What is Strategic Human Resource Management?

In Human Resource (HR) and management circles nowadays there is much talk about Strategic Human Resource Management and many expensive books can be seen on the shelves of bookshops. But what exactly is SHRM (Strategic Human Resource Development), what are its key features and how does it differ from traditional human resource management?

SHRM or Strategic human resource management is a branch of Human resource management or HRM. It is a fairly new field, which has emerged out of the parent discipline of human resource management. Much of the early or so called traditional HRM literature treated the notion of strategy superficially, rather as a purely operational matter, the results of which cascade down throughout the organisation. There was a kind of unsaid division of territory between people-centred values of HR and harder business values where corporate strategies really belonged. HR practitioners felt uncomfortable in the war cabinet like atmosphere where corporate strategies were formulated.

Definition of SHRM

Strategic human resource management can be defined as the linking of human resources with strategic goals and objectives in order to improve business performance and develop organizational culture that foster innovation, flexibility and competitive advantage. In an organisation SHRM means accepting and involving the HR function as a strategic partner in the formulation and implementation of the company’s strategies through HR activities such as recruiting, selecting, training and rewarding personnel.

How SHRM differs from HRM

In the last two decades there has been an increasing awareness that HR functions were like an island unto itself with softer people-centred values far away from the hard world of real business. In order to justify its own existence HR functions had to be seen as more intimately connected with the strategy and day to day running of the business side of the enterprise. Many writers in the late 1980s, started clamoring for a more strategic approach to the management of people than the standard practices of traditional management of people or industrial relations models. Strategic human resource management focuses on human resource programs with long-term objectives. Instead of focusing on internal human resource issues, the focus is on addressing and solving problems that effect people management programs in the long run and often globally. Therefore the primary goal of strategic human resources is to increase employee productivity by focusing on business obstacles that occur outside of human resources. The primary actions of a strategic human resource manager are to identify key HR areas where strategies can be implemented in the long run to improve the overall employee motivation and productivity. Communication between HR and top management of the company is vital as without active participation no cooperation is possible.

Key Features of Strategic Human Resource Management

The key features of SHRM are

There is an explicit linkage between HR policy and practices and overall organizational strategic aims and the organizational environment
There is some organizing schema linking individual HR interventions so that they are mutually supportive
Much of the responsibility for the management of human resources is devolved down the line

Trends in Strategic Human Resource Management

Human Resource Management professionals are increasingly faced with the issues of employee participation, human resource flow, performance management, reward systems and high commitment work systems in the context of globalization. Older solutions and recipes that worked in a local context do not work in an international context. Cross-cultural issues play a major role here. These are some of the major issues that HR professionals and top management involved in SHRM are grappling with in the first decade of the 21st century:

Internationalization of market integration.
Increased competition, which may not be local or even national through free market ideology
Rapid technological change.
New concepts of line and general management.
Constantly changing ownership and resultant corporate climates.
Cross-cultural issues
The economic gravity shifting from ‘developed’ to ‘developing’ countries

SHRM also reflects some of the main contemporary challenges faced by Human Resource Management: Aligning HR with core business strategy, demographic trends on employment and the labour market, integrating soft skills in HRD and finally Knowledge Management.


Armstrong, M (ed.) 192a) Strategies for Human Resource Management: A Total Business Approach. London:Kogan Page
Beer, M and Spector,B (eds) (1985) Readings in Human Resource Management. New York: Free Press
Boxall, P (1992) ‘Strategic Human Resource Management: Beginnings of a New Theoretical Sophistication?’ Human Resource Management Journal, Vol.2 No.3 Spring.
Fombrun, C.J., Tichy, N,M, and Devanna, M.A. (1984) Strategic Human Resource Management. New York:Wiley
Mintzberg, H, Quinn, J B, Ghoshal, S (198) The Strategy Process, Prentice Hall.
Truss, C and Gratton, L (1994) ‘Strategic Human Resource Management: A Conceptual Approach’, International Journal of Human Resource Management, Vol.5 No.3

Obstacles to Cross Cultural Business Communication

Worldwide organizations are confronting new difficulties to their inward correspondence structures because of real changes realized,
International businesses are facing new challenges to their internal communication structures due to major reforms brought about through internationalization, downsizing, mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures.
Lack of investment in cross cultural training and language tuition often leads to deficient internal cohesion. The loss of clients/customers, poor staff retention, lack of competitive edge, internal conflicts/power struggles, poor working relations, misunderstandings, stress, poor productivity and lack of co-operation are all by-products of poor cross cultural communication.
Cross cultural communications consultants work with international companies to minimise the above consequences of poor cross cultural awareness. Through such cooperation, consultancies like Kwintessential have recognised common hurdles to effective cross cultural communication within companies.
Here we outline a few examples of these obstacles to cross cultural co-operation:
Lack of Communication
It may seem obvious to state that non-communication is probably the biggest contributor to poor communication. Yet it continues to prove itself as the major problem within most companies.
Lack of communication with staff is not solely due to lack of spoken dialogue. Rather it relates to access to information.
For example, not giving feedback (negative or positive), informing staff of decisions and actions that will affect their roles or failure to properly communicate expectations are all ways in which information can be withheld from staff. This will eventually result in an alienated staff base that feels divided from management and superiors.

If managers are too selective in providing information, this can cause suspicion and jealousy among staff and will eventually result in internal strife instead of cohesion.
A management which does not and will not communicate and interact physically with staff demonstrates a lack of interest, trust and respect.
In the West it is often the case that communication lines are vertical. Staff report up to managers and managers up to senior levels and so on. Ideally lines of communication should run both ways. Those with a subordinate place in the communication process tend to feel estranged, indifferent and possibly even belligerent.
Lack of communication in all its forms is unhealthy. Companies and managers must be aware of how, what and to whom they are communicating.
Communication difficulties through language come in two forms:
Use of inappropriate language
Language carries with it subliminal meanings and messages transmitted through vocabulary, stress and tone. The wrong use of words or emotions hidden behind phrases can send messages that affect staff self-perception, confidence and attitude. Critical language causes poor interpersonal relationships and low self-confidence whereas supportive language and tones has the opposite effect.
Foreign Languages
These days, offices may have native speakers of over 50 languages all under one roof. It is important that the main language of the office is established, whether it be English, French or Spanish. Once this is constituted all employees should only converse in the main language. This avoids exclusion of staff who can not understand other languages. In addition, a company should ensure that all its employees are fully conversant in the main language. Language tuition should be seen as a necessity not a luxury.

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