Human Resources Management

Bridge the gulf between HRM theory and practice

By Jaap Paauwe | February 24, 2016 | 2 min read

In thirty years, HRM has developed into a real science. Thanks to the theories and research methods which have been created, we now know that HRM does indeed contribute to the better performance of companies, institutes and people. On the flip side, there is a growing distance between scientists and HR practice. Prof. Dr. Jaap Paauwe, connected with the Advanced Human Resource Program at TIAS, makes a few suggestions with a view to bridging the gulf and proposes setting up an HRM research agenda. 

In 1984, two interesting books were published which gave birth to the Strategic HRM profession. First of all, the so-called Harvard model (Beer et al., 1984) which properly portrayed the different stakeholders and, as far as outcomes were concerned, did not only aim at performance, but also paid attention to individual and social well-being.

In contrast, there was the Michigan approach (Devanna et al., 1984), which, through laying the emphasis on the performance management cycle, was primarily focused on the improvement of employees' performance. 

Thirty years of strategic HRM

What has thirty years of development in this profession brought us? First of all, the development of a real science, admittedly born of practice, but which is now a profession with thousands of scientists worldwide who are occupied in education and research.

This has led to a lot of attention for theory development and testing of supposed relationships in practice. Consequently, we are now far more aware that HRM does indeed contribute to the better performance of companies and institutes and the people working in them. Moreover, a significant part of the so-called black box between HRM and Performance has been solved.

By black box, we mean the mechanisms and processes that provide that link between HRM activities on the one hand and performance on the other. Consider in this respect issues such as commitment, motivation, engagement, leadership style, human capital, well-being, organizational climate, remuneration, equity, etc.

The gulf between theory and practice

On the other side of the coin, there is an increasing distance between scientists with their advanced theories and research methods and HR practice, which simply wants to gain an insight into what works and what doesn't, and under which conditions (with respect to market, sector, level of education, etc.).

Scientific journals are left virtually unread by HR managers and scientists hardly make the effort to care for an easily accessible translation of their findings into practice. How are we going to bridge the gulf? Here are a few suggestions:

  • more emphasis on the co-creation of joint scientific research by universities and trade and industry;
  • engage HR managers as guest speakers in colleges and at universities;
  • do not limit the appraisal and remuneration of scientists exclusively to their publications in leading scientific journals, but also base their appraisal on their ability to translate into practice;
  • focus on socially relevant research which is occupied with real life issues in trade and industry, without allowing it to immediately degenerate into research that only considers management interests. No, the sights must be set on all interested parties in and around the organization.

HRM research agenda

There has recently been a lot of attention for drawing up a research agenda, in which everyone could participate. Why not draw up an HRM research agenda in close collaboration with the Dutch HRM Network, which is the collaborative partnership of HRM professors and the AWVN, which with its network of more than 750 companies and institutes has a good overview of the HRM challenges facing more than 3 million employees?

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