

● The complexity of the process of ● Avoid the trap of developing or supporting
motivation means that simplistic strategies that offer prescriptions for motivation
approaches based on instrumentality based on a simplistic view of the process or
theory are unlikely to be successful fail to recognize individual differences

● People are more likely to be motivated ● Encourage the development of performance
if they work in an environment in management processes which provide
which they are valued for what opportunities to agree expectations and give
they are and what they do. This positive feedback on accomplishments
means paying attention to the basic ● Develop reward systems which provide
need for recognition opportunities for both financial and non-

financial rewards to recognize achievements.
Bear in mind, however, that financial rewards
systems are not necessarily appropriate and the
lessons of expectancy, goal and equity theory
need to be taken into account in designing and
operating them

● The need for work which provides ● Advise on processes for the design of jobs
people with the means to achieve which take account of the factors affecting the
their goals, a reasonable degree of motivation to work, providing for job enrichment
autonomy, and scope for the use of in the shape of variety, decision-making
skills and competencies should be responsibility and as much control as possible
recognized in carrying out the work

● The need for the opportunity to grow ● Provide facilities and opportunities for learning
by developing abilities and careers. through such means as personal development

planning processes as well as more formal

● Develop career planning processes

● The cultural environment of the ● Advise on the development of a culture which
organization in the shape of its values supports processes of valuing and rewarding
and norms will influence the impact employees
of any attempts to motivate people
by direct or indirect means

● Motivation will be enhanced by ● Devise competency frameworks which focus
leadership which sets the direction, on leadership qualities and the behaviours
encourages and stimulates expected of managers and team leaders
achievement, and provides support ● Ensure that leadership potential is identified
to employees in their efforts to reach through performance management and
goals and improve their performance assessment centres
generally ● Provide guidance and training to develop

leadership qualities

Organizational commitment and

In this chapter the topics of organizational commitment and job engagement are
examined. They are important because independently or in association with one
another, they can significantly affect organizational performance. But there is some
confusion about their respective meanings, and the chapter starts by examining these.


Commitment and engagement are closely related concepts. In fact, some people use
the terms interchangeably or refer to engagement as an alternative, more up-to-date
and, maybe, a more sophisticated term for commitment. The various definitions
available of commitment and engagement do not help. The Oxford English Dictionary
states that someone is committed when they are morally dedicated (to doctrine or
cause), while someone is engaged when they are employed busily.

The meaning of organizational commitment
As defined by Porter et al (1974), commitment refers to attachment and loyalty. It is
the relative strength of the individual’s identification with, and involvement in, a
particular organization. It consists of three factors:


1. A strong desire to remain a member of the organization.
2. A strong belief in, and acceptance of, the values and goals of the organization.
3. A readiness to exert considerable effort on behalf of the organization.

An alternative, although closely related, definition of commitment emphasizes the
importance of behaviour in creating commitment. As Salancik (1977) put it:
‘Commitment is a state of being in which an individual becomes bound by his (sic)
actions to beliefs that sustain his activities and his own involvement.’ Three features
of behaviour are important in binding individuals to their acts: the visibility of the
acts, the extent to which the outcomes are irrevocable, and the degree to which the
person undertakes the action voluntarily. Commitment, according to Salancik, can be
increased and harnessed ‘to obtain support for organizational ends and interests’
through such ploys as participation in decisions about actions.

The meaning of engagement
As defined by Chiumento (2004):

Engagement is a positive, two-way, relationship between an employee and their organi-
zation. Both parties are aware of their own and the other’s needs, and the way they
support each other to fulfil those needs. Engaged employees and organizations will go
the extra mile for each other because they see the mutual benefit of investing in their

The Royal Bank of Scotland (2005) defines engagement as the state of emotional and
intellectual commitment to the group and lists its components as satisfaction (how
much I like working here), commitment (how much I want to be here) and perfor-
mance (how much I want to and actually do in achieving results).

The Hay Group, as reported by Thompson (2002), refers to their concept of
‘engaged performance’ which is ‘about understanding why working for a particular
organization is attractive to different kinds of individuals… And which looks at the
hearts and mind reasons why people work for you’.

The Institute of Employment Studies (Bevan et al, 1997) defines engagement as: ‘A
positive attitude held by the employee towards the organization and its values. An
engaged employee is aware of business context, and works closely with colleagues to
improve performance within the job for the benefit of the organization.’

These all overlap with the traditional definition of commitment as being concerned
with attachment to the organization. There is no reason why this should not be the
case – the two concepts are after all closely connected – but there is some value in
distinguishing between commitment to the organization and commitment to the job,

272 ❚ Organizational behaviour

and treating the former as organizational commitment and the latter as job engage-

Many people are more committed to their work than the organization that provides
the work, for example researchers in universities or research establishments. Others
take a transient view of their organization as a stepping stone in their career that
provides them with the sort of experience they want but to which they feel no partic-
ular loyalty. If the organization wants people in the latter categories to work harder
and better, it may well want to focus on the work they provide and opportunities for
development they offer and place less emphasis on organizational commitment. If
the organization wants to concentrate more on retention, loyalty and people putting
themselves out for the organization rather than themselves, then policies to encour-
age commitment come to the fore. Best of all, it is recognized that both commitment
and engagement need attention but that different approaches may be necessary
although they can be mutually supportive – increased commitment to the organiza-
tion can produce higher levels of job engagement; more job engagement can increase
commitment to the organization. The rest of this chapter is devoted to exploring both


The concept of organizational commitment plays an important part in HRM philos-
ophy. As Guest (1987) has suggested, HRM policies are designed to ‘maximise orga-
nizational integration, employee commitment, flexibility and quality of work’. The
next five sections of this chapter consider the meaning and significance of organiza-
tional commitment, the problems associated with the concept, factors affecting
commitment, developing a commitment strategy, and measuring commitment.

Organizational commitment is the relative strength of the individual’s identifica-
tion with, and involvement in, a particular organization. It consists of three factors:

● a strong desire to remain a member of the organization;
● a strong belief in, and acceptance of, the values and goals of the organization;
● a readiness to exert considerable effort on behalf of the organization.

An alternative, although closely related, definition of commitment emphasizes the
importance of behaviour in creating commitment. As Salancik (1977) put it,
‘Commitment is a state of being in which an individual becomes bound by his actions
to beliefs that sustain his activities and his own involvement.’ Three features of
behaviour are important in binding individuals to their acts: the visibility of the acts,

Organizational commitment and engagement ❚ 273

the extent to which the outcomes are irrevocable, and the degree to which the person
undertakes the action voluntarily. Commitment, according to Salancik, can be
increased and harnessed ‘to obtain support for organizational ends and interests’
through such ploys as participation in decisions about actions.

The significance of organizational commitment
There have been two schools of thought about commitment. One, the ‘from control to
commitment’ school, was led by Walton (1985a and b), who saw commitment
strategy as a more rewarding approach to human resource management, in contrast
to the traditional control strategy. The other, ‘Japanese/excellence’ school, is repre-
sented by writers such as Pascale and Athos (1981) and Peters and Waterman (1982),
who looked at the Japanese model and related the achievement of excellence to
getting the wholehearted commitment of the workforce to the organization.

From control to commitment

The importance of commitment was highlighted by Walton (1985a and b). His theme
was that improved performance would result if the organization moved away from
the traditional control-oriented approach to workforce management, which relies
upon establishing order, exercising control and ‘achieving efficiency in the applica-
tion of the workforce’. He proposed that this approach should be replaced by a
commitment strategy. Workers respond best – and most creatively – not when they
are tightly controlled by management, placed in narrowly defined jobs, and treated
like an unwelcome necessity, but instead when they are given broader responsibili-
ties, encouraged to contribute and helped to achieve satisfaction in their work.
Walton (1985b) suggested that in the new commitment-based approach:

Jobs are designed to be broader than before, to combine planning and implementation,
and to include efforts to upgrade operations, not just to maintain them. Individual
responsibilities are expected to change as conditions change, and teams, not individ-
uals, often are the organizational units accountable for performance. With management
hierarchies relatively flat and differences in status minimized, control and lateral coordi-
nation depend on shared goals. And expertise rather than formal position determines

Put like this, a commitment strategy may sound idealistic but does not appear to be a
crude attempt to manipulate people to accept management’s values and goals, as
some have suggested. In fact, Walton does not describe it as being instrumental in this
manner. His prescription is for a broad HRM approach to the ways in which people

274 ❚ Organizational behaviour

are treated, jobs are designed and organizations are managed. He believes that the
aim should be to develop ‘mutuality’, a state that exists when management and
employees are interdependent and both benefit from this interdependency.

The Japanese/excellence school

Attempts made to explain the secret of Japanese business success in the 1970s by such
writers as Ouchi (1981) and Pascale and Athos (1981) led to the theory that the best
way to motivate people is to get their full commitment to the values of the organiza-
tion by leadership and involvement. This might be called the ‘hearts and minds’
approach to motivation, and among other things it popularized such devices as
quality circles.

The baton was taken up by Peters and Waterman (1982) and their imitators later in
the 1980s. This approach to excellence was summed up by Peters and Austin (1985)
when they wrote, again somewhat idealistically, ‘Trust people and treat them like
adults, enthuse them by lively and imaginative leadership, develop and demonstrate
an obsession for quality, make them feel they own the business, and your workforce
will respond with total commitment.’

Problems with the concept of commitment
A number of commentators have raised questions about the concept of commitment.
These relate to three main problem areas: first, its unitary frame of reference; second,
commitment as an inhibitor of flexibility; and third, whether high commitment does
in practice result in improved organizational performance.

Unitary frame of reference

A comment frequently made about the concept of commitment is that it is too
simplistic in adopting a unitary frame of reference; in other words, it assumes unreal-
istically that an organization consists of people with shared interests. It has been
suggested by people like Cyert and March (1963), Mangham (1979) and Mintzberg
(1983a) that an organization is really a coalition of interest groups, where political
processes are an inevitable part of everyday life. The pluralistic perspective recog-
nizes the legitimacy of different interests and values, and therefore asks the question
‘Commitment to what?’ Thus, as Coopey and Hartley (1991) put it, ‘commitment is
not an all-or-nothing affair (though many managers might like it to be) but a question
of multiple or competing commitments for the individual’.

Legge (1989) also raises this question in her discussion of strong culture as a key
requirement of HRM through ‘a shared set of managerially sanctioned values’.

Organizational commitment and engagement ❚ 275

However, values concerned with performance, quality, service, equal opportunity
and innovation are not necessarily wrong because they are managerial values. But
it is not unreasonable to believe that pursuing a value such as innovation could
work against the interests of employees by, for example, resulting in redundancies.
And it would be quite reasonable for any employee, encouraged to behave in
accordance with a value supported by management, to ask ‘What’s in it for me?’ It
can also be argued that the imposition of management’s values on employees
without their having any part to play in discussing and agreeing them is a form of

Commitment and flexibility

It was pointed out by Coopey and Hartley (1991) that ‘The problem for a unitarist
notion of organizational commitment is that it fosters a conformist approach
which not only fails to reflect organizational reality, but can be narrowing and
limiting for the organization.’ They argue that if employees are expected and encour-
aged to commit themselves tightly to a single set of values and goals they will not be
able to cope with the ambiguities and uncertainties that are endemic in organiza-
tional life in times of change. Conformity to ‘imposed’ values will inhibit creative
problem solving, and high commitment to present courses of action will increase
both resistance to change and the stress that invariably occurs when change takes

If commitment is related to tightly defined plans then this will become a real
problem. To avoid it, the emphasis should be on overall strategic directions. These
would be communicated to employees with the proviso that changing circumstances
will require their amendment. In the meantime, however, everyone can at least be
informed in general terms where the organization is heading and, more specifically,
the part they are expected to play in helping the organization to get there. And if they
can be involved in the decision making processes on matters that affect them (which
include management’s values for performance, quality and customer service), so
much the better.

Values need not necessarily be restrictive. They can be defined in ways that allow
for freedom of choice within broad guidelines. In fact, the values themselves can refer
to such processes as flexibility, innovation and responsiveness to change. Thus, far
from inhibiting creative problem solving, they can encourage it.

The impact of high commitment

A belief in the positive value of commitment has been confidently expressed by
Walton (1985b): ‘Underlying all these (human resource) policies is a management

276 ❚ Organizational behaviour

philosophy, often embedded in a published statement, that acknowledges the legiti-
mate claims of a company’s multiple stakeholders – owners, employees, customers
and the public. At the centre of this philosophy is a belief that eliciting employee
commitment will lead to enhanced performance. The evidence shows this belief to be
well founded.’ However, a review by Guest (1991) of the mainly North American
literature, reinforced by the limited UK research available, led him to the conclusion
that ‘High organizational commitment is associated with lower labour turnover and
absence, but there is no clear link to performance.’

It is probably wise not to expect too much from commitment as a means of making
a direct and immediate impact on performance. It is not the same as motivation.
Commitment is a wider concept, and tends to be more stable over a period of time
and less responsive to transitory aspects of an employee’s job, hence the importance
of the concept of job engagement, which is immediate. It is possible to be dissatisfied
with a particular feature of a job while retaining a reasonably high level of commit-
ment to the organization as a whole.

In relating commitment to motivation it is useful to distinguish, as do Buchanan
and Huczynski (1985), three perspectives:

● The goals towards which people aim. From this perspective, goals such as the
good of the company, or effective performance at work, may provide a degree of
motivation for some employees, who could be regarded as committed in so far as
they feel they own the goals.

● The process by which goals and objectives at work are selected, which is quite
distinct from the way in which commitment arises within individuals.

● The social process of motivating others to perform effectively. From this view-
point, strategies aimed at increasing motivation also affect commitment. It may be
true to say that, where commitment is present, motivation is likely to be strong,
particularly if a long term view is taken of effective performance.

It is reasonable to believe that strong commitment to work is likely to result in consci-
entious and self-directed application to do the job, regular attendance, nominal
supervision and a high level of effort. Commitment to the organization will certainly
be related to the intention to stay – in other words, loyalty to the company.

Factors affecting commitment
Kochan and Dyer (1993) have indicated that the factors affecting the level of commit-
ment in what they call mutual commitment firms are as follows:

Organizational commitment and engagement ❚ 277

● Strategic level:
– supportive business strategies;
– top management value commitment;
– effective voice for HR in strategy making and governance.

● Functional (human resource policy) level:
– staffing based on employment stabilization;
– investment in training and development;
– contingent compensation that reinforces cooperation, participation and

● Workplace level:

– selection based on high standards’
– broad task design and teamwork’
– employee involvement in problem solving’
– climate of cooperation and trust.

The research carried out by Purcell et al (2003) established that the key policy and
practice factors influencing levels of commitment were:

● received training last year;
● are satisfied with career opportunities;
● are satisfied with the performance appraisal system;
● think managers are good in people management (leadership);
● find their work challenging;
● think their form helps them achieve a work-life balance;
● are satisfied with communication or company performance.

Developing a commitment strategy
A commitment strategy will be based on the high commitment model described in
Chapter 7. It will aim to develop commitment using, as appropriate, approaches such
as those described below. When formulating the strategy, account should be taken of
the reservations expressed earlier in this chapter, and too much should not be
expected from it. The aim will be to increase identification with the organization,
develop feelings of loyalty among its employees, provide a context within which
motivation and therefore performance will increase, and reduce employee turnover.

Steps to create commitment will be concerned with both strategic goals and values.
They may include initiatives to increase involvement and ‘ownership’, communica-
tion, leadership development, developing a sense of excitement in the job, and devel-
oping various HR policy and practice initiatives.

278 ❚ Organizational behaviour

Developing ownership

A sense of belonging is enhanced if there is a feeling of ‘ownership’ among
employees, not just in the literal sense of owning shares (although this can help) but
in the sense of believing they are genuinely accepted by management as key stake-
holders in the organization. This concept of ‘ownership’ extends to participating in
decisions on new developments and changes in working practices that affect the indi-
viduals concerned. They should be involved in making those decisions, and feel that
their ideas have been listened to and that they have contributed to the outcome.

Communication programmes

It may seem to be strikingly obvious that commitment will only be gained if people
understand what they are expected to commit to, but managements too often fail to
pay sufficient attention to delivering the message in terms that recognize that the
frame of reference for those who receive it is likely to be quite different from their
own. Management’s expectations will not necessarily coincide with those of
employees. Pluralism prevails. And in delivering the message, the use of different
and complementary channels of communication such as newsletters, briefing groups,
videos and notice boards is often neglected.

Leadership development

Commitment is enhanced if managers can gain the confidence and respect of their
teams, and development programmes to improve the quality of leadership should
form an important part of any strategy for increasing commitment. Management
training can also be focused on increasing the competence of managers in specific
areas of their responsibility for gaining commitment, such as performance manage-


An IRS survey (IRS, 2004) established that the following were the top five influences
on employee satisfaction and commitment and employee satisfaction:

1. Relationship with manager – 63 per cent.
2. Relationship with colleagues – 60 per cent.

Organizational commitment and engagement ❚ 279

3. Quality of line management – 62 per cent.
4. Recognition of contribution – 56 per cent.
5. Leadership: visibility and confidence – 55 per cent.

The survey also obtained examples from organizations of what they were doing to
increase commitment:

● Bacardi-Martini – focus groups, team briefings, consultation with union, joint
consultative committee, attitude surveys, road shows.

● Eversheds – ‘have your say’ communication sessions involving all employees,
key business discussions.

● Lefarge Cement – joint partnership training courses with managers and trade
union representatives, regular business updates, bonus scheme linked to jointly
agreed performance indicators, team development workshops.

● North Herts District Council – introduction of staff consultation forums, new
policies for complaints resolution and dignity at work.

● West Bromwich Building Society – various focus groups, social club, away-days
by department.

● Yorkshire Water – active and comprehensive communications, involvement in
business planning, face-to-face meetings with directors, consultation on change,
celebration of business success, rewards and recognition.

Developing HR practices that enhance organizational commitment

The policies and practices that may contribute to the increase of commitment are
training, career planning, performance management, work-life balance policies and
job design.

The HR function can play a major part in developing a high commitment organiza-
tion. The ten steps it can take are:

● Advise on methods of communicating the values and aims of management and
the achievements of the organization, so that employees are more likely to iden-
tify with it as one they are proud to work for.

● Emphasize to management that commitment is a two-way process; employees
cannot be expected to be committed to the organization unless management
demonstrates that it is committed to them and recognizes their contribution as

● Impress on management the need to develop a climate of trust by being honest
with people, treating them fairly, justly and consistently, keeping its word, and

280 ❚ Organizational behaviour

showing willingness to listen to the comments and suggestions made by
employees during processes of consultation and participation.

● Develop a positive psychological contract (see Chapter 16) by treating people as
stakeholders, relying on consensus and cooperation rather than control and coer-
cion, and focusing on the provision of opportunities for learning, development
and career progression.

● Advise on and assist in the establishment of partnership agreements with trade
unions which emphasize unity of purpose, common approaches to working
together and the importance of giving employees a voice in matters that concern

● Recommend and take part in the achievement of single status for all employees
(often included in a partnership agreement) so that there is no longer an ‘us and
them’ culture.

● Encourage management to declare a policy of employment security, and ensure
that steps are taken to avoid involuntary redundancies.

● Develop performance management processes that provide for the alignment of
organizational and individual objectives.

● Advise on means of increasing employee identification with the company
through rewards related to organizational performance (profit sharing or gain-
sharing) or employee share ownership schemes.

● Develop ‘job engagement’ (identification of employees with the job they are
doing) through job design processes that aim to create higher levels of job satis-
faction (job enrichment).


Engagement takes place when people are committed to their work. They are inter-
ested, indeed excited, about what they do. Job engagement can exist even when
individuals are not committed to the organization, except in so far as it gives them the
opportunity and scope to perform and to develop their skills and potential. They may
be more attached to the type of work they carry out than to the organization that
provides that work, especially if they are knowledge workers.

Enhancing job engagement starts with job design or ‘role development’ as
discussed in Chapter 23. This will focus on the provision of:

● interest and challenge – the degree to which the work is interesting in itself and
creates demanding goals to people;

● variety – the extent to which the activities in the job call for a selection of skills and

Organizational commitment and engagement ❚ 281

282 ❚ Organizational behaviour

● autonomy – the freedom and independence the job holder has, including discre-
tion to make decisions, exercise choice, schedule the work and decide on the
procedures to carry it out, and the job holder’s personal responsibility for

● task identity – the degree to which the job requires completion of a whole and
identifiable piece of work;

● task significance – the extent to which the job contributes to a significant end result
and has a substantial impact on the lives and work of other people.

All these factors are affected by the organization structure, the system of work and
the quality of leadership. The latter is vital. The degree to which jobs provide variety,
autonomy, task identity and task significance depends more on the way in which job
holders are managed and led than any formal process of job design. Managers and
team leaders often have considerable discretion on how they allocate work, and the
extent to which they delegate. They can provide feedback that recognizes the contri-
bution of people, and they can spell out the significance of the work they do.

The Hay Group has developed a model for what they call ‘engaged performance’,
which is made up of six elements, and is summarized in Table 19.1.

1 Inspiration/values 4 Tangible rewards
● reputation of organization ● competitive pay
● organizational values and behaviours ● good benefits
● quality of leadership ● incentives for higher performance
● risk sharing ● ownership potential
● recognition ● recognition awards
● communication ● fairness of reward

2 Quality of work 5 Work–life balance
● perception of the value of the work ● supportive environment
● challenge/interest ● recognition of life cycle needs/flexibility
● opportunities for achievement ● security of income
● freedom and autonomy ● social support
● workload
● quality of work relationship

3 Enabling environment 6 Future growth/opportunity
● physical environment ● learning and development beyond
● tools and equipment current job
● job training (current position) ● career advancement opportunities
● information and processes ● performance improvement and
● safety/personal security feedback

Table 19.1 The Hay Group model of engaged performance

How organizations function


The two factors that determine how an organization functions in relation to its
internal and external environment are its structure and the processes that operate
within it. Organizations are also affected by the culture they develop, that is, the
values and norms that affect behaviour (see Chapter 21).

Much has been written to explain how organizations function and the first part of
this chapter summarizes the various theories of organization. These theories provide
the background to the last three sections of the chapter which deal with organization
structure, types of organizations and organizational processes.


The classical school
The classical or scientific management school, as represented by Fayol (1916), Taylor
(1911) and Urwick (1947), believed in control, order and formality. Organizations
need to minimize the opportunity for unfortunate and uncontrollable informal rela-
tions, leaving room only for the formal ones.


The bureaucratic model
The bureaucratic model of organization as described by Perrow (1980) is a way of
expressing how organizations function as machines and can therefore be associated
with some of the ideas generated by the classical school. It is based on the work of
Max Weber (1946) who coined the term ‘bureaucracy’ as a label for a type of formal
organization in which impersonality and rationality are developed to the highest
degree. Bureaucracy, as he conceived it, was the most efficient form of organization
because it is coldly logical and because personalized relationships and non-rational,
emotional considerations do not get in its way.

The human relations school
The classical, and by implication, the bureaucratic model were first challenged by
Barnard (1938). He emphasized the importance of the informal organization – the
network of informal roles and relationships which, for better or worse, strongly
influences the way the formal structure operates. He wrote: ‘Formal organizations
come out of and are necessary to informal organizations: but when formal organiza-
tions come into operation, they create and require informal organizations.’ More
recently, Child (1977) has pointed out that it is misleading to talk about a clear
distinction between the formal and the informal organization. Formality and infor-
mality can be designed into structure.

Roethlisberger and Dickson (1939) reported on the Hawthorne studies – which
highlighted the importance of informal groups and decent, humane leadership.

The behavioural science school
In the 1960s the focus shifted completely to the behaviour of people in organizations.
Behavioural scientists such as Argyris (1957), Herzberg et al (1957), McGregor (1960)
and Likert (1961) adopted a humanistic point of view which is concerned with what
people can contribute and how they can best be motivated.

● Argyris believed that individuals should be given the opportunity to feel that they
have a high degree of control over setting their own goals and over defining the
paths to these goals.

● Herzberg suggested that improvements in organization design must centre on the
individual job as the positive source of motivation. If individuals feel that the job
is stretching them, they will be moved to perform it well.

● McGregor developed his theory of integration (theory Y) which emphasizes the
importance of recognizing the needs of both the organization and the individual

284 ❚ Organizational behaviour

and creating conditions that will reconcile these needs so that members of the
organization can work together for its success and share in its rewards.

● Likert stated that effective organizations function by means of supportive relation-
ships which, if fostered, will build and maintain people’s sense of personal worth
and importance.

The concepts of these and other behavioural scientists provided the impetus for the
organization development (OD) movement as described in Chapter 22.

The systems school
Another important insight into how organizations function was provided by Miller
and Rice (1967) who stated that organizations should be treated as open systems
which are continually dependent upon and influenced by their environments. The
basic characteristic of the enterprise as an open system is that it transforms inputs
into outputs within its environment.

As Katz and Kahn (1966) wrote: ‘Systems theory is basically concerned with prob-
lems of relationship, of structure and of interdependence.’ As a result, there is a
considerable emphasis on the concept of transactions across boundaries – between
the system and its environment and between the different parts of the system. This
open and dynamic approach avoided the error of the classical, bureaucratic and
human relations theorists, who thought of organizations as closed systems and
analysed their problems with reference to their internal structures and processes of
interaction, without taking account either of external influences and the changes they
impose or of the technology in the organization.

The socio-technical model
The concept of the organization as a system was extended by the Tavistock Institute
researchers into the socio-technical model of organizations. The basic principle of this
model is that in any system of organization, technical or task aspects are interrelated
with the human or social aspects. The emphasis is on interrelationships between, on
the one hand, the technical processes of transformation carried out within the
organization, and, on the other, the organization of work groups and the manage-
ment structures of the enterprise. This approach avoided the humanistic generaliza-
tions of the behavioural scientists without falling into the trap of treating the
organization as a machine.

How organizations function ❚ 285

The contingency school
The contingency school consists of writers such as Burns and Stalker (1961),
Woodward (1965) and Lawrence and Lorsch (1976) who have analysed a variety of
organizations and concluded that their structures and methods of operation are a
function of the circumstances in which they exist. They do not subscribe to the view
that there is one best way of designing an organization or that simplistic classifica-
tions of organizations as formal or informal, bureaucratic or non-bureaucratic are
helpful. They are against those who see organizations as mutually opposed social
systems (what Burns and Stalker refer to as the ‘Manichean world of the Hawthorne
studies’) that set up formal against informal organizations. They disagree with
those who impose rigid principles of organization irrespective of the technology or
environmental conditions.

More recent contributions to understanding how organizations
Kotter (1995) developed the following overall framework for examining organiza-

● key organizational processes – the major information gathering, communication,
decision-making, matter/energy transporting and matter/energy converting
actions of the organization’s employees and machines;

● external environment – an organization’s ‘task’ environment includes suppliers,
markets and competitors; the wider environment includes factors such as public
attitudes, economic and political systems, laws etc;

● employees and other tangible assets – people, plant, and equipment;
● formal organizational requirements – systems designed to regulate the actions of

employees (and machines);
● the social system – culture (values and norms) and relationships between

employees in terms of power, affiliation and trust;
● technology – the major techniques people use while engaged in organizational

processes and that are programmed into machines;
● the dominant coalition – the objectives, strategies, personal characteristics and

internal relationships of those who oversee the organization as a whole and
control its basic policy making.

286 ❚ Organizational behaviour

Mintzberg (1983b) analysed organizations into five broad types or configurations:

● simple structures, which are dominated by the top of the organization with central-
ized decision making;

● machine bureaucracy, which is characterized by the standardization of work
processes and the extensive reliance on systems;

● professional bureaucracy, where the standardization of skills provides the prime
coordinating mechanism;

● divisionalized structures, in which authority is drawn down from the top and activ-
ities are grouped together into units which are then managed according to their
standardized outputs;

● adhocracies, where power is decentralized selectively to constellations of work that
are free to coordinate within and between themselves by mutual adjustments.

Drucker (1988) points out that organizations have established, through the develop-
ment of new technology and the extended use of knowledge workers, ‘that
whole layers of management neither make decisions nor lead. Instead, their main,
if not their only, function, is to serve as relays – human boosters for the faint,
unfocused signals that pass for communications in the traditional pre-information

Pascale (1990) believes that the new organizational paradigm functions as

● from the image of organizations as machines, with the emphasis on concrete
strategy, structure and systems, to the idea of organizations as organisms, with the
emphasis on the ‘soft’ dimensions – style, staff and shared values;

● from a hierarchical model, with step-by-step problem solving, to a network model,
with parallel nodes of intelligence which surround problems until they are elimi-

● from the status-driven view that managers think and workers do as they are told,
to a view of managers as ‘facilitators’, with workers empowered to initiate
improvements and change;

● from an emphasis on ‘vertical tasks’ within functional units, to an emphasis on
‘horizontal tasks’ and collaboration across units;

● from a focus on ‘content’ and the prescribed use of specific tools and techniques, to
a focus on ‘process’ and a holistic synthesis of techniques;

● from the military model to a commitment model.

Handy (1989) describes two types of organization: the ‘shamrock’ and the federal.

How organizations function ❚ 287

The shamrock organization consists of three elements: 1) the core workers (the
central leaf of the shamrock) – professionals, technicians and managers; 2) the
contractual fringe – contract workers; and 3) the flexible labour force consisting of
temporary staff.

The federal organization takes the process of decentralization one stage further by
establishing every key operational, manufacturing or service provision activity as a
distinct, federated unit.

Each of the members of the various schools was, in effect, commenting on the factors
affecting organization structure as considered below.

Organization structure defined
All organizations have some form of more or less formalized structure which has
been defined by Child (1977) as comprising ‘all the tangible and regularly occurring
features which help to shape their members’ behaviour’. Structures incorporate a
network of roles and relationships and are there to help in the process of ensuring
that collective effort is explicitly organized to achieve specified ends.

Organizations vary in their complexity, but it is always necessary to divide the
overall management task into a variety of activities, to allocate these activities to the
different parts of the organization and to establish means of controlling, coordinating
and integrating them.

The structure of an organization can be regarded as a framework for getting things
done. It consists of units, functions, divisions, departments and formally constituted
work teams into which activities related to particular processes, projects, products,
markets, customers, geographical areas or professional disciplines are grouped
together. The structure indicates who is accountable for directing, coordinating and
carrying out these activities and defines management hierarchies – the ‘chain of
command’ – thus spelling out, broadly, who is responsible to whom for what at each
level in the organization.

Organization charts
Structures are usually described in the form of an organization chart. This places
individuals in boxes that denote their job and their position in the hierarchy and
traces the direct lines of authority (command and control) through the management

288 ❚ Organizational behaviour

Organization charts are vertical in their nature and therefore misrepresent reality.
They do not give any indication of the horizontal and diagonal relationships that
exist within the framework between people in different units or departments, and
do not recognize the fact that within any one hierarchy, commands and control infor-
mation do not travel all the way down and up the structure as the chart implies. In
practice, information jumps (especially computer-generated information) and
managers or team leaders will interact with people at levels below those immediately
beneath them.

Organization charts have their uses as means of defining – simplistically – who
does what and hierarchical lines of authority. But even if backed up by organization
manuals (which no one reads and which are, in any case, out of date as soon as they
are produced), they cannot convey how the organization really works. They may, for
example, lead to definitions of jobs – what people are expected to do – but they
cannot convey the roles these people carry out in the organization; the parts they play
in interacting with others and the ways in which, like actors, they interpret the parts
they are given.


The basic types of organization are described below.

Line and staff
The line and staff organization was the type favoured by the classical theorists.
Although the term is not so much used today, except when referring to line managers,
it still describes many structures. The line hierarchy in the structure consists of func-
tions and managers who are directly concerned in achieving the primary purposes of
the organization, for example manufacturing and selling or directing the organiza-
tion as a whole. ‘Staff’ in functions such as finance, personnel and engineering
provide services to the line to enable them to get on with their job.

