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Two pioneering books published in 1984 arguably launched the eld of strategic
human resource management (SHRM). The rst is Strategic Human Resource
Management by Fombrun, Tichy, and Devanna; the second is Managing Human
Assets by Beer, Spector, Lawrence, Mills, and Walton. This article provides a 30th
anniversary review of the two books, partly to honor their pioneering contributions but also to use them as a lens for examining how the eld has subsequently evolved and developed. Two recently published SHRM books are used
as a benchmark for this analysis. The review identies areas of SHRM constancy
and change, major theoretical and empirical innovations, and newly developed
research questions and directions, largely in an American context. Diagrammatic
models of SHRM are synthesized and compared from the four books; also, nine
specic dimensions of evolution in the eld are highlighted with discussion of
advances and shortcomings. 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: strategic HRM, management history, human capital, resource-based

view, employee relations, organizational development

ost accounts of the development of

the field of strategic human resource
management (SHRM) locate its origin in the early mid-1980s but do
not cite a more specific date. A good
case can be made, however, that SHRMs birth
year is 1984, thus making 2014 the fields 30th
anniversary. The birth marker is publication of
two pioneering books that were, at the time, field
defining in terms of label and content. The first
book is Strategic Human Resource Management by

Charles Fombrun, Noel Tichy, and Mary Anne

Devanna (1984) and the second is Managing
Human Assets by Michael Beer, Bert Spector, Paul
Lawrence, D. Quinn Mills, and Richard Walton
In this article, I provide a brief synopsis of both
books and then use them as a lens for examining
the subsequent development of the SHRM field.
Because the literature is now huge and diverse,
two new books centered on strategic HRM, by
Cascio and Boudreau (2012) and Paauwe, Guest,

Correspondence to: Bruce E. Kaufman, Department of Economics, Georgia State University, P.O. Box 3992,
AtlantaGA 30302-3992, Phone: 404-413-0152, E-mail: bkaufman@gsu.edu
Human Resource Management, MayJune 2015, Vol. 54, No. 3. Pp. 389407
2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Published online in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com).


and Wright (2013), are utilized as a benchmark of

the current-day field.
In the spirit of a book review, this article provides a factual account of the main story with
accompanying interpretation and evaluation.
The selection of two books for extended review
30 years after publication is a deserved honor for
the two sets of authors. The main contribution
of this article, however, comes from the insights
it provides for understanding the past and present of SHRM and useful research directions going
forward. Models of HRM are presented from the
four books and used to identify themes and concepts that have endured over the three decades,
areas of change and innovation, and issues and
shortcomings needing more attention. Nine
specific dimensions of evolution in the field are

The Two Books

Consult any recent book or review article on
strategic human resource management (e.g.,
Boxall& Purcell, 2011; Jackson, Schuler, & Jiang,
2014; Lengnick-Hall, Lengnick-Hall,
Andrade, & Drake, 2009; Lepak &
In the 1970s, Beer
Shaw, 2008) and certain themes
stand out. Among them are, first,
and Walton helped
taking a strategic approach to designdesign and implement ing and operating a companys
employment system, and second,
several of the pioneer shifting the focus from employees as
hired hands and short-run expense
to minimize to human capital assets
and longer-run value to maximize.
work systems.
The book titles by Fombrun, Tichy,
and Devanna (hereafter FTD),
Strategic Human Resource Management, and Beer,
Spector, Lawrence, Mills, and Walton (hereafter
BSLMW), Managing Human Assets, directly speak
to these themes, and did so in 1984 for the first

Content Overview
Both Strategic Human Resource Management and
Managing Human Assets are written as scholarly informed books for a general management
audience. Illustratively, BSLMW state in the first
sentence of the preface, This is a book for managers (p. vii); and FTD include in their edited
volume a mix of academic and practitioner
authors. A strong point of both books is that the
authors develop new theoretical ideas and frameworks that attract widespread academic attention
yet also distill from them readily understandable
and actionable implications for practitioners.
The ability of both books to successfully bridge
the practitioner-academic interface comes, in

part, from the writers extensive consulting work

and field experience. In the 1970s, for example,
Beer and Walton helped design and implement
several of the pioneer high-commitment work
The core of Strategic Human Resource
Management is the first three chapters, particularly
chapter 3, A Framework for Strategic Human
Resource Management. FTD tell readers, The
critical managerial task is to align the formal structure and human resource systems so that they
drive the strategic objectives of the organization
(p. 37). Strategy in their treatment is thus an integrated plan of action to accomplish the mission
of the enterprise (p. 34). This idea is illustrated
in the books Figure 3.1, where managers of the
firm face three external forceseconomic, political, and culturaland work out an integrated
combination of organizational structure, business strategy, and HR system to achieve organizational effectiveness. The HR system is conceived
of as a structure of control (p. 1) composed of
four basic parts: selection, rewards, development,
and appraisal. Figure3.2 in the book shows that
the task of HR strategy is to align and integrate
these four components to maximize the end goal,
labeled Performance. These two diagrams are
combined by this reviewer and shown in panel (a)
of Figure 1.
Managing Human Assets is a joint work of
five co-authors, all affiliated at the time with the
Harvard Business School. The authors explain in
the preface that the book grew out of a severalyear project to design a new integrative-style HRM
course for the Harvard MBA program. The book
was accompanied by a number of other related
publications by one or several of the authors.
Examples include the textbook Human Resource
Management: A General Managers Perspective (Beer,
Spector, Lawrence, Mills, & Walton, 1985); an
edited research volume, HRM Trends and Challenges
(Walton & Lawrence, 1985); a chapter entitled
Human Resource Management: The Integration
of Industrial Relations and Organizational
Development (Beer & Spector, 1984); and
Waltons (1985) influential Harvard Business
Review article From Control to Commitment in
the Workplace. The title of the Beer and Spector
paper highlights two features that flow from their
general management perspective; first, an integrative organization-wide view of people management so the subject is not narrowly confined to
the HR department and traditional personnel/
HR topics, and, second, emphasis on the centrality to HRM of employer-employee relations
(aka industrial relations [IR]) and organizational
development [OD].
Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm





FIGURE 1. Strategic HRM Models: 1984 and Today

(c) Cascio and Boudreau Model

(a) Fombrun, Tichy, and Devanna Model


Selection Development Rewards Appraisal



Social responsibility

HR functional roles

Future HR

Effective Organizations

Labor markets
Economic, political and
social policy
Climate change

Dynamic Environment

knowledge, skills,
and ability


HRM Policy Choices

Employee influence
Human resource flow
Reward systems
Work systems
HR Outcomes
Cost effectiveness

Long-term Consequences
Individual well-being
Organizational effectiveness
Societal well-being



Extrinsic rewards
and motivation



Reversed causality


Employee wellbeing

(d) Paauwe, Guest, and Wright Model


relationships and

(b) Beer, Spector, Lawrence, Mills, and Walton Model

Situational Factors
Work force characteristics
Business strategy
and conditions
Management philosophy
Labor market
Task technology
Laws and societal values

Stakeholder Interests
Employee groups



On the first page of the book, BSLMW stake

out a broad and inclusive concept of HRM, stating,
Human resource management (HRM) involves
all management decisions and actions that affect
the nature of the relationship between the organization and its employeesits human resources
(p. 1). HRM, in their view, is ultimately a general
management responsibility, and a personnel/HR
department exists to represent the employee side
of the business to executives and line managers
and help design, implement, and administer HR
programs and policies. This view leads BSLMW
to articulate a two-step strategy process. They say,
First, the general manager accepts more responsibility for ensuring alignment of competitive
strategy, personnel policies, and
other policies impacting on people.
Second, the personnel staff has the
mission of setting policies which
companies in the
govern how personnel activities
are developed and implemented in
early 1980s were
ways that make them more mutulosing competitive
ally reinforcing (pp. 23).
The main theory points in their
advantage to
book are represented in a diagram,
Figure 2-1, titled Map of the HRM
international rivals,
Territory. It is reproduced in panel
particularly resurgent (b) of Figure 1 and is discussed more
fully below.
Japan and Germany;
the largest
perceived area of

