Hard and Soft Models of Human Resource Management Essay

1536 Words Jan 5th, 2012 7 Pages
Human resource management has frequently been described as a concept with two distinct forms: soft and hard. These are diametrically opposed along a number of dimensions, and they have been used by many commentators as devices to categorize approaches to managing people according to developmental-humanist or utilitarian-instrumentalist principles (Legge 1995 b).
The terms have gained some currency although, from a theoretical point of view, the underlying conflicts and tensions contained within the models have not been sufficiently explored and, from a practical perspective, available empirical evidence would suggest that neither model accurately represents what is happening within organizations (Storey 1992; Wood 1995). This leads us to
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1984; Lengnick-Hall and Lengnick-Hall 1990; Miles and Snow 1984; Storey and Sisson 1993; Tichy et al. 1982; Tyson and Fell 1986).
These two perspectives on human resource management are viewed as opposing: 'what is striking is that the same term [HRM] is thus capable of signaling diametrically opposite sets of assumptions' (Storey 1992: 26). However, both Guest and Storey, whilst explicitly acknowledging this dichotomy, incorporate both perspectives when constructing their own human resource management 'models' or 'theories'.
For example, in his 1987 paper, Guest draws on both hard and soft dimensions in constructing his theory of human resource management which contains reference to four HRM 'policy goals', including 'strategic integration', which is clearly associated with his interpretation of the hard model, and 'commitment', which is associated with his view of the soft model. Thus, Guest acknowledges a difference between the concepts and assumptions of soft and hard HRM, but abandons the distinction when embarking upon theory building. Similarly, Storey (1992) identifies his four key features of an HRM approach as incorporating both soft elements such as commitment, and hard elements such as strategic direction.
The incorporation of both soft and hard elements within one theory or model is highly problematic because each rests on a different set of assumptions in the two key areas of

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