Divisionalized organizations
The process of divisionalization, as first described by Sloan (1963) on the basis of
his experience in running General Motors, involves structuring the organization
into separate divisions, each concerned with discrete manufacturing, sales, dis-
tribution or service functions, or with serving a particular market. At group head-
quarters, functional departments may exist in such areas as finance, planning,

How organizations function ❚ 289

personnel, legal and engineering to provide services to the divisions and, impor-
tantly, to exercise a degree of functional control over their activities. The amount of
control exercised will depend on the extent to which the organization has decided to
decentralize authority to strategic business units positioned close to the markets they

Decentralized organizations
Some organizations, especially conglomerates, decentralize most of their activities
and retain only a skeleton headquarters staff to deal with financial control matters,
strategic planning, legal issues and sometimes, but not always, personnel issues,
especially those concerned with senior management on an across the group basis
(recruitment, development and remuneration).

Matrix organizations
Matrix organizations are project based. Development, design or construction projects
will be controlled by project directors or managers, or, in the case of a consultancy,
assignments will be conducted by project leaders. Project managers will have no
permanent staff except, possibly, some administrative/secretarial support. They will
draw the members of their project teams from discipline groups, each of which will
be headed up by a director or manager who is responsible on a continuing basis for
resourcing the group, developing and managing its members and ensuring that they
are assigned as fully as possible to project teams. These individuals are assigned to a
project team and they will be responsible to the team leader for delivering the
required results, but they will continue to be accountable generally to the head of
their discipline for their overall performance and contribution.

Flexible organizations
Flexible organizations may conform broadly to the Mintzberg (1983b) category of an
adhocracy in the sense that they are capable of adapting quickly to new demands and
operate fluidly. They may be organized along the lines of Handy’s (1989) ‘shamrock’
with core workers carrying out the fundamental and continuing activities of the orga-
nization and contract workers and temporary staff being employed as required. This
is also called a core–periphery organization. An organization may adopt a policy of
numerical flexibility, which means that the number of employees can be quickly
increased or decreased in line with changes in activity levels. The different types of
flexibility as defined by Atkinson (1984) are described in Chapter 14.

290 ❚ Organizational behaviour

The process-based organization
A process-based organization is one in which the focus is on horizontal processes that
cut across organizational boundaries. Traditional organization structures consist of a
range of functions operating semi-independently and each with its own, usually
extended, management hierarchy. Functions acted as vertical ‘chimneys’ with bound-
aries between what they did and what happened next door. Continuity of work
between functions and the coordination of activities were prejudiced. Attention was
focused on vertical relationships and authority-based management – the ‘command
and control’ structure. Horizontal processes received relatively little attention. It was,
for example, not recognized that meeting the needs of customers by systems of order
processing could only be carried out satisfactorily if the flow of work from sales
through manufacturing to distribution was treated as a continuous process and not as
three distinct parcels of activity. Another horizontal process that drew attention to the
need to reconsider how organizations should be structured was total quality. This is
not a top-down system. It cuts across the boundaries separating organizational units
to ensure that quality is built into the organization’s products and services. Business
process re-engineering exercises have also demonstrated the need for
businesses to integrate functionally separated tasks into unified horizontal work

The result, as indicated by Ghoshal and Bartlett (1993), has been that:

… managers are beginning to deal with their organizations in different ways. Rather than
seeing them as a hierarchy of static roles, they think of them as a portfolio of dynamic
processes. They see core organizational processes that overlay and often dominate the
vertical, authority-based processes of the hierarchical structure.

In a process-based organization there will still be designated functions for, say,
manufacturing, sales and distribution. But the emphasis will be on how these areas
work together on multi-functional projects to deal with new demands such as
product/market development. Teams will jointly consider ways of responding to
customer requirements. Quality and continuous improvement will be regarded as a
common responsibility shared between managers and staff from each function. The
overriding objective will be to maintain a smooth flow of work between functions
and to achieve synergy by pooling resources from different functions in task forces or
project teams.

How organizations function ❚ 291

The structure of an organization as described in an organization chart does not give
any real indication of how it functions. To understand this, it is necessary to consider
the various processes that take place within the structural framework: those of group
behaviour, teamwork, leadership, power, politics and conflict, interaction and
networking and communications.

Group behaviour
Organizations consist of groups of people working together. Interactions take place
within and between groups and the degree to which these processes are formalized
varies according to the organizational context. To understand and influence organiza-
tional behaviour, it is necessary to appreciate how groups behave. In particular, this
means considering the nature of:

● formal and informal groups;
● the processes that take place within groups;
● channels of communication;
● task and maintenance functions;
● group ideology and cohesion;
● the concept of a reference group and its impact on group members;
● the factors that make for group effectiveness;
● the stages of group development;
● group identification.

Formal groups

Formal groups are set up by organizations to achieve a defined purpose. People are
brought together with the necessary skills to carry out the tasks and a system
exists for directing, coordinating and controlling the group’s activities. The structure,
composition and size of the group will depend largely on the nature of the task,
although tradition, organizational culture and management style may exert consider-
able influence. The more routine or clearly defined the task is, the more structured the
group will be. In a highly structured group the leader will have a positive role and
may well adopt an authoritarian style. The role of each member of the group will be
precise and a hierarchy of authority is likely to exist. The more ambiguous the task,
the more difficult it will be to structure the group. The leader’s role is more likely to
be supportive – he or she will tend to concentrate on encouragement and coordina-
tion rather than on issuing orders. The group will operate in a more democratic way
and individual roles will be fluid and less clearly defined.

292 ❚ Organizational behaviour

Informal groups

Informal groups are set up by people in organizations who have some affinity for one
another. It could be said that formal groups satisfy the needs of the organization
while informal groups satisfy the needs of their members. One of the main aims of
organization design and development should be to ensure, so far as possible, that the
basis upon which activities are grouped together and the way in which groups are
allowed or encouraged to behave satisfy both these needs. The values and norms
established by informal groups can work against the organization. This was first
clearly established in the Hawthorne studies, which revealed that groups could
regulate their own behaviour and output levels irrespective of what management
wanted. An understanding of the processes that take place within groups can,
however, help to make them work for, rather than against, what the organization

Group processes

As mentioned above, the way in which groups function is affected by the task and by
the norms in the organization. An additional factor is size. There is a greater diversity
of talent, skills and knowledge in a large group, but individuals find it more difficult
to make their presence felt. According to Handy (1981), for best participation and for
highest all-round involvement, the optimum size is between five and seven. But to
achieve the requisite breadth of knowledge the group may have to be considerably
larger, and this makes greater demands on the skills of the leader in getting participa-
tion. The term ‘group dynamics’ is sometimes used loosely to describe the ways in
which group members interact, but properly it refers to the work of Lewin (1947).
This was mainly concerned with the improvement of group processes through
various forms of training, eg T-groups, team building and interactive skills training.
The main processes that take place in groups as described below are interaction, task
and maintenance functions, group ideology, group cohesion, group development and

Channels of communication

Three basic channels of communication within groups were identified by Leavitt
(1951) and are illustrated in Figure 20.1.

The characteristics of these different groups are as follows:

● Wheel groups, where the task is straightforward, work faster, need fewer messages
to solve problems and make fewer errors than circle groups, but they are inflex-
ible if the task changes.

How organizations function ❚ 293

● Circle groups are faster in solving complex problems than wheel groups.
● All-channel groups are the most flexible and function well in complex, open-ended


The level of satisfaction for individuals is lowest in the circle group, fairly high in the
all-channel group and mixed in the wheel group, where the leader is more satisfied
than the outlying members.

Task and maintenance functions

The following functions need to be carried out in groups:

● task – initiating, information seeking, diagnosing, opinion-seeking, evaluating,

● maintenance – encouraging, compromising, peace-keeping, clarifying, summa-
rizing, standard-setting.

It is the job of the group leader or leaders to ensure that these functions operate effec-
tively. Leaderless groups can work, but only in special circumstances. A leader is
almost essential – whether official or self-appointed. The style adopted by a leader
affects the way the group operates. If the leader is respected, this will increase group
cohesiveness and its ability to get things done. An inappropriately authoritarian style
creates tension and resentment. An over-permissive style means that respect for the
leader diminishes and the group does not function so effectively.

294 ❚ Organizational behaviour

Figure 20.1 Channels of communication within groups

Wheel Circle All-channel












Group ideology

In the course of interacting and carrying out its task and maintenance functions, the
group develops an ideology which affects the attitudes and actions of its members
and the degree of satisfaction which they feel.

Group cohesion

If the group ideology is strong and individual members identify closely with the
group, it will become increasingly cohesive. Group norms or implicit rules will be
evolved, which define what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. The impact of
group cohesion can, however, result in negative as well as positive results. Janis’s
(1972) study of the decision-making processes of US foreign policy groups estab-
lished that a cohesive group of individuals, sharing a common fate, exerts a strong
pressure towards conformity. He coined the term ‘group think’ to describe the exag-
geration of irrational tendencies that appears to occur in groups and argued that a
group setting can magnify weakness of judgement.

To be ‘one of us’ is not always a good thing in management circles. A sturdy spirit
of independence, even a maverick tendency, may be more conducive to correct deci-
sion-making. Team-working is a good thing, but so is flexibility and independent
judgement. These need not be incompatible with team membership, but could be if
there is too much emphasis on cohesion and conformity within the group.

Reference group

A reference group consists of the group of people with whom an individual identifies.
This means that the group’s norms are accepted and if in doubt about what to do or
say, reference is made to these norms or to other group members before action is
taken. Most people in organizations belong to a reference group and this can signifi-
cantly affect the ways in which they behave.

Impact on group members

The reference group will also affect individual behaviour. This may be through overt
pressure to conform or by more subtle processes. Acceptance of group norms
commonly goes through two stages – compliance and internalization. Initially, a
group member complies in order not to be rejected by the group, although he or she
may behave differently when away from the group. Progressively, however, the
individual accepts the norm whether with the group or not – the group norm has
been internalized. As noted by Chell (1987), pressure on members to conform can
cause problems when:

How organizations function ❚ 295

● there is incompatibility between a member’s personal goals and those of the

● there is no sense of pride from being a member of the group;
● the member is not fully integrated with the group;
● the price of conformity is too high.

Group development

Tuckman (1965) has identified four stages of group development:

1. forming, when there is anxiety, dependence on the leader and testing to find out
the nature of the situation and the task, and what behaviour is acceptable;

2. storming, where there is conflict, emotional resistance to the demands of the task,
resistance to control and even rebellion against the leader;

3. norming, when group cohesion is developed, norms emerge, views are
exchanged openly, mutual support and cooperation increase and the group
acquires a sense of its identity;

4. performing, when interpersonal problems are resolved, roles are flexible and func-
tional, there are constructive attempts to complete tasks and energy is available
for effective work.


Individuals will identify with their groups if they like the other members, approve of
the purpose and work of the group and wish to be associated with the standing of the
group in the organization. Identification will be more complex if the standing of the
group is good.

Definition of a team

As defined by Katzenbach and Smith (1993):

A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a
common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves
mutually accountable.

Characteristics of effective teams

The characteristics of teams as described by Katzenbach and Smith are:

296 ❚ Organizational behaviour

● Teams are the basic units of performance for most organizations. They meld
together the skills, experiences and insights of several people.

● Teamwork applies to the whole organization as well as specific teams. It repre-
sents ‘a set of values that encourage behaviours such as listening and responding
co-operatively to points of view expressed by others, giving others the benefit of
the doubt, providing support to those who need it and recognising the interests
and achievements of others’.

● Teams are created and energized by significant performance challenges.
● Teams outperform individuals acting alone or in large organizational groupings,

especially when performance requires multiple skills, judgements and experi-

● Teams are flexible and responsive to changing events and demands. They can
adjust their approach to new information and challenges with greater speed,
accuracy and effectiveness than can individuals caught in the web of larger
organizational conventions.

● High-performance teams invest much time and effort exploring, shaping and
agreeing on a purpose that belongs to them, both collectively and individually.
They are characterized by a deep sense of commitment to their growth and

Dysfunctional teams

The specification set out above is somewhat idealistic. Teams do not always work like
that. They can fail to function effectively in the following ways:

● The atmosphere can be strained and over-formalized.
● Either there is too much discussion that gets nowhere or discussion is inhibited by

dominant members of the team.
● Team members do not really understand what they are there to do and the objec-

tives or standards they are expected to achieve.
● People don’t listen to one another.
● Disagreements are frequent and often relate to personalities and differences of

opinion rather than a reasoned discussion of alternative points of view.
● Decisions are not made jointly by team members.
● There is evidence of open personal attacks or hidden personal animosities.
● People do not feel free to express their opinions.
● Individual team members opt out or are allowed to opt out, leaving the others to

do the work.

How organizations function ❚ 297

● There is little flexibility in the way in which team members operate – people tend
to use a limited range of skills or specific tasks, and there is little evidence of

● The team leader dominates the team; more attention is given to who takes control
rather than to getting the work done.

● The team determines its own standards and norms, which may not be in accord
with the standards and norms of the organization.

Team roles

The different types of roles played by team members have been defined by Belbin
(1981) as follows:

● chairmen who control the way the team operates;
● shapers who specify the ways the team should work;
● company workers who turn proposals into practical work procedures;
● plants who produce ideas and strategies;
● resource investigators who explore the availability of resources, ideas and develop-

ments outside the team;
● monitor-evaluators who analyse problems and evaluate ideas;
● team workers who provide support to team members, improve team communica-

tions and foster team spirit;
● completer-finishers who maintain a sense of urgency in the team.

An alternative classification of roles has been developed by Margerison and McCann
(1986). The eight roles are:

● reporter-advisor: gathers information and expresses it in an easily understandable

● creator-innovator: enjoys thinking up new ideas and ways of doing things;
● explorer-promoter: takes up ideas and promotes them to others;
● assessor-developer: takes ideas and makes them work in practice;
● thruster-organizer: gets things done, emphasizing targets, deadlines and

● concluder-producer: sets up plans and standard systems to ensure outputs are

● controller-inspector: concerned with the details and adhering to rules and regula-

● upholder-maintainer: provides guidance and help in meeting standards.

298 ❚ Organizational behaviour

According to Margerison and McCann, a balanced team needs members with prefer-
ences for each of these eight roles.

Leadership, power, politics and conflict
The main processes that affect how organizations function are leadership, power,
politics and conflict.


Leadership can be defined as the ability to persuade others willingly to behave differ-
ently. The function of team leaders is to achieve the task set for them with the help of
the group. Leaders and their groups are therefore interdependent.

Leaders have two main roles. First, they must achieve the task. Secondly, they have
to maintain effective relationships between themselves and the group and the indi-
viduals in it – effective in the sense that they are conducive to achieving the task. As
Adair (1973) pointed out, in fulfilling their roles, leaders have to satisfy the following

1. Task needs. The group exists to achieve a common purpose or task. The leader’s
role is to ensure that this purpose is fulfilled. If it is not, they will lose the confi-
dence of the group and the result will be frustration, disenchantment, criticism
and, possibly, the ultimate disintegration of the group.

2. Group maintenance needs. To achieve its objectives, the group needs to be
held together. The leader’s job is to build up and maintain team spirit and

3. Individual needs. Individuals have their own needs, which they expect to be satis-
fied at work. The leader’s task is to be aware of these needs so that where neces-
sary they can take steps to harmonize them with the needs of the task and the

These three needs are interdependent. The leader’s actions in one area affect both the
others; thus successful achievement of the task is essential if the group is to be held
together and its members motivated to give their best effort to the job. Action directed
at meeting group or individual needs must be related to the needs of the task. It is
impossible to consider individuals in isolation from the group or to consider the
group without referring to the individuals within it. If any need is neglected, one of
the others will suffer and the leader will be less successful.

The kind of leadership exercised will be related to the nature of the task and the
people being led. It will also depend on the environment and, of course, on the actual

How organizations function ❚ 299

leader. Analysing the qualities of leadership in terms of intelligence, initiative,
self-assurance and so on has only limited value. The qualities required may be
different in different situations. It is more useful to adopt a contingency approach and
take account of the variables leaders have to deal with; especially the task, the group
and their own position relative to the group.


Organizations exist to get things done and in the process of doing this, people or
groups exercise power. Directly or indirectly, the use of power in influencing behav-
iour is a pervading feature of organizations, whether it is exerted by managers,
specialists, informal groups or trade union officials.

Power is the capacity to secure the dominance of one’s goals or values over others.
Four different types of power have been identified by French and Raven (1959):

● reward power – derived from the belief of individuals that compliance brings
rewards; the ability to distribute rewards contributes considerably to an execu-
tive’s power;

● coercive power – making it plain that non-compliance will bring punishment;
● expert power – exercised by people who are popular or admired and with whom

the less powerful can identify;
● legitimized power – power conferred by the position in an organization held by an



Power and politics are inextricably mixed, and in any organization there will
inevitably be people who want to achieve their satisfaction by acquiring power, legit-
imately or illegitimately. Kakabadse (1983) defines politics as ‘a process, that of influ-
encing individuals and groups of people to your point of view, where you cannot rely
on authority’.

Organizations consist of individuals who, while they are ostensibly there to
achieve a common purpose, are, at the same time, driven by their own needs to
achieve their own goals. Effective management is the process of harmonizing indi-
vidual endeavour and ambition to the common good. Some individuals genuinely
believe that using political means to achieve their goals will benefit the organization
as well as themselves. Others rationalize this belief. Yet others unashamedly pursue
their own ends.

300 ❚ Organizational behaviour


Conflict is inevitable in organizations because they function by means of adjustments
and compromises among competitive elements in their structure and membership.
Conflict also arises when there is change, because it may be seen as a threat to be
challenged or resisted, or when there is frustration – this may produce an aggressive
reaction; fight rather than flight. Conflict is not to be deplored. It is an inevitable
result of progress and change and it can and should be used constructively.

Conflict between individuals raises fewer problems than conflict between groups.
Individuals can act independently and resolve their differences. Members of groups
may have to accept the norms, goals and values of their group. The individual’s
loyalty will usually be to his or her own group if it is in conflict with others.

Interaction and networking
Interactions between people criss-cross the organization, creating networks for
getting things done and exchanging information, which is not catered for in the
formal structure. ‘Networking’ is an increasingly important process in flexible and
delayered organizations where more fluid interactions across the structure are
required between individuals and teams. Individuals can often get much more done
by networking than by going through formal channels. At least this means that they
can canvass opinion and enlist support to promote their projects or ideas and to share
their knowledge.

People also get things done in organizations by creating alliances – getting agree-
ment on a course of action with other people and joining forces to get things done.

The communications processes used in organizations have a marked effect on how
they function, especially if they take place through the network, which can then turn
into the ‘grapevine’. E-mails in intranets encourage the instant flow of information
(and sometimes produce information overload) but may inhibit face-to-face interac-
tions, which are often the best ways of getting things done.

How organizations function ❚ 301

Organizational culture

This chapter starts with definitions of organizational culture and the associated
concept of organizational climate. The notion of management style as a way of
describing how managers behave within the culture of their organizations is
also defined. The chapter continues with comments on the significance of the
concept to organizations and how culture develops. The components of culture and
methods of analysing and describing culture and the climate are then considered.
The chapter concludes with a review of approaches to supporting or changing


Organizational culture
Organizational or corporate culture is the pattern of values, norms, beliefs, attitudes
and assumptions that may not have been articulated but shape the ways in which
people behave and things get done. Values refer to what is believed to be important
about how people and the organizations behave. Norms are the unwritten rules of

The definition emphasizes that organizational culture is concerned with abstrac-
tions such as values and norms which pervade the whole or part of an organization.


They may not be defined, discussed or even noticed. Put another way, culture can be
regarded as a ‘code word for the subjective side of organizational life’ (Meyerson and
Martin, 1987). Nevertheless, culture can have a significant influence on people’s

The following are some other definitions of culture:

The culture of an organization refers to the unique configuration of norms, values,
beliefs and ways of behaving that characterize the manner in which groups and individ-
uals combine to get things done.

Eldridge and Crombie (1974)

Culture is a system of informal rules that spells out how people are to behave most of the

Deal and Kennedy (1982)

Culture is the commonly held beliefs, attitudes and values that exist in an organization.
Put more simply, culture is ‘the way we do things around here’.

Furnham and Gunter (1993)

A system of shared values and beliefs about what is important, what behaviours are
important and about feelings and relationships internally and externally.

Purcell et al (2003)

Summing up the various definitions of culture, Furnham and Gunter (1993) list,
amongst others, the following areas of agreement on the concept:

● It is difficult to define (often a pointless exercise).
● It is multi-dimensional, with many different components at different levels.
● It is not particularly dynamic, and ever changing (being relatively stable over

short periods of time).
● It takes time to establish and therefore time to change a corporate culture.

Problems with the concept
Furnham and Gunter refer to a number of problems with the concept, including:

● how to categorize culture (what terminology to use);
● when and why corporate culture should be changed and how this takes place;
● what is the healthiest, most optimal or desirable culture.

304 ❚ Organizational behaviour

They also point out that it is dangerous to treat culture as an objective entity ‘as if
everyone in the world would be able to observe the same phenomenon, whereas this
is patently not the case’.

Organizational climate
The term organizational climate is sometimes confused with organizational culture
and there has been much debate on what distinguishes the concept of climate from
that of culture. In his analysis of this issue, Denison (1996) believed that culture refers
to the deep structure of organizations, which is rooted in the values, beliefs and
assumptions held by organizational members. In contrast, climate refers to those
aspects of the environment that are consciously perceived by organizational
members. Rousseau (1988) stated that climate is a perception and is descriptive.
Perceptions are sensations or realizations experienced by an individual. Descriptions
are what a person reports of these sensations.

The debate about the meanings of these terms can become academic. It is easiest to
regard organizational climate as how people perceive (see and feel about) the culture
existing in their organization. As defined by French et al (1985), it is ‘the relatively
persistent set of perceptions held by organization members concerning the character-
istics and quality of organizational culture’. They distinguish between the actual situ-
ations (ie culture) and the perception of it (climate).


As Furnham and Gunter (1993) suggest:

Culture represents the ‘social glue’ and generates a ‘we-feeling’, thus counteracting
processes of differentiations which are an unavoidable part of organizational life.
Organizational culture offers a shared system of meanings which is the basis for commu-
nications and mutual understanding. If these functions are not fulfilled in a satisfactory
way, culture may significantly reduce the efficiency of an organization.

Purcell et al (2005) found in their previous research (2003) that in some organizations
there was a certain something – christened the ‘big idea’ – that seemed to give them a
competitive edge. The big idea consisted of a few words or statements that very
clearly summed up the organization, what it was about and what it was like to work
there. In turn this enabled the organization to manage its corporate culture and estab-
lish a set of shared values, which recognized and reinforced the sort of organization it
wanted to be. Thus it was able to establish a strong shared culture within which

Organizational culture ❚ 305

particular practices that encouraged better performance would be embedded and


The values and norms that are the basis of culture are formed in four ways. First,
culture is formed by the leaders in the organization, especially those who have
shaped it in the past. Schein (1990) indicates that people identify with visionary
leaders – how they behave and what they expect. They note what such leaders pay
attention to and treat them as role models. Second, as Schein also points out, culture
is formed around critical incidents – important events from which lessons are learnt
about desirable or undesirable behaviour. Third, as proposed by Furnham and
Gunter (1993), culture develops from the need to maintain effective working relation-
ships among organization members, and this establishes values and expectations.
Finally, culture is influenced by the organization’s environment. The external envi-
ronment may be relatively dynamic or unchanging.

Culture is learned over a period of time. Schein (1984) stated that there are two
ways in which this learning takes place. First, the trauma model, in which members
of the organization learn to cope with some threat by the erection of defence mecha-
nisms. Second, the positive reinforcement model, where things that seem to work
become embedded and entrenched. Learning takes place as people adapt to and
cope with external pressures, and as they develop successful approaches and mecha-
nisms to handle the internal challenges, processes and technologies in their organiza-

Where culture has developed over long periods of time and has become firmly
embedded, it may be difficult to change quickly, if at all, unless a traumatic event


The development process described above may result in a culture that characterizes
the whole organization. But there may be different cultures within organizations. For
example, the culture of an outward-looking marketing department may be substan-
tially different from that of an internally focused manufacturing function. There may
be some common organizational values or norms, but in some respects these will
vary between different work environments.

306 ❚ Organizational behaviour


Organizational culture can be described in terms of values, norms, artefacts and lead-
ership or management style.

Schiffman and Kanuk (1994) state that: ‘Values help to determine what we think is
right or wrong, what is important and what is desirable.’

Values are beliefs in what is best or good for the organization and what should or
ought to happen. The ‘value set’ of an organization may only be recognized at top
level, or it may be shared throughout the business, in which case it could be described
as value driven.

The stronger the values, the more they will influence behaviour. This does not
depend upon their having been articulated. Implicit values that are deeply embedded
in the culture of an organization and are reinforced by the behaviour of management
can be highly influential, while espoused values that are idealistic and are not
reflected in managerial behaviour may have little or no effect. It is ‘values in use’,
values that drive desirable behaviour, that are important.

Some of the most typical areas in which values can be expressed, implicitly or
explicitly, are:

● performance;
● competence;
● competitiveness;
● innovation;
● quality;
● customer service;
● teamwork;
● care and consideration for people.

Values are translated into reality (enacted) through norms and artefacts as described
below. They may also be expressed through the media of language (organizational
jargon), rituals, stories and myths.

Norms are the unwritten rules of behaviour, the ‘rules of the game’ that provide
informal guidelines on how to behave. Norms tell people what they are supposed to
be doing, saying, believing, even wearing. They are never expressed in writing – if

Organizational culture ❚ 307

they were, they would be policies or procedures. They are passed on by word of
mouth or behaviour and can be enforced by the reactions of people if they are
violated. They can exert very powerful pressure on behaviour because of these reac-
tions – we control others by the way we react to them.

Norms refer to such aspects of behaviour as:

● how managers treat the members of their teams (management style) and how the
latter relate to their managers;

● the prevailing work ethic, eg ‘work hard, play hard’, ‘come in early, stay late’, ‘if
you cannot finish your work during business hours you are obviously inefficient’,
‘look busy at all times’, ‘look relaxed at all times’;

● status – how much importance is attached to it; the existence or lack of obvious
status symbols;

● ambition – naked ambition is expected and approved of, or a more subtle
approach is the norm;

● performance – exacting performance standards are general; the highest praise
that can be given in the organization is to be referred to as very professional;

● power – recognized as a way of life; executed by political means, dependent on
expertise and ability rather than position; concentrated at the top; shared at
different levels in different parts of the organization;

● politics – rife throughout the organization and treated as normal behaviour; not
accepted as overt behaviour;

● loyalty – expected, a cradle to grave approach to careers; discounted, the
emphasis is on results and contribution in the short term;

● anger – openly expressed; hidden, but expressed through other, possibly political,

● approachability – managers are expected to be approachable and visible; every-
thing happens behind closed doors;

● formality – a cool, formal approach is the norm; forenames are/are not used at all
levels; there are unwritten but clearly understood rules about dress.

Artefacts are the visible and tangible aspects of an organization that people hear, see
or feel. Artefacts can include such things as the working environment, the tone and
language used in letters or memoranda, the manner in which people address each
other at meetings or over the telephone, the welcome (or lack of welcome) given to
visitors and the way in which telephonists deal with outside calls. Artefacts can be
very revealing.

308 ❚ Organizational behaviour

Leadership style

Leadership style, often called management style, describes the approach managers
use to deal with people in their teams. There are many styles of leadership, and
leaders can be classified in extremes as follows:

● Charismatic/non-charismatic. Charismatic leaders rely on their personality, their
inspirational qualities and their ‘aura’. They are visionary leaders who are
achievement-oriented, calculated risk-takers and good communicators. Non-
charismatic leaders rely mainly on their know-how (authority goes to the person
who knows), their quiet confidence and their cool, analytical approach to dealing
with problems.

● Autocratic-democratic. Autocratic leaders impose their decisions, using their posi-
tion to force people to do as they are told. Democratic leaders encourage people to
participate and involve themselves in decision-taking.

● Enabler-controller. Enablers inspire people with their vision of the future and
empower them to accomplish team goals. Controllers manipulate people to
obtain their compliance.

● Transactional-transformational. Transactional leaders trade money, jobs and secu-
rity for compliance. Transformational leaders motivate people to strive for higher-
level goals.

Most managers adopt an approach somewhere between the extremes. Some will vary
it according to the situation or their feelings at the time, others will stick to the same
style whatever happens. A good case can be made for using an appropriate style
according to the situation, but it is undesirable to be inconsistent in the style used in
similar situations. Every manager has his or her own style but this will be influenced
by the organizational culture, which may produce a prevailing management style
that represents the behavioural norm for managers that is generally expected and


There have been many attempts to classify or categorize organizational culture as a
basis for the analysis of cultures in organizations and for taking action to support or
change them. Most of these classifications are expressed in four dimensions and some
of the best-known ones are summarized below.

Organizational culture ❚ 309

Harrison (1972) categorized what he called ‘organization ideologies’. These are:

● power-orientated – competitive, responsive to personality rather than expertise;
● people-orientated – consensual, management control rejected;
● task-orientated – focus on competency, dynamic;
● role-orientated – focus on legality, legitimacy and bureaucracy.

Handy (1981) based his typology on Harrison’s classification, although Handy
preferred the word ‘culture’ to ‘ideology’ as culture conveyed more of the feeling of a
pervasive way of life or set of norms. His four types of culture are:

● The power culture is one with a central power source that exercises control. There
are few rules or procedures and the atmosphere is competitive, power-orientated
and political.

● The role culture is one in which work is controlled by procedures and rules and the
role, or job description, is more important than the person who fills it. Power is
associated with positions, not people.

● The task culture is one in which the aim is to bring together the right people and let
them get on with it. Influence is based more on expert power than on position or
personal power. The culture is adaptable and teamwork is important.

● The person culture is one in which the individual is the central point. The organi-
zation exists only to serve and assist the individuals in it.

Schein (1985) identified the following four cultures:

● The power culture is one in which leadership resides in a few and rests on their
ability and which tends to be entrepreneurial.

● The role culture is one in which power is balanced between the leader and the
bureaucratic structure. The environment is likely to be stable and roles and rules
are clearly defined.

● The achievement culture is one in which personal motivation and commitment are
stressed and action, excitement and impact are valued.

● The support culture is one in which people contribute out of a sense of commit-
ment and solidarity. Relationships are characterized by mutuality and trust.

310 ❚ Organizational behaviour

Williams, Dobson and Walters
Williams et al (1989) redefined the four categories listed by Harrison and Handy as

● Power orientation – organizations try to dominate their environment and those
exercising power strive to maintain absolute control over subordinates.

● Role orientation emphasizes legality, legitimacy and responsibility. Hierarchy and
status are important.

● Task orientation focuses on task accomplishment. Authority is based on appro-
priate knowledge and competence.

● People orientation – the organization exists primarily to serve the needs of its
members. Individuals are expected to influence each other through example and


A number of instruments exist for assessing organizational culture. This is not easy
because culture is concerned with both subjective beliefs and unconscious assump-
tions (which might be difficult to measure), and with observed phenomena such as
behavioural norms and artefacts. Two of the better-known instruments are summa-
rized below.

Organizational ideology questionnaire (Harrison, 1972)
This questionnaire deals with the four orientations referred to earlier (power, role,
task, self). The questionnaire is completed by ranking statements according to views
on what is closest to the organization’s actual position. Statements include:

● A good boss is strong, decisive and firm but fair.
● A good subordinate is compliant, hard-working and loyal.
● People who do well in the organization are shrewd and competitive, with a strong

need for power.
● The basis of task assignment is the personal needs and judgements of those in

● Decisions are made by people with the most knowledge and expertise about the


Organizational culture ❚ 311

Organizational culture inventory (Cooke and Lafferty, 1989)
This instrument assesses organizational culture under 12 headings:

1. Humanistic-helpful – organizations managed in a participative and person-
centred way.

2. Affiliative – organizations that place a high priority on constructive relationships.
3. Approval – organizations in which conflicts are avoided and interpersonal rela-

tionships are pleasant – at least superficially.
4. Conventional – conservative, traditional and bureaucratically controlled organi-

5. Dependent – hierarchically controlled and non-participative organizations.
6. Avoidance – organizations that fail to reward success but punish mistakes.
7. Oppositional – organizations in which confrontation prevails and negativism is

8. Power – organizations structured on the basis of the authority inherent in

members’ positions.
9. Competitive – a culture in which winning is valued and members are rewarded

for out-performing one another.
10. Competence/perfectionist – organizations in which perfectionism, persistence and

hard work are valued.
11. Achievement – organizations that do things well and value members who set and

accomplish challenging but realistic goals.
12. Self-actualization – organizations that value creativity, quality over quantity, and

both task accomplishment and individual growth.