Noteworthy Themes: Strategy


Both sets of authors motivate the

importance of a strategic approach
inefficiency and
to HRM with a two-part argument.
missed opportunity in The first is that American companies
in the early 1980s were losing comAmerican companies petitive advantage to international
rivals, particularly resurgent Japan
was their utilization of
and Germany; the second is that the
largest perceived area of inefficiency
human resources.
and missed opportunity in American
companies was their utilization
of human resources. BSLMW state, for example,
American executives look overseas, especially
to Japan, and see employment and management
practices that appear to increase employee commitment while ensuring companies a long-term
supply of people with necessary competencies and
skills. In the first paragraph of their book, FTD
also cite the competitive challenge from Japan
and in the second paragraph tell readers adoption
of the new HRM model depend[s] on sound economic logic [that] the untapped contributions
of the human resources in organizations could
make the difference between efficiency and inefficiency, death and survival in the competitive

marketplace (p.ix.). In the same spirit, BSLMW

observe, human resources may offer the best
opportunity for management to improve competitiveness (p. viii).
A second common theme is that the new strategic HRM approach builds profitability through
emphasis on common interests and mutual gain
in the employment relationship. FTD, in a section on Nature of the Employment Contract
(pp. 3738), observe that employment relationships fall along a continuum with conflict and
command-control at one end (called top-down
decision making) and cooperation and participation-commitment at the other (called bottomup). They do not claim that strategic HRM can or
should put all firms at the high-end node of the
employment practice continuum, as appropriate
configuration of the employment system greatly
varies with external and internal context variables. Rather, SHRMs contribution is to encourage
firms to use better fit and integration to improve
performance wherever they are located in the
continuum while, at the same time, it encourages
firms to move up the continuum by redesigning
their systems to incorporate more participative
human capital practices. FTD identify larger-sized
core-sector firms with internal labor markets and a
progressive employee-oriented management philosophy as the group of firms where participative
human capital practices have the largest scope for
adoption and impact.
The same themes are found in Managing
Human Assets (see chapter 7), although with
somewhat different emphasis and development.
BSLMW also order employment relationships
along a continuum but with more attention to the
role of new high commitment/self-managed work
systems. They distinguish traditionally managed
firms as having a divided and hierarchical two
culture employment relationship and the new
high-commitment firms as having an integrated
and flattened one culture system. BSLMW note
that not all firms find it profit-rational in the
short run to shift to a high-commitmentunitarist organization. They observe, for example, that
highly participative mechanisms exact their own
price. Managing can be tremendously costly
in terms of time and skills [and] employees
are required to shed their dependent role (pp.
6162). Thus, they counsel that a transformation
from a traditional to high-commitment work system is possible in new plants and start-up companies but typically requires longer phase-in and
perhaps only partial implementation in existing
In the last chapter BSLMW introduce a further potentially significant qualification. They say
Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm


employment systems sort into three basic types,

market, bureaucratic, and clan, and the fit of the
transformed commitment system is best for the
clan-based organization. The clan terminology
was popularized by Ouichi (1980) as a descriptor
of the consensus and values-based Japanese management system. BSLMW suggest that the choice
in real life is seldom one system or the other but
a dynamic three-way fit (p. 184).
A two faces dichotomy in the definition
and conceptualization of strategic HRM becomes
explicit here. On one hand, both sets of authors
give HRM/SHRM a universal provenance: HRM
is the generic process of managing human
resources in all types of organizations and SHRM
is the equally generic strategic alignment and
functional integration of the HRM system. HRM
and SHRM apply uniformly, for example, to market, bureaucratic and clan organizations. On the
other hand, both sets of authors also identify
HRM/SHRM as connoting the high-commitment/
mutuality model. Tichy, Fombrun, and Devanna
(1982), for example, state, The strategic human
resource concepts and tools needed are fundamentally different from the stock in trade of traditional personnel administration (p. 47), and
Beer and Spector (1984) provide a table with 14
characteristics that differentiate the new human
resource management from traditional personnel
management and industrial relations.
So is SHRM generic or a particular approach?
These authors thread the needle by including
within SHRM the many different kinds of extant
HRM systems but also arguing that over time the
superiority of the high-commitment system will
bring at least partial convergence to transformed
HRM practices.

Organizational Change and Implementation

Evidently the new SHRM model is not a small
undertaking or easily accomplished feat. Both sets
of authors alert readers to this situation. FTD, for
example, frame the new HRM model as part of an
underlying transformation in the organization
of work, including changing the fundamental systems that organizations have traditionally
relied on to control employee behavior (p. ix).
A hallmark, they argue, is learning from behavioral science research that if properly motivated
and trained, employees willingly take on greater
self-regulation of work, allowing companies to
reduce expensive managerial staff and supervision
and alienating HR control devices. In the same
spirit, BSLMW tell readers that companies must
manage their human resources quite differently if
they are to compete successfully (p. vii) and that
the system of work design in the new HRM model
Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

departs in almost every detail from the traditional model (p. 166). They go on to say, It is in
the area of attitude changes that the new systems
make their greatest demands and considerable
trust is required between management and labor
(p. 171). Also indicative of fundamental change,
BSLMW note that in the new model employees
in effect assume what are now managerial functions (p. 171).
Although the topic of implementation gets
only modest-sized treatment, both sets of authors
alert readers that the difference between success
and failure in large-scale organizational change
comes from committed leaders and carefully
planned and managed implementation. FTD, for
example, note that new SHRM initiatives often
yield only modest results and lack staying power.
A reason is that in many companies much time
and thought had gone into analyzing and planning strategy yet very little time into its implementation (p. 26). BSLMW also
highlight implementation as an
Both FTD and
Achilles heel of new high-commitment work systems. They note, for
BSLMW take
example, that often new work/HRM
systems are initiated by a forwarda pluralist and
looking plant manager and, though
stakeholder view
successful, have difficulty surviving
and spreading because of resistance
of the employment
and roadblocks coming from executives higher up in the corporate
relation, reflecting

Pluralism in the Employment


in part the greater

influence at this time

Both FTD and BSLMW take a pluof the IR tradition.

ralist and stakeholder view of the
employment relation, reflecting in
part the greater influence at this time of the IR
tradition. BSLMW observe, for example, that the
firm is a minisociety made up of large numbers
of occasionally harmonious, occasionally conflicting constituencies, each claiming an important
stake in the way the company is managed and its
resources are deployed (p. 21). This leads them
to conclude that firms are able to successfully
implement HRM and attain corporate goals only
to the extent they enlist the cooperation of other
stakeholders who have help-or-hinder ability,
including internal constituents such as employees
and external constituents such as communities,
unions, and governments. Thus, BSLMW state,
We find that it is necessary, as a central matter,
to clarify who has a stake in the issue at hand, to
identify these stakes, and to determine how much
power they may be able to apply (p. 17). Here
is an essentially pluralist but mutual gain view of


