Trace the Evolution of Human Resource Management (HRM).

The modern concept of human resource management (HRM) finds its roots in the early 20th century notion of employee welfare. The large factories that evolved in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries presented managers with major problems of workforce control.

The large scale use of immigrant labor combined with the traditional factory organization of sub-contracting to produce workplaces that had essentially become uncontrolled in any centralized sense of the word. Part of the solution to the problem of establishing management control on the factory floor was found in the development of Scientific Management or Taylorism as it came to be known after its founder, Frederick Taylor (Taylor, 1911).

Although usually thought of today as a prescription for the standardized method of work organization epitomized in the factory assembly line, Taylor actually devised his system in order to establish the leading role of managers in the control of organizations.

Taylorism is an early form of human resource management. It embodies the controlling role of managers who need to have full access to information held by workers on the best methods of carrying out their tasks and it advocates a major emphasis on the selection of the right person for the job, proper training to enable workers to gain the skills they require and good rates of pay to offset the boredom of working in a fragmented and high performance work environment.

One night be forgiven for thinking that these rules had been devised for modern call centers, an example of a contemporary workplace which embodies one of the oldest forms of management control.

Taylorism was, of course, most famously implemented by Henry Ford in his North American automotive plants. Ford is probably best remembered by students of work organization as the inventor or popularize of the moving assembly line for the production of cars. Because of Ford’s innovative combination of Taylorism as a form of management control and the process technology of the assembly line his name became permanently associated with the dominant 20th century form of work organization.

Fordism (Mathews, 1990). However, Ford is slightly less well remembered for his invention of the modern personnel department. In Ford’s larger plants he established “sociology” departments, precursors of the later “employee welfare” departments. The officers employed in the sociology departments pried into the private lives of Ford’s employees to ensure that no aspects of employees personal lives affected their performance at work.

In many cases, this involved Ford in the active welfare of employees and helping them in personal and family matters. In this respect, modern human resource management emerged from the concerns of larger employers with the welfare and performance of their workers.

From its employee welfare roots, “personnel management” spread within the USA and later into Europe and an increasing number of issues concerned with the management of people in organizations came to find a home in the personnel departments of the mid 20th century By the .1960s, the notion of personnel management had become well established with a number of clear areas of responsibility attached to it including:

  • Selection and recruitment.
  • Training and development.
  • Pay and conditions.
  • Industrial relations.
  • Employee welfare.
  • Occupational health and safety.

The emphasis in personnel management in the mid 20th century was on the regulation of the management of people in organizations.

This regulatory role was reinforced, particularly in Europe and Australia (less so in the USA) by increasing government regulation of employment conditions through legislation concerned with the conduct of industrial relations, discrimination, employment rights, health and safety and other employment conditions.

Personnel departments and personnel managers were tasked in larger organizations with producing policies and procedures that ensured that managers kept within the law in their dealings with employees. The procedural and regulatory emphasis in personnel management ensured that personnel departments were viewed as organizational policemen with a brief to control how manager related to their workers.

In some, cases, personnel specialists were viewed as being on the side of the workers against management, not part of management at all. This ambivalence in the role of personnel in organizations led to the common complaint amongst personnel professionals that they were not taken seriously by other members of management and were often not included in discussions about the high level strategy of their organizations (Ulrich, 1997).

The rise of modern human resource management is more than just a change in terminology from personnel management to human resource management. A central feature of modern human resource management is the idea of engaging the commitment of employees with the goals of the organization.

This means that human resource management is not just about administering people but also about shaping the culture of the organization. This means that human resource management is literally too important to be left only to human resource managers.

Engaging the commitment of employees and shaping culture require the active participation and leadership offline managers. The issue of leadership is crucial to effective human resource management. It also means that human resource management has to relate very closely to the strategy of the organization.

This means looking at human resource management issues in a strategic light. The notion of workforce capability, the issue of the ageing of the workforce and the issue of enhancing the vocational competence of the workforce are key strategic human resource management issues. These issues call for a high level strategic response which is what human resource management is focused on.

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