Organizational climate measures attempts to assess organizations in terms of dimen-
sions that are thought to capture or describe perceptions about the climate.
Perceptions about climate can be measured by questionnaires such as that developed
by Litwin and Stringer (1968) which covers eight categories:

1. Structure – feelings about constraints and freedom to act and the degree of
formality or informality in the working atmosphere.

2. Responsibility – the feeling of being trusted to carry out important work.
3. Risk – the sense of riskiness and challenge in the job and in the organization; the

relative emphasis on taking calculated risks or playing it safe.
4. Warmth – the existence of friendly and informal social groups.

312 ❚ Organizational behaviour

5. Support – the perceived helpfulness of managers and co-workers; the emphasis
(or lack of emphasis) on mutual support.

6. Standards – the perceived importance of implicit and explicit goals and perfor-
mance standards; the emphasis on doing a good job; the challenge represented in
personal and team goals.

7. Conflict – the feeling that managers and other workers want to hear different
opinions; the emphasis on getting problems out into the open rather than
smoothing them over or ignoring them.

8. Identity – the feeling that you belong to a company; that you are a valuable
member of a working team.

A review of a number of questionnaires was carried out by Koys and De Cotiis (1991),
which produced the following eight typical dimensions:

● autonomy – the perception of self-determination with respect to work procedures,
goals and priorities;

● cohesion – the perception of togetherness or sharing within the organization
setting, including the willingness of members to provide material risk;

● trust – the perception of freedom to communicate openly with members at higher
organizational levels about sensitive or personal issues, with the expectation that
the integrity of such communications will not be violated;

● resource – the perception of time demands with respect to task competition and
performance standards;

● support – the perception of the degree to which superiors tolerate members’
behaviour, including willingness to let members learn from their mistakes
without fear of reprisal;

● recognition – the perception that members’ contributions to the organization are

● fairness – the perception that organizational policies are non-arbitrary or capri-

● innovation – the perception that change and creativity are encouraged, including
risk-taking into new areas where the member has little or no prior experience.


It could be argued that a ‘good’ culture exerts a positive influence on organizational
behaviour. It could help to create a ‘high-performance’ culture, one that will produce
a high level of business performance. As described by Furnham and Gunter (1993), ‘a

Organizational culture ❚ 313

good culture is consistent in its components and shared amongst organizational
members, and it makes the organization unique, thus differentiating it from other

However, a high-performance culture means little more than any culture that will
produce a high level of business performance. The attributes of cultures vary tremen-
dously by context. The qualities of a high-performance culture for an established
retail chain, a growing service business and a consumer products company that is
losing market share may be very different. Further, in addition to context differences,
all cultures evolve over time. Cultures that are ‘good’ in one set of circumstances or
period of time may be dysfunctional in different circumstances or different times.

Because culture is developed and manifests itself in different ways in different
organizations, it is not possible to say that one culture is better than another, only that
it is dissimilar in certain ways. There is no such thing as an ideal culture, only an
appropriate culture. This means that there can be no universal prescription for
managing culture, although there are certain approaches that can be helpful, as
described in the next section.


While it may not be possible to define an ideal structure or to prescribe how it can be
developed, it can at least be stated with confidence that embedded cultures exert
considerable influence on organizational behaviour and therefore performance. If
there is an appropriate and effective culture it would be desirable to take steps to
support or reinforce it. If the culture is inappropriate, attempts should be made to
determine what needs to be changed and to develop and implement plans for

Culture analysis
In either case, the first step is to analyse the existing culture. This can be done through
questionnaires, surveys and discussions in focus groups or workshops. It is often
helpful to involve people in analysing the outcome of surveys, getting them to
produce a diagnosis of the cultural issues facing the organization and participate in
the development and implementation of plans and programmes to deal with any
issues. This could form part of an organizational development programme as
described in Chapter 24. Groups can analyse the culture through the use of measure-
ment instruments. Extra dimensions can be established by the use of group exercises
such as ‘rules of the club’ (participants brainstorm the ‘rules’ or norms that govern

314 ❚ Organizational behaviour

behaviour) or ‘shield’ (participants design a shield, often quartered, which illustrates
major cultural features of the organization). Joint exercises like this can lead to discus-
sions on appropriate values, which are much more likely to be ‘owned’ by people if
they have helped to create them rather than having them imposed from above.

While involvement is highly desirable, there will be situations when management
has to carry out the analysis and determine the actions required without the initial
participation of employees. But the latter should be kept informed and brought into
discussion on developments as soon as possible.

Culture support and reinforcement
Culture support and reinforcement programmes aim to preserve and underpin what
is good and functional about the present culture. Schein (1985) has suggested that the
most powerful primary mechanisms for culture embedding and reinforcement are:

● what leaders pay attention to, measure and control;
● leaders’ reactions to critical incidents and crises;
● deliberate role modelling, teaching and coaching by leaders;
● criteria for allocation of rewards and status;
● criteria for recruitment, selection, promotion and commitment.

Other means of underpinning the culture are:

● re-affirming existing values;
● operationalizing values through actions designed, for example, to implement

total quality and customer care programmes, to provide financial and non-finan-
cial rewards for expected behaviour, to improve productivity, to promote and
reward good teamwork, to develop a learning organization (see Chapter 36);

● using the value set as headings for reviewing individual and team performance –
emphasizing that people are expected to uphold the values;

● ensuring that induction procedures cover core values and how people are
expected to achieve them;

● reinforcing induction training on further training courses set up as part of a
continuous development programme.

Culture change

In theory, culture change programmes start with an analysis of the existing culture.
The desired culture is then defined, which leads to the identification of a ‘culture gap’

Organizational culture ❚ 315

that needs to be filled. This analysis can identify behavioural expectations so that
development and reward processes can be used to define and reinforce them. In real
life, it is not quite as simple as that.

A comprehensive change programme may be a fundamental part of an organiza-
tional transformation programme as described in Chapter 24. But culture change
programmes can focus on particular aspects of the culture, for example performance,
commitment, quality, customer service, teamwork, organizational learning. In each
case the underpinning values would need to be defined. It would probably be neces-
sary to prioritize by deciding which areas need the most urgent attention. There is a
limit to how much can be done at once except in crisis conditions.

Levers for change

Having identified what needs to be done, and the priorities, the next step is to
consider what levers for change exist and how they can be used. The levers could
include, as appropriate:

● performance – performance-related or contribution-related pay schemes; perfor-
mance management processes; gainsharing; leadership training, skills develop-

● commitment – communication, participation and involvement programmes;
developing a climate of cooperation and trust; clarifying the psychological

● quality – total quality and continuous improvement programmes;
● customer service – customer care programmes;
● teamwork – team building; team performance management; team rewards;
● organizational learning – taking steps to enhance intellectual capital and the organi-

zation’s resource-based capability by developing a learning organization;
● values – gaining understanding, acceptance and commitment through involve-

ment in defining values, performance management processes and employee
development interventions.

Change management

The effectiveness of culture change programmes largely depends on the quality of
change management processes. These are described in Chapter 24.

316 ❚ Organizational behaviour

Organization, design and

This part is concerned with the practical applications of organizational behaviour
theory. It starts by looking at the processes of organizational design and development
and then deals with job and role development.

Part V

Organization design

The management of people in organizations constantly raises questions such as ‘Who
does what?’, ‘How should activities be grouped together?’, ‘What lines and means of
communication need to be established?’, ‘How should people be helped to under-
stand their roles in relation to the objectives of the organization and the roles of their
colleagues?’, ‘Are we doing everything that we ought to be doing and nothing that
we ought not to be doing?’ and ‘Have we got too many unnecessary layers of
management in the organization?’

These are questions involving people which must concern HR practitioners in their
capacity of helping the business to make the best use of its people. HR specialists
should be able to contribute to the processes of organization design or redesign as
described below because of their understanding of the factors affecting organiza-
tional behaviour and because they are in a position to take an overall view of how the
business is organized, which it is difficult for the heads of other functional depart-
ments to obtain.


The process of organizing can be described as the design, development and mainte-
nance of a system of coordinated activities in which individuals and groups of people


work cooperatively under leadership towards commonly understood and accepted
goals. The key word in that definition is ‘system’. Organizations are systems which,
as affected by their environment, have a structure which has both formal and
informal elements.

The process of organizing may involve the grand design or redesign of the total
structure, but most frequently it is concerned with the organization of particular func-
tions and activities and the basis upon which the relationships between them are

Organizations are not static things. Changes are constantly taking place in the busi-
ness itself, in the environment in which the business operates, and in the people who
work in the business. There is no such thing as an ‘ideal’ organization. The most that
can be done is to optimize the processes involved, remembering that whatever struc-
ture evolves it will be contingent on the environmental circumstances of the organi-
zation, and one of the aims of organization is to achieve the ‘best fit’ between the
structure and these circumstances.

An important point to bear in mind is that organizations consist of people working
more or less cooperatively together. Inevitably, and especially at managerial levels,
the organization may have to be adjusted to fit the particular strengths and attributes
of the people available. The result may not conform to the ideal, but it is more likely
to work than a structure that ignores the human element. It is always desirable to
have an ideal structure in mind, but it is equally desirable to modify it to meet partic-
ular circumstances, as long as there is awareness of the potential problems that may
arise. This may seem an obvious point, but it is frequently ignored by management
consultants and others who adopt a doctrinaire approach to organization, often with
disastrous results.


Bearing in mind the need to take an empirical and contingent approach to organizing,
as suggested above, the aim of organization design could be defined as being to
optimize the arrangements for conducting the affairs of the business. To do this it is
necessary, as far as circumstances allow, to:

● clarify the overall purposes of the organization – the strategic thrusts that govern
what it does and how it functions;

● define as precisely as possible the key activities required to achieve that purpose;
● group these activities logically together to avoid unnecessary overlap or duplica-


320 ❚ Organization, design and development

● provide for the integration of activities and the achievement of cooperative effort
and teamwork in pursuit of a common purpose;

● build flexibility into the system so that organizational arrangements can adapt
quickly to new situations and challenges;

● provide for the rapid communication of information throughout the organization;
● define the role and function of each organizational unit so that all concerned

know how it plays its part in achieving the overall purpose;
● clarify individual roles, accountabilities and authorities;
● design jobs to make the best use of the skills and capacities of the job holders and

to provide them with high levels of intrinsic motivation (job design is considered
in Chapter 23);

● plan and implement organization development activities to ensure that the
various processes within the organization operate in a manner that contributes to
organizational effectiveness;

● set up teams and project groups as required to be responsible for specific
processing, development, professional or administrative activities or for the
conduct of projects.


Organization reviews are conducted in the following stages:

1. An analysis, as described below, of the existing arrangements and the factors that
may affect the organization now and in the future.

2. A diagnosis of what needs to be done to improve the way in which the organiza-
tion is structured and functions.

3. A plan to implement any revisions to the structure emerging from the diagnosis,
possibly in phases. The plan may include longer-term considerations about the
structure and the type of managers and employees who will be required to
operate within it.

4. Implementation of the plan.


The starting point for an organization review is an analysis of the existing circum-
stances, structure and processes of the organization and an assessment of the strategic
issues that might affect it in the future. This covers:

Organization design ❚ 321

● The external environment. The economic, market and competitive factors that may
affect the organization. Plans for product-market development will be significant.

● The internal environment. The mission, values, organization climate, management
style, technology and processes of the organization as they affect the way it func-
tions and should be structured to carry out those functions. Technological devel-
opments in such areas as cellular manufacturing may be particularly important as
well as the introduction of new processes such as just-in-time or the development
of an entirely new computer system.

● Strategic issues and objectives. As a background to the study it is necessary to iden-
tify the strategic issues facing the organization and its objectives. These may be
considered under such headings as growth, competition and market position and
standing. Issues concerning the availability of the required human, financial and
physical resources would also have to be considered.

● Activities. Activity analysis establishes what work is done and what needs to be
done in the organization to achieve its objectives within its environment. The
analysis should cover what is and is not being done, who is doing it and where,
and how much is being done. An answer is necessary to the key questions: ‘Are
all the activities required properly catered for?’, ‘Are there any unnecessary activ-
ities being carried out, ie those that do not need to be done at all or those that
could be conducted more economically and efficiently by external contractors or

● Structure. The analysis of structure covers how activities are grouped together, the
number of levels in the hierarchy, the extent to which authority is decentralized to
divisions and strategic business units (SBUs), where functions such as finance,
personnel and research and development are placed in the structure (eg as central
functions or integrated into divisions or SBUs) and the relationships that exist
between different units and functions (with particular attention being given to the
way in which they communicate and cooperate with one another). Attention
would be paid to such issues as the logic of the way in which activities are
grouped and decentralized, the span of control managers (the number of separate
functions or people they are directly responsible for), any overlap between func-
tions or gaps leading to the neglect of certain activities, and the existence of
unnecessary departments, units, functions or layers of management.


The diagnosis should be based on the analysis and an agreement by those concerned
with what the aims of the organization should be. The present arrangements can be

322 ❚ Organization, design and development

considered against these aims and future requirements to assess the extent to which
they meet them or fall short.

It is worth repeating that there are no absolute standards against which an organi-
zation structure can be judged. There is never one right way of organizing anything
and there are no absolute principles that govern organizational choice. The fashion
for delayering organizations has much to commend it, but it can go too far, leaving
units and individuals adrift without any clear guidance on where they fit into the
structure and how they should work with one another, and making the management
task of coordinating activities more difficult.

Organization guidelines
There are no ‘rules’ or ‘principles’ of organization but there are certain guidelines that
are worth bearing in mind in an organization study. These are:

● Allocation of work. The work that has to be done should be defined and allocated to
functions, units, departments, work teams, project groups and individual posi-
tions. Related activities should be grouped together, but the emphasis should be
on process rather than hierarchy, taking into account the need to manage
processes that involve a number of different work units or teams.

● Differentiation and integration. It is necessary to differentiate between the different
activities that have to be carried out, but it is equally necessary to ensure that
these activities are integrated so that everyone in the organization is working
towards the same goals.

● Teamwork. Jobs should be defined and roles described in ways that facilitate and
underline the importance of teamwork. Areas where cooperation is required
should be emphasized. The organization should be designed and operated across
departmental or functional boundaries. Wherever possible, self-managing teams
should be set up and given the maximum amount of responsibility to run their
own affairs, including planning, budgeting and exercising quality control.
Networking should be encouraged in the sense of people communicating openly
and informally with one another as the need arises. It is recognized that these
informal processes can be more productive than rigidly ‘working through chan-
nels’ as set out in the organization chart.

● Flexibility. The organization structure should be flexible enough to respond
quickly to change, challenge and uncertainty. Flexibility should be enhanced by
the creation of core groups and by using part-time, temporary and contract
workers to handle extra demands. At top management level and elsewhere, a
collegiate approach to team operation should be considered in which people

Organization design ❚ 323

share responsibility and are expected to work with their colleagues in areas
outside their primary function or skill.

● Role clarification. People should be clear about their roles as individuals and as
members of a team. They should know what they will be held accountable for and
be given every opportunity to use their abilities in achieving objectives to which
they have agreed and are committed. Role profiles should define key result areas
but should not act as straitjackets, restricting initiative and unduly limiting

● Decentralization. Authority to make decisions should be delegated as close to the
scene of action as possible. Profit centres should be set up as strategic business
units which operate close to their markets and with a considerable degree of
autonomy. A multiproduct or market business should develop a federal organiza-
tion with each federated entity running its own affairs, although they will be
linked together by the overall business strategy.

● Delayering. Organizations should be ‘flattened’ by removing superfluous layers of
management and supervision in order to promote flexibility, facilitate swifter
communication, increase responsiveness, enable people to be given more respon-
sibility as individuals or teams and reduce costs.

Organization design leads into organization planning.


Organization planning is the process of converting the analysis into the design. It
determines structure, relationships, roles, human resource requirements and the lines
along which changes should be implemented. There is no one best design. There is
always a choice between alternatives. Logical analysis will help in the evaluation of
the alternatives but Mary Parker Follet’s (1924) law of the situation will have to
prevail. The final choice will be contingent upon the present and future circumstances
of the organization. It will be strongly influenced by personal and human considera-
tions – the inclinations of top management, the strengths and weaknesses of manage-
ment generally, the availability of people to staff the new organization and the need
to take account of the feelings of those who will be exposed to change. Cold logic may
sometimes have to override these considerations. If it does, then it must be deliberate
and the consequences must be appreciated and allowed for when planning the imple-
mentation of the new organization.

It may have to be accepted that a logical regrouping of activities cannot be intro-
duced in the short term because no one with the experience is available to manage the

324 ❚ Organization, design and development

new activities, or because capable individuals are so firmly entrenched in one area
that to uproot them would cause serious damage to their morale and would reduce
the overall effectiveness of the new organization.

The worst sin that organization designers can commit is that of imposing their own
ideology on the organization. Their job is to be eclectic in their knowledge, sensitive
in their analysis of the situation and deliberate in their approach to the evaluation of

Having planned the organization and defined structures, relationships and roles, it
is necessary to consider how the new organization should be implemented. It may be
advisable to stage implementation over a number of phases, especially if new people
have to be found and trained.


Organization design may be carried out by line management with or without the help
of members of the HR function acting as internal consultants, or it may be done by
outside consultants. HR management should always be involved because organiza-
tion design is essentially about people and the work they do. The advantage of using
outside consultants is that an independent and dispassionate view is obtained. They
can cut through internal organizational pressures, politics and constraints and bring
experience of other organizational problems they have dealt with. Sometimes, regret-
tably, major changes can be obtained only by outside intervention. But there is a
danger of consultants suggesting theoretically ideal organizations that do not take
sufficient account of the problems of making them work with existing people. They
do not have to live with their solutions, as do line and HR managers. If outside
consultants are used, it is essential to involve people from within the organization so
they can ensure that they are able to implement the proposals smoothly.

Organization design ❚ 325

Job design and role development


A job consists of a related set of tasks that are carried out by a person to fulfil a
purpose. It can be regarded as a unit in an organization structure that remains
unchanged whoever is in the job. A job in this sense is a fixed entity, part of a machine
that can be ‘designed’ like any other part of a machine. Routine or machine-controlled
jobs do indeed exist in most organizations but, increasingly, the work carried out by
people is not mechanistic. What is done, how it is done and the results achieved
depend more and more on the capabilities and motivation of individuals and their
interactions with one another and their customers or suppliers.

The rigidity inherent in the notion of a job is not in accord with the realities of orga-
nizational life for many people. A flexible approach is often required to use and
develop their skills in order to respond swiftly to the new demands they face every

The concept of a role conveys these realities more than that of a job. Essentially, a
role is the part people play in carrying out their work. Individual roles are those carried
out by one person. Generic roles are those in which essentially similar activities are
carried out by a number of people. They may cover a whole occupation. A role can be
described in behavioural terms – given certain expectations, this is how the person
needs to behave to meet them. A role profile will not spell out the tasks to be carried
out but will instead indicate expectations in the form of outputs and outcomes


and competency requirements in the shape of the inputs of skill and behaviours
required to fulfil these expectations. The definition may be broad. It will not be
prescriptive. Scope will be allowed for people to use their skills in accordance with
their interpretation of the situation. Encouragement will be given for them both to
grow in their roles and to grow their roles by developing their competencies and by
extending the range of their responsibilities so that their contributions exceed expec-
tations. The need for flexibility will also be recognised.

Roles are therefore more about people than jobs and this means that the extent to
which a role can be ‘designed’ may be limited or even non-existent where flexibility
and growth are important. This may apply particularly to knowledge workers.

There are, however, certain considerations that affect the ways in which roles can
be developed in order to increase satisfaction with the work and to encourage
growth. These considerations can also apply to jobs and this chapter therefore starts
with a general review of the factors that affect job design and that are also relevant to
role building. Attention is then directed to approaches to job design, which include
the notion of job enrichment. Consideration is next given to the characteristics of
team roles and what can be done to set up and maintain effective self-managed teams
and high-performance work design. Finally, the focus is on roles and how they can be
developed rather than designed in today’s flexible organizations on the basis of an
understanding of what role holders are expected to achieve, the scope they have to go
beyond these basic expectations and the capabilities they need to carry out and
extend their role.

The content of jobs is affected by the purpose of the organization or the organiza-
tional unit, the particular demands that achieving that purpose makes on the people
involved, the structure of the organization, the processes and activities carried out in
the organization, the technology of the organization, the changes that are taking place
in that technology and the environment in which the organization operates. Job
design has therefore to be considered within the context of organizational design, as
described in Chapter 22, but it must also take into account the following factors:

● the process of intrinsic motivation;
● the characteristics of task structure;
● the motivating characteristics of jobs;
● the significance of the job characteristics model;
● providing intrinsic motivation.

328 ❚ Organization, design and development

The process of intrinsic motivation
The case for using job design techniques is based on the premise that effective perfor-
mance and genuine satisfaction in work follow mainly from the intrinsic content of
the job. This is related to the fundamental concept that people are motivated when
they are provided with the means to achieve their goals. Work provides the means to
earn money, which as an extrinsic reward satisfies basic needs and is instrumental in
providing ways of satisfying higher-level needs. But work also provides intrinsic
rewards, which are under the direct control of the worker.

Characteristics of task structure
Job design requires the assembly of a number of tasks into a job or a group of jobs. An
individual may carry out one main task, which consists of a number of interrelated
elements or functions. Or task functions may be allocated to a team working closely
together in a manufacturing ‘cell’ or customer service unit, or strung along an
assembly line. In more complex jobs, individuals may carry out a variety of
connected tasks, each with a number of functions, or these tasks may be allocated to a
team of workers or divided between them. In the latter case, the tasks may require a
variety of skills, which have to be possessed by all members of the team (multi-skill-
ing) in order to work flexibly.

Complexity in a job may be a reflection of the number and variety of tasks to be
carried out, the different skills or competences to be used, the range and scope of the
decisions that have to be made, or the difficulty of predicting the outcome of deci-

The internal structure of each task consists of three elements: planning (deciding on
the course of action, its timing and the resources required), executing (carrying out
the plan), and controlling (monitoring performance and progress and taking correc-
tive action when required). A completely integrated job includes all these elements
for each of the tasks involved. The worker, or group of workers, having been given
objectives in terms of output, quality and cost targets, decides on how the work is to
be done, assembles the resources, performs the work, and monitors output, quality
and cost standards. Responsibility in a job is measured by the amount of authority
someone has to do all these things.

Motivating characteristics of jobs
The ideal arrangement from the point of view of intrinsic motivation is to provide for
fully integrated jobs containing all three task elements. In practice, management and
team leaders are often entirely responsible for planning and control, leaving the

Job design and role development ❚ 329

worker responsible for execution. To a degree, this is inevitable, but one of the aims of
job design is often to extend the responsibility of workers into the functions of plan-
ning and control. This can involve empowerment – giving individuals and teams
more responsibility for decision making and ensuring that they have the training,
support and guidance to exercise that responsibility properly.

The job characteristics model
A useful perspective on the factors affecting job design and motivation is provided by
Hackman and Oldham’s (1974) job characteristics model. They suggest that the ‘crit-
ical psychological states’ of ‘experienced meaningfulness of work, experienced
responsibility for outcomes of work and knowledge of the actual outcomes of work’
strongly influence motivation, job satisfaction and performance.

As Robertson et al (1992) point out: ‘This element of the model is based on the
notion of personal reward and reinforcement… Reinforcement is obtained when a
person becomes aware (knowledge of results) that he or she has been responsible for
(experienced responsibility) and good performance on a task that he or she cares
about (experienced meaningfulness).’

Providing intrinsic motivation
Three characteristics have been distinguished by Lawler (1969) as being required in
jobs if they are to be intrinsically motivating:

● Feedback – individuals must receive meaningful feedback about their perfor-
mance, preferably by evaluating their own performance and defining the feed-
back. This implies that they should ideally work on a complete product, or a
significant part of it that can be seen as a whole.

● Use of abilities – the job must be perceived by individuals as requiring them to use
abilities they value in order to perform the job effectively.

● Self-control – individuals must feel that they have a high degree of self-control
over setting their own goals and over defining the paths to these goals.


Job design has been defined by Davis (1966) as: ‘The specification of the contents,
methods, and relationships of jobs in order to satisfy technological and organizational
requirements as well as the social and personal requirements of the job holder’.

330 ❚ Organization, design and development

Job design has two aims: first, to satisfy the requirements of the organization for
productivity, operational efficiency and quality of product or service, and second, to
satisfy the needs of the individual for interest, challenge and accomplishment, thus
providing for ‘job engagement’ – commitment to carrying out the job well. Clearly,
these aims are interrelated and the overall objective of job design is to integrate the
needs of the individual with those of the organization.

The process of job design starts, as described in Chapter 13, from an analysis of
what work needs to be done – the tasks that have to be carried out if the purpose of
the organization or an organizational unit is to be achieved. The job designer can then
consider how the jobs can be set up to provide the maximum degree of intrinsic moti-
vation for those who have to carry them out with a view to improving performance
and productivity. Consideration has also to be given to another important aim of job
design: to fulfil the social responsibilities of the organization to the people who work
in it by improving the quality of working life, an aim which, as stated in Wilson’s
(1973) report on this subject, ‘depends upon both efficiency of performance and satis-
faction of the worker’. The outcome of job design may be a job description, as
explained in Chapter 13, although as noted in that chapter, the emphasis today is
more on roles and the development of role profiles.

Principles of job design
Robertson and Smith (1985) suggest the following five principles of job design:

● To influence skill variety, provide opportunities for people to do several tasks and
combine tasks.

● To influence task identity, combine tasks and form natural work units.
● To influence task significance, form natural work units and inform people of the

importance of their work.
● To influence autonomy, give people responsibility for determining their own

working systems.
● To influence feedback, establish good relationships and open feedback channels.

Turner and Lawrence (1965) identified six important characteristics, which they
called ‘requisite task characteristics‘, namely: variety, autonomy, required interac-
tions, optional interactions, knowledge and skill, and responsibility. And Cooper
(1973) outlined four conceptually distinct job dimensions: variety, discretion, contri-
bution and goal characteristics.

An integrated view suggests that the following motivating characteristics are of
prime importance in job design:

Job design and role development ❚ 331

● autonomy, discretion, self-control and responsibility;
● variety;
● use of abilities;
● feedback;
● belief that the task is significant.

These are the bases of the approach used in job enrichment, as described later in this

Approaches to job design
The main job design approaches are:

● Job rotation, which comprises the movement of employees from one task to
another to reduce monotony by increasing variety.

● Job enlargement, which means combining previously fragmented tasks into one
job, again to increase the variety and meaning of repetitive work.

● Job enrichment, which goes beyond job enlargement to add greater autonomy and
responsibility to a job and is based on the job characteristics approach.

● Self-managing teams (autonomous work groups) – these are self-regulating teams
who work largely without direct supervision. The philosophy on which this tech-
nique is based is a logical extension of job enrichment.

● High-performance work design, which concentrates on setting up working groups in
environments where high levels of performance are required.

Of these five approaches, it is generally recognized that, although job rotation and job
enlargement have their uses in developing skills and relieving monotony, they do not
go to the root of the requirements for intrinsic motivation and for meeting the various
motivating characteristics of jobs as described above. These are best satisfied by
using, as appropriate, job enrichment, autonomous work groups or high-perfor-
mance work design.

Job enrichment aims to maximize the interest and challenge of work by providing the
employee with a job that has these characteristics:

● It is a complete piece of work in the sense that the worker can identify a series of
tasks or activities that end in a recognizable and definable product.

332 ❚ Organization, design and development

● It affords the employee as much variety, decision-making responsibility and
control as possible in carrying out the work.

● It provides direct feedback through the work itself on how well the employee is
doing his or her job.

Job enrichment as proposed by Herzberg (1968) is not just increasing the number or
variety of tasks; nor is it the provision of opportunities for job rotation. It is claimed
by supporters of job enrichment that these approaches may relieve boredom, but they
do not result in positive increases in motivation.


A self-managing team or autonomous work group is allocated an overall task and
given discretion over how the work is done. This provides for intrinsic motivation by
giving people autonomy and the means to control their work, which will include
feedback information. The basis of the autonomous work group approach to job
design is socio-technical systems theory, which suggests that the best results are
obtained if grouping is such that workers are primarily related to each other by way
of task performance and task interdependence. As Emery (1980) has stated:

In designing a social system to efficiently operate a modern capital-intensive plant the
key problem is that of creating self-managing groups to man the interface with the tech-
nical system.

A self-managing team:

● enlarges individual jobs to include a wider range of operative skills (multi-

● decides on methods of work and the planning, scheduling and control of work;
● distributes tasks itself among its members.

The advocates of self-managing teams or autonomous work groups claim that this
approach offers a more comprehensive view of organizations than the rather
simplistic individual motivation theories that underpin job rotation, enlargement
and enrichment. Be that as it may, the strength of this system is that it does take
account of the social or group factors and the technology as well as the individual

Job design and role development ❚ 333


High-performance work design, as described by Buchanan (1987), requires the
following steps:

● Management clearly defines what it needs in the form of new technology or
methods of production and the results expected from its introduction.

● Multi-skilling is encouraged – that is, job demarcation lines are eliminated as far
as possible and encouragement and training are provided for employees to
acquire new skills.

● Equipment that can be used flexibly is selected and is laid out to allow freedom of
movement and vision.

● Self-managed teams or autonomous working groups are established, each with
around a dozen members and with full ‘back-to-back’ responsibility for product
assembly and testing, fault-finding and some maintenance.

● Managers and team leaders adopt a supportive rather than an autocratic style
(this is the most difficult part of the system to introduce).

● Support systems are provided for kit-marshalling and material supply, which
help the teams to function effectively as productive units.

● Management sets goals and standards for success.
● The new system is introduced with great care by means of involvement and

communication programmes.
● Thorough training is carried out on the basis of an assessment of training needs.
● The payment system is specially designed with employee participation to fit their

needs as well as those of management.
● Payment may be related to team performance (team pay), but with skill-based

pay for individuals.
● In some cases, a ‘peer performance review’ process may be used which involves

team members assessing one another’s performance as well as the performance of
the team as a whole.


Job design as described above takes place when a new job is created or an existing job
is substantially changed, often following a reorganization. But the part people play in
carrying out their jobs – their roles – can evolve over time as people grow into them
and grow with them, and as incremental changes take place in the scope of the work
and the degree to which individuals are free to act (their autonomy). Roles will be

334 ❚ Organization, design and development

developed as people develop in them, responding to opportunities and changing
demands, acquiring new skills and developing competencies.

Role development is a continuous process which takes place in the context of day
to day work, and it is therefore a matter between managers and the members of their
teams. It involves agreeing definitions of key results areas and competency require-
ments as they evolve. When these change – as they probably will in all except the
most routine jobs – it is desirable to achieve mutual understanding of new expecta-
tions. The forces should be on role flexibility – giving people the chance to develop
their roles by making better and extended use of their skills and capabilities.

The process of understanding how roles are developing and agreeing the implica-
tions can take place within the framework of performance management as described
in Part VII, where the performance agreement, which is updated regularly, spells out
the outcomes (key result areas) and the competency requirements. It is necessary to
ensure that managers, team leaders and employees generally acquire the skills neces-
sary to define roles within the performance management framework, taking into
account the principles of job design set out earlier in this chapter. Ways in which role
profiles can be set out are described in Chapter 13.