the employment relationship where interests are

unavoidably divergent but good managers, sometimes with labor unions and other times without
them, operate at a strategic and tactical level to
align, balance, and integrate these interests. In
this spirit, FTD state that much benefit will
come from strategically balancing conflictual and
cooperative approaches (p. 17).
Explicit in this pluralist-stakeholder view is
that part of HRMs business value is to serve as
an employee/human capital advocate to executives and beneficial constraint on line management. The high morale and commitment that
unleashes the desired employee behaviors in a
transformed work system are elicited by giving
employees greater influence and
voice, opportunity for self-direction,
Although it puts
and long-run stake in the success
of the enterprise. Helpful practices
the HR department
are self-managed teams, employment security, and mutual gain pay.
in a difficult
In the short run, however, winning
and sometimes
new sales orders, meeting production schedules, and satisfying Wall
Streets quarterly earnings expectations bear down on managers, and
their natural response is to pass the
executives and line
pressure to employees, including
we dont have time to debate this
managersit is HRs
just do it and sorry, but to meet
this years profit number the headrole to speak up for
count has to go down.
the employee side
While profit-rational in the
of the organizational
imposed and one-sided actions
team when policies backfire on long-run performance
because they shift the employment
or actions are
relationship back to the traditional
we versus them and do no more
economically or
than required psychology and reinforce the belief of workers that they
ethically harmful.
need the power and protection of
labor unions and laws (McGregor,
1960). A great challenge in organizational design,
therefore, is to build in flexible but strong constraints and incentives for managers that keep
their line of sight on the long run even at the
expense of the short run. FTD say, for example,
A major strategic issue is how to use the reward
system to overcome the tendency toward shortsighted management (p.49). Both sets of authors
(e.g., BSLMW, pp. 1921) note that this challenge
is particularly large with the labor factor because
the returns to HR investment are often intangible,
difficult to measure, and with uncertain long-run
payoffs. Although it puts the HR department in a
difficult and sometimes uncomfortable position,

i.e., executives and line managers, it is HRs role

to speak up for the employee side of the organizational team when policies or actions are economically or ethically harmful.

The HR Department
Because FTD and BSLMW take a general management perspective, they are less concerned about
the influence and future of HR departments per
se. BSLMW, in particular, deemphasize the do or
die necessity of the HR department getting a seat
at the corporate strategy table and argue that the
better approach is to educate and incent the general managers already seated at the table to give
the human resource factor greater strategic attention. The major place for the HR department to
make a contribution, in their model, is to integrate and align its policies and programs with the
corporate strategy.
FTD adopt a moderately greater functional or
departmental perspective and conclude that HR
managers must move upstream into the business
strategy arena. For example, Devanna, Fombrun,
Tichy, and Warren (1982) observe, For years they
[personnel departments] have been explaining
their mediocre status by bewailing their lack of
support and attention from the CEO. Now they
are getting it, but find themselves quite unprepared to respond. They then conclude, Whether
the human resources component survives as a
valuable and essential contribution to effective
management will largely depend on the degree to
which it is integrated as a vital part of the planning system in organizations (p. 11). However,
FTD follow BSLMW and also caution that the HR
department is an organizational means to end and
not an end in itself. For example, FTD state that
the objective of injecting human resource management into the strategic arena is not to enhance
the status of traditional personnel resource staff,
but rather it is to alter the way managers set priorities and make decisions (p. 26).

The Social-Institutional Dimension

In addition to the economic challenge posed by
globalization and greater market competition,
FTD and BSLME both emphasize several socialinstitutional catalysts behind the movement for a
new approach to employee management. Factors
of a social nature include employees demand
for better quality of work life, rise of white-collar
occupations, more full-time working women,
and a cultural value shift away from hierarchy
and authority and toward participation and
autonomy. Both books, but particularly BSLMW,
emphasize that performance has to be broadly
framed to include meeting corporate ethical and
Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm


social responsibilities, including job satisfaction,

industrial democracy, and distributive justice.
Several institutional elements also get attention, such as unions and labor or employment
laws. BSLMW note (pp. 4852), for example, that
some of the largest-scale work redesign programs
were at unionized companies, such as General
Motors and Ford, and while some unions resist
more collaborative work relations, others actively
promote them to a cynical and distrustful workforce. With respect to the role of law, FTD observe
that the gradual increase in government regulation of employment, such as equal opportunity,
pension protection, and occupational safety and
health, helps motivate companies to take a more
long-run perspective on employees and consider
transformational organizational change as a way to
contain labor cost and boost productivity growth.

Inuence in Europe versus United States

A reviewer is struck by the stark difference in current attention given to the two books among,
respectively, American and European HRM
researchers. A person might well guess, given that
the two books were published in America, the
authors are American-based writers, and the SHRM
field originated in America, that they would find
their largest and most enthusiastic audience in
America. Just the opposite is the case.
Both books have gradually faded from active
discussion and citation in the American SHRM
literature. A marker, for example, is omission of
one or both books from a long line of HRM/SHRM
review articles (e.g., Becker & Huselid, 2006; Ferris,
Hall, Royle, & Martocchio, 2004; Lengnick-Hall et
al., 2009; Lepak & Shaw, 2008). European writers, however, have for many years treated the two
books as nearly paradigmatic on the argument;
they establish separate Michigan and Harvard
models of strategic HRM. Illustratively, Brewster
(2007), from Britain, states, Two seminal texts in
1984 launched a new approach to what had until
then been the study of personnel management
and he identifies FTD as the Michigan model
and BSLMW as the Harvard model (p. 770).
Festing (2012), from Germany, similarly declares,
The concept of SHRM originated in the United
States and became popular in the mid-1980s
thanks to seminal works by the Michigan School
and the Harvard School (p. 38, citations in original omitted for readability).
The distinction between the two models is
sometimes framed by British writers as hard versus
soft HRM and other times as calculative versus collaborative HRM (for a review, see Truss, Gratton,
Hope-Hailey, McGovern, & Stiles, 1997). Both
characterizations come from the view that FTD
Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

emphasize the resource word in human resource

management while BSLMW emphasize the human
These distinctions have not gained traction in
the American-based literature, nor have American
researchers regarded the two books as in a more
general way establishing different Harvard and
Michigan models (Strauss, 2001). From the reviewers vantage point, this divergence in part reflects
Europeans greater sensitivity to critically interrogating the positive and normative preconceptions
of HRM that Americans somewhat unreflectively
gloss over and, in equal part, a tendency for the
Europeans in this case to take second-order differences between the Harvard and Michigan books
and elevate them into a perhaps overgeneralized
first-order paradigm debate. Certainly from an
American perspective, much more
unites the two books than divides
Certainly from
them; equally so from a European
perspective, American SHRM is
an American
fraught with cultural values and
institutional assumptions, which
perspective, much
make it less universal than pictured.

30 Years Later

more unites the two

books than divides

The state of the art at the birth of

the strategic HRM field in the early
them; equally so
mid-1980s was just described. Lets
from a European
now fast-forward three decades to
SHRM as it exists today and contrast
the two. The emphasis is on a startend comparison; however, selecAmerican SHRM
tive developments and ideas within
is fraught with
this 30-year interval are briefly
introduced. A more detailed hiscultural values
torical account of HRMs birth and
evolution over this time period is
and institutional
provided in Kaufman (2014); a particularly good account of the per- assumptions, which
sonnel/HRM field as it existed in the
make it less universal
early 1980s is provided by Mahoney
and Deckop (1986).
than pictured.
Since FTD and BSLMW anchor
the start date, the strategy adopted
for this article is to find two just-published HRM
books that are sufficiently integrative and synthetic of the field to serve as end-date anchors.
The most recently published books of this genre
are Short Introduction to Strategic Human Resource
Management by Cascio and Boudreau (2012; hereafter CB) and HRM & Performance: Achievements &
Challenges (Paauwe, Guest, & Wright, 2013; hereafter PGW).
CB (p. 1) tell readers in the preface that the
book is designed as a primer for students in
master of business administration (MBA) or


