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Defining HRM

There are numerous definitions and models of HRM but none that is universally agreed.

David Guest, professor in organisational psychology and HRM at King’s College London, states that:

We still lack a coherent theoretical basis for classifying HRM policy and practice, a problem that becomes more apparent when we start to look at the empirical research.

(Guest 1997: 266)

Despite this, let’s look at a few definitions that have appeared in academic literature:

A distinctive approach to employment management which seeks to achieve competitive advantage through the strategic deployment of a highly committed and capable workforce, using a range of cultural, structural and personnel techniques.

(Storey 1995: 5)

Concerned with the employment, development and reward of people in organisations and the conduct of relationships between management and the workforce.

(Armstrong 1999)

Planning, organising, directing, and controlling of the procurement, integration, maintenance and reproduction of human resource to the end that individual organisational and societal objectives are accomplished.

(Edwin 1979)

A managerial perspective which argues the need to establish an integrated series of personnel policies to support organisational strategy.

(Buchanan and Huczynski 2004: 679)

The process of acquiring, training, appraising, and compensating employees, and of attending to their labour relations, health and safety, and fairness concerns.

(Dessler 2020)

However, since there is no such thing as a universal model of HRM, there is no definition of it that can cover all of its possible features either. The basic premises behind HRM on which almost all authors agree are:

  • It’s a distinctive approach to the management of people that serves the interests of modern organisations
  • It’s closely related to the organisation’s business strategy
  • A critical HR management task is to align HR systems of staffing and performance management with the business strategy
  • People are the most important asset of the organisation as they help to generate competitive advantage, therefore people management is a central strategy of an organisation
  • It’s the organisational function that deals with issues related to people, such as compensation, hiring, performance management, organisation development, safety, wellness, benefits, employee motivation, communication, administration and training
  • It’s also a strategic and comprehensive approach to managing people and the workplace culture and environment
  • Effective HRM enables employees to contribute effectively and productively to the overall company direction and the accomplishment of the organisation’s goals and objectives

Your task

Please compare and contrast the HR definitions listed above, and identify the similarities among these definitions. Can you add your own?


Armstrong, M. (1999) A Handbook of HR Management Practice. 7th edn. London: Kogan Page

Buchanan, D.A., and Huczynski, A.A. (2004) Organizational Behaviour. 5th edn. Harlow: FT/Prentice Hall

Dessler, G. (2020) Human Resource Management. 16th edn. London: Pearson Education Limited

Edwin, B.F. (1979) Personnel Management. 6th edn. New York: McGraw-Hill

Guest, D.E. (1997) ‘Human Resource Management and Performance: a Review and Research Agenda’. International Journal of Human Resource Management 8 (3), 263-276

Storey, J. (1995) Human Resource Management: A Critical Text. Cengage Learning EMEA

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to International Human Resources Management

Coventry University