Job design and role development ❚ 335

Organizational development,
change and transformation

This chapter starts with a definition and critical review of the overall concept of orga-
nizational development (OD). Approaches to change management are then exam-
ined. These have sometimes been treated as an aspect of organizational development,
but in fact they are used in any organization that is concerned with the effective intro-
duction of changed structures, policies or practices. They therefore exist in their own
right. The chapter continues with a discussion of organizational transformation prin-
ciples and practice which are an extension of change management methodology into
comprehensive programmes for managing fundamental changes to the culture and
operations of an organization. The final section of the chapter deals with specific
approaches to organizational development or change, namely: team building, culture
change management, total quality management, continual improvement processes,
business process re-engineering and performance management.

Organizational development is concerned with the planning and implementation
of programmes designed to enhance the effectiveness with which an organization
functions and responds to change. Overall, the aim is to adopt a planned and


coherent approach to improving organizational effectiveness. An effective organiza-
tion can be defined broadly as one that achieves its purpose by meeting the wants
and needs of its stakeholders, matching its resources to opportunities, adapting flex-
ibly to environmental changes and creating a culture that promotes commitment,
creativity, shared values and mutual trust.

Organizational development is concerned with process, not structure or systems –
with the way things are done rather than what is done. Process refers to the ways in
which people act and interact. It is about the roles they play on a continuing basis to
deal with events and situations involving other people and to adapt to changing

Organizational development is an all-embracing term for the approaches described
in this chapter to changing processes, culture and behaviour in the organization. The
changes may take place within the framework of an overall programme of organiza-
tion development (OD). Within this programme, or taking place as separate activities,
one or more of the following approaches may be used.

● organization development (OD);
● change management;
● team building;
● culture change or management;
● total quality management;
● continuous improvement;
● business process re-engineering;
● performance management;
● organizational transformation.


Organization development (OD) has been defined by French and Bell (1990) as:

A planned systematic process in which applied behavioural science principles and prac-
tices are introduced into an ongoing organization towards the goals of effecting organi-
zational improvement, greater organizational competence, and greater organizational
effectiveness. The focus is on organizations and their improvement or, to put it another
way, total systems change. The orientation is on action – achieving desired results as a
result of planned activities.

338 ❚ Organization, design and development

The classic and ambitious approach to OD was described by Bennis (1960) as follows:
‘Organization development (OD) is a response to change, a complex educational
strategy intended to change the beliefs, attitudes, values, and structure of organiza-
tions so that they can better adapt to new technologies, markets, and challenges, and
the dizzying rate of change itself.’

A short history of OD
Origins of OD

The origin of OD can be traced to the work of Kurt Lewin (1947, 1951), who devel-
oped the concept of group dynamics (the phrase was first coined in 1939). Group
dynamics is concerned with the ways in which groups evolve and how people in
groups behave and interact. Lewin founded the Research Centre for Group Dynamics
in 1945 and out of this emerged the process of ‘T-group’ or sensitivity training, in
which participants in an unstructured group learn from their own interaction and the
evolving dynamics of the group. T-group laboratory training became one of the
fundamental OD processes. Lewin also pioneered action research approaches.

The formative years of OD

During the 1950s and 1960s behavioural scientists such as Argyris, Beckhard, Bennis,
Blake, McGregor, Schein, Shepart and Tannenbaum developed the concepts and
approaches that together represented ‘OD’. They defined the scope, purpose and
philosophy of OD, methods of conducting OD ‘interventions’, approaches to
‘process consulting’ and methodologies such as action research and survey

OD – the glory years

The later 1960s and the 1970s were the days when behavioural science reigned and
OD was seen, at least by behavioural scientists, as the answer to the problem of
improving organizational effectiveness. Comprehensive programmes using the
various approaches described below were introduced in a number of American busi-
nesses such as General Motors and Corning Glass and a few UK companies such as
ICI. US research quoted by French and Bell (1990) found that positive impacts were
made in between 70 and 80 per cent of the cases studied.

OD in decline

Doubt about the validity of OD as a concept was first expressed in the 1970s. Kahn

Organizational development, change and transformation ❚ 339

(1974) wrote that: ‘It is not a concept, at least not in the scientific sense of the word: it
is not precisely defined; it is not reducible to specific, uniform, observable behaviour.’

A typical criticism of OD was made later by McLean (1981) who wrote that: ‘There
seems to be a growing awareness of the inappropriateness of some of the funda-
mental values, stances, models and prescriptions inherited from the 1960s. Writers
are facing up to the naivete of early beliefs and theories in what might be termed a
climate of sobriety and new realism.’

New approaches to improving organizational effectiveness

During the 1980s and 1990s the focus shifted from OD as a behavioural science
concept to a number of other approaches. Some of these, such as organizational
transformation, are not entirely dissimilar to OD. Others, such as team building,
change management and culture change or management, are built on some of the
basic ideas developed by writers on organization development and OD practitioners.
Yet other approaches, such as total quality management, continuous improvement,
business process re-engineering and performance management, could be described
as holistic processes that attempt to improve overall organizational effectiveness from
a particular perspective. The tendency now is to rely more on specific interventions
such as performance management, team pay or total quality management, than on
all-embracing but somewhat nebulous OD programmes which were often owned by
the HR department and its consultants, and not by line management.

Characteristics of the traditional approach to OD
OD concentrated on how things are done as well as what they do. It was a form of
applied behavioural science that was concerned with system-wide change. The orga-
nization was considered as a total system and the emphasis was on the interrelation-
ships, interactions and interdependencies of different aspects of how systems operate
as they transform inputs and outputs and use feedback mechanisms for self-regula-
tion. OD practitioners talked about ‘the client system’ – meaning that they were
dealing with the total organizational system.

OD as originally conceived was based upon the following assumptions and

● Most individuals are driven by the need for personal growth and development as
long as their environment is both supportive and challenging.

● The work team, especially at the informal level, has great significance for feelings
of satisfaction and the dynamics of such teams have a powerful effect on the
behaviour of their members.

340 ❚ Organization, design and development

● OD programmes aimed to improve the quality of working life of all members of
the organization.

● Organizations can be more effective if they learn to diagnose their own strengths
and weaknesses.

● But managers often do not know what is wrong and need special help in diag-
nosing problems, although the outside ‘process consultant’ ensures that decision
making remains in the hands of the client.

The three main features of OD programmes were:

● They were managed, or at least strongly supported, from the top but often made
use of third parties or ‘change agents’ to diagnose problems and to manage
change by various kinds of planned activity or ‘intervention’.

● The plans for organization development were based upon a systematic analysis
and diagnosis of the circumstances of the organization and the changes and prob-
lems affecting it.

● They used behavioural science knowledge and aimed to improve the way the
organization copes in times of change through such processes as interaction,
communications, participation, planning and conflict.

The activities that may be incorporated in a traditional OD programme are summa-
rized below.

● Action research. This is an approach developed by Lewin (1947) which takes the
form of systematically collecting data from people about process issues and feeds
it back in order to identify problems and their likely causes so that action can be
taken cooperatively by the people involved to deal with the problem. The essen-
tial elements of action research are data collection, diagnosis, feedback, action
planning, action and evaluation.

● Survey feedback. This is a variety of action research in which data are systemati-
cally collected about the system and then fed back to groups to analyse and inter-
pret as the basis for preparing action plans. The techniques of survey feedback
include the use of attitude surveys and workshops to feed back results and
discuss implications.

● Interventions. The term ‘intervention’ in OD refers to core structured activities
involving clients and consultants. The activities can take the form of action
research, survey feedback or any of those mentioned below. Argyris (1970)
summed up the three primary tasks of the OD practitioner or interventionist as
being to:

Organizational development, change and transformation ❚ 341

– generate and help clients to generate valid information that they can under-
stand about their problems;

– create opportunities for clients to search effectively for solutions to their prob-
lems, to make free choices;

– create conditions for internal commitment to their choices and opportunities
for the continual monitoring of the action taken.

● Process consultation. As described by Schein (1969), this involves helping clients to
generate and analyse information that they can understand and, following a thor-
ough diagnosis, act upon. The information will relate to organizational processes
such as inter-group relations, interpersonal relations and communications. The
job of the process consultant was defined by Schein as being to ‘help the organi-
zation to solve its own problems by making it aware of organizational processes,
of the consequences of these processes, and of the mechanisms by which they can
be changed’.

● Team-building interventions as discussed later in this chapter. These deal with
permanent work teams or those set up to deal with projects or to solve particular
problems. Interventions are directed towards the analysis of the effectiveness of
team processes such as problem solving, decision making and interpersonal rela-
tionships, a diagnosis and discussion of the issues and joint consideration of the
actions required to improve effectiveness.

● Inter-group conflict interventions. As developed by Blake et al (1964), these aim to
improve inter-group relations by getting groups to share their perceptions of one
another and to analyse what they have learned about themselves and the other
group. The groups involved meet each other to share what they have learnt, to
agree on the issues to be resolved and the actions required.

● Personal interventions. These include sensitivity training laboratories (T-groups),
transactional analysis and, more recently, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).
Another approach is behaviour modelling, which is based on Bandura’s (1977)
social learning theory. This states that for people to engage successfully in a
behaviour they 1) must perceive a link between the behaviour and certain
outcomes, 2) must desire those outcomes (this is termed ‘positive valence’), and 3)
must believe they can do it (termed ‘self-efficacy’). Behaviour-modelling training
involves getting a group to identify the problem and develop and practise the
skills required by looking at DVDs showing what skills can be applied, role
playing, practising the use of skills on the job and discussing how well they have
been applied.

342 ❚ Organization, design and development

Use of OD
The decline of traditional OD, as described above, has been partly caused by disen-
chantment with the jargon used by consultants and the unfulfilled expectations of
significant improvements in organizational effectiveness. There was also a reaction in
the hard-nosed 1980s against the perceived softness of the messages preached by the
behavioural scientists. Managements in the later 1980s and 1990s wanted more
specific prescriptions which would impact on processes they believed to be important
as means of improving performance, such as total quality management, business
process re-engineering and performance management. The need to manage change to
processes, systems or culture was still recognized as long as it was results driven,
rather than activity centred. Team-building activities in the new process-based orga-
nizations were also regarded favourably as long as they were directed towards
measurable improvements in the shorter term. It was also recognized that organiza-
tions were often compelled to transform themselves in the face of massive challenges
and external pressures, and traditional OD approaches would not make a sufficient
or speedy impact. A survey of the views of chief executives about organizational
development, (IPD, 1999a) found that a large proportion of them are expecting
greater team contributions, more sophisticated people management practices and
processes for managing knowledge. As the IPD commented, ‘HR has a pivotal role in
developing the behaviours and culture to support the delivery of these strategies.’


The change process
Conceptually, the change process starts with an awareness of the need for change. An
analysis of this situation and the factors that have created it leads to a diagnosis of
their distinctive characteristics and an indication of the direction in which action
needs to be taken. Possible courses of action can then be identified and evaluated and
a choice made of the preferred action.

It is then necessary to decide how to get from here to there. Managing change
during this transition state is a critical phase in the change process. It is here that the
problems of introducing change emerge and have to be managed. These problems
can include resistance to change, low stability, high levels of stress, misdirected
energy, conflict and loss of momentum. Hence the need to do everything possible to
anticipate reactions and likely impediments to the introduction of change.

The installation stage can also be painful. When planning change there is a
tendency for people to think that it will be an entirely logical and linear process of

Organizational development, change and transformation ❚ 343

going from A to B. It is not like that at all. As described by Pettigrew and Whipp
(1991), the implementation of change is an ‘iterative, cumulative and reformulation-
in-use process’.

To manage change, it is first necessary to understand the types of change and why
people resist change. It is important to bear in mind that while those wanting change
need to be constant about ends, they have to be flexible about means. This
requires them to come to an understanding of the various models of change that
have been developed. In the light of an understanding of these models they will be
better equipped to make use of the guidelines for change set out at the end of this

Types of change
There are two main types of change: strategic and operational.

Strategic change

Strategic change is concerned with organizational transformation as described in the
last section of this chapter. It deals with broad, long-term and organization-wide
issues. It is about moving to a future state, which has been defined generally in terms
of strategic vision and scope. It will cover the purpose and mission of the organiza-
tion, its corporate philosophy on such matters as growth, quality, innovation and
values concerning people, the customer needs served and the technologies
employed. This overall definition leads to specifications of competitive positioning
and strategic goals for achieving and maintaining competitive advantage and for
product-market development. These goals are supported by policies concerning
marketing, sales, manufacturing, product and process development, finance and
human resource management.

Strategic change takes place within the context of the external competitive,
economic and social environment, and the organization’s internal resources, capabil-
ities, culture, structure and systems. Its successful implementation requires thorough
analysis and understanding of these factors in the formulation and planning stages.
The ultimate achievement of sustainable competitive advantage relies on the qualities
defined by Pettigrew and Whipp (1991), namely: ‘The capacity of the firm to identify
and understand the competitive forces in play and how they change over time, linked
to the competence of a business to mobilize and manage the resources necessary for
the chosen competitive response through time.’

Strategic change, however, should not be treated simplistically as a linear process
of getting from A to B which can be planned and executed as a logical sequence of
events. Pettigrew and Whipp (1991) issued the following warning based on their

344 ❚ Organization, design and development

research into competitiveness and managing change in the motor, financial services,
insurance and publishing industries:

The process by which strategic changes are made seldom moves directly through neat,
successive stages of analysis, choice and implementation. Changes in the firm’s envi-
ronment persistently threaten the course and logic of strategic changes: dilemma
abounds… We conclude that one of the defining features of the process, in so far as
management action is concerned, is ambiguity; seldom is there an easily isolated logic
to strategic change. Instead, that process may derive its motive force from an amalgam
of economic, personal and political imperatives. Their introduction through time
requires that those responsible for managing that process make continual assessments,
repeated choices and multiple adjustments.

Operational change

Operational change relates to new systems, procedures, structures or technology
which will have an immediate effect on working arrangements within a part of the
organization. But their impact on people can be more significant than broader
strategic change and they have to be handled just as carefully.

Resistance to change
Why people resist change

People resist change because it is seen as a threat to familiar patterns of behaviour as
well as to status and financial rewards. Joan Woodward (1968) made this point

When we talk about resistance to change we tend to imply that management is always
rational in changing its direction, and that employees are stupid, emotional or irrational
in not responding in the way they should. But if an individual is going to be worse off,
explicitly or implicitly, when the proposed changes have been made, any resistance is
entirely rational in terms of his own best interest. The interests of the organization and
the individual do not always coincide.

Specifically, the main reasons for resisting change are as follows:

● The shock of the new – people are suspicious of anything which they perceive will
upset their established routines, methods of working or conditions of employ-
ment. They do not want to lose the security of what is familiar to them. They may
not believe statements by management that the change is for their benefit as well

Organizational development, change and transformation ❚ 345

as that of the organization; sometimes with good reason. They may feel that
management has ulterior motives and, sometimes, the louder the protestations of
managements, the less they will be believed.

● Economic fears – loss of money, threats to job security.
● Inconvenience – the change will make life more difficult.
● Uncertainty – change can be worrying because of uncertainty about its likely

● Symbolic fears – a small change that may affect some treasured symbol, such as a

separate office or a reserved parking space, may symbolize big ones, especially
when employees are uncertain about how extensive the programme of change
will be.

● Threat to interpersonal relationships – anything that disrupts the customary social
relationships and standards of the group will be resisted.

● Threat to status or skill – the change is perceived as reducing the status of individ-
uals or as de-skilling them.

● Competence fears – concern about the ability to cope with new demands or to
acquire new skills.

Overcoming resistance to change

Resistance to change can be difficult to overcome even when it is not detrimental to
those concerned. But the attempt must be made. The first step is to analyse the poten-
tial impact of change by considering how it will affect people in their jobs. The
analysis should indicate which aspects of the proposed change may be supported
generally or by specified individuals and which aspects may be resisted. So far as
possible, the potentially hostile or negative reactions of people should be identified,
taking into account all the possible reasons for resisting change listed above. It is
necessary to try to understand the likely feelings and fears of those affected so that
unnecessary worries can be relieved and, as far as possible, ambiguities can be
resolved. In making this analysis, the individual introducing the change, who is
sometimes called the ‘change agent’, should recognize that new ideas are likely to be
suspect and should make ample provision for the discussion of reactions to proposals
to ensure complete understanding of them.

Involvement in the change process gives people the chance to raise and resolve
their concerns and make suggestions about the form of the change and how it should
be introduced. The aim is to get ‘ownership’ – a feeling amongst people that the
change is something that they are happy to live with because they have been
involved in its planning and introduction – it has become their change.

Communications about the proposed change should be carefully prepared and

346 ❚ Organization, design and development

worded so that unnecessary fears are allayed. All the available channels as described
in Chapter 54 should be used, but face-to-face communications direct from managers
to individuals or through a team briefing system are best.

Change models
The best-known change models are those developed by Lewin (1951) and Beckhard
(1969). But other important contributions to an understanding of the mechanisms for
change have been made by Thurley (1979), Quinn (1980), Nadler and Tushman
(1980), Bandura (1986) and Beer et al (1990).


The basic mechanisms for managing change, according to Lewin (1951), are as

● Unfreezing – altering the present stable equilibrium which supports existing
behaviours and attitudes. This process must take account of the inherent threats
that change presents to people and the need to motivate those affected to attain
the natural state of equilibrium by accepting change.

● Changing – developing new responses based on new information.
● Refreezing – stabilizing the change by introducing the new responses into the

personalities of those concerned.

Lewin also suggested a methodology for analysing change which he called ‘field
force analysis’. This involves:

● analysing the restraining or driving forces that will affect the transition to the
future state; these restraining forces will include the reactions of those who see
change as unnecessary or as constituting a threat;

● assessing which of the driving or restraining forces are critical;
● taking steps both to increase the critical driving forces and to decrease the critical

restraining forces.


According to Beckhard (1969), a change programme should incorporate the following

● setting goals and defining the future state or organizational conditions desired
after the change;

Organizational development, change and transformation ❚ 347

● diagnosing the present condition in relation to these goals;
● defining the transition state activities and commitments required to meet the

future state;
● developing strategies and action plans for managing this transition in the light of

an analysis of the factors likely to affect the introduction of change.


Thurley (1979) described the following five approaches to managing change:

● Directive – the imposition of change in crisis situations or when other methods
have failed. This is done by the exercise of managerial power without consulta-

● Bargained – this approach recognizes that power is shared between the employer
and the employed and that change requires negotiation, compromise and agree-
ment before being implemented.

● ‘Hearts and minds’ – an all-embracing thrust to change the attitudes, values and
beliefs of the whole workforce. This ‘normative’ approach (ie one that starts from
a definition of what management thinks is right or ‘normal’) seeks ‘commitment’
and ‘shared vision’ but does not necessarily include involvement or participation.

● Analytical – a theoretical approach to the change process using models of
change such as those described above. It proceeds sequentially from the
analysis and diagnosis of the situation, through the setting of objectives, the
design of the change process, the evaluation of the results and, finally, the
determination of the objectives for the next stage in the change process. This
is the rational and logical approach much favoured by consultants – external
and internal. But change seldom proceeds as smoothly as this model would
suggest. Emotions, power politics and external pressures mean that the
rational approach, although it might be the right way to start, is difficult to

● Action-based – this recognizes that the way managers behave in practice bears little
resemblance to the analytical, theoretical model. The distinction between
managerial thought and managerial action blurs in practice to the point of invisi-
bility. What managers think is what they do. Real life therefore often results in a
‘ready, aim, fire’ approach to change management. This typical approach to
change starts with a broad belief that some sort of problem exists, although it may
not be well defined. The identification of possible solutions, often on a trial and
error basis, leads to a clarification of the nature of the problem and a shared
understanding of a possible optimal solution, or at least a framework within
which solutions can be discovered.

348 ❚ Organization, design and development


According to Quinn (1980), the approach to strategic change is characterized as a
process of artfully blending ‘formal analysis, behavioural techniques and power poli-
tics to bring about cohesive step-by-step movement towards ends which were
initially conceived, but which are constantly refined and reshaped as new informa-
tion appears. Their integrating methodology can best be described as “logical incre-
mentation”.’ Quinn emphasizes that it is necessary to:

● create awareness and commitment incrementally;
● broaden political support;
● manage coalitions;
● empower champions.

Nadler and Tushman

The guidelines produced by Nadler and Tushman (1980) on implementing change

● Motivate in order to achieve changes in behaviour by individuals.
● Manage the transition by making organizational arrangements designed to assure

that control is maintained during and after the transition, and by developing and
communicating a clear image of the future.

● Shape the political dynamics of change so that power centres develop that support
the change rather than block it.

● Build in stability of structures and processes to serve as anchors for people to hold
on to. Organizations and individuals can only stand so much uncertainty and
turbulence (hence the emphasis by Quinn (1980) on the need for an incremental


The ways in which people change were described by Bandura (1986) as follows:

1. People make conscious choices about their behaviours.
2. The information people use to make their choices comes from their environ-

3. Their choices are based upon:

– the things that are important to them;
– the views they have about their own abilities to behave in certain ways;

Organizational development, change and transformation ❚ 349

– the consequences they think will accrue to whatever behaviour they decide to
engage in.

For those concerned in change management, the implications of this theory are

● the tighter the link between a particular behaviour and a particular outcome, the
more likely it is that we will engage in that behaviour;

● the more desirable the outcome, the more likely it is that we will engage in behav-
iour that we believe will lead to it;

● the more confident we are that we can actually assume a new behaviour, the more
likely we are to try it.

To change people’s behaviour, therefore, we have first to change the environment
within which they work, secondly, convince them that the new behaviour is some-
thing they can accomplish (training is important) and, thirdly, persuade them that it
will lead to an outcome that they will value. None of these steps is easy.

Beer, Eisenstat and Spector

Michael Beer (1990) and his colleagues suggested in a seminal Harvard Business
Review article, ‘Why change programs don’t produce change’, that most such
programmes are guided by a theory of change that is fundamentally flawed. This
theory states that changes in attitudes lead to changes in behaviour. ‘According to
this model, change is like a conversion experience. Once people “get religion”,
changes in their behaviour will surely follow.’ They believe that this theory gets the
change process exactly backwards:

In fact, individual behaviour is powerfully shaped by the organizational roles people
play. The most effective way to change behaviour, therefore, is to put people into a new
organizational context, which imposes new roles, responsibilities and relationships on
them. This creates a situation that in a sense ’forces‘ new attitudes and behaviour on

They prescribe six steps to effective change, which concentrate on what they call ‘task
alignment’ – reorganizing employees’ roles, responsibilities and relationships to solve
specific business problems in small units where goals and tasks can be clearly
defined. The aim of following the overlapping steps is to build a self-reinforcing cycle
of commitment, coordination and competence. The steps are:

350 ❚ Organization, design and development

1. Mobilize commitment to change through the joint analysis of problems.
2. Develop a shared vision of how to organize and manage to achieve goals such as

3. Foster consensus for the new vision, competence to enact it, and cohesion to

move it along.
4. Spread revitalization to all departments without pushing it from the top –

don’t force the issue, let each department find its own way to the new organiza-

5. Institutionalize revitalization through formal policies, systems and structures.
6. Monitor and adjust strategies in response to problems in the revitalization


Guidelines for change management
● The achievement of sustainable change requires strong commitment and

visionary leadership from the top.
● Understanding is necessary of the culture of the organization and the levers for

change that are most likely to be effective in that culture.
● Those concerned with managing change at all levels should have the tempera-

ment and leadership skills appropriate to the circumstances of the organization
and its change strategies.

● It is important to build a working environment that is conducive to change. This
means developing the firm as a ‘learning organization’.

● People support what they help to create. Commitment to change is improved if
those affected by change are allowed to participate as fully as possible in planning
and implementing it. The aim should be to get them to ‘own’ the change as some-
thing they want and will be glad to live with.

● The reward system should encourage innovation and recognize success in
achieving change.

● Change will always involve failure as well as success. The failures must be
expected and learned from.

● Hard evidence and data on the need for change are the most powerful tools for its
achievement, but establishing the need for change is easier than deciding how to
satisfy it.

● It is easier to change behaviour by changing processes, structure and systems
than to change attitudes or the corporate culture.

● There are always people in organizations who can act as champions of change.
They will welcome the challenges and opportunities that change can provide.
They are the ones to be chosen as change agents.

Organizational development, change and transformation ❚ 351

● Resistance to change is inevitable if the individuals concerned feel that they are
going to be worse off – implicitly or explicitly. The inept management of change
will produce that reaction.

● In an age of global competition, technological innovation, turbulence, disconti-
nuity, even chaos, change is inevitable and necessary. The organization must do
all it can to explain why change is essential and how it will affect everyone.
Moreover, every effort must be made to protect the interests of those affected by


Transformation, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is: ’A change in the shape,
structure, nature of something‘. Organizational transformation is the process of
ensuring that an organization can develop and implement major change programmes
that will ensure that it responds strategically to new demands and continues to func-
tion effectively in the dynamic environment in which it operates. Organizational
transformation activities may involve radical changes to the structure, culture
and processes of the organization – the way it looks at the world. This may be in
response to competitive pressures, mergers, acquisitions, investments, disinvest-
ments, changes in technology, product lines, markets, cost reduction exercises and
decisions to downsize or outsource work. Transformational change may be forced on
an organization by investors or government decisions. It may be initiated by a new
chief executive and top management team with a remit to ‘turn round’ the business.

Transformational change means that significant and far-reaching developments are
planned and implemented in corporate structures and organization-wide processes.
The change is neither incremental (bit by bit) nor transactional (concerned solely with
systems and procedures). Transactional change, according to Pascale (1990), is merely
concerned with the alteration of ways in which the organization does business and
people interact with one another on a day-to-day basis, and ‘is effective when what
you want is more of what you’ve already got’. He advocates a ‘discontinuous
improvement in capability’ and this he describes as transformation.

The distinction between organizational transformation and
organization development
Organizational transformation programmes are business-led. They focus on what
needs to be done to ensure that the business performs more effectively in adding

352 ❚ Organization, design and development

value, especially for its owners, and achieving competitive advantage. They will
be concerned with building strategic capability and improving the ways in which
the business reaches its goals. This means considering what needs to be done
to ensure that people work and interact well, but they are not dominated by
the concepts of behavioural science, as was the case in traditional OD interven-

Types of transformational change
The four types of transformational change as identified by Beckhard (1989) are:

● a change in what drives the organization – for example, a change from being produc-
tion-driven to being market-driven would be transformational;

● a fundamental change in the relationships between or among organizational parts – for
example, decentralization;

● a major change in the ways of doing work – for example, the introduction of new tech-
nology such as computer-integrated manufacturing;

● a basic, cultural change in norms, values or research systems – for example, developing
a customer-focused culture.

Transformation through leadership
Transformation programmes are led from the top within the organization. They
do not rely on an external ‘change agent’ as did traditional OD interven-
tions, although specialist external advice might be obtained on aspects of the trans-
formation such as strategic planning, reorganization or developing new reward

The prerequisite for a successful programme is the presence of a transformational
leader who, as defined by Burns (1978), motivates others to strive for higher-order
goals rather than merely short-term interest. Transformational leaders go beyond
dealing with day-to-day management problems; they commit people to action
and focus on the development of new levels of awareness of where the futur lies, and
commitment to achieving that future. Burns contrasts transformational leaders with
transactional leaders who operate by building up a network of interpersonal transac-
tions in a stable situation and who enlist compliance rather than commitment
through the reward system and the exercise of authority and power. Transactional
leaders may be good at dealing with here-and-now problems but they will not
provide the vision required to transform the future.

Organizational development, change and transformation ❚ 353

Managing the transition
The transition from where the organization is to where the organization wants to be is
the critical part of a transformation programme. It is during the transition period of
getting from here to there that change takes place. Transition management starts from
a definition of the future state and a diagnosis of the present state. It is then necessary
to define what has to be done to achieve the transformation. This means deciding on
the new processes, systems, procedures, structures, products and markets to be
developed. Having defined these, the work can be programmed and the resources
required (people, money, equipment and time) can be defined. The plan for
managing the transition should include provisions for involving people in the
process and for communicating to them about what is happening, why it is
happening and how it will affect them. Clearly the aims are to get as many people as
possible committed to the change.

The transformation programme
The eight steps required to transform an organization have been summed up by
Kotter (1995) as follows:

1. Establishing a sense of urgency
– Examining market and competitive realities
– Identifying and discussing crises, potential crises, or major opportunities

2. Forming a powerful guiding coalition
– Assembling a group with enough power to lead the change effort
– Encouraging the group to work together as a team

3. Creating a vision
– Creating a vision to help direct the change effort
– Developing strategies for achieving that vision

4. Communicating the vision
– Using every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategies
– Teaching new behaviours by the example of the guiding coalition

5. Empowering others to act on the vision
– Getting rid of obstacles to change
– Changing systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision
– Encouraging risk taking and non-traditional ideas, activities and actions

6. Planning for and creating short-term wins
– Planning for visible performance improvement
– Creating those improvements
– Recognizing and rewarding employees involved in the improvements

354 ❚ Organization, design and development

7. Consolidating improvements and producing still more change
– Using increased credibility to change systems, structures and policies that

don’t fit the vision
– Hiring, promoting and developing employees who can implement the

– Reinvigorating the process with new projects, themes and change agents

8. Institutionalizing new approaches
– Articulating the connections between the new behaviours and corporate

– Developing the means to ensure leadership development and succession.

The role of HR in organizational transformation
HR can and should play a key role in organizational transition and transformation
programmes. It can provide help and guidance in analysis and diagnosis, high-
lighting the people issues that will fundamentally affect the success of the
programme. HR can advise on resourcing the programme and planning and imple-
menting the vital training, reward, communications and involvement aspects of the
process. It can anticipate people problems and deal with them before they become
serious. If the programme does involve restructuring and downsizing, HR can advise
on how this should be done humanely and with the minimum disruption to people’s


Team building
Team-building activities aim to improve and develop the effectiveness of a group of
people who work (permanently or temporarily) together. This improvement may be
defined in terms of outputs, for example the speed and quality of the decisions and
actions produced by the team. It may also be defined in more nebulous terms, such as
the quality of relationships or greater cooperation. The activities in team-building
programmes can:

● increase awareness of the social processes that take place within teams;
● develop the interactive or interpersonal skills that enable individuals to function

effectively as team members;
● increase the overall effectiveness with which teams operate in the organization.

Organizational development, change and transformation ❚ 355

To be effective, team-building programmes should be directly relevant to the res-
ponsibilities of the participants and be seen as relevant by all participants. They need
to support business objectives, fit in with practical working arrangements and reflect
the values the organization wishes to promote. Approaches such as action learning,
group dynamics, group exercises, interactive skills training, interactive video, role-
playing and simulation can be used. Team-building training is often based on either
Belbin or Margerison and McCann classifications of team roles as listed in Chapter 20.

Outdoor learning (outdoor-based development) is another good method of
providing team-building training. It can offer a closer approximation to reality than
other forms of training. Participants tend to behave more normally and, paradoxi-
cally, it is precisely because the tasks are unrelated to work activities and are rela-
tively simple that they highlight the processes involved in teamwork and provide a
good basis for identifying how these processes can be improved.

Total quality management
Total quality management is an intensive, long-term effort directed at the creation
and maintenance of the high standards of product quality and services expected by
customers. As such, it can operate as a major influence in developing the culture and
processes of the organization. The object is significantly to increase the awareness of
all employees that quality is vital to the organization’s success and their future. The
business must be transformed into an entity that exists to deliver value to customers
by satisfying their needs.

Continuous improvement
Continuous improvement is a management philosophy that contends that things can
be done better. Continuous improvement is defined by Bessant et al (1994) as ‘a
company-wide process of focused and continuous incremental innovation sustained
over a period of time’. The key words in this definition are:

● Focused – continuous improvement addresses specific issues where the effective-
ness of operations and processes needs to be improved, where higher quality
products or services should be provided and, importantly, where the levels of
customer service and satisfaction need to be enhanced.

● Continuous – the search for improvement is never-ending; it is not a one-off
campaign to deal with isolated problems.

● Incremental – continuous improvement is not about making sudden quantum
leaps in response to crisis situations; it is about adopting a steady, step-by-step
approach to improving the ways in which the organization goes about doing

356 ❚ Organization, design and development

● Innovation – continuous improvement is concerned with developing new ideas
and approaches to deal with new and sometimes old problems and requirements.