HRprograms, as well as for HR and organization

leaders and general managers. Their mission,
accordingly, closely matches the one BSLMW
adopted for Managing Human Assets. PGWs
book, however, is an edited volume and in this
respect matches FTDs Strategic Human Resource
Management. The two are dissimilar, however, in
that FTD is a mix of academic and practitioner
authors and topics with a general management
focus, while PGW has an all-academic set of
authors and is written for HRM researchers on the
specific subject of HRM and firm
performance. In this respect, the
Common across the two recent books by CB and PGW
are more dissimilar than the two
three decades is
early books. That is, the early books
the main motivation are both broad academic-practitioner works; CB share this orientaauthors cite for
tion, but PGW narrow the focus to
academic researchers and the firm
the importance of
performance topic. This bifurcation
between CB and PGW mirrors the
strategic HRM. In
gradual emergence over this 30-year
particular, SHRM
period of increasingly distanced
academic and practitioner literahelps organizations ture streams with the academic side
focused on the HRM-performance
discover and
topic pioneered by Huselid (1995).
implement methods
For comparison purposes, I have
put into Figure 1 diagrams from the
to more effectively
four books that illustrate their perspective on SHRM. Panels (a) and
use their human
(b) are from Fombrun et al. and
capital to create and Beer et al., respectively, and panels
(c) and (d) are from CB and PGW,
sustain competitive respectively.
The choice of diagrams is easy
advantage in
for BSLMW because they include in
an increasingly
one figure a complete representation of their HRM framework. The
choice is less easy for the other three
books because the strategy model
and globalized
is broken into pieces with separate
diagrams. To more fully represent
the models in these books, two diagrams from each book are melded
into one. This act of combination was easier
for some books than others and required a certain amount of creative license, including selective additions and deletions of arrows and other
minor features. For example, the diagram from
PGW is a synthesis from chapters by Peccei, van
de Voorde, and van Veldhoven (2013) and De
Winne and Sels (2013); the CB diagram is a composite of Figures 1.2 and 3.1, themselves from an
earlier SHRM Foundation study and Boudreau
and Ziskin (2011).

The diagrams, deeper comparison of the

contents of the four books, and evidence from a
review of the literature reveal a number of interesting trends in the evolution of SHRM and similarities and differences between start and end points.
These trends are presented as mean-centered generalizations with attempt to recognize the most
important deviations. The discussion starts at the
core conceptual level and branches outward.

Conceptualizing SHRM
In their early books, FTD and BSLMW do not give
explicit, one-sentence definitions of SHRM, but
a synthesis of their ideas was presented above.
Aclose correspondence appears with the definitions given in the CB and PGW books. CB define
SHRM as the decisions, processes, and choices
that organizations make about managing people
(p.1) and go on to say that the two central features
are to identify the pivot points where human
capital makes the biggest difference to sustainable
strategic success and to make investments in
human resource programs that fit together synergisticallyto enhance human capital at the pivot
points (p. 109). The PGW volume is not about
strategic HRM per se so its authors have understandably not defined the concept; nonetheless,
the books topicthe relationship between HRM
and firm performancein most peoples eyes
effectively defines the core of modern strategic
HRM (e.g., Lepak & Shaw, 2008).
Although the details differ, these quotations
illustrate that SHRMs basic conceptualization has
remained the same over the three decades. The
central elements are: HRM as the people management component of organizations, a holistic
systems view of individual HRM structures and
practices, a strategic perspective on how the HRM
system can best promote organizational objectives, HRM system alignment with organizational
strategy and integration of practices within the
system, and emphasis on the long-run benefits of
a human capital/high-commitment HRM system.
Also common across the three decades is the
main motivation authors cite for the importance
of strategic HRM. In particular, SHRM helps organizations discover and implement methods to
more effectively use their human capital to create
and sustain competitive advantage in an increasingly competitive and globalized marketplace. CB
(p. 28), for example, say, Perhaps the single most
dominant trend that will continue to play a major
role is globalization; and PGW state, In the
opening chapter, we set out the case for why HRM
is so important in ensuring high performance
in organizations for organizational survival in a
highly competitive world (p. 196).
Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm


Explanatory Models
Given basic agreement on SHRMs definition,
topic domain, and importance, next consider the
conceptual models the authors develop to organize the subject and theorize causal linkages. To
what extent has this part of the subject changed
over the last 30 years? An answer starts to form
from examination of the diagrams in Figure 1.
At first look, the four diagrams appear to have
very little in common; a more studied examination reveals, however, a number of similar features.
For example, all four diagrams portray SHRM as
a decision-making and implementation process
that starts with executives at the top of the organization (e.g., in panel [c] at the top of the pyramid
with arrows pointing down); cascades down the
hierarchy to line managers, HR staff, and employees; and then works back up the line to executives
(the upward arrows in panel [c] at the bottom of
the pyramid).
Similarly, within the limits of bounded human
rationality and environmental uncertainty, SHRM
decision making can be considered an exercise
in constrained optimization in which, subject
to external environmental and internal organizational resources and constraints (e.g., the five
circles in panel [a] surrounding the Mission and
Strategy circle), managers look at employees and
the HRM system as the inputs (means) and try to
determine the plan of action (strategy) that maximizes organizational performance outputs (ends).
CB, for example, frame SHRM as competitive
optimization (p. 59) and incorporate risk optimization into the decision model.
Another common feature is that in all four
diagrams the HRM system and the people, policies, and practices in it are the central decision
variables the firms executives have to determine.
That is, given consideration of strategy and
constraints, a concrete decision has to be made
about the amount of resources to be devoted to
HRM activities, such as selection, training, and
rewards, and the configuration of these activities.
In panels (a), (b), and (d), this centrality is indicated by placing a box or circle for HRM practices
and policies in the middle of the diagram, such
as the HRM Policy Choices box in the BSLMW
diagram and HR Practices box in the PGW diagram. In panel (c), HRM policies and practices
(the bottom layer of the pyramid) are also in the
middle in the sense the decision-making arrows
first go from top to bottom and then return bottom to top.
A last common point between the diagrams
is explicit attention to the influence on HRM
choice of external and internal contextual and
Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

contingent factors. This consideration is most

explicitly developed in BSLMW and CB models.
BSLMW include seven items in the Situational
Factors box, such as Task Technology, Laws,
Unions, and Labor Market, while CB distinguish
separate external and internal boxes (Dynamic
Environment and Effective Organizations) with a
total of 12 contingent factors.

Areas of Change in SHRM

The models reveal that certain dimensions of
SHRM have remained relatively similar across
the 30 years. Next, consider the differences and
areas of change. This section continues to give
attention to the diagrams but also brings in other
content from the four books and wider SHRM literature. To help give structure to the discussion,
the areas of change are divided into nine separate

30-Year Evolution
Important Contributors

Given consideration
of strategy and

Discussion of the evolution of the

constraints, a
SHRM field since 1984 has to give
recognition to many other authors concrete decision has
and ideas in addition to the four
to be made about the
books highlighted here. Space constraints mandate, however, that amount of resources
mention can only be very selective and brief and, no doubt, a to be devoted to HRM
good argument can be made that
activities, such as
deserving citations are omitted
(for broader reviews, see Boxall &
selection, training,
Purcell, 2011; Jackson et al. 2014;
Kaufman, 2014; Lengnick-Hall and rewards, and the
et al., 2009). In keeping with the
configuration of these
anchor role of the books by CB and
PGW, people and works getting
mention must be cited by at least
one of these sets of authors.
A consensus opinion is that the most influential work in SHRMs 30-year history is Huselids
1995 article, the most cited in the literature
(Fernandez-Alles & Ramos-Rodriquez, 2009).
Huselid popularized the HRM-performance
model, high-performance work system idea, and
empirical HRM-performance regression equation.
PGW call Huselids study, groundbreaking, a
springboard, and central node (pp. 1, 3).
Also important are the following: development and elaboration of Waltons (1985) highcommitment model by Lawler (1986) and Pfeffer
(1994); incorporation of behavioral components
into the strategic HRM model (Schuler & Jackson,
1987), introduction of the resource-based strategy
model into strategic HRM (e.g., Wright, Dunford,


& Snell, 2001); introduction of the ability, motivation, and opportunities (AMO) framework to
explicate the black box (e.g., Appelbaum, Bailey,
Berg, & Kalleberg, 2000); the conceptual elaboration of the human capital and organizational
capabilities perspective (e.g., Wright & McMahan,
2011; Wright, McMahan, & McWilliams, 1994);
elaboration of the universal, contingent, and configurational framework (Delery & Doty, 1996);
development of workforce and HRM scorecards
(e.g., Huselid, Becker, & Beatty, 2005); and the
transformed strategic role of the HR
function (e.g., Ulrich, 1997).

