b-school, Henley, HRM, Management, MBA, Thoughts

The wide gap between theory and practice in human resource management


I’m not really sure if I am becoming cynical, but the more that I study about HRM the more I come to realise that there’s a huge difference between what companies say they do and what they actually do. It’s something like corporate social responsibility: many talk about it, but, in the end, they all worry about their shareholders.

Sometimes it’s the impact of change, the difficulty to see what is coming in turbulent times. Strategy focus on change, and that sometimes means more changing people than helping them overcome and adapt to change. Sometimes the strategical part of HRM just loses its meaning and it all becomes too tactical. Or at least tactical enough for the HR department to become “personnel” again.

And it’s not only strategy that changes in organisations. Strategy could focus on the external situation while taking into account internal resources. But there’s more that might change. Inside the companies, different policies overlap each other and priorities shift continuously. HR should adapt itself to the resulting change. But, how can they adapt when the situation simply doesn’t settle up?

Could it be that HR is the last step of the chain? Then it would be the one that moves faster, the one that takes more to settle depending on what happens to the rest of the company. That way, is it really possible for it to establish long term HR policies? Is it possible to assure temporal consistency in a set of practices that heavily rely on credibility?

Another approach is the practical approach. Many people deeply dismiss the possibility that HR is actually useful. They see it as something that is there, more a nuisance than a tool. And maybe there’s a reason for that.

For one part, there’s a lack of evidence of the connections between HR and productivity. There’s a real problem to be able to translate “soft issues” into “hard issues”. Apparently the scientific method doesn’t apply here, and measuring is difficult.

I said apparently because I do believe HR policies make a difference. At least in most of the possible strategies, if not all. But, don’t we all focus into things easy to measure?

We tend to define the utility of a given parameter given its ability to be measured. That way our occidental minds can sail into the sea of safety. But there’s a point where this sea ends, where unknown monsters and mighty mists arise. There lay the unmeasurable variables, the soft issues. What if they happen to be the relevant ones?

When I read that some company measures and optimises the dosage for the HR policies given the point where marginal returns start to decrease and decides to stop there I wonder if they really believe what they are saying, if they have really made an innovative system to probe into their employees’ minds, or, as I began with, if I’m simply becoming cynical.


2 thoughts on “The wide gap between theory and practice in human resource management

  1. Pingback: Soft and hard human resource management « Gabriel’s scarcity rent - it’s management stupid!

  2. Pingback: HRM and the triple bottom line (do we really believe in people?) « Gabriel’s scarcity rent - it’s management stupid!

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