Business process re-engineering
Business process re-engineering as a panacea emerged in the 1990s. It examines
processes horizontally in organizations to establish how they can be integrated more
effectively and streamlined. Re-engineering exercises can provide an overall
approach to developing an organization but they often promise more than they
achieve and they have been criticized because they pay insufficient attention to the
human element.

Performance management
Performance management as a holistic – all-embracing – process for managing
performance throughout an organization is one of the most commonly used instru-
ments for improving organizational effectiveness. It is described in Part VII.

Organizational development, change and transformation ❚ 357

People resourcing


People resourcing is concerned with ensuring that the organization obtains and
retains the human capital it needs and employs them productively. It is also about
those aspects of employment practice that are concerned with welcoming people to the
organization and, if there is no alternative, releasing them. It is a key part of the HRM


HRM is fundamentally about matching human resources to the strategic and opera-
tional needs of the organization and ensuring the full utilization of those resources. It
is concerned not only with obtaining and keeping the number and quality of staff
required but also with selecting and promoting people who ‘fit’ the culture and the
strategic requirements of the organization.

HRM places more emphasis than traditional personnel management on finding
people whose attitudes and behaviour are likely to be congruent with what manage-
ment believes to be appropriate and conducive to success. In the words of Townley
(1989), organizations are concentrating more on ‘the attitudinal and behavioural

Part VI

characteristics of employees’. This tendency has its dangers. Innovative and adaptive
organizations need non-conformists, even mavericks, who can ‘buck the system’. If
managers recruit people ‘in their own image’ there is the risk of staffing the organiza-
tion with conformist clones and of perpetuating a dysfunctional culture – one that
may have been successful in the past but is no longer appropriate (nothing fails like

The HRM approach to resourcing therefore emphasizes that matching resources to
organizational requirements does not simply mean maintaining the status quo and
perpetuating a moribund culture. It can and often does mean radical changes in
thinking about the competencies required in the future to achieve sustainable growth
and to achieve cultural change. HRM resourcing policies address two fundamental

1. What kind of people do we need to compete effectively, now and in the foreseeable

2. What do we have to do to attract, develop and keep these people?

Integrating business and resourcing strategies
The philosophy behind the HRM approach to resourcing is that it is people who imple-
ment the strategic plan. As Quinn Mills (1983) has put it, the process is one of ‘plan-
ning with people in mind’.

The integration of business and resourcing strategies is based on an understanding
of the direction in which the organization is going and of the resulting human
resource needs in terms of:

● numbers required in relation to projected activity levels;
● skills required on the basis of technological and product/market developments and

strategies to enhance quality or reduce costs;
● the impact of organizational restructuring as a result of rationalization, decen-

tralization, delayering, mergers, product or market development, or the introduc-
tion of new technology – for example, cellular manufacturing;

● plans for changing the culture of the organization in such areas as ability to
deliver, performance standards, quality, customer service, team working and
flexibility which indicate the need for people with different attitudes, beliefs and
personal characteristics.

These factors will be strongly influenced by the type of business strategies adopted by
the organization and the sort of business it is in. These may be expressed in such terms

360 ❚ People resourcing

as the Boston Consulting Group’s classification of businesses as wild cat, star, cash
cow or dog; or Miles and Snow’s (1978) typology of defender, prospector and analyser

Resourcing strategies exist to provide the people and skills required to support the
business strategy, but they should also contribute to the formulation of that strategy.
HR directors have an obligation to point out to their colleagues the human resource
opportunities and constraints that will affect the achievement of strategic plans. In
mergers or acquisitions, for example, the ability of management within the company
to handle the new situation and the quality of management in the new business will be
important considerations.


This part deals with the following aspects of employee resourcing:

● human resource planning;
● talent management;
● recruitment;
● selection interviewing;
● selection testing;
● introduction to the organization;
● release from the organization.

People resourcing ❚ 361

Human resource planning


Human resource planning determines the human resources required by the organiza-
tion to achieve its strategic goals. As defined by Bulla and Scott (1994) it is ‘the
process for ensuring that the human resource requirements of an organization are
identified and plans are made for satisfying those requirements’. Human resource
planning is based on the belief that people are an organization’s most important
strategic resource. It is generally concerned with matching resources to business
needs in the longer term, although it will sometimes address shorter term require-
ments. It addresses human resource needs both in quantitative and qualitative terms,
which means answering two basic questions: first, how many people, and second,
what sort of people? Human resource planning also looks at broader issues relating to
the ways in which people are employed and developed in order to improve organiza-
tional effectiveness. It can therefore play an important part in strategic human
resource management.

Human resource planning and business planning
Conceptually, human resource planning should be an integral part of business plan-
ning. The strategic planning process should define projected changes in the scale and


types of activities carried out by the organization. It should identify the core compe-
tences the organization needs to achieve its goals and therefore its skill requirements.
But there are often limitations to the extent to which such plans are made, and indeed
the clarity of the plans, and these may restrict the feasibility of developing integrated
human resource plans that flow from them.

In so far as there are articulated strategic business plans, human resource planning
interprets them in terms of people requirements. But it may influence the business
strategy by drawing attention to ways in which people could be developed and
deployed more effectively to further the achievement of business goals as well as
focusing on any problems that might have to be resolved in order to ensure that the
people required will be available and will be capable of making the necessary contri-
bution. As Quinn Mills (1983) indicates, human resource planning is ‘a decision-
making process that combines three important activities: (1) identifying and
acquiring the right number of people with the proper skills, (2) motivating them to
achieve high performance, and (3) creating interactive links between business objec-
tives and people-planning activities’. In situations where a clear business strategy
does not exist, human resource planning may have to rely more on making broad
assumptions about the need for people in the future, based on some form of scenario
planning. Alternatively, the planning process could focus on specific areas of activity
within the organization where it is possible to forecast likely future people require-
ments in terms of numbers and skills; for example, scientists in a product develop-
ment division.

Hard and soft human resource planning
A distinction can be made between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ human resource planning. The
former is based on quantitative analysis in order to ensure that the right number of
the right sort of people are available when needed. Soft human resource planning is
concerned with ensuring the availability of people with the right type of attitudes
and motivation who are committed to the organization and engaged in their work,
and behave accordingly. It is based on assessments of the requirement for these qual-
ities, and measurements of the extent to which they exist, by the use of staff surveys,
the analysis of the outcomes of performance management reviews and opinions
generated by focus groups.

These assessments and analyses can result in plans for improving the work envi-
ronment, providing opportunities to develop skills and careers and adopting a ‘total
reward’ approach which focuses on non-financial ‘relational’ rewards as well as
the financial ‘transactional’ rewards. They can also lead to the creation of a high
commitment management strategy which incorporates such approaches as creating

364 ❚ People resourcing

functional flexibility, designing jobs to provide intrinsic motivation, emphasizing
team working, de-emphasizing hierarchies and status differentials, increasing
employment security, rewarding people on the basis of organizational performance,
and enacting organization-specific values and a culture that bind the organization
together and give it focus. As described by Marchington and Wilkinson (1996), soft
human resource planning ‘is more explicitly focused on creating and shaping the
culture of the organization so that there is a clear integration between corporate goals
and employee values, beliefs and behaviours’. But as they point out, the soft version
becomes virtually synonymous with the whole subject of human resource manage-

Human resource planning and manpower planning
Human resource planning is indeed concerned with broader issues about the
employment of people than the traditional quantitative approaches of manpower
planning. Such approaches, as Liff (2000) comments, derive from a rational top-down
view of planning in which well tested quantitative techniques are applied to long
term assessments of supply and demand. She notes that ‘there has been a shift from
reconciling numbers of employees available with predictable stable jobs, towards a
greater concern with skills, their development and deployment’.

Limitations of human resource planning
Human resource planning is said to consist of three clear steps:

● Forecasting future people needs (demand forecasting).
● Forecasting the future availability of people (supply forecasting).
● Drawing up plans to match supply to demand.

But as Casson (1978) pointed out, this conventional wisdom represents human
resource planning as an ‘all-embracing, policy-making activity producing, on a
rolling basis, precise forecasts using technically sophisticated and highly integrated
planning systems’. He suggests that it is better regarded as, first, a regular monitoring
activity, through which human resource stocks and flows and their relationship to
business needs can be better understood, assessed and controlled, problems high-
lighted and a base established from which to respond to unforeseen events; and
second, an investigatory activity by which the human resource implications of partic-
ular problems and change situations can be explored and the effects of alternative
policies and actions investigated.

Human resource planning ❚ 365

He points out that the spurious precision of quantified staffing level plans ‘has little
value when reconciled with the complex and frequently changing nature of
manpower, the business and the external environment’. The typical concept of
human resource planning as a matter of forecasting the long term demand and
supply of people fails because the ability to make these estimates must be severely
limited by the difficulty of predicting the influence of external events. There is a risk,
in the words of Heller (1972), that ‘Sensible anticipation gets converted into foolish
numbers, and their validity depends on large, loose assumptions.’

Human resource planning today is more likely to concentrate on what skills will
be needed in the future, and may do no more than provide a broad indication of
the numbers required in the longer term, although in some circumstances it
might involve making short term forecasts when it is possible to predict activity
levels and skills requirements with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Such predictions
will often be based on broad scenarios rather than on specific supply and demand

The incidence of and rationale for human resource planning

Although the notion of human resource planning is well established in the HRM
vocabulary, it does not seem to be commonly practised as a key HR activity. As
Rothwell (1995) suggests, ‘Apart from isolated examples, there has been little
research evidence of increased use or of its success.’ She explains the gap between
theory and practice as arising from:

● the impact of change and the difficulty of predicting the future – ‘the need for
planning may be in inverse proportion to its feasibility’;

● the ‘shifting kaleidoscope’ of policy priorities and strategies within organizations;
● the distrust displayed by many managers of theory or planning – they often

prefer pragmatic adaptation to conceptualization;
● the lack of evidence that human resource planning works.

Be that as it may, it is difficult to reject out of hand the belief that some attempt should
be made broadly to forecast future human resource requirements as a basis for plan-
ning and action. Heller refers to ‘sensible anticipation’, and perhaps this is what
human resource planning is really about, bearing in mind that major changes in the
operations of an organization can usually be foreseen. If that is the case, it does make
sense to keep track of developments so that the organization is in a better position to
deal with resourcing problems in good time.

On the basis of research conducted by the Institute for Employment Studies, Reilly

366 ❚ People resourcing

(1999) has suggested a number of reasons why organizations choose to engage
in some form of human resource planning. These fall into the following three

● Planning for substantive reasons: that is, to have a practical effect by optimizing the
use of resources and/or making them more flexible, acquiring and nurturing
skills that take time to develop, identifying potential problems and minimizing
the chances of making a bad decision.

● Planning because of the process benefits which involves understanding the present in
order to confront the future, challenging assumptions and liberating thinking,
making explicit decisions which can later be challenged, standing back and
providing an overview, and ensuring that long term thinking is not driven out by
short term focus.

● Planning for organizational reasons which involves communicating plans so as to
obtain support/adherence to them, linking HR plans to business plans so as to
influence them, (re)gaining corporate control over operating units, and coordi-
nating and integrating organizational decision making and actions.

The organizational context of human resource planning
Human resource planning takes place within the context of the organization. The
extent to which it is used, and the approach adopted, will be contingent on the extent
to which management recognizes that success depends on forecasting future people
requirements and implementing plans to satisfy those requirements. The approach
will also be affected by the degree to which it is possible to make accurate forecasts.
Organizations operating in turbulent environments in which future activity levels are
difficult to predict may rely on ad hoc and short term measures to recruit and keep
people. However, even these businesses may benefit from those aspects of human
resource planning that are concerned with policies for attracting and retaining key

The labour market context
The context for obtaining the people required will be the labour markets in which the
organization is operating which are, first, the internal labour market – the stocks and
flows of people within the organization who can be promoted, trained, or redeployed
to meet future needs – and second, the external labour market – the external local,
regional, national and international markets from which different sorts of people can
be recruited. There are usually a number of markets, and the labour supply in these
markets may vary considerably. Likely shortages will need to be identified so that

Human resource planning ❚ 367

steps can be taken to deal with them, for example by developing a more attractive
‘employment proposition’.

As part of the human resource planning process, an organization may have to
formulate ‘make or buy’ policy decisions. A ‘make’ policy means that the organiza-
tion prefers to recruit people at a junior level or as trainees, and rely mainly on
promotion from within and training programmes to meet future needs. A ‘buy’ policy
means that more reliance will be placed on recruiting from outside – ‘bringing fresh
blood into the organization’. In practice, organizations tend to mix the two choices
together to varying degrees, depending on the situation of the firm and the type of
people involved. A highly entrepreneurial company operating in turbulent condi-
tions, or one which has just started up, will probably rely almost entirely on external
recruitment. When dealing with knowledge workers, there may be little choice – they
tend to be much more mobile, and resourcing strategy may have to recognize that
external recruitment will be the main source of supply. Management consultancies
typically fall into this category. Firms that can predict people requirements fairly
accurately may rely more on developing their own staff once they have been


The aims of human resource planning in any organization will depend largely on its
context but in general terms, the typical aims might be to:

● attract and retain the number of people required with the appropriate skills,
expertise and competencies;

● anticipate the problems of potential surpluses or deficits of people;
● develop a well trained and flexible workforce, thus contributing to the organiza-

tion’s ability to adapt to an uncertain and changing environment;
● reduces dependence on external recruitment when key skills are in short supply

by formulating retention, as well as employee development strategies;
● improve the utilization of people by introducing more flexible systems of work.


The process of human resource planning as illustrated in Figure 25.1 is not necessarily
a linear one, starting with the business strategy and flowing logically through to
resourcing, flexibility and retention plans. It may, as Hendry (1995) suggests, be

368 ❚ People resourcing

circular rather than linear, with the process starting anywhere in the cycle. For
example, scenario planning may impact on resourcing strategy which in turn may
influence the business strategy. Alternatively, the starting point could be demand and
supply forecasts which form the basis for the resourcing strategy. The analysis of
labour turnover may feed into the supply forecast, but it could also lead directly to
the development of retention plans.

It cannot be assumed that there will be a well articulated business plan as a basis
for the HR plans. The business strategy may be evolutionary rather than deliberate; it
may be fragmented, intuitive and incremental. Resourcing decisions may be based on
scenarios riddled with assumptions that may or may not be correct and cannot be
tested. Resourcing strategy may be equally vague, or based on unproven beliefs
about the future. It may contain statements, about for example building the skills
base, that are little more than rhetoric.

There is much to be said for a systematic approach to developing resourcing
strategy, scenario planning, demand and supply forecasting and labour turnover
analysis as discussed in the rest of this chapter. But because of the factors mentioned
above, there will often be reservations about the extent to which this process can be
formalized. What may emerge is simply a broad statement of intent, although this
could be sufficient to guide resourcing practice generally and would be better than
nothing at all. The degree to which human resource planning can be carried out
systematically will depend on the nature of the organization. If the future is fairly
predictable, then formal planning might be appropriate. If it is not, the approach to
human resource planning might have to rely on broad scenarios rather than precise

These processes are summarized below.

● Business strategic plans: defining future activity levels and initiatives demanding
new skills.

● Resourcing strategy: planning to achieve competitive advantage by developing
intellectual capital – employing more capable people than rivals, ensuring that
they develop organization specific knowledge and skills, and taking steps to
become an ‘employer of choice’.

● Scenario planning: assessing in broad terms where the organization is going in its
environment and the implications for human resource requirements.

● Demand/supply forecasting: estimating the future demand for people (numbers and
skills), and assessing the number of people likely to be available from within and
outside the organization.

● Labour turnover analysis: analysing actual labour turnover figures and trends as an
input to supply forecasts.

Human resource planning ❚ 369

● Work environment analysis: analysing the environment in which people work in
terms of the scope it provides for them to use and develop their skills and achieve
job satisfaction.

● Operational effectiveness analysis: analysing productivity, the utilization of
people and the scope for increasing flexibility to respond to new and changing

370 ❚ People resourcing

Figure 25.1 The process of human resource planning

strategic plans

Resourcing strategy


Human resource

Scenario planning

Work environment

Resourcing ProductivityRetention Flexibility

Work environment



Labour turnover


The objective of HRM resourcing strategy, as expressed by Keep (1989), is ‘To obtain
the right basic material in the form of a workforce endowed with the appropriate
qualities, skills, knowledge and potential for future training. The selection and
recruitment of workers best suited to meeting the needs of the organization ought to
form a core activity upon which most other HRM policies geared towards develop-
ment and motivation could be built.’

The concept that the strategic capability of a firm depends on its resource capability
in the shape of people (resource based strategy, as explained in Chapter 7) provides
the rationale for resourcing strategy. The aim of this strategy is therefore to ensure
that a firm achieves competitive advantage by employing more capable people
than its rivals. These people will have a wider and deeper range of skills, and
behave in ways that maximize their contribution. The organization attracts
such people by being ‘the employer of choice’. It retains them by providing better
opportunities and rewards than others, and by developing a positive psychological
contract which increases commitment and creates mutual trust. Furthermore,
the organization deploys its people in ways that maximize the added value they

The resourcing strategy should attempt to provide answers to the following ques-

● In the light of the business plan, how many people are we likely to need in each of
our key operational or functional areas in the short and longer term?

● What skills are we likely to need in the future?
● Will we be able to meet the needs from our existing resources?
● If not, where will we be able to find them?
● What do we need to do to develop or extend our skills base?
● What should we do about identifying people with potential and developing their

● Do we have a problem in attracting or retaining key staff? If so, what do we need

to do about it?
● Is there scope to make better use of people by increasing employment flexibility?
● Is there any danger of downsizing? If so, how are we going to deal with it?

Human resource planning ❚ 371

The components of resourcing strategy
These are:

● Resourcing plans: preparing plans for finding people from within the organization
and/or for training programmes to help people learn new skills. If needs cannot
be satisfied from within the organization, preparing longer term plans for
meeting them by attracting high quality candidates as the ‘employer of choice’.

● Flexibility plans: planning for increased flexibility in the use of human resources to
enable the organization to make the best use of people and adapt swiftly to
changing circumstances.

● Retention plans: preparing plans for retaining the people the organization needs.

Resourcing strategy provides the basis for these plans within the framework of busi-
ness needs. It will, however, be more strongly based if it is underpinned by a process
of scenario planning.


Scenario planning is sometimes described as a formal strategic planning technique,
but it can also be regarded as an informal approach to thinking about the future in
broad terms, based upon an analysis of likely changes in the internal and external

A scenario can be defined as ‘an imagined sequence of future events’ (Oxford
English Dictionary). Scenario planning is simply a more or less formalized process for
establishing a view about any changes that can be foreseen to the scale and type of
activities in the organization and to its structure, and for identifying any external
environmental changes that are likely to affect it. The aim is to obtain a better under-
standing of the possible situations that may have to be dealt with in the future. It is
described by Reilly (1999) as follows: ‘Scenario planning tries to open minds to a
range of possibilities that organizations may have to confront. These possibilities are
then ordered to produce a series of internally consistent pictures of alternative
futures… It is an intellectual process that seeks to identify issues and examine the
possible consequences of events.’

The creation of a scenario involves making broad assessments of likely internal
developments – the direction in which the organization is going and the implications
this has on people requirements. The assessments may have to be made in the
absence of any articulated business plan, and thus involve questioning top manag-
ment and key line managers on how they see the future, and asking them to interpret

372 ❚ People resourcing

what this means in terms of their human resource needs. Assessments also have to be
made on likely changes in the external environment as it may affect the labour


Scenario planning is in some situations as far as it is possible to go in estimating
future people requirements, but where it is feasible and appropriate, attempts can be
made to produce demand and supply forecasts, and to determine what action needs
to be taken if the forecasts indicate the possibility of a human resource deficit or

Demand forecasting
Demand forecasting is the process of estimating the future numbers of people
required and the likely skills and competences they will need. The ideal basis of the
forecast is an annual budget and longer term business plan, translated into activity
levels for each function and department, or decisions on ‘downsizing’. In a manufac-
turing company the sales budget would be translated into a manufacturing plan
giving the numbers and types of products to be made in each period. From this infor-
mation the number of hours to be worked by each skill category to make the quota for
each period would be computed.

Details are required of any plans or projects that would result in demands for addi-
tional employees or different skills: for example setting up a new regional organiza-
tion, creating a new sales department, carrying out a major project or developing new
products or services. So far as possible, plans should also be reviewed that could
result in rationalization, and possibly downsizing, as a result of a cost reduction
drive, a business process re-engineering exercise, new technology leading to
increased productivity, or a merger or acquisition.

The demand forecasting techniques that can be used to produce quantitative esti-
mates of future requirements are described below.

Managerial or expert judgement
This is the most typical method of forecasting and may be linked to some form of
scenario planning. It simply requires managers or specialists to sit down, think about

Human resource planning ❚ 373

future workloads, and decide how many people are needed. This can be no more than
guesswork unless there is reliable evidence available of forecast increases in activity
levels or new demands for skills.

Ratio trend analysis
This is carried out by studying past ratios between, say, the number of direct (produc-
tion) workers and indirect (support) workers in a manufacturing plant, and fore-
casting future ratios, having made some allowance for changes in organization or
methods. Activity level forecasts are then used to determine (in this example) direct
labour requirements, and the forecast ratio of indirects to directs would be used to
calculate the number of indirect workers needed.

Work study techniques
Work study techniques can be used when it is possible to apply work measurement to
calculate how long operations should take and the number of people required. Work
study techniques for direct workers can be combined with ratio trend analysis to
calculate the number of indirect workers needed.

Forecasting skill and competence requirements
Forecasting skill requirements is largely a matter of managerial judgement. This
judgement should, however, be exercised on the basis of a careful analysis of the
impact of projected product market developments and the introduction of new tech-
nology, either information technology or computerized manufacturing.

Supply forecasting
Supply forecasting measures the number of people likely to be available from within
and outside the organization, having allowed for attrition (labour wastage and retire-
ments), absenteeism, internal movements and promotions, and changes in hours and
other conditions of work. The forecast will be based on:

● an analysis of existing human resources in terms of numbers in each occupation,
skills and potential;

● forecast losses to existing resources through attrition (the analysis of labour
wastage as described in the next main section of this chapter is an important
aspect of human resource planning because it provides the basis for plans to
improve retention rates);

374 ❚ People resourcing

● forecast changes to existing resources through internal promotions;
● effect of changing conditions of work and absenteeism;
● sources of supply from within the organization;
● sources of supply from outside the organization in the national and local labour


Mathematical modelling techniques aided by computers can help in the preparation
of supply forecasts in situations where comprehensive and reliable data on stocks and
flows can be provided. As this is rarely the case, they are seldom used.

Analysing demand and supply forecasts
The demand and supply forecasts can then be analysed to determine whether there
are any deficits or surpluses. This provides the basis for recruitment, retention, and if
unavoidable downsizing, plans. Computerized planning models can be used for this
purpose. It is, however, not essential to rely on a software planning package. The
basic forecasting calculations can be carried out with a spreadsheet that sets out and
calculates the number required for each occupation where plans need to be made, as
in the following example:

1. Number currently employed 70
2. Annual wastage rate based on past records 10 per cent
3. Expected losses during the year 7
4. Balance at end year 63
5. Number required at end year 75
6. Number to be obtained during year (5–4) 12


The analysis of the numbers of people leaving the organization (labour turnover or
wastage) provides data for use in supply forecasting, so that calculations can be made
on the number of people lost who may have to be replaced. More importantly,
however, the analysis of the numbers of leavers and the reasons why they leave
provides information that will indicate whether any action is required to improve
retention rates. It can prompt further investigations to establish underlying causes
and identify remedies.

In this section, consideration is given to the following aspects of labour turn-

Human resource planning ❚ 375

● its significance;
● methods of measurement;
● the reasons for turnover;
● what it costs;
● its incidence;
● how to benchmark rates of turnover.

The significance of labour turnover
The point was made by IRS (2000) that ‘rates of labour turnover provide a graphic
illustration of the turbulence within an organization. High rates of attrition can desta-
bilize a business and demotivate those who attempt to maintain levels of service and
output against a background of vacant posts, inexperienced staff and general discon-
tent.’ Obviously recruitment, induction and training costs all rise with an increase in
labour turnover. As the CIPD (2000) has commented, ‘Turnover may be a function of
negative job attitudes, low job satisfaction, combined with an ability to secure
employment elsewhere, ie the state of the labour market. On the other hand, turnover
is a normal part of organizational functioning, and while excessively high turnover
may be dysfunctional, a certain level of turnover is to be expected and can be benefi-
cial to an organization.’

Methods of measurement
There are a number of ways of measuring labour turnover, as described below.

The labour turnover index

The labour turnover index (sometimes referred to as the employee or labour wastage
index) is the traditional formula for measuring wastage. It has been described by the
CIPD (2000) as the ‘crude wastage method’. It is calculated as follows:

Number of leavers in a specified period (usually 1 year) × 100
Average number of employees during the same period

This method is commonly used because it is easy to calculate and to understand. For
human resource planning purposes, it is a simple matter to work out that if a
company wants to increase its workforce by 50 people from 150 to 200, and the labour
turnover rate is 20 per cent (leading to a loss of 30 people), then if this trend
continues, the company would have to recruit 90 employees during the following
year in order to increase and to hold the workforce at 200 in that year (50 extra

376 ❚ People resourcing

employees, plus 40 to replace the 20 per cent wastage of the average 200 employees
employed). It can also be used to make comparisons with other organizations which
will typically adopt this method.

This wastage formula may be simple to use but it can be misleading. The main
objection to the measurement of turnover in terms of the proportion of those who
leave in a given period is that the figure may be inflated by the high turnover of a
relatively small proportion of the workforce, especially in times of heavy recruitment.
Thus, a company employing 150 people might have had an annual wastage rate of 20
per cent, meaning that 30 jobs had become vacant during the year, but this could have
been spread throughout the company, covering all occupations and long as well as
short service employees. Alternatively, it could have been restricted to a small sector
of the workforce – only 20 jobs might have been affected, although each of these had
to be filled 10 times during the year. These are totally different situations, and unless
they are understood, inaccurate forecasts would be made of future requirements and
inappropriate actions would be taken to deal with the problem. The turnover index is
also suspect if the average number of employees upon which the percentage is based
is unrepresentative of recent trends because of considerable increases or decreases
during the period in the numbers employed. When assembling and analysing labour
turnover figures, it is important to obtain information on the incidence for different
categories of employee, especially those who are most difficult to attract and retain,
such as knowledge or highly skilled workers.

Survival rate

A method of analysing turnover that is particularly useful for human resource plan-
ners is the survival rate: the proportion of employees engaged within a certain period
who remain with the organization after so many months or years of service. Thus, an
analysis of trainees who have completed their training might show that after two
years, 10 of the original cohort of 20 trainees are still with the company, a survival rate
of 50 per cent.

The distribution of losses for each entry group, or cohort, can be plotted in the form
of a ‘survival curve’ as shown in Figure 25.2. The basic shape of this curve has been
found to be similar in many situations, although it has been observed that the peak of
the curve may occur further along the time scale and/or may be lower when it relates
to more highly skilled or trained entry cohorts. Table 25.1 tells human resource plan-
ners that unless they do something about the situation, they will have to allow for
half the number of recruits in any one year to be lost over the next five years. Thus, to
ensure that 50 trained staff in five years’ time, 100 people would have to be engaged
this year. Stark figures like this can prompt action, especially when the costs of
recruitment and induction are taken into account.

Human resource planning ❚ 377

378 ❚ People resourcing


Leavers as a
percentage of
total entrants

Figure 25.2 A survival curve

Table 25.1 Survival rate analysis

Number surviving to end of year after engagement
Entry Original

Cohort strength Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5

A 40 35 28 26 22 20

B 32 25 24 19 18 17

C 48 39 33 30 25 23

D 38 32 27 24 22 19

E 42 36 30 26 23 21

Total 200 167 142 125 110 100

survival 100% 83% 71% 62% 55% 50%


Half-life index

A simpler concept derived from survival rate analysis is the half-life index, which is
defined as the time taken for a group or cohort of starters to reduce to half its original
size through wastage (five years in the above example). Comparisons can then be
made for successive entry years or between different groups of employees, in order to
show where action may have to be taken to counter undesirable wastage trends.

Stability index

The stability index is considered by many to be an improvement on the turnover
index. The formula is:

Number with 1 year’s service or more × 100
Number employed 1 year ago

This index provides an indication of the tendency for longer service employees to
remain with the company, and therefore shows the degree to which there is conti-
nuity of employment. But this too can be misleading because the index will not reveal
the vastly different situations that exist in a company or department with a high
proportion of long serving employees, in comparison with one where the majority of
employees are short service.

Length of service analysis

This disadvantage of the stability index can be partly overcome if an analysis is also
made of the average length of service of people who leave, as in Table 25.2. This
analysis is still fairly crude, because it deals only with those who leave. A more
refined analysis would compare for each service category the numbers leaving with
the numbers employed. If, in the example shown, the total numbers employed with
fewer than three months’ service were 100 and the total with more than five years
were also 100, the proportion of leavers in each category would be 28 per cent and 11
per cent respectively – more revealing figures, especially if previous periods could be
analysed to reveal adverse trends.

Choice of measurement

It is difficult to avoid using the conventional employee (labour) turnover index as the
easiest and most familiar of all methods of measurement, but it needs to be supple-
mented with some measure of stability. An analysis of turnover or wastage as part of

Human resource planning ❚ 379

a human resource planning exercise requires detailed information on the length of
service of leavers, to identify problem areas and to provide a foundation for supply

Reasons for turnover
An analysis of the reasons for leaving derived from exit interviews will provide
useful information on which to base retention plans. Exit interviews aim to establish
why people are leaving, not to persuade them to stay. The reasons for leaving can be
classified under the following headings:

● more pay;
● better prospects (career move);
● more security;
● more opportunity to develop skills;
● better working conditions;
● poor relationships with manager/team leader;
● poor relationship with colleagues;
● bullying or harassment;
● personal – pregnancy, illness, moving away from area etc.

Exit interviews should aim to elicit opinions on any specific reasons for dissatis-
faction under any of the above non-personal headings. Some leavers will be

380 ❚ People resourcing

Table 25.2 Leavers by length of service

Leavers by length of service

Occupation Total Average Index of
Less 3–6 6 1–2 3–5 5 or number number labour

than 3 months months years years more leaving employed turnover
months –1 year years %

A 5 4 3 3 2 3 20 220 10

B 15 12 10 6 3 4 50 250 20

C 8 6 5 4 3 4 30 100 30

Totals 28 22 18 13 8 11 100 550 18

forthcoming, others will not. It is up to the interviewer to probe skilfully and sensi-
tively to establish reasons for dissatisfaction or unhappiness, so that where those feel-
ings are justified, something can be done about them. Judgement is required to sort
out genuine complaints from unjustified or exaggerated ones. An analysis of reasons
should take place and trends be noted. General issues can be addressed by reviewing
employment and reward policies and practices. Issues affecting particular managers
should also be tackled. This may be difficult if it is a behavioural matter, such as
bullying, but if there is a build-up of information that suggests this may be the case,
the problem cannot be ignored.

However, exit interviews are not completely reliable, and it is desirable to gain a
more comprehensive picture of the views of existing employees through attitude
surveys (see Chapter 53).

The cost of labour turnover
Labour turnover can be costly. The following factors should be considered:

● leaving costs – payroll costs and personnel administration of leaver;
● direct cost of recruiting replacements (advertising, interviewing, testing etc);
● opportunity cost of time spent by HR and line managers in recruitment;
● direct cost of introducing replacements (induction course, cost of induction

manuals etc);
● opportunity cost of time spent by HR and managers in introducing new starters;
● direct cost of training replacements in the necessary skills;
● opportunity cost of time spent by line managers and other staff in providing

● loss of the input from those leaving before they are replaced in terms of contribu-

tion, output, sales, customer satisfaction and support etc;
● loss arising from reduced input from new starters until they are fully trained.