When FTD and

BSLMW wrote,

Shift from Management

Practice to Management

Another important trend over the 30

years is the shift in academic research
style and audience. When FTD and
predominantly of
BSLMW wrote, management scholarship was predominantly of an
an applied and
applied and pracademic form where
pracademic form
researchers displayed close familiarity with the world of practice and
where researchers
primarily sought to influence a general management audience with
displayed close
new ideas, tools, and problem-solvfamiliarity with the
ing methods. This research style has
been substantially displaced (not
world of practice
completely, per Becker & Huselid,
and primarily sought 1999) by a science-based model
where organizations and HRM are
to influence a
studied as if in a laboratory setting
general management with much less priority on experiential contact and practical results and
much greater emphasis on analytic
audience with new
theory development, hypothesis
ideas, tools, and
formulation, survey data, methodologically sound statistical analysis,
and influencing fellow academics
(Boxall, Purcell, & Wright, 2007;
methods. This
DeNisi, Wilson, & Biteman, 2014;
research style has
Hayton, Piperopoulis, & Welbourne,
2011). Beer (2001) characterizes the
been substantially
earlier approach as starting with a
problem and the latter as starting
with a theory.
Part of the reason I chose the
Cascio and Boudreau book for this review is that it
broadly represents the scholar-practitioner stream
of research, with its associated strengths and weaknesses. In turn, part of the reason for choosing the
book edited by Paauwe, Guest, and Wright is that it
well illustrates the analytic-science stream of HRM
research, with its associated strengths and weaknesses. The analytic-scientific focus of the book
scholarship was

is indicated by the section headings in the introductory chapter: What do we know about the
HRM-performance relationship?; Theoretical
ambiguity; Empirical invalidity; Which HRM
practices?; How should HRM practices be measured?; What is performance?; How are HRM
practices implemented?; How do HRM practices
impact performance?; and How do we statistically model the HRM-performance relationship?
The next 10 chapters of the volume are devoted
to answering, or at least advancing, knowledge on
these questions.
For academic researchers, the PGW book is
a state-of-the-art depiction of the modern-day
research program in strategic HRM. The book is
in many respects a 20-year synthesis and review
of the theoretical and empirical advances made in
the research literature. Although aimed at an academic audience, the editors argue the contents
have potentially major implications for policy
and practice (p. 204), in part by providing input
for the practice of evidence-based management
(Rousseau, 2006). Actual practitioners, however,
would probably regard the book as academic
with little information they can understand or
implement. Illustratively, the principal managerial implication PGW provide in the concluding
chapter is: On this basis [review of the volumes
contents], we can generally recommend that a
full use of HRM is good for organizations, good
for those who work in them and good for their
customers (p. 204). This finding is neither new
information nor actionable advice for managers
and, indeed, they might reasonably regard it as
a remarkably thin conclusion from 20 years of

The Strategy Concept

A particularly important dimension of change
in SHRM is with respect to the strategy concept.
Theorization of the strategy concept in SHRM
has hugely expanded and diversified. It received
minimal treatment in FTD and BSLMW but now
occupies a central place in the field. Cascio and
Boudreaus book is illustrative. The title of chapter 1 is What Is Strategy, and the topic is discussed for a full 25 pages. Within it are presented
four strategy schools of thought (position, execution, adaptation, concentration) with distinction
between, respectively, strategy formulation and
execution, analysis of organizational strengths
and weaknesses, and relationship of HR strategy
to business strategy. Chapter 3 then extends the
discussion of strategy by taking it down to the
HR level. Here, additional strategy models are discussed, including the resource-based view and risk
Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm


With respect to strategy, the Paauwe, Guest,

and Wright volume is in one respect more representative of the present-day SHRM mainstream.
Cascio and Boudreau at several places discuss the
strategic importance of an organizations internal
resources, particularly as strategic pivot points,
and cite the resource-based view of the firm (RBV).
Nonetheless, they give relatively more emphasis
to strategy as a quest for competitive advantage
via positioning the firm in the product market
to exploit low cost, product differentiation, or
service quality (Porter, 1985). As discussed more
fully below, the internal-oriented RBV strategy
model has substantially displaced the product
market-positioning model in SHRM research, as
evidenced by numerous citations to the latter in
the PGW volume but none to the former.
A paradoxical outcome is that despite ubiquitous emphasis on the importance of aligning the
HRM system with the firms business strategy, the
literature actually has little to say about when and
why firms choose different strategies and how this
choice is shaped by external environmental constraints (Kaufman, 2015). Illustratively, Jackson
et al. (2014) report that less than 10% of the 154
empirical studies they review even include a business strategy variablelet alone try to explain the
choice of strategy.

The Two Faces of SHRM

As noted earlier, in the 1984 books is a two faces
dichotomy in the conceptualization of SHRM
where, on one hand, it represents strategic choice
across alternative HRM systems (e.g., market,
bureaucratic, clan) and, on the other, is a particular approach to employee management built
around a human capital and high-commitment
model. This dichotomy is still prevalent in modern SHRM.
Lepak and Snell (1999), for example, distinguish four alternative HRM architectures that span
the employment relationship, and Toh, Morgeson,
and Campion (2008) find actual employment
relationships cluster into five alternative HRM systems. Yet the bulk of empirical evidence suggests
these distinctions are largely moot because some
variant of a high-commitmenthigh-involvement
systemnow widely referred to as a high-performance work system (HPWS) using high performance
work practices (HPWPs)dominates when it comes
to maximizing firm performance. Illustratively,
PGW state in the concluding chapter of their
book, reviews of research findings have consistently shown that, irrespective of business strategy
and context, there is a positive association between
the adoption of more progressive, high performance or high commitment HR practices and
Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

organizational outcomes (pp. 197198, emphasis added). This statement points to a universalist
perspective, as emphasized by Pfeffer (1994).
A number of SHRM writers (e.g., Paauwe,
Boon, Boselie, & Hartog, 2013) continue to
assert the importance of contextual and contingent factors even while acknowledging the
empirical evidence is frustratingly soft and
ambiguous. In recent work, some SHRM writers
(e.g., Becker & Huselid, 2006) also shift toward
greater emphasis on enhancing performance
through strategic differentiation of human
capital and HPWPs.
Regardless of universalistic or contingency
perspective, most SHRM researchers accept the
proposition that advanced HRM practices have
a positive effect on organizational performance
(Lepak & Shaw, 2008; PGW: 198).
De Winne and Sels (2013, p. 181)
Regardless of
describe this position as the more
is better hypothesis (also Kaufman,
2012). An upshot is that if some
appropriately configured version of
or contingency
an HPWS is the best HRM system
perspective, most
then the notion of strategy as managerial choice among alternative
SHRM researchers
employment systems is mostly moot
and the domain of HR strategy is
accept the
largely truncated to alignment-inteproposition that
gration-differentiation within the
high performance paradigm (Becker
advanced HRM
& Huselid, 2006). Lepak and Snell
(2007) attempt to reconcile the two
practices have
perspectives by arguing that alternaa positive effect
tive non-HPWS employment systems may be a better fit for certain
on organizational
noncore employee groups. While an
important qualification, it does not
alter the literatures presumption in
favor of a positive main effect at the
organization level or modest-to-small explanatory
role (in practice if not words) given to alternative
external-based business strategies.

HRM and Performance

A common denominator of SHRM across the years
is emphasis on structuring and operating the HRM
function to achieve higher organizational performance. The FDT model, for example, ends with
the circle Performance and the BSLMW model
ends with the box Long-Term Consequences.
Similarly, the model from PGW also ends with
a box Improved Financial Performance. What
has changed is the relatively greater emphasis
given to performance and, also, the increasingly
sophisticated empirical methodology used to
explore it.


A continuous theme over SHRMs 30-year history is the need to demonstrate the HR functions
strategic importance and value added to the organization. Wright et al. (2001), for example, state,
The human resource function has consistently
faced a battle justifying its position in organizations, and then observe, growing acceptance
of internal resources as sources of competitive
advantage brought legitimacy to HRs assertion
that people are strategically important to firm
success (p. 702). The concern with demonstrating HRMs contribution to performance is likewise illustrated by the fact that PGW chose to
begin page one of their volume with the sentence:
Practitioners interested in human resource management have long sought to convince others of
its value.
In empirical research, the regression model pioneered by Huselid
This review reveals (1995) has become the standard tool
for studying the performance effect
that many of the
of alternative HRM practices and
topics and concepts systems. When FDT and BSLMW
wrote their books in 1984, regression
in the current-day
analysis of HRM outcomes was in its
infancy. Since then, the trilogy of
literature have clear
electronic computers, multivariate
regression, and large survey data sets
antecedents in FTD
has fundamentally recast academic
and BSLMW, but that HRM research, as much evidenced
in the PGW volume. Illustratively,
in a number of cases
the composite diagram from PGW
they have also gone in panel (d) gives a distinctly linear cause-effect look to the SHRM
through extensive
theory model. Gerhart (2013) in his
chapter in the PGW volume writes
development and
the standard regression model as
Perf = 0 + perfhrhr + , where Perf is
a measure or organizational performance, hr is a measure of organizational HR practices, and the estimated coefficient
perfhr measures the effect of a unit increase of HR
on performance. (The notation is Gerharts.) The
hypothesis is perfhr 0 for a traditional or nontransformed HRM system and perfhr > 0 for an
HPWS-type system.
This equation and hypothesized positive HRM
effect, along with underlying theoretical linkages
and additional contingency and configurational
variables, have to substantial degree become field
defining and the driver of the SHRM research program. In this light, the past 20 years of SHRM resembles an inverted pyramid resting on the empirical
finding perfhr > 0. Basing a research program on an
empirical relationship is risky, however, because if
the finding is called into question then the entire
edifice threatens to come down (Kaufman, 2015).

Concern exists at the theory level, for example,

because perfhr > 0 conflicts with Barneys dictum
that as is well known, there cannot be a rule for
riches (Barney, Della Corte, Sciarelli, & Arikan,
2012, p. 137). By this he means if perfhr > 0, then
profit-rational firms invest in more HRM, which
drives down the return until perfhr = 0 and the
rule for riches is undone. At an empirical level, a
reason for concern is that most regression studies
use cross-section data, which makes disentangling
causality from association quite difficult and the
few studies that use longitudinal data find perfhr 0
(e.g., Wright, Gardner, Moynihan, & Allen, 2005).
At the practice level, regression studies of HRM
and performance can have limited utility because
the methodology (linear, measureable, marginal
change, ceteris paribus, company-specific factors
impounded in the error term) is not well suited
to help managers make decisions where actual
business situations often have large, qualitative,
complex, nonlinear, interdependent feedback and
idiosyncratic dimensions.

RBV, AMO, and Human Capital

This review reveals that many of the topics and
concepts in the current-day literature have clear
antecedents in FTD and BSLMW, but that in a
number of cases they have also gone through
extensive development and evolution. This process is clearly evident in three of the most important theoretical constructs in the modern-day
field, the RBV of the firm, the AMO framework,
and employees as human capital.
Allen and Wright (2007) call the RBV the
guiding paradigm on which virtually all strategic HRM research is based (p. 90), and PGW
label it the starting point (p. 198). The RBV
emphasizes acquiring competitive advantage by
obtaining and developing internal resources that
are valuable, rare, inimitable and nonreproducible (VRIN) and choosing the combination that
simultaneously creates the largest organizational
rents and protects them from competitive dissipation (Barney, 1991; Barney & Clark, 2007). Of
all internal resources, modern SHRM researchers
claim that a firms human resources are the largest
potential source of higher performance and competitive advantage.
This proposition has brought to the fore the
human capital concept. Human capital is the productive knowledge, skills, and abilities embodied in an organizations employees. In modern
knowledge-driven economies where continuous
learning and innovation are key, human capital
becomes a strategic asset and HRMalso called
the talent management functionacquires parallel importance by helping firms design and
Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm


implement the staffing, training, compensation,

and employee relations programs that attract,
retain, and develop the highest productivity
human capital. Typically, as indicated earlier,
researchers posit that these programs and practices are of the HPWP type.
Because human capital is embedded in people,
high performance also hinges on superior methods of motivation, such as from the high commitment and mutual gain features of an HPWS. Thus,
the concept of human capital leads to the use of
HRM to optimize employees ability, motivation,
and opportunity and infrastructure of social capital (Boxall, 2013). The human capital and AMO
ideas relate back to the RBV by giving firms the
HRM levers to generate high value (V) through
skilled, committed, and empowered employees
and to protect this valuable asset by creating firmspecific bonds and difficult-to-copy attributes
through rare, inimitable, and non-reproducible
features (RIN), such as specific training, customized benefit programs, pay for performance,
enriched jobs, involvement opportunities, equitable and nonhierarchic culture, and integrated
HRM system with vertical and horizontal fit.
All of these ideas can be found in embryonic
form in the books by FTD and BSLMW, albeit
with the human capital/talent management part
emphasized more by FTD and the AMO/social
capital part given greater highlight by BSLMW.
Significant differences, however, have also developed between these early books and the modern
HRM literature. Two dimensions are illustrative.
The dominant theme in both FTD and BSLMW
is that human resources in companies are not producing maximum returns because they are underutilized and underemployed (e.g., BSLMW, p. viii).
The HR function, therefore, can create a mutual
gain for both company and employees by using
better HR management to more effectively utilize the workforce to grow the pie through higher
productivity. The RBV, however, subtly shifts the
emphasis. While it emphasizes the importance of
growing the pie through value-creation (V), say
through AMO, the RBV does not actually theorize
this linkper Barneys acknowledgment that V
is exogenous to the RBV model (Barney & Clark,
2007, p. 253).
Instead, the principal performance contribution of the RBV comes from using RIN methods to
foster workforce immobilization and differentiation, such as through specific training and internal development. These practices are portrayed
as another step toward being a strategic business
partner because they contribute to competitive
advantage by protecting human capital returns
from competitive dissipation. One form rent
Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