The CIPD 2005 Recruitment, Retention and Turnover survey established that the
average cost per leaver was £4,625. This is a typical figure, and the calculation of the
costs of labour turnover in an organization can produce alarming sums if labour
turnover is high, especially among managers and knowledge workers. The informa-
tion can be used by HR as a powerful argument in support of changes in employment
and reward policies.

Human resource planning ❚ 381

The incidence of labour turnover
The labour turnover rate for all employees as revealed by the CIPD 2005 UK survey
was 15.7 per cent. The turnover of different categories of employees were: staff 31.1
per cent, manual workers 16.7 per cent, secretarial and administrative staff 16.7 per
cent and professional staff and managers 9.1 per cent.

Benchmarking labour turnover
Labour turnover rates provide a valuable means of benchmarking the effectiveness of
HR policies and practices in organizations. They do not tell the whole story, but if
turnover is significantly higher than in comparable organizations, this should stimu-
late action to investigate why this is the case and to do something about it.

Benchmarking can be carried out by networking with other organizations, possibly
forming a ‘club’ to exchange information regularly. There are also a number of bench-
marking agencies as listed by the IRS (2000), and the European Foundation for
Quality Management (EFQM) survey which uses the internet. National sources of
data include the government’s Labour Force and Learning and Training at Work
surveys, and the annual survey of labour turnover conducted by the CIPD.


Action plans are derived from broad resourcing strategies and more detailed analysis
of demand and supply factors. However, the plans often have to be short term and
flexible because of the difficulty of making firm predictions about human resource
requirements in times of rapid change. Plans need to be prepared in the areas of
resourcing, flexibility and downsizing, as described below.

The resourcing plan
This needs to consider approaches to obtaining people from within the organization,
to recruiting them externally, and to attracting high quality candidates (becoming ‘the
employer of choice’).

Internal resourcing

The first step is to analyse the availability of suitable people from within the organi-
zation, by reference to assessments of potential and a skills database. The latter
should contain a regularly updated list of employees with the sort of skills needed by

382 ❚ People resourcing

the organization. Decisions are then made on what steps should be taken to promote,
redeploy, and as necessary provide additional experience and training to, eligible
staff. Plans can also be made to make better use of existing employees, which may
include flexibility arrangements as discussed later, or home working.

The recruitment plan

This will incorporate:

● the numbers and types of employees required to make up any deficits, when they
are needed;

● the likely sources of candidates – schools, colleges of further education, universi-
ties, advertising, the internet etc;

● plans for tapping alternative sources, such as part-timers, or widening the
recruitment net to include, for example, more women re-entering the labour

● how the recruitment programme will be conducted.

Employer of choice plans

The recruitment plan should include plans for attracting good candidates by
ensuring that the organization will become an ‘employer of choice’. This could be
achieved by such means as generally improving the image of the company as an
employer (the employer brand) and by offering:

● better remuneration packages;
● more opportunities for learning, development and careers;
● enhanced future employability because of the reputation of the organization as

one that employs and develops high quality people, well as the learning opportu-
nities it provides;

● employment conditions which address work–life balance issues by, for example,
adapting working hours and arrangements and leave policies, and providing
child care facilities or vouchers to meet the needs of those with domestic respon-

● better facilities and scope for knowledge workers, such as research and develop-
ment scientists or engineers or IT specialists;

● ‘golden hellos’ (sums of money paid upfront to recruits);
● generous relocation payments.

Human resource planning ❚ 383

Flexibility plan
The aims of the flexibility plan should be to:

● provide for greater operational flexibility;
● improve the utilization of employees’ skills and capacities;
● reduce employment costs;
● help to achieve downsizing smoothly and in a way which avoids the need for

compulsory redundancies;
● increase productivity.

The plan can be based on a radical look at traditional employment patterns. This
means identifying the scope for using alternatives to full-time permanent staff, which
could include increasing the number of part-timers, job sharing, the expansion of
home working or teleworking, or employing more temporary workers. The two main
new trends in temporary working are first, to establish permanent staffing levels to
meet minimum or normal levels of demand and rely on temporary staff to cover
peaks, and second, to develop a ‘two-tier’ workforce in order to provide greater
job security for the core workers, by employing a certain percentage of temporary
staff at the periphery. Consideration can also be given to making more use of subcon-
tractors or outsourcing work, and to the introduction of more flexible working

Use of part-time workers

The advantages of using part-time workers are as follows:

● more scope for flexing hours worked;
● better utilization of plant and equipment by, for example, the introduction of a

‘twilight shift’;
● lower unit labour costs because overtime levels for full-time workers are reduced;
● higher productivity on repetitive work because part-time workers can give more

attention to their work during their shorter working day.

The disadvantages are:

● part-timers are generally less willing to undertake afternoon or evening work,
may find it more difficult to vary their hours of work, and may be less mobile;

● rates of labour turnover may be higher among part-timers;
● part-timers may be less committed than full-time employees.

384 ❚ People resourcing

It should be remembered that the Part-time Regulations 1999 require that part-timers
should not be treated less favourably than full-time workers, and should be paid pro

Job sharing

Job sharing is an arrangement whereby two employees share the work of one full-
time position, dividing pay and benefits between them according to the time each
works. Job sharing can involve splitting days or weeks, or less frequently working
alternate weeks. The advantages of job sharing include reduced employee turnover
and absenteeism because it suits the needs of individuals. Greater continuity results
because if one-half of the job sharing team is ill or leaves, the sharer will continue
working for at least half the time. Job sharing also means that a wider employment
pool can be tapped, of those who cannot work full-time but want permanent employ-
ment. The disadvantages are the administrative costs involved and the risk of respon-
sibility being divided.

Home working and teleworking

Home-based employees can be employed in such jobs as consultants, analysts,
designers, programmers or various kinds of administrative work. The advantages of
these arrangements are:

● flexibility to respond rapidly to fluctuations in demand;
● reduced overheads;
● lower employment costs if the home workers are self-employed (care, however,

has to be taken to ensure that they are regarded as self-employed for income tax
and national insurance purposes).

Teleworking involves people working at home with a terminal which is linked to
the main company or networked with other outworkers. Its aim is to achieve
greater flexibility, rapid access to skills and the retention of skilled employees
who would otherwise be lost to the company. Teleworkers can be used in a number
of functions such as marketing, finance and IT. The arrangement does, how-
ever, depend for its success on the involvement and education of all employees
(full-time and teleworkers), the careful selection and training of teleworkers,
allocating adequate resources to them and monitoring the operation of the

Human resource planning ❚ 385


Subcontracting enables:

● resources to be concentrated on core business activities;
● employment costs to be reduced;
● flexibility and productivity to be increased;
● job security for core employees to be enhanced.

The potential drawbacks include:

● The legal status of subcontractors. This has to be clarified for income tax, national
insurance and employment legislation purposes.

● The degree to which subcontractors will be able to meet delivery and quality
requirements – it may be more difficult to control their work.

● Negative reactions from employees and trade unions who prefer work to be kept
within the company.

The decision on how much work can be subcontracted is mainly an operational one,
but the flexibility plan should cover the implications of subcontracting on employ-
ment levels and employee relations.

Flexible hour arrangements

Flexible hour arrangements can be included in the flexibility plan in one or more of
the following ways:

● Flexible daily hours. These may follow an agreed pattern day by day according to
typical or expected work loads (eg flexitime systems).

● Flexible weekly hours, providing for longer weekly hours to be worked at certain
peak periods during the year.

● Flexible daily and weekly hours: varying daily or weekly hours or a combination
of both to match the input of hours to achieve the required output. Such working
times, unlike daily or weekly arrangements, may fluctuate between a minimum
and a maximum.

● Compressed working weeks in which employees work fewer than the five stan-
dard days.

● Annual hours: scheduling employee hours on the basis of the number of hours to
be worked, with provisions for the increase or reduction of hours in any given
period, according to the demand for goods or services.

386 ❚ People resourcing

Overtime arrangements

A flexibility plan can contain proposals to reduce overtime costs by the use of flexible
hours, new shift arrangements (as for twilight shifts), time off in lieu and overtime
limitation agreements. The reduction of overtime is often catered for in formal
productivity deals which include a quid pro quo in the form of increased pay for the
elimination of overtime payments and the introduction of flexible work patterns.

Shift working arrangements

These can be introduced or modified to meet demand requirements, reduce overtime
or provide for better plant or equipment utilization.

The downsizing plan
If all else fails, it may be necessary to deal with unacceptable employment costs or
surplus numbers of employees by what has euphemistically come to be known as
‘downsizing’. The downsizing plan should be based on the timing of reductions and
forecasts of the extent to which these can be achieved by natural wastage or voluntary
redundancy. The plan should set out:

● the total number of people who have to go, and when and where this needs to
take place;

● arrangements for informing and consulting with employees and their trade

● a forecast of the number of losses that can be taken up by natural wastage;
● any financial or other inducements to encourage voluntary redundancy;
● a forecast of the likely numbers who will volunteer to leave;
● a forecast of the balance of employees, if any, who will have to be made redun-

dant (the plan should, of course, aim to avoid this through natural wastage and
voluntary redundancy);

● the redundancy terms;
● any financial inducements to be offered to key employees whom the company

wishes to retain;
● any arrangements for retraining employees and finding them work elsewhere in

the organization;
● the steps to be taken to help redundant employees find new jobs by counselling,

contacting other employers or offering the services of outplacement consultants;
● the arrangements for telling individual employees about the redundancies and

how they are affected, and for keeping the trade unions informed.

Human resource planning ❚ 387


Human resource planning, in the broader meaning of the term, is one of the funda-
mental strategic roles of the HR function. HR can make a major contribution to devel-
oping the resource capability of the firm and therefore its strategic capability by
systematically reviewing the firm’s strategic objectives and by ensuring that plans are
made that will ensure that the human resources are available to meet those objectives.
Thus HR is focusing on the acquisition and development of the human capital
required by the organization.

To make this contribution, heads of HR and their colleagues in the HR function
need to:

● ensure that they are aware of the strategic plans of the business, and can provide
advice on the human resource implications of those plans;

● point out to management the strengths and weaknesses of the human resources of
the organization, and the opportunities and threats they present, so that these can
be considered when developing business plans;

● be capable of scenario planning in the sense that they can identify future issues
concerning the acquisition, retention and employment of people, and advise on
methods of addressing those issues;

● understand the extent to which quantitative assessments of the future demand for
and supply of people may be feasible and useful, and know the methods that can
be used to prepare such forecasts;

● be aware of the scope to deal with future requirements by introducing various
forms of flexibility;

● be capable of preparing relevant and practical resourcing plans and strategies for
retaining people, based upon an understanding of the internal and external envi-
ronment of the organization, and the implications of analyses of labour turnover.

388 ❚ People resourcing

Talent management

Talent management consisting of talent planning and development is a relatively new
concept, only emerging in the 2000s. It derives from the phrase ‘the war for talent’,
which originated in the late 1990s as a means of highlighting the problems that orga-
nizations were having in attracting and retaining talented people. However O’Reilly
and Pfeffer (2000) point out that: ‘Companies that adopt a “talent war” mindset may
place too much value on outsiders and downplay the talent already in the company.’
The approach should be one that emphasizes the ability of everyone to succeed and
thereby ‘achieve extraordinary results with ordinary people’. And Pfeffer (2001)
warns that the war for talent is the wrong metaphor because it overlooks the extent to
which teams of people will often operate more effectively than mere collections of

There is nothing new about the various approaches contained in the concept
of talent management – attraction, retention, motivation and engagement, develop-
ment, and succession planning. But they are bundled together to produce a more
coherent whole that can be a vehicle for the development and implementation of
coordinated and mutually supporting approaches that help the organization to get
and to keep the talented people it needs. It is closely associated with the notion of
creating ‘a best place to work’, which has again become prominent in the 2000s.

In this chapter talent management is dealt with under the following headings:


● talent management defined;
● the elements of talent management;
● creating a ‘best place to work’;
● attraction policies;
● retention policies;
● career management (career and succession planning) policy and practice;
● talent management for knowledge workers;
● conclusions – the practice of talent management.


Talent management is the use of an integrated set of activities to ensure that the orga-
nization attracts, retains, motivates and develops the talented people it needs now
and in the future. The aim is to secure the flow of talent, bearing in mind that talent is
a major corporate resource.

It is sometimes assumed that talent management is only concerned with key
people – the high flyers. For example, Smilansky (2005) states that it is ‘aimed at
improving the calibre, availability and flexible utilization of exceptionally capable
(high potential) employees who can have a disproportionate impact on business
performance’. But everyone in an organization has talent, even if some have more
talent than others. Talent management processes should not be limited to the
favoured few. This point was made by deLong and Vijayaraghavan (2003) when they
suggested that the unsung heroes of corporate performance are the capable, steady


The elements of talent management and their interrelationships are shown in Figure

Talent management starts with the business strategy and what it signifies in terms
of the talented people required by the organization. Ultimately, its aim is to develop
and maintain a talent pool consisting of a skilled, engaged and committed workforce.
Its elements are described below.

The resourcing strategy
The business plan provides the basis for human resource planning, which defines

390 ❚ People resourcing

human capital requirements and leads to attraction and retention policies and pro-
grammes for internal resourcing (identifying talent within the organization and
developing and promoting it).

Attraction and retention policies and programmes
These policies and programmes describe the approach to ensuring that the organiza-
tion both gets and keeps the talent it needs. Attraction policies lead to programmes
for external resourcing (recruitment and selection of people from outside the organi-
zation). Retention policies are designed to ensure that people remain as committed
members of the organization. The outcome of these policies is a talent flow that
creates and maintains the talent pool. Both attraction and retention policies as

Talent management ❚ 391

and retention


talent audit











management Learning and


Total reward

The talent
pool: a

engaged and

Figure 26.1 The elements of talent management

discussed in greater detail later in this chapter will be included amongst the steps
required to make the organization ‘a great place to work’, also considered in the next
main section of this chapter.

Talent audit
A talent audit identifies those with potential and provides the basis for career plan-
ning and development – ensuring that talented people have the sequence of experi-
ence supplemented by coaching and learning programmes that will fit them to carry
out more demanding roles in the future. Talent audits can also be used to indicate the
possible danger of talented people leaving (risk analysis) and what action may need
to be taken to retain them.

Role development
Talent management is concerned with the roles people carry out. This involves role
development – ensuring that roles provide the responsibility, challenge and
autonomy required to create role engagement and motivation. It also involves taking
steps to ensure that people have the opportunity and are given the encouragement to
learn and develop in their roles. Talent management policies also focus on role flexi-
bility – giving people the chance to develop their roles by making better and
extended use of their talents.

Talent relationship management
Talent relationship management is the process of building effective relationships with
people in their roles. It is concerned generally with creating a great place to work (see
later), but particularly it is about treating individual employees fairly, recognizing
their value, giving them a voice and providing opportunities for growth. The aim is
to achieve ‘talent engagement’, ensuring that people are committed to their work and
the organization. As Sears (2003) points out, it is ‘better to build an existing relation-
ship rather than try to create a new one when someone leaves’.

Performance management
Performance management processes provide a means of building relationships with
people, identifying talent and potential, planning learning and development activi-
ties and making the most of the talent possessed by the organization. Line managers
can be asked to carry out separate ‘risk analyses’ for any key staff to assess the likeli-
hood of their leaving. Properly carried out, performance management is a means of

392 ❚ People resourcing

increasing the engagement and motivation of people by providing positive feedback
and recognition. This is part of a total reward system.

Total reward
Total reward strategies (see Chapter 43), which provide for both financial and non-
financial rewards, can contribute to the engagement and commitment of talented
people by demonstrating that they are valued for their contribution and by operating
fairly and consistently. Paying competitive rates will affect the ability of organizations
to attract and retain people, but there is a limit to the extent to which companies can
compete with the ‘pull of the market’ as Cappelli (2000) points out. Retention or
loyalty bonuses (golden handcuffs) are used by some companies, but again, as
stressed by Cappelli there is a limit to their effectiveness as bribes. If talented people
want to go they will go.

Learning and development
Learning and development policies and programmes are essential components in the
process of developing talent – ensuring that people acquire and enhance the skills
and competencies they need. Policies should be formulated by reference to ‘employee
success profiles’, which are described in terms of competencies and define the quali-
ties that need to be developed. Employee success profiles can be incorporated in role

Learning and development activities are also important means of developing
managers and gaining the engagement and commitment of talented staff by
giving them opportunities to grow in their present roles and to progress to higher-
level roles.

Career management
Career management consists of the processes of career planning and management
succession. Career planning shapes the progression of individuals within an organi-
zation in accordance with assessments of organizational needs, defined employee
success profiles and the performance, potential and preferences of individual
members of the enterprise.

Management succession planning takes place to ensure that, as far as possible, the
organization has the managers it requires to meet future business needs. Career
management is dealt with in more detail in the last section of this chapter.

Talent management ❚ 393


Ensuring that the organization is perceived as being ‘a great place to work’ means
that it becomes an ‘employer of choice’, ie one for whom people want to work. There
is a desire to join the organization and once there, to want to stay. Employees are
committed to the organization and engaged in the work they do. To acquire a
national, even a local reputation as a good employer takes time. But it’s worth the

On the basis of their longitudinal research in 12 companies, Purcell et al (2003)
concluded that:

What seems to be happening is that successful firms are able to meet people’s needs
both for a good job and to work ‘in a great place’. They create good work and a
conducive working environment. In this way they become an ‘employer of choice’.
People will want to work there because their individual needs are met – for a good job
with prospects linked to training, appraisal, and working with a good boss who listens
and gives some autonomy but helps with coaching and guidance.

The criteria used by the Sunday Times in identifying the ‘100 Best Companies to Work
For’, 2005 were:

● leadership at senior management level;
● my manager – local management on a day-to-day basis;
● personal growth – opportunities to learn, grow and be challenged;
● well-being – balanced work-life issues;
● my team – immediate colleagues;
● giving something back – to society and the local community;
● my company – the way it treats staff;
● fair deal – pay and benefits.

The factors used in the Financial Times 2005 best workplaces report were:

● have a range of management practices that help staff to feel valued, productive
and listened to;

● support at home – step in when people are suffering from personal problems;
● maintain a balance between work and family;
● effective employee development programme;
● staff trusted to do their jobs properly.

394 ❚ People resourcing

Creating a great place to work starts with developing the image of the organization so
that it is recognized as one that achieves results, delivers quality products and ser-
vices, behaves ethically and provides good conditions of employment. Organizations
with a clear vision and a set of integrated and enacted values are likely to project
themselves as being well worth working for.


The overall strategy should be to become an employer of choice. As Scarborough and
Elias (2002) put it: ‘The recruitment of key individuals who will contribute signifi-
cantly to the value-creating capacity of the firm is crucial to success.’ The aims are to
establish the brand image of the organization – how others perceive it (employee
branding), to become an employer of choice, and to target recruitment and selection
to obtain the sort of people the organization needs.

Employer branding

Employer branding is the creation of a brand image of the organization for prospec-
tive employees. It will be influenced by the reputation of the organization as a busi-
ness or provider of services as well as its reputation as an employer. As described by
Alan Reed, Founder and Chief Executive of Reed Executive plc, in 2001: ‘Employer
branding is the concept of applying to the recruitment process the same marketing
coherence used in the management of customers.’ He suggests that the approaches
required to develop an employer brand are:

● analyse what ideal candidates need and want and take this into account in
deciding what should be offered and how it should be offered;

● establish how far the core values of the organization support the creation of an
attractive brand and ensure that these are incorporated in the presentation of the
brand as long as they are ‘values in use’ (lived by members of the organization)
rather than simply espoused;

● define the features of the brand on the basis of an examination and review of
each of the areas that affect the perceptions of people about the organization as ‘a
great place to work’ – the way people are treated, the provision of a fair deal,
opportunities for growth, work-life balance, leadership, the quality of manage-
ment, involvement with colleagues and how and why the organization is

Talent management ❚ 395

● benchmark the approaches of other organizations (the Sunday Times list of the 100
best companies to work for is useful) to obtain ideas about what can be done to
enhance the brand;

● be honest and realistic.

Employer of choice
The aim is to become an ‘employer of choice’, a place where people prefer to work.
This means developing what Sears (2003) calls ‘a value proposition’, which commu-
nicates what the organization can offer its employees as a ‘great place to work’. The
factors that contribute to being an employer of choice are the provision of:

● interesting and rewarding work;
● opportunities for learning, development and career progression;
● a reasonable degree of security;
● enhanced future employability because of the reputation of the organization as

one that employs and develops high quality people, as well as the learning oppor-
tunities it provides;

● better facilities and scope for knowledge workers, eg research and development
scientists or engineers and IT specialists;

● employment conditions that satisfy work-life balance needs;
● a reward system that recognizes and values contribution and provides competi-

tive pay and benefits.

This all adds up to an employee value proposition which, as a means of attracting and
retaining high potential employees, recognizes that they will be looking for strong
values and expecting to be well managed, to have freedom and autonomy, high job
challenge and career opportunities. A powerful method of retention is simply to
ensure that people feel they are valued.

Targeted recruitment and selection
The first step is to identify what sort of people the organization needs with regard to
their qualifications and experience and the extent to which they are likely to fit
the culture of the organization – its values and norms. This involves analysing
and assessing work requirements and defining what cultural fit means. The most
important characteristics of those who are already thriving – what separates
successful from unsuccessful employees – should be determined so that others like
them can be recruited. Attitudes to work, careers and the company are important;
behaviour can be influenced later as people become familiar with the culture so long

396 ❚ People resourcing

as their attitudes are right. As Leary-Joyce (2004) says: ‘Recruit for attitude, induct for


The turnover of key employees can have a disproportionate impact on the business
and the people organizations wish to retain are probably the ones most likely to leave.
Reed (2001) claims that:

Every worker is five minutes away from handing in his or her notice, and 150 working
hours away from walking out of the door to a better offer. There is no such thing as a ‘job
for life’ and today’s workers have few qualms about leaving employers for greener
pastures… The average permanent job in the UK lasts six years.

Concerted action is required to retain talented people, but there are limits to what any
organization can do. It is also necessary to encourage the greatest contribution from
existing talent and to value them accordingly.

Factors affecting retention
Retention strategies should be based on an understanding of the factors that affect
them. For early career employees (30 years and under) career advancement is signifi-
cant. For mid-career employees (age 31–50) the ability to manage their careers and
satisfaction from their work are important. Late career employees (over 50) will be
interested in security. It is also the case that a younger workforce will change jobs and
employers more often than an older workforce, and workforces with a lot of part-
timers are less stable than those with predominately full-time staff. The specific
factors that affect retention are:

● company image;
● recruitment, selection and deployment;
● leadership – ‘employees join companies and leave managers’;
● learning opportunities;
● performance recognition and rewards.

A study of high flyers by Holbeche (1998) found that the factors that aided the reten-
tion and motivation of high performers included providing challenge and achieve-
ment opportunities (eg assignments), mentors, realistic self-assessment and feedback

Talent management ❚ 397

Basis of the strategy
A retention strategy takes into account the particular retention issues the organization
is facing and sets out ways in which these issues can be dealt with. This may mean
accepting the reality, as mentioned by Cappelli (2000), that the market, not the
company will ultimately determine the movement of employees. Cappelli believes
that it may be difficult to counter the pull of the market – ‘you can’t shield your
people from attractive opportunities and aggressive recruiters’, and suggests that:
‘The old goal of HR management – to minimize overall employee turnover – needs to
be replaced by a new goal: to influence who leaves and when.’ This, as proposed by
Bevan et al (1997), could be based on risk analysis to quantify the seriousness of losing
key people, or of key posts becoming vacant.

Risk analysis
Risk analysis can be carried out initially by identifying potential risk areas – the key
people who may leave and, for each of them as individuals or groups, estimating:

● the likelihood of this occurring;
● how serious the effects of a loss would be on the business;
● the ease with which a replacement could be made and the replacement costs.

Each of the estimates could be expressed on a scale, say: very high, high, medium,
low, very low. An overview of the ratings under each heading could then indicate
where action may need to be taken to retain key people or groups of people.

Analysis of reasons for leaving
Risk analysis provides specific information on areas for concern. More generally,
some indication of the reasons for leaving and therefore where action needs to be
taken may be provided by exit interviews, but they are fallible. More reliance can be
placed on the results of attitude or opinion surveys to identify any areas of dissatis-
faction. The retention plan should propose actions that would focus on each of the
areas in which lack of commitment and dissatisfaction can arise.

Areas for action
Depending on the outcome of the risk analysis and the overall assessment of reasons
for leaving, the possible actions that can be taken are as follows:

398 ❚ People resourcing

● Deal with uncompetitive, inequitable or unfair pay systems. But as Cappelli
(2000) points out, there is a limit to the extent to which people can be bribed to
stay. Remember that while money might attract, you can’t buy love – it is often
other things that get people to stay (how they are treated).

● Design jobs to maximize skill variety, task significance, autonomy, control over
their work and feedback, and ensure that they provide opportunities for learning
and growth. Some roles can be ‘customized’ to meet the needs of particular indi-

● Develop commitment to the work (job engagement) not only through job design
but also by organizing work around projects with which people can identify more
readily than the company as a whole.

● Encourage the development of social ties within the company. In the words of
Cappelli (2000), ‘loyalty to companies may be disappearing but loyalty to
colleagues is not’.

● Ensure that selection and promotion procedures match the capacities of individ-
uals to the demands of the work they have to do. Rapid turnover can result
simply from poor selection or promotion decisions.

● Reduce the losses of people who cannot adjust to their new job – the ‘induction
crisis’ – by giving them proper training and support when they join the organiza-

● Take steps to improve work-life balance by developing policies including flexible
working that recognize the needs of employees outside work.

● Eliminate as far as possible unpleasant working conditions or the imposition of
too much stress on employees.

● Select, brief and train managers and team leaders so that they appreciate the posi-
tive contribution they can make to improving retention by the ways in which they
lead their teams. Bear in mind that people often leave their managers rather than
their organization.


Career management defined
Career management is concerned with providing opportunities for people to pro-
gress and develop their careers and ensuring that the organization has the flow of
talent it needs. The elements of career management are the provision of learning
and development opportunities, career planning and management succession

Talent management ❚ 399

For employees, the aims of career management policies are first, to give individuals
the guidance, support and encouragement they need if they are to fulfil their poten-
tial and achieve a successful career with the organization in tune with their talents
and aspirations. Secondly, the aim is to provide men and women of promise with a
sequence of learning activities and experience that will equip them for whatever level
of responsibility they have the ability to reach.

For the organization, the aim of career management is to meet the objectives of its
talent management policies, which are to ensure that there is a talent flow that creates
and maintains the required talent pool.

Career management calls for an approach that explicitly takes into account both
organizational needs and employee interests. As described by Hirsh and Carter
(2002), it encompasses recruitment, personal development plans, lateral moves,
special assignments at home or abroad, development positions, career bridges, lateral
moves, and support for employees who want to develop. It calls for creativity in iden-
tifying ways to provide development opportunities and enhance employee loyalty.

Career dynamics
Career planning should be based on an understanding of career dynamics. This is
concerned with how careers progress – the ways in which people move through their
careers either upwards when they are promoted, or by enlarging or enriching their
roles to take on greater responsibilities or make more use of their skills and abilities.
The three stages of career progression – expanding, establishing and maturing – are
illustrated in Figure 26.2. This also shows how individuals progress or fail to progress
at different rates through these stages.

The process of career management
The process of career management is illustrated in Figure 26.3.

Career management policies
The organization needs to decide on the extent to which it ‘makes or buys’ talented
people. Should it grow its own talent (a promotion from within policy) or should it
rely on external recruitment (bringing ‘fresh blood’ into the organization)? The policy
may be to recruit potentially high performers who will be good at their present job
and are rewarded accordingly. If they are really good, they will be promoted and the
enterprise will get what it wants. Deliberately to train managers for a future that may

400 ❚ People resourcing

Talent management ❚ 401




Expanding Establishing Maturing

20 30 40 50 60

Figure 26.2 Career progression curves

Career management

Performance and
potential assessment

Talent audits


Succession planning Career planning

Development processes
and programmes

Figure 26.3 The process of career management




never happen is considered a waste of time. In contrast and less frequently,
employers who believe in long-term career planning develop structured approaches
to career management. These include elaborate reviews of performance and poten-
tial, assessment centres to identify talent or confirm that it is there, ‘high-flyer’
schemes, and planned job moves in line with a predetermined programme.

There may also be policies for dealing with the ‘plateaued’ manager who has got so
far but will get no further. Some managers in this position may be reconciled to
reaching the end of the ‘rat race’ but continue to work effectively. Others will become
bored, frustrated and unproductive, especially rising stars on the wane. The policy
may be to provide for steps to be taken to reshape their careers so that they still have
challenging work at the same level, even if this does not involve promotion up the
hierarchy. Alternatively, the policy may need to recognize that some managers will
have to be encouraged to start new careers elsewhere. In the latter case, career coun-
selling advice should be provided, possibly through ‘outplacement’ consultants who
provide such a service.

Talent audits
These review the stocks of talent available and the flows required by reference to
demand and supply forecasts and performance and potential assessments. They
provide the basis for succession and career planning.

Performance and potential assessments
The aim of performance and potential assessment is to identify training and develop-
ment needs, provide guidance on possible directions in which an individual’s career
might go, and indicate who has potential for promotion. This information can be
obtained from performance management processes, as described in Part VII.

Assessment of potential can be carried out formally by managers following a
performance review. They may be asked to identify people who have very high
potential, some potential, or no potential at all. They may also be asked to indicate
when individuals will be ready for promotion and how far they are likely to get. The
problem with this sort of assessment is that managers find it difficult to forecast the
future for the people they are reviewing – good performance in the current job does
not guarantee that individuals will be able to cope with wider responsibilities, espe-
cially if this involves moving into management. And managers may not necessarily
be aware of the qualities required for longer-term promotion. But the organization
does need information on those with potential and assessors should be encouraged in
their comments section at least to indicate that this is someone who is not only
performing well in the present job but may well perform well in higher-level jobs.

402 ❚ People resourcing

This information can identify those who may be nominated to attend development
centres (see Chapter 40), which can be used to establish potential and discuss career

Demand and supply forecasts
Demand and supply forecasts are provided by the use of human resource planning
and modelling techniques (see Chapter 25). In larger organizations, modelling is a
particularly fruitful method to use because it allows for sensitivity analysis of the
impact of different assumptions about the future (answering ‘What if?’ questions).

Expert systems, as described in Chapter 59, can also be used where this is an exten-
sive database on flows, attribute requirements (person specifications), and perfor-
mance and potential assessments. Such systems can establish relationships between
the opportunities and the personal attributes they demand, so that careers advisers
can take a set of personal attributes and identify the most appropriate available
opportunities. At the career planning stage, they can also identify people with the
correct abilities and skills for particular jobs and provide information on the career
management programmes required to ensure that attributes and jobs are matched
and careers progress at an appropriate rate. Career management systems such as
ExecuGROW (Control Data) have been specially developed for this purpose.

There is a limit, however, to sophistication. There are so many variables and unpre-
dictable changes in both supply and demand factors that it may be possible to
conduct only an annual check to see what the relationship is between the numbers of
managers who will definitely retire over the next four or five years and the numbers
at the next level who have the potential to succeed them. If this comparison reveals a
serious imbalance, then steps can be taken to reduce or even eliminate the deficit, or
to consider other types of deployment for those who are unlikely to progress.

Succession planning
Succession planning is the process of assessing and auditing the talent in the organi-
zation in order to answer three fundamental questions:

1. Are there enough potential successors available – a supply of people coming
through who can take key roles in the longer term?

2. Are they good enough?
3. Do they have the right skills and attributes for the future?

Succession planning is based on the information supplied by talent audits, supply
and demand forecasts and performance and potential reviews. In some large

Talent management ❚ 403

organizations in which demand and supply forecasts can be made accurately, highly
formalized succession planning processes exist based on the sort of management
succession schedule illustrated in Figure 26.4.