protection takes, however, is being able to pay

employees less than a fully competitive wage
described by Coff and Kryscynski (2011, p. 1431)
as an economic discount. Here arises a subtle but
important incentive conflict pulling firms toward
positive-sum versus zero-sum HRM strategies. The
win-win strategy envisioned in the original HPWS
is to rent-share with employees through mutual
gain compensation to get higher performance
via a positive AMO motivation effect, and other
benefits such as lower turnover. But firms can also
get higher performance by a win-lose strategy in
which they opt to rent-capture from
their employees by using RIN to
restrict employee mobility to pay The win-win strategy
inframarginal people below-market
envisioned in the
compensation (e.g., salary compression for immobile professors).
original HPWS
Wang and Barney (2006, p. 466)
is to rent-share
observe, for example, that by using
specific training firms can systemwith employees
atically extract wealth from these
through mutual gain
As a second illustration, note
that both the early books and con- compensation to get
temporary studies emphasize HRMs
higher performance
potential contribution to performance through enhanced employee
via a positive AMO
The channels for accomplishing motivation effect, and
these outcomes are given different
other benefits such
emphases, however. In the early
books, employee motivation and
as lower turnover.
commitment are made to critically
hinge on perceived fair treatment, But firms can also get
security of employment, and influhigher performance
ence in decision making. However,
in the contemporary literature, by a win-lose strategy
organizational justice has moved
far down the topic list, employ- in which they opt to
ment security is still cited but weakrent-capture from
ened by shortening the length of
the commitment and weaving in
their employees.
more contingencies so firms have
greater organizational flexibility,
and decision-making influence is downgraded to
mostly task participation (Wood & Wall, 2007). In
their place, more emphasis is given to motivating
behavior through aligned incentives and rewards,
such as individual and group pay-for-performance.
However, here again the high-commitment model
may break down if differentiated pay and treatment erode commitment and team spirit by fostering perceived discrimination and inequity.
This difficult juggling act is discussed by BSLMW
in Compensation Systems: The Dilemmas of
Practice (pp. 125146).


External versus Internal Focus

All four books highlighted in this review model
choice of HRM practices as a function of external environmental and internal organizational
characteristics and forces. The relative emphasis in the modern SHRM literature, however, has
shifted toward an internal focus. Both the FTD
and BSLMW diagrams give explicit attention to
an array of environmental forces outside organizations, including economic, political, social-cultural, and institutional. A similar list is depicted in
CBs diagram but no external variables are listed
in PGWs diagram. Instead, in their diagram the
internal focus is highlighted with the five boxes
arrayed along the top denoting employee psychological states and organizational characteristics
that mediate the relationship between HRM and
performance. (The PGW volume
contains 11 different model diaOver the next 30
grams, but none delineate factors in
the external environment.)
years, the institutional
The shift toward greater internal focus in SHRM, with accompalandscape for
nying attention toward individual
employer-employee behaviors and associated psychorelations transformed. logical states and variables, reflects a
number of factors (Allen & Wright,
Unions and collective 2007; Godard, 2014; Kaufman,
2014; Mahoney, 2008). A general
bargaining receded management perspective, for example, tends to take a more holistic,
to the periphery,
cross-disciplinary, and open-systems
legal compliance
perspective on HRM, while the analytical-scientific approach emphawas routinized and
sizes drilling deeper but more
narrowly with disciplinary specialoutsourced, [and]
ization, tight theory and hypothinternal labor markets esis formation, and measureable
and well-connected dependent and
were slimmed down
independent variables. Also important, many researchers argue (e.g.,
and opened up.
PGW, p. 198) the critical weak spot
in HRM theory is specification of
the black box that connects HRM practices to
employee behaviors. Explaining this linkage necessarily gets into considerable psychology and
organizational behavior (Boxall, 2013) because
cognitive and emotional states intervene between
HR practice (e.g., employment security, pay for
performance) and employee behavior (e.g., work
effort, citizenship behavior).
Yet another factor is the disciplinary shift
in the HRM field with declining contribution
from external-related fields, such as economics, law and industrial relations, and increasing
contribution from internal-related fields, such as

industrial-organizational psychology and organizational behavior. When FTD and BSLMW wrote,
these different wings of the employment relationship field had discernible interaction and their
different topical, disciplinary, and levels of analysis perspectives received due recognition in their
frameworks, most particularly the BSLMW model.
Over the subsequent 30 years, researchers in labor
economics, industrial relations, and personnel/
HRM fields increasingly went their separate ways,
with the new field of SHRM increasingly dominated by a new generation of researchers trained
in the behavioral and organizational sciences.
With this disciplinary background, the latter
group naturally took a more internal-micro perspective on HRM, such as exemplified in the RBV,
AMO, and black box models emphasizing individual behaviors and psycho-social pathways (see
Jiang, Takeuchi, & Lepak, 2013).

Shareholders versus Stakeholders

When FTD and BSLMW wrote, union density in
the private economy was three times larger than
it is today, many core industrial companies practiced collective bargaining, labor relations was
the strategic concern, and the personnel function
spent considerable time on labor law compliance
and administration (Kochan, Katz, & McKersie,
1986). Given this reality, both books emphasize
the pluralistic nature of the employment relationship with its mix of cooperative-integrative and
conflictive-distributive elements, the importance
of establishing constructive union relations and
working with them to implement high-performance practices, and treating employees as organizational stakeholders with independent rights
and interests.
Over the next 30 years, the institutional landscape for employer-employee relations transformed. Unions and collective bargaining receded
to the periphery, legal compliance was routinized and outsourced, internal labor markets were
slimmed down and opened up, the economy
became far more financialized and driven by Wall
Street, and employees became human resources
paid and treated with the (mostly) instrumental purpose of optimizing firm performance. At
one level, the result was a predictable shift in
HRM research and rhetoric (Jackson et al., 2014).
Unions and labor laws became mostly pass topics
and control variables in performance regressions;
the strategic dimension of employee management
was opened up because firms had more room to
maneuver in deregulated and globalized product
markets and deunionized and overstocked labor
markets; growing emphasis was given to aligning
and structuring HRM to promote operational or
Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm


financial firm performance; structural sources of

pluralist interests and conflict in the employment
relation mostly disappeared from the (American)
journal pages and were replaced by emphasis on
management-led reengineering of HRM to create
cooperation, commitment, and aligned interests;
and the new mantra for the HR function was transformation from a transactional or administrative
role to a strategic business partner. At a core level,
however, the HRM research program remained
solidly anchored on the human resource/highcommitment/mutual gain model pioneered by
BSLMW and FTD in the 1980s, albeit with RBV,
AMO, and human capital extensions and growing
emphasis on organizational flexibility and workforce/HRM differentiation.
An interesting question needing more research
and discussion is how the shift in priorities toward
firm performance and business partner, coupled
with the decline in power of organized labor and
rise in power of organized capital (Wall Street,
banks, etc.), squares with the viability and reality
of an HPWS-type employment model. At a theory
level, for example, what keeps the employment
relation balanced and mutual gain, employees
committed to organizational success, and firms
interested in long-term human capital investment
when a stakeholder governance model is replaced
by a shareholder wealth maximization model in
an environment where financial market pressures,
the structure of executive compensation, lack of
a union threat, and intensifying market competition incent companies to shift toward short-term
profit and rent capture over long-run workforce
development and rent sharing (Thompson,
2013)? Likewise, at an empirical level, how can
the hypothesized performance advantage of a
transformed HRM system be squared with its low,
partial, and probably declining adoption (Blasi
& Kruse, 2006; Kaufman, 2015), and is the rising
capital share of national income and rocketing
level of managerial pay consistent with mutual
gain and employee commitment as real hourly
pay of workers stagnates, benefit levels are cut,
and employment security disappears? Thus, an
HPWS-type employment system may well be a
plus for employee stakeholders (Boxall & Macky,
2014; Peccei et al., 2013) yet benefit only a relatively small minority of workers because of its limited spread.