However, Hirsh (2000) points out that the focus of succession planning has shifted
from identifying successors for posts towards providing for the development of those
successors by creating ‘talent pools’. This is because it is difficult in the changeable
environment in which most organizations exist to predict succession requirements.
There is also the problem of making reliable assessments of potential or ‘promota-
bility’. Another issue raised by Hirsh is that organizations fear that too much talk of
‘careers’ gives employees unrealistic expectations of promotion. It can be difficult to
talk about the future in a volatile business. ‘The result has been that many managers
feel no one wants to talk about their career prospects and the organization would
secretly like them to stay just where they are. This situation leads to frustration and

Career planning
Career planning uses all the information provided by the organization’s assessments
of requirements, the assessments of performance, and potential and management
succession plans, and translates it into the form of individual career development
programmes and general arrangements for management development, career coun-
selling and mentoring.

404 ❚ People resourcing


Existing managers Potential successors

Name Position Due for Rating If promotable, Names: Positions When
replacement Performance Potential to what position 1st and

and when? 2nd

Figure 26.4 Management succession schedule

It is possible to define career progression in terms of what people are required to
know and be able to do to carry out work at progressive levels of responsibility or
contribution. These levels can be described as competency bands. For each band, the
experience and training needed to achieve the competency level would be defined in
order to produce a career map incorporating ‘aiming points’ for individuals, as illus-
trated in Figure 26.5, who would be made aware of the competency levels they must
reach in order to achieve progress in their careers. This would help them to plan their
own development, although support and guidance should be provided by their
managers, HR specialists and, if they exist, management development advisers or
mentors. The provision of additional experience and training could be arranged as
appropriate, but it would be important to clarify what individual employees need to
do for themselves if they want to progress within the organization.

Talent management ❚ 405

Competence band 1 definition Competence band 1 definition Competence band 1 definition

Basic training and experience Continuation training and Advanced training and
experience experience

Aiming point

Aiming point

Figure 26.5 Competence band career progression system

Career family grade structures, as described in Chapter 46, can define levels of
competency in each career family and show career paths upwards within families or
between families, as illustrated in Figure 26.6.

406 ❚ People resourcing

Level 6 Level 6 Level 6

Level 5 Level 5 Level 5

Level 4 Level 4 Level 4

Level 3 Level 3 Level 3

Level 2 Level 2 Level 2

Level 1 Level 1 Level 1

Career family A Career family B Career family C

Figure 26.6 Career paths in a career family structure

Formal career planning along these lines may be the ideal, but as noted by Hirsh et al
(2000), there has been a shift from managed career moves to more open internal job
markets. The process of internal job application has become the main way in which
employees manage their careers.


Knowledge workers are defined as workers whose skills or knowledge are inextri-
cably linked with the product or service of their employing organizations. The term
therefore embraces such diverse groups as lawyers, accountants, software designers,
web designers, academics, marketers and media workers. More and more work is
being defined by some kind of knowledge element. According to Swart and Kinnie
(2004) the effective management of knowledge workers presents organizations with a
number of dilemmas. Choices have to be made between the retention of knowledge
and knowledge workers, and the desire of knowledge workers to increase their
employability. Tension also exists between the need to develop organization-specific
knowledge and the wish of knowledge workers to develop transferable knowledge.
The firm may want to appropriate the value of that knowledge, but workers may
want to retain ownership of their knowledge.

Swart and Kinnie argue that understanding of these dilemmas is improved by a
greater appreciation of where professional workers get their primary source of identi-
fication – is it from their profession, the organization that employs them, the team or
the client? Their loyalty may be to their professional mission rather than their
employer. Professional research staff or academics may be committed to achieving
professional status and recognition above any forms of performance recognition that
the employing organization might be able to offer.


As described in this chapter talent management consists of a wide range of activities.
Organizations differ hugely in the ways in which they manage their talent. Some aim
to integrate all or most of these activities, others concentrate on one or two such as
talent audits and succession planning. Centrica provides an example of a comprehen-
sive approach, illustrated in Figure 26.7.

Talent management ❚ 407


































l a










































































































Recruitment and selection


The overall aim of the recruitment and selection process should be to obtain at
minimum cost the number and quality of employees required to satisfy the human
resource needs of the company. The three stages of recruitment and selection dealt
with in this chapter are:

1. defining requirements – preparing job descriptions and specifications; deciding
terms and conditions of employment;

2. attracting candidates – reviewing and evaluating alternative sources of applicants,
inside and outside the company, advertising, using agencies and consultants;

3. selecting candidates – sifting applications, interviewing, testing, assessing candi-
dates, assessment centres, offering employment, obtaining references; preparing
contracts of employment.

Selection interviewing and selection testing are dealt with in Chapters 28 and 29.


The number and categories of people required should be specified in the recruitment


programme, which is derived from the human resource plan. In addition, there will
be demands for replacements or for new jobs to be filled, and these demands should
be checked to ensure that they are justified. It may be particularly necessary to check
on the need for a replacement or the level or type of employee that is specified.
Requirements for particular positions are set out in the form of role profiles and
person specifications. These provide the basic information required to draft adver-
tisements, brief agencies or recruitment consultants, and assess candidates. A role
profile listing competence, skill, educational and experience requirements produces
the job criteria against which candidates will be assessed at the interview or by means
of psychological tests.

Role profiles for recruitment purposes
Role profiles, as described in Chapter 13, define the overall purpose of the role, its
reporting relationships and key result areas. They may also include a list of the
competencies required. These will be technical competencies (knowledge and skills)
and any specific behavioural competencies attached to the role. The latter would be
selected from the organization’s competency framework and modified as required to
fit the demands made on role holders. For recruiting purposes, the profile is extended
to include information on terms and conditions (pay, benefits, hours of work), special
requirements such as mobility, travelling or unsocial hours, and training, develop-
ment and career opportunities. The recruitment role profile provides the basis for a
person specification.

Person specifications
A person specification, also known as a recruitment, personnel or job specification,
defines the education, training, qualifications and experience. The technical compe-
tencies as set out in the role profile may also be included.

A person specification can be set out under the following headings:

● technical competencies – what the individual needs to know and be able to do to
carry out the role, including any special aptitudes or skills required;

● behavioural and attitudinal requirements – the types of behaviours required for
successful performance in the role will be related to the core values and compe-
tency framework of the organization to ensure that cultural fit is achieved when
selecting people. But role-specific information is also needed, which should be
developed by analysing the characteristics of existing employees who are
carrying out their roles effectively. By defining behavioural requirements it is

410 ❚ People resourcing

possible to elicit information about attitudinal requirements, ie what sort of atti-
tudes are likely to result in appropriate behaviours and successful performance.

● qualifications and training – the professional, technical or academic qualifications
required, or the training that the candidate should have undertaken;

● experience – in particular, categories of work or organizations; the types of achieve-
ments and activities that would be likely to predict success;

● specific demands – where the role holder will be expected to achieve in specified
areas, eg develop new markets, improve sales, or introduce new systems;

● organizational fit – the corporate culture (eg formal or informal) and the need for
candidates to be able to work within it;

● special requirements – travelling, unsocial hours, mobility, etc;
● meeting candidate expectations – the extent to which the organization can meet

candidates’ expectations in terms of career opportunities, training, security etc.

The behavioural and attitudinal parts of the person specification are used as the basis
for structured interviews (see Chapter 28). As reported by Competency and Emotional
Intelligence (2004), Britannia Building Society recruits on the basis of the candidates’
attitudes first, and skills and abilities second. Developing the process involved
mapping the Society’s values to its core competencies, identifying the sort of compe-
tency-based questions that should be asked by interviewers, defining the typical
types of responses that candidates might make, and tracking those back to the

A role profile (see Chapter 12) will set out output expectations and competency
requirements for interviewing purposes (competency-based recruitment is consid-
ered in more detail below). But more information may be required to provide the
complete picture for advertising and briefing candidates on terms and conditions and
career prospects. An example of a person specification is given in Figure 27.1.

The biggest danger to be avoided at this stage is that of overstating the competen-
cies and qualifications required. It is natural to go for the best, but setting an unrealis-
tically high level for candidates increases the problems of attracting them, and results
in dissatisfaction when they find their talents are not being used. Understating
requirements can be equally dangerous, but it happens much less frequently. The best
approach is to distinguish between essential and desirable requirements.

When the requirements have been agreed, they should be analysed under suitable
headings. There are various ways of doing this. A basic approach is to set out and
define the essential or desirable requirements under the key headings of competen-
cies, qualifications and training and experience. Additional information can be pro-
vided on specific demands. It is necessary to spell out separately the terms and
conditions of the job.

Recruitment and selection ❚ 411

Alternatively, there are the traditional classification schemes although, these are no
longer so popular. The most familiar are the seven-point plan developed by Rodger
(1952) and the fivefold grading system produced by Munro Fraser (1954).

The seven-point plan
The seven-point plan covers:

1. physical make-up – health, physique, appearance, bearing and speech;
2. attainments – education, qualifications, experience;
3. general intelligence – fundamental intellectual capacity;
4. special aptitudes – mechanical, manual dexterity, facility in the use of words or


412 ❚ People resourcing

1. Technical competencies:

● Essential in:
– all aspects of recruitment including test administration;
– interviewing techniques;
– job analysis;
– inputting data to computers;
– administering fairly complex paperwork processes.

● Desirable in:
– administering OPQ test;
– job evaluation;
– counselling techniques;
– conducting training sessions.

2. Behavioural competencies:

● able to relate well to others and use interpersonal skills to achieve desired objectives;
● able to influence the behaviour and decisions of people on matters concerning recruitment and

other personnel or individual issues;
● able to cope with change, to be flexible and to handle uncertainty;
● able to make sense of issues, identify and solve problems and ‘think on one’s feet’;
● focus on achieving results;
● able to maintain appropriately directed energy and stamina, to exercise self-control and to learn new

● able to communicate well, orally and on paper.

3. Qualifications/experience:
● Graduate Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development plus relevant experi-

ence in each aspect of the work.

Figure 27.1 Person specification for an HR officer

5. interests – intellectual, practical, constructional, physically active, social, artistic;
6. disposition – acceptability, influence over others, steadiness, dependability,

7. circumstances – domestic circumstances, occupations of family.

The fivefold grading system
The fivefold grading system covers:

1. impact on others – physical make-up, appearance, speech and manner;
2. acquired qualifications – education, vocational training, work experience;
3. innate abilities – natural quickness of comprehension and aptitude for learning;
4. motivation – the kinds of goals set by the individual, his or her consistency and

determination in following them up, and success in achieving them;
5. adjustment – emotional stability, ability to stand up to stress and ability to get on

with people.

Choice of system
Of these two systems, the seven-point plan has the longer pedigree. The five-
fold grading scheme is simpler, in some ways, and places more emphasis on the
dynamic aspects of the applicant’s career. Both can provide a good framework for
interviewing, but increasingly, interviewers are using a competency-based approach.

Using a competency-based approach
A competency-based approach means that the competencies defined for a role are
used as the framework for the selection process. As described by Taylor (2002): ‘A
competency approach is person-based rather than job-based. The starting point is
thus not an analysis of jobs but an analysis of people and what attributes account for
their effective and superior performance.’ Roberts (1997) suggests that:

The benefit of taking a competencies approach is that people can identify and isolate the
key characteristics which would be used as the basis for selection, and that those
characteristics will be described in terms which both can understand and agree… . The
competencies therefore become a fundamental part of the selection process.

A competencies approach can help to identify which selection techniques, such as
psychological testing or assessment centres, are most likely to produce useful
evidence. It provides the information required to conduct a structured interview in

Recruitment and selection ❚ 413

which questions can focus on particular competency areas to establish the extent to
which candidates meet the specification as set out in competency terms.

The advantages of a competency-based approach have been summarized by Wood
and Payne (1998) as follows:

● It increases the accuracy of predictions about suitability.
● It facilitates a closer match between the person’s attributes and the demands of

the job.
● It helps to prevent interviewers making ‘snap’ judgements.
● It can underpin the whole range of recruitment techniques – application forms,

interviews, tests and assessment centres.

The framework can be defined in terms of technical or work-based competencies,
which refer to expectations of what people have to be able to do if they are going to
achieve the results required in the job. It can also include definitions of required
behavioural competencies, which refer to the personal characteristics and behaviour
required for successful performance in such areas as interpersonal skills, leadership,
personal drive, communication skills, team membership and analytical ability.

The competencies used for recruitment and selection purposes should meet the
following criteria:

● They should focus on areas in which candidates will have demonstrated
their competency in their working or academic life – eg leadership, teamwork,

● They are likely to predict successful job performance, eg achievement motivation.
● They can be assessed in a targeted behavioural event interview in which, for

example, if team management is a key competence area, candidates can be asked
to give examples of how they have successfully built a team and got it into action.

● They can be used as criteria in an assessment centre (see below).

A competency approach along these lines can provide the most effective means of
identifying suitable candidates as part of a systematic selection process.


Attracting candidates is primarily a matter of identifying, evaluating and using the
most appropriate sources of applicants. However, in cases where difficulties in
attracting or retaining candidates are being met or anticipated, it may be necessary to

414 ❚ People resourcing

carry out a preliminary study of the factors that are likely to attract or repel candi-
dates – the strengths and weaknesses of the organization as an employer.

Analysis of recruitment strengths and weaknesses
The analysis of strengths and weaknesses should cover such matters as the
national or local reputation of the organization, pay, employee benefits and working
conditions, the intrinsic interest of the job, security of employment, opportunities for
education and training, career prospects, and the location of the office or plant. These
need to be compared with the competition in order that a list of what are, in effect,
selling points can be drawn up as in a marketing exercise, in which the preferences of
potential customers are compared with the features of the product in order that those
aspects that are likely to provide the most appeal to the customers can be empha-
sized. Candidates are, in a sense, selling themselves, but they are also buying what
the organization has to offer. If, in the latter sense, the labour market is a buyer’s
market, then the company that is selling itself to candidates must study their needs in
relation to what it can provide.

The aim of the study might be to prepare a better image of the organization (the
employer brand) for use in advertisements, brochures or interviews. Or it might have
the more con- structive aim of showing where the organization needs to improve as
an employer if it is to attract more or better candidates and to retain those selected.
The study could make use of an attitude survey to obtain the views of existing
employees. One such survey mounted by the writer in an engineering company
wishing to attract science graduates established that the main concern of the gradu-
ates was that they would be able to use and develop the knowledge they had gained
at university. As a result, special brochures were written for each major discipline
giving technical case histories of the sort of work graduates carried out. These
avoided the purple passages used in some brochures (which the survey established
were distinctly off-putting to most students) and proved to be a most useful recruit-
ment aid. Strong measures were also taken to ensure that research managers made
proper use of the graduates they recruited.

Sources of candidates
First consideration should be given to internal candidates, although some organiza-
tions with powerful equal opportunity policies (often local authorities) insist that all
internal candidates should apply for vacancies on the same footing as external candi-
dates. If there are no people available within the organization the main sources of
candidates, as described below, are advertising, the internet, and outsourcing to
consultants or agencies.

Recruitment and selection ❚ 415


Advertising is the most obvious method of attracting candidates. Nevertheless, the
first question to ask is whether an advertisement is really justified. This means
looking at the alternative sources mentioned above and confirming, preferably on the
basis of experience, that they will not do. Consideration should be given as to
whether it might be better to use an agency or a selection consultant. When making
the choice, refer to the three criteria of cost, speed and the likelihood of providing
good candidates. The objectives of an advertisement should be to:

● attract attention – it must compete for the interest of potential candidates against
other employers;

● create and maintain interest – it has to communicate in an attractive and interesting
way information about the job, the company, the terms and conditions of employ-
ment and the qualifications required;

● stimulate action – the message needs to be conveyed in a manner that will not only
focus people’s eyes on the advertisement but also encourage them to read to the
end, as well as prompt a sufficient number of replies from good candidates.

To achieve these aims, it is necessary to carry out the actions set out below.

Analyse the requirement, likely sources and job features
First it is necessary to establish how many jobs have to be filled and by when. Then
turn to the job description and person specification to obtain information on respon-
sibilities, qualifications and experience required.

The next step is to consider where suitable candidates are likely to come from; the
companies, jobs or education establishments they are in; and the parts of the country
where they can be found.

Finally, define the terms and conditions of the job (pay and benefits) and think
about what about the job or the organization is likely to attract good candidates so
that the most can be made of these factors in the advertisement. Consider also what
might put them off, for example the location of the job, in order that objections can be
anticipated. Analyse previous successes or failures to establish what does or does not

Decide who does what
When planning a campaign or recruiting key people, there is much to be said for
using an advertising agency. An agency can provide expertise in producing

416 ❚ People resourcing

eye-catching headlines and writing good copy. It can devise an attractive house style
and prepare layouts that make the most of the text, the logo and any ‘white space’
round the advertisement. Moreover, it can advise on ways of achieving visual impact
by the use of illustrations and special typographical features. Finally, an agency can
advise on media, help in response analysis and take up the burden of placing adver-

The following steps should be taken when choosing an advertising agency:

● Check its experience in handling recruitment advertising.
● See examples of its work.
● Check with clients on the level of service provided.
● Meet the staff who will work on the advertisements.
● Check the fee structure.
● Discuss methods of working.

Write the copy
A recruitment advertisement should start with a compelling headline and then
contain information on:

● the organization;
● the job;
● the person required – qualifications, experience etc;
● the pay and benefits offered;
● the location;
● the action to be taken.

The headline is all-important. The simplest and most obvious approach is to
set out the job title in bold type. To gain attention, it is advisable to quote the salary
(if it is worth quoting) and to put ‘plus car’ if a company car is provided. Salaries
and cars are major attractions and should be stated clearly. Applicants are
rightly suspicious of clauses such as ‘salary will be commensurate with age and
experience’ or ‘salary negotiable’. This usually means either that the salary is so
low that the company is afraid to reveal it, or that salary policies are so incoherent
that the company has no idea what to offer until someone tells them what he or she

The name of the company should be given. Do not use box numbers – if you want
to remain anonymous, use a consultant. Add any selling points, such as growth or
diversification, and any other areas of interest to potential candidates, such as career

Recruitment and selection ❚ 417

prospects. The essential features of the job should be conveyed by giving a brief
description of what the job holder will do and, as far as space permits, the scope and
scale of activities. Create interest in the job but do not oversell it.

The qualifications and experience required should be stated as factually as
possible. There is no point in overstating requirements and seldom any point in spec-
ifying exactly how much experience is wanted. This will vary from candidate to
candidate, and the other details about the job and the rate of pay should provide
them with enough information about the sort of experience required. Be careful about
including a string of personal qualities such as drive, determination and initiative.
These have no real meaning to candidates. Phrases such as ‘proven track record’ and
‘successful experience’ are equally meaningless. No one will admit to not having
either of them.

The advertisement should end with information on how the candidate should
apply. ‘Brief but comprehensive details’ is a good phrase. Candidates can be asked to
write, but useful alternatives are to ask them to telephone or to come along for an
informal chat at a suitable venue.

Remember that the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 makes it unlawful to discriminate
in an advertisement by favouring either sex, the only exceptions being a few jobs that
can be done only by one sex. Advertisements must therefore avoid sexist job titles
such as ‘salesman’ or ‘stewardess’. They must refer to a neutral title such as ‘sales
representative’, or amplify the description to cover both sexes by stating ‘steward or
stewardess’. It is accepted, however, that certain job titles are unisex and therefore
non-discriminatory. These include director, manager, executive and officer. It is best
to avoid any reference to the sex of the candidate by using neutral or unisex titles and
referring only to the ‘candidate’ or the ‘applicant’. Otherwise you must specify ‘man
or woman’ or ‘he or she’.

The Race Relations Act 1976 has similar provisions, making unlawful an advertise-
ment that discriminates against any particular race. As long as race is never
mentioned or even implied in an advertisement, you should have no problem in
keeping within the law.

Choose type of advertisement

The main types of advertisement are the following:

● Classified/run-on, in which copy is run on, with no white space in or around the
advertisement and no paragraph spacing or indentation. They are cheap but suit-
able only for junior or routine jobs.

418 ❚ People resourcing

● Classified/semi-display, in which the headings can be set in capitals, paragraphs
can be indented and white space is allowed round the advertisement. They are
fairly cheap, and semi-display can be much more effective than run-on advertise-

● Full display, which are bordered and in which any typeface and illustrations can
be used. They can be expensive but obviously make the most impact for manage-
rial, technical and professional jobs.

Plan the media
An advertising agency can advise on the choice of media (press, radio, television) and
its cost. British Rates and Data (BRAD) can be consulted to give the costs of advertising
in particular media.

The so-called ‘quality papers’ are best for managerial, professional and technical
jobs. The popular press, especially evening papers, can be used to reach staff such as
sales representatives and technicians. Local papers are obviously best for recruiting
office staff and manual workers. Professional and trade journals can reach your audi-
ence directly, but results can be erratic and it may be advisable to use them to supple-
ment a national campaign.

Avoid Saturdays and be cautious about repeating advertisements in the same
medium. Diminishing returns can set in rapidly.

Evaluate the response
Measure response to provide guidance on the relative cost-effectiveness of different
media. Cost per reply is the best ratio.

Successful recruitment advertisements
To summarize, a panel of creative experts (IRS, 2004f) made the following suggestions
on what makes a recruitment advertisement successful:

● Do the groundwork – consider and analyse the recruiter’s potential audience and
the perceptions of existing employees.

● Prepare a thorough brief for the advertising agency, which expresses clearly the
employer’s idea of what to feed into the creative process – get the views of the
employing manager on what is the strong selling point for the post.

● Have ‘a good idea’ behind the advertisement that contains a promise of a poten-
tial benefit for a jobseeker – there has to be a unique selling proposition.

Recruitment and selection ❚ 419

● Remember that self-selection on the part of potential candidates is an important
aim that can be achieved through careful presentation of information about the
job and the success criteria.

● Ensure that the core information about the vacancy is included – a specification of
the qualifications, experience, skills and attributes required, who jobseekers will
be working for, where they will be working, and how much they will be earning.
Consider providing enough hard data about the role to attract interest and then
direct them to the corporate website where more information can be obtained.

● Project a realistic picture of the job, otherwise the result might be retention prob-

● Develop and communicate an employer brand that conveys a clear and positive
image of the organization to attract job seekers and, incidentally but importantly,
retain existing members of staff. Do not rely on the strength of the consumer
brand in the market place – it is necessary to develop an employer brand that will
communicate the fact that the organization offers a positive and rewarding
employment experience.

● Consider the online approach (job boards, corporate websites) but remember that
there will be a lot of potential candidates, especially older ones, who may not use
the web and can best be attracted by traditional media. A multimedia approach
may therefore be necessary.

● Bear in mind the considerable costs of media advertising (up to £17,000 for a fairly
modest advertisement in The Guardian).

● Select an agency that fits the organization’s culture, goals and values.
● Take care to act in accordance with equal opportunities and anti-discrimination

legislation (sex, race, religion, marital status, disability and age). The Equal
Opportunities Commission (1994) recommends that: ‘Each advertisement needs
to be considered as a whole in terms of the job advertised, the words used in the
job description and the message that the advertiser is attempting to portray
through the addition of an illustration.’

● Monitor the effectiveness of advertisements to establish which approach pro-
duced the best results.


E-recruitment or online recruitment uses web-based tools such as a firm’s public
internet site or its own intranet to recruit staff. The processes of e-recruitment consist
of attracting, screening and tracking applicants, selecting, and offering jobs or
rejecting candidates. It has been estimated by Cappelli (2001) that it costs only about

420 ❚ People resourcing

one-twentieth as much to hire someone online, if that is the only method used, as it
does to hire the same person through traditional methods.

E-recruitment not only saves costs but also enables organizations to provide much
more information to applicants, which can easily be updated. There is more scope to
present the ‘employment proposition’ in terms that increase the attractiveness of the
company as a place in which to work.

The options available for online selection include self-assessments, online
screening and psychometric testing online. Online tests can be standardized and
scored easily.

An IRS (2004a) survey established that 84 per cent of employers made some use of
electronic recruitment. It was noted by IRS that the internet is now a fundamental
part of the recruitment process. At the very least, employers are utilizing the internet
and e-mail systems to communicate with candidates and support their existing hiring
practices. Many organizations also use their corporate website.

The IRS survey found that organizations have made a strategic decision to cut the
costs of their recruitment processes and get better value for money, and have turned
to the internet to achieve this. However, a significant proportion of users still en-
counter problems with the use of e-recruitment, generally receiving too many unsuit-
able candidates. Some organizations address this through the use of self-selection
tools such as a self-selection questionnaire to discourage unsuitable applicants. IRS
comments that this approach means that: ‘Subtly and sensitively, organizations can
let candidates know that this may not be the role for them, while maintaining their
goodwill and self-esteem.’

Some organizations use ‘job boards’ to advertise vacancies (a job board is an
internet site that hosts recruitment advertisements from a range of employers), often
as a portal to their corporate website. Most companies are prepared to communicate
with candidates by e-mail about their applications.

The IRS survey established that almost all private sector firms using e-recruiting
accepted CVs. Organizations in the public sector were more likely to despatch appli-
cation forms by e-mail.

The National Online Recruitment Survey (2003) found that the average online job
seeker is 33 years old with more than 11 years’ work experience; he or she has been
with the same employer for more than four years, and has visited more than five
online sites in a quest for new employment.

Recruitment and selection ❚ 421

An IRS (2004a) survey of recruitment methods for managers established that the
top three methods of recruitment, based on the quality of the applications received,
were the use of commercial employment agencies (32 per cent), advertising in
specialist journals (23 per cent), and national newspaper advertising (22 per cent).
Only 3 per cent rated e-recruiting as the best method, although 56 per cent used it.
The favourite method of recruitment remains interviewing (53 per cent) followed by
assessment centres (23 per cent).

Typical approach
A typical approach is to advertise the vacancy on an online recruitment site. This will
provide job details and information about the company together with an online appli-
cation form. A job seeker returns the completed application electronically and
computer software reviews the application forms for an initial match with the organ-
isation’s requirements. For example, a job offer for a business development manager
in a computer firm might specify the following competencies as a basis for matching
on the site against a CV, or by the employer against details provided by the candidate
for each of the competence areas:

● Minimum 10 years’ business and sales experience in the computer, networking or
communications industry.

● Good exposure to the network consulting world, within UK.
● Formal sales training very desirable.
● Self-motivated to succeed in position.
● Ability to lead and manage small group of sales personnel.
● Strong organizational and prioritization skills.
● Ability to drive opportunities to closure.

The main types of online recruitment sites are:

● Job sites – these are operated by specialized firms and can contain over 100,000
vacancies with 6 or 7 million ‘hits’ a month. Companies pay to have their jobs
listed on the sites, which are not usually linked to agencies.

● Agency sites – are run by established recruitment agencies. Candidates register
online but may be expected to discuss their details in person before their details
are forwarded to a prospective employer.

● Media sites – which may simply contain a copy of an advertisement appearing in
the press, but may include an external description of the vacancy and the com-
pany and provide a link to the company’s website.

422 ❚ People resourcing

There is much to be said for outsourcing recruitment – getting agencies or consultants
to carry out at least the preliminary work of submitting suitable candidates or
drawing up a short list. It costs money, but it can save a lot of time and trouble.

Using agencies
Most private agencies deal with secretarial and office staff. They are usually quick
and effective but quite expensive. Agencies can charge a fee of 15 per cent or more of
the first year’s salary for finding someone. It can be cheaper to advertise, especially
when the company is in a buyer’s market. Shop around to find the agency that suits
the organization’s needs at a reasonable cost.

Agencies should be briefed carefully on what is wanted. They produce unsuitable
candidates from time to time but the risk is reduced if they are clear about your

Using recruitment consultants
Recruitment consultants generally advertise, interview and produce a short list. They
provide expertise and reduce workload. The organization can be anonymous if it
wishes. Most recruitment consultants charge a fee based on a percentage of the basic
salary for the job, usually ranging from 15 to 20 per cent.

The following steps should be taken when choosing a recruitment consultant:

● Check reputation with other users.
● Look at the advertisements of the various firms in order to obtain an idea of the

quality of a consultancy and the type and level of jobs with which it deals.
● Check on special expertise – the large accountancy firms, for example, are obvi-

ously skilled in recruiting accountants.
● Meet the consultant who will work on the assignment to assess his or her quality.
● Compare fees, although the differences are likely to be small, and the other

considerations are usually more important.

When using recruitment consultants it is necessary to:

● agree terms of reference;
● brief them on the organization, where the job fits in, why the appointment is to be

made, terms and conditions and any special requirements;

Recruitment and selection ❚ 423

● give them every assistance in defining the job and the person specification,
including any special demands that will be made on the successful candidate in
the shape of what he or she will be expected to achieve – they will do much better
if they have comprehensive knowledge of what is required and what type of
person is most likely to fit well into the organization;

● check carefully the proposed programme and the draft text of the advertisement;
● clarify the arrangements for interviewing and short-listing;
● clarify the basis upon which fees and expenses will be charged;
● ensure that arrangements are made to deal directly with the consultant who will

handle the assignment.

Using executive search consultants
Use an executive search consultant, or ‘head-hunter’, for senior jobs where there are
only a limited number of suitable people and a direct lead to them is wanted. They
are not cheap. Head-hunters charge a fee of 30 to 50 per cent or so of the first year’s
salary, but they can be quite cost-effective.

Executive search consultants first approach their own contacts in the industry or
profession concerned. The good ones have an extensive range of contacts and their
own data bank. They will also have researchers who will identify suitable people who
may fit the specification or can provide a lead to someone else who may be suitable.
The more numerous the contacts, the better the executive search consultant.

When a number of potentially suitable and interested people have been assembled,
a fairly relaxed and informal meeting takes place and the consultant forwards a short
list with full reports on candidates to the client.

There are some good and some not-so-good executive search consultants. Do not
use one unless a reliable recommendation is obtained.


Many jobs can, of course, be filled by school leavers. For some organizations the
major source of recruits for training schemes will be universities and training estab-
lishments as well as schools. Graduate recruitment is a major annual exercise for
some companies, which go to great efforts to produce glossy brochures, visit cam-
puses on the ‘milk run’ and use elaborate sifting and selection procedures to vet
candidates, including ‘biodata’ and assessment centres, as described later in this
chapter, and the internet.

424 ❚ People resourcing


Application forms set out the information on a candidate in a standardized format.
They provide a structured basis for drawing up short lists, the interview itself and for
the subsequent actions in offering an appointment and in setting up personnel
records. An example of a form is given in Figure 27.2.

The following suggestions have been made by Pioro and Baum (2005) on how to
use application forms more effectively:

● Decide what the criteria for selection are and how these will be assessed by use of
the application form.

● Keep questions clear, relevant and non-discriminatory.
● Ask for only the bare minimum of personal details.
● Widen your pool of applicants by offering different options and guidance for

completing and viewing application forms.
● Develop a consistent and effective sifting process.
● Use a team of sifters from a range of backgrounds to represent the diversity of

your candidates.
● Review how effective you have been at the end of the process and once the

successful candidates are in their roles.


When the vacancy or vacancies have been advertised and a fair number of replies
received, the typical sequence of steps required to process and sift applications is as

1. List the applications on a control sheet, setting out name, date the application
was received and the actions taken (reject, hold, interview, short list, offer).

2. Send a standard acknowledgement letter to each applicant unless an instant deci-
sion can be made to interview or reject.

3. The applicant may be asked to complete and return an application form to
supplement a letter or CV which may be on paper or in electronic format. This
ensures that all applicants are considered on the same basis – it can be very diffi-
cult to plough through a pile of letters, often ill-written and badly organized.
Even CVs may be difficult to sift, although their quality is likely to be higher if
the applicant has been receiving advice from an ‘outplacement’ consultant, ie one
who specializes in finding people jobs. However, to save time, trouble, expense
and irritation, many recruiters prefer to make a decision on the initial letter plus

Recruitment and selection ❚ 425

426 ❚ People resourcing


Surname: First name:


Tel: (home) Tel: (work) e-mail (personal)

Position applied for:


Dates Name of Main subjects taken Qualifications

From To secondary
school, college or

Specialized training received

Other qualifications and skills (including languages, keyboard skills, current driving licence etc

Employment history
(give details of all positions held since completing full-time education, start with your present or most recent
position and work back)

Dates Name of Position and Starting Reasons

From To
employer, address summary of main and leaving rate for leaving or
and nature of duties of pay wanting to leave
business including
any service in the
armed forces

Figure 27.2 Example of an application form (compressed)

CV, where it is quite clear that an applicant meets or does not meet the specifica-
tion, rather than ask for a form. It is generally advisable for more senior jobs to
ask for a CV.

4. Compare the applications with the key criteria in the job specification and sort
them initially into three categories: possible, marginal and unsuitable.

5. Scrutinize the possibles again to draw up a short list for interview. This
scrutiny could be carried out by the personnel or employment specialist and,
preferably, the manager. The numbers on the short list should ideally be between
four and eight. Fewer than four leaves relatively little choice (although such a
limitation may be forced on you if an insufficient number of good applications
have been received). More than eight will mean that too much time is spent on
interviewing and there is a danger of diminishing returns setting in.

6. Draw up an interviewing programme. The time you should allow for the inter-
view will vary according to the complexity of the job. For a fairly routine job, 30
minutes or so should suffice. For a more senior job, 60 minutes or more is
required. It is best not to schedule too many interviews in a day – if you try to
carry out more than five or six exacting interviews you will quickly run out of
steam and do neither the interviewee nor your company any justice. It is advis-
able to leave about 15 minutes between interviews to write up notes and prepare
for the next one.

7. Invite the candidates to interview, using a standard letter where large numbers
are involved. At this stage, candidates should be asked to complete an

Recruitment and selection ❚ 427

Add any comments you wish to make to support your application

I confirm that the information given on this application form is correct

Signature of
applicant …………………………………………………………………………… Date ………………………………………..

Figure 27.2 continued

application form, if they have not already done so. There is much to be said at
this stage for sending candidates some details of the organization and the job so
that you do not have to spend too much time going through this information at
the interview.

8. Review the remaining possibles and marginals and decide if any are to be held in
reserve. Send reserves a standard ‘holding’ letter and send the others a standard
rejection letter. The latter should thank candidates for the interest shown and
inform them briefly, but not too brusquely, that they have not been successful. A
typical reject letter might read as follows:

Since writing to you on… we have given careful consideration to your application for
the above position. I regret to inform you, however, that we have decided not to ask
you to attend for an interview. We should like to thank you for the interest you have

The process described above should be controlled by an applicant tracking system
(ATS) as part of a computerized recruitment control process.

A highly structured method of sifting applications is provided by the use of biodata.
These are items of biographical data which are criterion based (ie they relate to estab-
lished criteria in such terms as qualifications and experience which indicate that indi-
viduals are likely to be suitable). These are objectively scored and, by measurements
of past achievements, predict future behaviour.

The items of biodata consist of demographic details (sex, age, family circum-
stances), education and professional qualifications, previous employment history
and work experience, positions of responsibility outside work, leisure interests and
career/job motivation. These items are weighted according to their relative impor-
tance as predictors, and a range of scores is allocated to each one. The biodata ques-
tionnaire (essentially a detailed application form) obtains information on each item,
which is then scored.

Biodata are most useful when a large number of applicants are received for a
limited number of posts. Cut-off scores can then be determined, based on previous
experience. These scores would indicate who should be accepted for the next stage of
the selection process and who should be rejected, but they would allow for some
possible candidates to be held until the final cut-off score can be fixed after the first
batch of applicants have been screened.

Biodata criteria and predictors are selected by job and functional analysis, which
produces a list of competences. The validity of these items as predictors and the

428 ❚ People resourcing

weighting to be given to them are established by analysing the biodata of existing
employees who are grouped into high or low performers. Weights are allocated to
items according to the discriminating power of the response.

Biodata questionnaires and scoring keys are usually developed for specific jobs in
an organization. Their validity compares reasonably well with other selection instru-
ments, but they need to be developed and validated with great care and they are only
applicable when large groups of applicants have to be screened.

Electronic CVs
Electronic CVs are associated with internet recruiting. Computers can read CVs by
means of high-grade, high-speed scanners using optical character recognition (OCR)
software. CVs are scanned and converted into basic text format. The system’s artifi-
cial intelligence reads the text and extracts key data such as personal details, skills,
educational qualifications, previous employers and jobs, and relevant dates. Search
criteria are created listing mandatory and preferred requirements such as qualifica-
tions, companies in which applicants have worked and jobs held. The system carries
out an analysis of the CVs against these criteria, lists the candidates that satisfy all the
mandatory requirements and ranks them by the number of these requirements each
one meets. The recruiter can then use this ranking as a short list or can tighten the
search criteria to produce a shorter list. Essentially, the computer is looking for the
same key words as human recruiters, but it can carry out this task more systemati-
cally and faster, cross-referencing skills. Any recruiter knows the problem of dealing
with a large number of applications and trying, often against the odds, to extract a
sensible short list.

The main selection methods are the interview, assessment centres and tests. The
various types of interviews and assessment centres are described in the next
two sections of this chapter. Interviewing techniques are dealt with separately in
Chapter 28. Tests are described in Chapter 29. Another and much more dubious
method, used by a few firms in the UK and more extensively in the rest of Europe, is

Recruitment and selection ❚ 429


Individual interviews
The individual interview is the most familiar method of selection. It involves
face-to-face discussion and provides the best opportunity for the establishment of
close contact – rapport – between the interviewer and the candidate. If only one inter-
viewer is used, there is more scope for a biased or superficial decision, and this is one
reason for using a second interviewer or an interviewing panel.

Interviewing panels
Two or more people gathered together to interview one candidate may be described
as an interviewing panel. The most typical situation is that in which a personnel
manager and line managers see the candidate at the same time. This has the advan-
tage of enabling information to be shared and reducing overlaps. The interviewers
can discuss their joint impressions of the candidate’s behaviour at the interview and
modify or enlarge any superficial judgements.

Selection boards
Selection boards are more formal and, usually, larger interviewing panels, convened
by an official body because there are a number of parties interested in the selection
decision. Their only advantage is that they enable a number of different people to
have a look at the applicants and compare notes on the spot. The disadvantages are
that the questions tend to be unplanned and delivered at random, the prejudices of a
dominating member of the board can overwhelm the judgements of the other
members, and the candidates are unable to do justice to themselves because they are
seldom allowed to expand. Selection boards tend to favour the confident and articu-
late candidate, but in doing so they may miss the underlying weaknesses of a super-
ficially impressive individual. They can also underestimate the qualities of those who
happen to be less effective in front of a formidable board, although they would be
fully competent in the less formal or less artificial situations that would face them in
the job.


A more comprehensive approach to selection is provided by the use of assessment
centres. These incorporate a range of assessment techniques and typically have the
following features:

430 ❚ People resourcing

● The focus of the centre is on behaviour.
● Exercises are used to capture and simulate the key dimensions of the job. These

include one-to-one role-plays and group exercises. It is assumed that performance
in these simulations predicts behaviour on the job.

● Interviews and tests will be used in addition to group exercises.
● Performance is measured in several dimensions in terms of the competencies

required to achieve the target level of performance in a particular job or at a
particular level in the organization.

● Several candidates or participants are assessed together to allow interaction and
to make the experience more open and participative.

● Several assessors or observers are used in order to increase the objectivity of
assessments. Involving senior managers is desirable to ensure that they ‘own’ the
process. Assessors must be carefully trained.

Assessment centres provide good opportunities for indicating the extent to which
candidates match the culture of the organization. This will be established by observa-
tion of their behaviour in different but typical situations, and by the range of the tests
and structured interviews that are part of the proceedings. Assessment centres also
give candidates a better feel for the organization and its values so that they can decide
for themselves whether or not they are likely to fit.

A well-conducted assessment centre can achieve a better forecast of future perfor-
mance and progress than judgements made by line or even personnel managers in
the normal, unskilled way.

Graphology can be defined as the study of the social structure of a human being
through his or her writing. Its use in selection is to draw conclusions about a
candidate’s personality from his or her handwriting as a basis for making predictions
about future performance in a role. The use of graphology as a selection aid is
extensive on the Continent but relatively uncommon in the UK – Fowler (1991a)
quotes research findings that indicate that only between 0.5 and 1.0 per cent of
employers use it in the UK. This very small proportion may be attributed to the
suspicion the great majority of recruiters have that graphology is in some way
spurious and using it as a predictor will be a waste of time and money. In an extensive
review of the research literature, Fowler (1991a) established that some studies had
indicated a predictive validity coefficient in the range of 0.1 to 0.3, although zero
results have also been obtained. These are low figures, which achieve only a poor
level of validity. Fowler’s conclusion was that clues about personality characteristics

Recruitment and selection ❚ 431

may be deduced by skilled graphologists but that the use of graphology as a single or
standard predictor cannot be recommended. He also suspects that, for some people,
the real attraction of graphology is that it can be used without the subject’s knowl-

There is a choice between the main selection methods. What Cook (1993) refers to as
the classic trio consists of application forms, interviews and references. These can be
supplemented or replaced by biodata, assessment centres and, as described in
Chapter 29, psychological tests. It has been demonstrated again and again that
interviews are an inefficient method of predicting success in a job. Smart (1983), for
example, claims that only 94 out of 1,000 interviewees respond honestly in conven-
tional interviews. Validity studies such as those quoted by Taylor (1998), as illustrated
in Figure 27.3, produce equally dubious figures for conventional interviews and indi-
cate that assessment centres, psychometric tests, biodata and structured interviews
are more accurate methods of selection. For good and not so good reasons, organiza-
tions will retain interviews as the main method of selection where assessment centres
are inappropriate. But there is a very powerful case for structuring the interview and
a strong case for supplementing it with tests. The more evidence that can be produced
to help in making crucial selection decisions, the better.


An HRM approach can be adopted to recruitment, which involves taking much more
care in matching people to the requirements of the organization as a whole as well as
to the particular needs of the job. And these requirements will include commitment
and ability to work effectively as a member of a team.

Examples of this approach in Japanese companies in the UK include the establish-
ment of the Nissan plant in Washington and Kumatsu in Newcastle. As described by
Townley (1989), both followed a conscious recruitment policy with rigorous selection
procedures. Aptitude tests, personality questionnaires and group exercises were used
and the initial pre-screening device was a detailed ‘biodata’-type questionnaire,
which enabled the qualifications and work history of candidates to be assessed and
rated systematically. Subsequent testing of those who successfully completed the first
stage was designed to assess individual attitudes as well as aptitude and ability. As

432 ❚ People resourcing

Recruitment and selection ❚ 433

1.0 Perfect prediction




Assessment centres (promotion)


Work sample tests
Ability tests


Assessment centres (performance)
Personality tests (combination)

Structured interviews


Typical interviews



Graphology, astrology, chance prediction

Figure 27.3 Accuracy of some methods of selection

(Reproduced with permission from Stephen Taylor (1998) Employee Resourcing, Institute of
Personnel and Development)

Wickens (1987) said of the steps taken at Nissan to achieve commitment and team
working: ‘It is something which develops because management genuinely believes
in it and acts accordingly – and recruits or promotes people who have the same

The need for a more sophisticated approach to recruitment along these lines is
characteristic of HRM. The first requirement is to take great care in specifying the
competences and behavioural characteristics required of employees. The second is to
use a wider range of methods to identify candidates who match the specification. As
noted earlier in this chapter, the predictive quality of the traditional interview is very
limited. At the very least, structured interviewing techniques should be adopted as
described in Chapter 28. Wherever possible, psychological tests should be used to
extend the data obtained from the interview. Well-planned and administered assess-
ment centres are the best predictors of success in a job, but they are only practical for
a limited number of more complex or demanding jobs or for selecting graduates and
entrants to training programmes.


After the interviewing and testing procedure has been completed, a provisional deci-
sion to make an offer by telephone or in writing can be made. This is normally
‘subject to satisfactory references’ and the candidate should, of course, be told that
these will be taken up. If there is more than one eligible candidate for a job it may be
advisable to hold one or two people in reserve. Applicants often withdraw, especially
those whose only purpose in applying for the job was to carry out a ‘test marketing’
operation, or to obtain a lever with which to persuade their present employers to
value them more highly.

References – purpose and method
The purpose of a reference is to obtain in confidence factual information about
a prospective employee and opinions about his or her character and suitability
for a job.

The factual information is straightforward and essential. It is simply necessary to
confirm the nature of the previous job, the period of time in employment, the reason
for leaving (if relevant), the salary or rate of pay and, possibly, the attendance record.

Opinions about character and suitability are less reliable and should be treated
with caution. The reason is obvious. Previous or present employers who give
references tend to avoid highly detrimental remarks either out of charity or because
they think anything they say or write may be construed as slanderous or libellous

434 ❚ People resourcing

(references are, in fact, privileged as long as they are given without malice and are
factually correct).

Personal referees are, of course, entirely useless. All they prove is that the applicant
has at least one or two friends.

Written references save time, especially if they are standardized. They may take the
form of an invitation to write a letter confirming the employment record and
commenting on the applicant’s character in general. If brief details about the job are
included (these may be an extract from the advertisement – they should certainly not
be an over-elaborate job description), previous employers can be asked to express
their views about the suitability of the individual for the job. But this is asking a lot.
Unless the job and companies are identical, how well can existing or ex-employers
judge the suitability of someone they may not know particularly well for another job
in a different environment?

More factual answers may be obtained if a standard form is provided for the
employer to complete. The questions asked on this form could include:

● What was the period of employment?
● What was the job title?
● What work was carried out?
● What was the rate of pay or salary?
● How many days’ absence over the last 12 months?
● Would you re-employ (if not, why not)?

Telephone references may be used as an alternative or in addition to written refer-
ences. The great advantage of a telephone conversation is that people are more likely
to give an honest opinion orally than if they have to commit themselves in writing. It
may also save time to use the telephone.

Employer references are necessary to check on the facts given by the prospective
employee. Opinions have to be treated with more caution. A very glowing reference
may arouse suspicion, and it is worth comparing it with a reference from another
employer (two employment references are desirable in any case). Poor or grudging
references must create some alarm, if only because they are so infrequent. But
allowance should be made for prejudice and a check should be made, by telephone if

References – legal aspects
The key legal points that should be considered when asking for or giving references

Recruitment and selection ❚ 435

● Once the decision has been made to make an offer, the letter should state that ‘this
is a provisional offer subject to references satisfactory to the company being

● It has been generally held that there is no common law duty on an employer to
provide references for a serving or past employee unless there is a term to that
effect in the employment contract. But it has been ruled (Spring v Guardian
Assurance 1994) that there might be a ‘contractual duty’ to provide a reference
where it is ‘natural practice’ to require a reference from a previous employer
before offering employment, and where the employee could not expect to enter
that type of employment without a reference.

● If a reference contains a false or unsubstantiated statement that damages the
reputation of the individual, action for damages may result.

● It is possible to succeed in a claim for damages if it can be shown that the refer-
ence provided was negligent because, if the facts had been checked, they would
have been found to be groundless.

● Referees have a legal liability to the prospective employer not to give a reference
that contains ‘material factors’ which were known to be untrue. If an employer
appointed someone on the basis of a reference and found that the employee was
unsuitable in respect of a material factor given in that reference, the employer can
initiate legal action alleging ‘deceit’. Employers can try to protect themselves by
adding the phrase ‘without legal responsibility’ to any references given, but this
does not provide a certain defence.

It has been estimated by the CIPD (2005c) that one in eight candidates exaggerate or
falsify their qualifications. One in four companies had to withdraw a job offer because
of CV fraud in 2004, and a similar number sacked someone for the same offence. If a
qualification is a necessary requirement for the job, it is always worth checking with
the university or college concerned, or asking the candidate to produce evidence in
the shape of a certificate or diploma.


Confirming the offer
The final stage in the selection procedure is to confirm the offer of employment after
satisfactory references have been obtained, and the applicant has passed the medical
examination required for pension and life assurance purposes or because a certain

436 ❚ People resourcing

standard of physical fitness is required for the work. The contract of employment
should also be prepared at this stage.

Contracts of employment
The basic information that should be included in a written contract of employment
varies according to the level of job. Contracts of employment are dealt with in
Chapter 57.

It is essential to follow up newly engaged employees to ensure that they have settled
in and to check on how well they are doing. If there are any problems, it is much
better to identify them at an early stage rather than allowing them to fester.

Following up is also important as a means of checking on the selection procedure.
If by any chance a mistake has been made, it is useful to find out how it happened so
that the selection procedure can be improved. Misfits can be attributed to a number of
causes; for example, inadequate job description or specification, poor sourcing of
candidates, weak advertising, poor interviewing techniques, inappropriate or invali-
dated tests, or prejudice on the part of the selector. If any of these are identified, steps
can be taken to prevent their recurrence.

Recruitment and selection ❚ 437

Selection interviewing

The techniques and skills of selection interviewing are described in this chapter
under the following headings:

● purpose;
● advantages and disadvantages of interviews;
● nature of an interview;
● interviewing arrangements;
● preparation;
● timing;
● planning and structuring interviews;
● interviewing approaches;
● interview techniques – starting and finishing;
● interviewing techniques – asking questions;
● selection interviewing skills;
● coming to a conclusion;
● dos and don’ts of selection interviewing.


The purpose of the selection interview is to obtain and assess information about a


candidate which will enable a valid prediction to be made of his or her future perfor-
mance in the job in comparison with the predictions made for any other candidates.
Interviewing therefore involves processing and evaluating evidence about the capa-
bilities of a candidate in relation to the person specification. Some of the evidence will
be on the application form, but the aim of the interview is to supplement this data
with the more detailed or specific information about competencies, attitudes, experi-
ence and personal characteristics that can be obtained in a face-to-face meeting. Such
a meeting also provides an opportunity for judgements by the interviewer on
whether the individual will ‘fit’ the organization, and by both parties as to how they
would get on together. Although these judgements are entirely subjective and are
often biased or prejudiced, it has to be recognized that they will be made.

In particular, selection interviews aim to provide answers to these questions:

● Can individuals do the job – are they competent?
● Will individuals do the job – are they well motivated?
● How will individuals fit into the organization?

The interview forms a major part of the ‘classic trio’ of selection techniques, the other
two being the application form and references. Further evidence may be obtained
from psychological tests as described in Chapter 29 but, in spite of the well-publi-
cized inadequacies of interviews as reliable means of predicting success in a job, they
are still an inevitable part of a selection procedure for most people. This chapter
focuses on the advantages and disadvantages of interviews, the nature of an inter-
view and methods of carrying out effective interviews, effective in that they provide
reliable and valid predictions.


The advantages of interviews as a method of selection are that they:

● provide opportunities for interviewers to ask probing questions about the candi-
date’s experience and to explore the extent to which the candidate’s competences
match those specified for the job;

● enable interviewers to describe the job (a ‘realistic job preview’) and the organiza-
tion in more detail, suggesting some of the terms of the psychological contract;

● provide opportunities for candidates to ask questions about the job and to clarify
issues concerning training, career prospects, the organization and terms and
conditions of employment;

440 ❚ People resourcing

● enable a face-to-face encounter to take place so that the interviewer can make an
assessment of how the candidate would fit into the organization and what he or
she would be like to work with;

● give the candidate the same opportunity to assess the organization, the inter-
viewer and the job.

The disadvantages of interviews are that they:

● can lack validity as a means of making sound predictions of performance, and
lack reliability in the sense of measuring the same things for different candidates;

● rely on the skill of the interviewer; but many people are poor at interviewing,
although most think that they are good at it;

● do not necessarily assess competence in meeting the demands of the particular

● can lead to biased and subjective judgements by interviewers.

However, these disadvantages can be alleviated if not entirely removed, first, by
using a structured approach that focuses on the competences and attitudes required
for successful performance and, secondly, by training interviewers. The use of
another opinion or other opinions can also help to reduce bias, especially if the same
structured approach is adopted by all the interviewers.

An interview can be described as a conversation with a purpose. It is a conversation
because candidates should be induced to talk freely with their interviewers about
themselves, their experience and their careers. But the conversation has to be
planned, directed and controlled to achieve the main purpose of the interview, which
is to make an accurate prediction of the candidate’s future performance in the job for
which he or she is being considered.

However, interviews also provide a valuable opportunity for an exchange of infor-
mation, which will enable both parties to make a decision: to offer or not to offer a job;
to accept or not to accept the offer. It may be better for the candidates to ‘de-select’
themselves at this stage if they do not like what they hear about the job or the
company rather than take on a disagreeable job. Interviews are often used to give the
candidates a favourable impression of the organization and the job. But this must be
realistic – a ‘realistic job preview’ will spell out any special demands that will be
made on the successful applicant in terms of the standards they will be expected to
achieve, the hours they may have to work, the travelling they have to do and any

Selection interviewing ❚ 441

requirement for mobility in the UK or abroad. Clearly, if these are onerous, it will be
necessary to convince good candidates that the rewards will be commensurate with
the requirements. If poor candidates are put off, so much the better.

Good interviewers know what they are looking for and how to set about finding it.
They have a method for recording their analyses of candidates against a set of assess-
ment criteria, which will be spelt out in a person specification.

The interviewing arrangements will depend partly on the procedure being used,
which may consist of individual interviews, an interviewing panel, a selection board
or some form of assessment centre, sometimes referred to as a group selection proce-
dure. In most cases, however, the arrangements for the interviews should conform
broadly to the following pattern:

● The candidate who has applied in writing or by telephone should be told where
and when to come and for whom to ask. The interview time should be arranged
to fit in with the time it will take to get to the company. It may be necessary to
adjust times for those who cannot get away during working hours. If the
company is difficult to find, a map should be sent with details of public transport.
The receptionist or security guard should be told who is coming. Candidates are
impressed to find that they are expected

● Applicants should have somewhere quiet and comfortable in which to wait for
the interview, with reading material available and access to cloakroom facilities.

● The interviewers or interviewing panel should have been well briefed on the
programme. Interviewing rooms should have been booked and arrangements
made, as necessary, for welcoming candidates, for escorting them to interviews,
for meals and for a conducted tour round the company.

● Comfortable private rooms should be provided for interviews with little, if any,
distractions around them. Interviewers should preferably not sit behind their
desks, as this creates a psychological barrier.

● During the interview or interviews, some time, but not too much, should be
allowed to tell candidates about the company and the job and to discuss with
them conditions of employment. Negotiations about pay and other benefits may
take place after a provisional offer has been made, but it is as well to prepare the
ground during the interviewing stage.

● Candidates should be told what the next step will be at the end of the interview.
They may be asked at this stage if they have any objections to references being
taken up.

442 ❚ People resourcing

● Follow-up studies should be carried out, comparing the performance of
successful candidates in their jobs with the prediction made at the selection stage.
These studies should be used to validate the selection procedure and to check on
the capabilities of interviewers.

Briefing interviewers
When making arrangements for an interview it is essential that the people who are
going to conduct the interview are properly briefed on the job and the procedures
they should use. There is everything to be said for including training in interviewing
techniques as an automatic part of the training programmes for managers and team

It is particularly important that everyone is fully aware of the provisions of the Sex,
Race and Disability Discrimination Acts. It is essential that any form of prejudiced
behaviour or any prejudiced judgements are eliminated completely from the inter-
view and the ensuing discussion. Even the faintest hint of a sexist or racist remark
must be totally avoided. When recording a decision following an interview it is also
essential to spell out the reasons why someone was rejected, making it clear that this
was absolutely on the grounds of their qualifications for the job and had nothing to
do with their sex, race or disability.

Ethical considerations
Another important consideration in planning and executing a recruitment
programme is to behave ethically towards candidates. They have the right to be
treated with consideration and this includes acknowledging replies and informing
them of the outcome of their application without undue delay.

Planning the interview programme

It is best to leave some time, say 15 minutes, between interviews to allow for com-
ments to be made. There is a limit to how many interviews can be conducted in a day
without running out of steam, and holding more than six demanding interviews of,
say, one hour each in a day is unwise. Even with less demanding half-hour interviews
it is preferable to limit the number to eight or so in a day.

Careful preparation is essential and this means a careful study of the person specifi-
cation and the candidate’s application form and/or CV. It is necessary at this stage to

Selection interviewing ❚ 443

identify those features of the applicant that do not fully match the specification so
that these can be probed more deeply during the interview. It can be assumed that the
candidate is only being considered because there is a reasonable match, but it is most
unlikely that this match will be perfect. It is also necessary to establish if there are any
gaps in the job history or items that require further explanation.

There are three fundamental questions that need to be answered at this stage:

● What are the criteria to be used in selecting the candidate – these may be classified
as essential or desirable and will refer to the experience, qualifications, and
competency and skill requirements as set out in the person specification.

● What more do I need to find out at the interview to ensure that the candidate
meets the essential selection criteria?

● What further information do I need to obtain at the interview to ensure that I have
an accurate picture of how well the candidate meets the criteria?

The preparation should include making notes of the specific questions the inter-
viewer needs to ask to establish the relevance of the candidate’s experience and the
extent to which he or she has the skills, knowledge, levels of competency and atti-
tudes required. These may be quite detailed if a highly structured approach is being
adopted as described below – it is essential to probe during an interview to establish
what the candidate really can do and has achieved. Applicants will generally aim to
make the most of themselves and this can lead to exaggerated, even false, claims
about their experience and capabilities.

The length of time allowed for an interview will be related to the seniority and
complexity of the job. For relatively routine jobs, 20 to 30 minutes may suffice. For
more demanding jobs, up to an hour may be necessary. Interviews should rarely, if
ever, exceed an hour.

The problem with interviews is that they are often inadequate as predictors of perfor-
mance – an hour’s interview may not cover the essential points unless it is
carefully planned and, sadly, the general standard of interviewing is low. This is not
simply a result of many people using poor interviewing techniques (eg they talk
rather than listen). More importantly, it is a result of not carrying out a proper

444 ❚ People resourcing

analysis of the competencies required, with the result that interviewers do not know
the information they need to obtain from the candidate as a basis for structuring the

There are a number of methods of conducting interviews. At their worst, inter-
viewers adopt an entirely unstructured approach, which involves asking random
questions that are not based on any understanding of what they are looking for. At
best, they are clearly structured and related to a thorough analysis of role require-
ments in terms of skills and competencies.

Generally, an interview can be divided into five parts:

1. the welcome and introductory remarks;
2. the major part concerned with obtaining information about the candidate to

assess against the person specification;
3. the provision of information to candidates about the organization and the job;.
4. answering questions from the candidate;
5. closing the interview with an indication of the next step.

The bulk of the time – at least 80 per cent – should be allocated to obtaining informa-
tion from the candidate. The introduction and conclusion should be brief, though

The two traditional ways of planning an interview are to adopt a biographical
approach or to follow the assessment headings in, for example, the seven-point plan.
These approaches are sometimes classified as ‘unstructured interviews’ in contrast to
the ‘structured interview’, which is generally regarded as best practice. The latter
term usually has the special meaning of referring to interviews that are structured
around situational-based or behavioural-based questions, focusing on one or other or
both. The common element is that the questions are prepared in advance and are
related to the role analysis and person specification in terms of the things candidates
will be expected to do and/or the behaviour they will be expected to demonstrate.
But it could be argued that a biographical or assessment heading approach is ‘struc-
tured’, although they may not relate so specifically to identified role requirements. A
further but less common variety of structured interview is psychometric-based. All
these approaches are examined below.


The biographical interview
The traditional biographical interview either starts at the beginning (education) and

Selection interviewing ❚ 445

goes on in sequence to the end (the current or last job or the most recent educational
experience), or proceeds in the opposite direction, starting with the present job and
going backwards to the first job and the candidate’s education or training. Many
interviewers prefer to go backwards with experienced candidates, spending most
time on the present or recent jobs, giving progressively less attention to the earlier
experience, and only touching on education lightly.

There is no one best sequence to follow but it is important to decide in advance
which to adopt. It is also important to get the balance right. You should concentrate
most on recent experience and not dwell too much on the distant past. You should
allow time not only to the candidate to talk about his or her career but also to ask
probing questions as necessary. You should certainly not spend too much time at the
beginning of the interview talking about the company and the job. It is highly desir-
able to issue that information in advance to save interview time and simply
encourage the candidate to ask questions at the end of the interview (the quality of
the questions can indicate something about the quality of the candidate).

This form of plan is logical but it will not produce the desired information unless
interviewers are absolutely clear about what they are looking for and are prepared
with questions that will elicit the data they need to make a selection decision.

Interview planned by reference to a person specification
The person specification as described in Chapter 27 provides a sound basis for a
structured interview. The aim is to obtain information under each of the main head-
ings to indicate the extent to which the candidate matches the specification. Typical
headings are:

● knowledge, skills and expertise – what the candidate is expected to know and be able
to do as a result of experience, education and training (work-based competen-
cies), for example, technical or professional knowledge, numeracy, manual skills,
and experience at the appropriate level in carrying out relevant work;

● personal qualities – how the candidate will be expected to behave in carrying out
the job, such as working with other people, exercising leadership, influencing
people, communicating (eg report writing, making presentations) achieving
results, decision-making, taking the initiative, and being self-reliant (behavioural

● qualifications – essential academic or professional qualifications.

A ‘person specification’ setting out such requirements can be sent to candidates (or
posted on an online recruitment site). The applicant is asked to respond with infor-

446 ❚ People resourcing

mation on how they believe they match these requirements. This approach can make
it much easier to sift applications.

Interviews planned by reference to assessment headings
Assessment headings such as those described in Chapter 27 can be used. They define
a number of areas in which information can be generated and assessed in a broadly
comparable way. But as Edenborough (1994) points out, they do not provide any clear
indication of which items of the data collected are likely to predict success in a job.

Structured situational-based interviews
In a situational-based interview (sometimes described as a critical-incident interview)
the focus is on a number of situations or incidents in which behaviour can be
regarded as being particularly indicative of subsequent performance. A typical situa-
tion is described and candidates are asked how they would deal with it. Follow-up
questions are asked to explore the response in more detail, thus gaining a better
understanding of how candidates might tackle similar problems.

Situational-based questions ask candidates how they would handle a hypothetical
situation that resembles one they may encounter in the job. For example, a sales assis-
tant might be asked how he or she would react to rudeness from a customer.
Situational questions can provide some insight into how applicants might respond to
particular job demands and have the advantage of being work-related. They can also
provide candidates with some insight into the sort of problems they might meet in
the job. But, because they are hypothetical and can necessarily only cover a limited
number of areas, they cannot be relied on by themselves. They could indicate that
candidates understand how they might handle one type of situation in theory but not
that they would be able to handle similar or other situations in practice.

An example of part of a situation-based set of questions is given in Figure 28.1.

Structured behavioural (competency) based interviews
In a behavioural-based interview (sometimes referred to as a criterion-referenced
interview) the interviewer progresses through a series of questions, each based on a
criterion, which could be a behavioural competency or a competence in the form of a
fundamental skill, capability or aptitude that is required to achieve an acceptable
level of performance in the job. These will have been defined by job or competency
analysis as described in Chapter 13 and will form the basis of a person specification.
The aim is to collect evidence about relevant aspects of experience in using skills
and competencies on the assumption that such evidence of past performance and

Selection interviewing ❚ 447

behaviour is the best predictor of future performance and behaviour as long as the
criteria are appropriate in relation to the specified demands of the job.

Behavioural-based questions ask candidates to describe how they dealt with
particular situations they have come across in their past experience. In effect they are
asked to indicate how they behaved in response to a problem and how well
that behaviour worked. Questions are structured around the key competencies
identified for the role. The definitions of these competencies should identify what
is regarded as effective behaviour as a basis for evaluating answers. A list of questions
can be drawn up in advance to cover the key competencies set out in the person
specification. For instance, if one of these competencies is concerned with behaviour
as a team member, questions such as: ‘Can you tell me about any occasions when you
have persuaded your fellow team members to do something which at first they didn’t
really want to do?’ An example of a set of behavioural questions is given in Figure

Behavioural-based interviews can provide a clear and relevant framework. But
preparing for them takes time and interviewers need to be trained in the technique. A
fully behavioural or criterion-referenced structure is probably most appropriate for
jobs that have to be filled frequently. But even with one-off jobs, the technique of
having a set of competency-referenced questions to ask, which will be applied consis-