Books versus Journal Articles

A final trend evident from a 30-year review of
the field is the ascendancy of the peer-reviewed
journal article, and its spin-off into handbooks
and edited volumes, and the displacement of the
sole or co-authored book as the focal point of the
Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm

research conversation. The difference between

Managing Human Assets (BSLMW) in 1984 and
HRM & Performance (PGW) in 2013 is emblematic. Also illustrative is the SHRM review article
by Lepak and Shaw (2008). The reference section
contains 72 citations but only five are books published after 2000, three of these are edited volumes of articles, and two have chapters by one of
the authors. Another indicator of the hard times
for books is that both general management and
HRM field journals no longer feature
book review sections. For example,
An interesting
the Academy of Management Review
(AMR) dropped book reviews in 2009
question needing
(but recently reintroduced into selecmore research
tive issues one book review), and no
book review sections are provided
and discussion is
in Human Resource Management,
Human Resource Management Review,
how the shift in
Human Resource Management Journal,
and International Journal of Human priorities toward firm
Resource Management. As a final
performance and
indicator, few academic-authored
books (outside textbooks) are in the
business partner,
list of best-selling books in human
coupled with the
resource management and personnel on Amazon.com.
decline in power
The early books by FTD and
BSLMW are scholarly works, parof organized labor
ticularly judged relative to the
and rise in power
standard of that time, but are nonetheless aimed at a managerial audiof organized capital
ence and imbued with insights from
the authors substantial consulting (Wall Street, banks,
and field experience. This type of
etc.), squares with
pracademic bridge book continued
to appear in the HRM literature
the viability and
into the early 2000s, such as Lawler
(1992); Ulrich (1997); Pfeffer (1998); reality of an HPWSand Becker, Huselid, and Ulrich
type employment
(2001). Over the past 15 years,
however, this genre has noticeably
faded (but see Boudreau & Ramstad,
2007; Gueutal, Stone, & Salas, 2005;
Wright et al., 2011) as the academic incentive
structure has shifted researchers toward the analytic-scientific path.
Insight on the reasons behind the decline
of the book are provided by Roy Suddaby, current editor of AMR. He observes (Suddaby, 2013,
the scholarly book has suffered at the
hands of an Academy focused on quantiable metrics of productivity. Until
recently, that has meant counting journal
articles, exclusively, and their numbers of


citations. And few tenure and promotion committees in business schools seem
to care that an aspiring associate professor
has published a book chapter. Further,
in the interest of maintaining a schools
reputation on public ratings of quality,
scholars are sometimes actively discouraged from focusing their efforts on books.
Earlier noted was the evolution of the HRM
field from a focus on managerial practice to managerial science. The displacement of books by
journal articles is part of this trend. Opinions will
differ on the balance of benefits and costsperhaps a useful topic for additional discussion (such
as DeNisi et al., 2014). However, as this reviewer
looks over the 30-year evolution of the field, the
advance in scientific rigor associated with journal
articles has brought with it two undesirable outcomes. The first is that the research conversation
becomes increasingly insular, inbred, and selfreferential to the academic journal
literature and its narrow concerns
The research
and preoccupations; the second is
that journal articles have increasconversation
ingly become dull, tedious, and lowbecomes increasingly learning affairs as a combination of
low journal acceptance rates and
insular, inbred, and
the peer-review process tilts authors
toward safe but narrow topics with
self-referential to the
emphasis on technical methods
and away from riskier papers with
academic journal
big-picture ideas, controversial findliterature and its
ings or opinions, and less welcomed
methods. The reviewer has discussed
narrow concerns and
this matter with several journal editors; they all acknowledge the probpreoccupations.
lem but are perplexed how to turn
it around. One remarked (slightly
paraphrased), convince my editorial board and

The field of SHRM emerged in the early mid-1980s
and has grown to become a major area of business research and practice. The formal marker of
the birth of SHRM is the publication in 1984 of
two pioneering books, Strategic Human Resource
Management by Fombrun, Tichy, and Devanna
and Managing Human Assets by Beer, Spector,
Lawrence, Mills, and Walton. This article commemorates the fields 30th anniversary by highlighting central contributions of these two books
and the subsequent growth and development of
the field as mirrored in two quite recently published books by Cascio and Boudreau (2012) and
Paauwe, Guest, and Wright (2013).

The books by FTD and BSLMW deserve to be

considered pioneering because they established
the purpose, vision, basic concepts, and theoretical framework for SHRM that still guide the
field. Comparison of these books with presentday works also reveals interesting areas of progress, continuity, change, and shortcoming. As
seen from the vantage point of 1984 or 2014,
the definition and domain of strategic HRM
remain the same: choice, alignment, and integration of an organizations HRM system so its
human capital resources most effectively contribute to strategic business objectives. Over the
past 30 years, however, SHRM has also evolved
in several significant ways. For example, the
field is more tightly organized around and
focused on the HRM-performance relationship;
committed to a quasi-universalistic superiority of a suitably differentiated human capital/
high-participation HRM system; more strongly
anchored in an AMO-RBV explanation of the
causal path between HRM and performance; has
a stronger company/shareholder/managementcentric perspective driven by operational and
financial returns; and gives more emphasis to
positioning the HR function as a strategic player
and business partner. Downgraded over time as
active considerations are macroeconomic and
industry economic conditions, organizational
and technological characteristics of the production process, the challenges of organizational
change and transformational leadership, alternative stakeholders interests, labor unions and
employment laws, and balance and fairness in
the employment relationship.
To this reviewer, the most solid and valueadded part of SHRM past and present comes from
research in which academics advance practitioner-useful knowledge and tools through a blend
of science-based theory and empirical methods
and experiential insight gained from substantial
involvement with the operational realities and
problems of real-life business organizations. The
good news is that research in the SHRM field still
stands on both of these research legs and portions
of SHRM research are better than ever through
skillful combination of the two. The bad news is
that the mixparticularly in the journal article
part of the fieldseems to becoming increasingly
unbalanced and the publications increasingly
scholastic and nonrelevant as the academic-science component displaces the experiential-practice component.
Opinions may well differ, but examination of
paper titles in recent issues of the Academy of
Managements two flagship journals, as well as
the two- to three-paragraph Implications section
Human Resource Management DOI: 10.1002/hrm


in HRM field journal articles, suggests a large

part of the much-discussed HRM academic-practitioner gap (e.g., Rynes, Giluk, & Brown, 2007)
comes from a creeping scientism with emphasis
on ivory tower theorizing and number-crunching, which produces journal articles having little
contact with or value for real-life organizations
and managers. Fombrun, Tichy, and Devanna
and Beer, Spector, Lawrence, Mills, and Walton,
respectively, wrote pioneering books that built
a new field in HR management, not by running
more sophisticated regressions or adducing new
behavioral antecedents of employee commitment (although these have insight), but by getting out into the world of practice, spotting the
fundamentals of HR change and progress, and
returning to their universities to teach and write
about what they discovered.
If one value-added lesson emerges from this
30-year review article, it is that the HRM field
needs to rebalance by:
1. Reducing ivory tower scientism and upgrading
field investigation and participant-observer

2. Giving more attention to the external side of

HRM and associated social science disciplines
and fields.
3. Broadening research from predominant focus
on best-practice success stories, such as Apple,
Disney, Lincoln Electric, and Southwest, to
include more representative if less inspiring
examples, such as call centers, hotels, poultry
processing plants, and big box stores.
4. Giving more attention to learning lessons
from HPWS failures and the down-phase of
company life cycles (instead of rolling on to
the next success-of-the-day story).
5. Keeping in mind that HRM will always be a part
of companies and often of strategic importance
even if HR departments are low-level administration functions or completely fade away.

I would like to express my appreciation for comments and suggestions received on an earlier draft
from Peter Boxall, Michael Beer, D. Quinn Mills,
John Boudreau, Wayne Cascio, David Guest, Jaap
Paauwe, and Patrick Wright.

BRUCE E. KAUFMAN is professor of economics at Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia,

and research fellow with the Department of Employment Relations & Human Resources and
Centre for Work, Organization and Wellbeing at Grifth University, Brisbane, Queensland,

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