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Strategic human resource management: performance, alignment, management


David Baker,
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Strategic human
Strategic human resource resource
management: performance, management

alignment, management
51
David Baker
Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Academic Infrastructure and Human Resources,
University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK

Keywords Commitment, Ethics, Higher education, Human resource management,


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Performance, Strategy
Abstract This article looks at current trends in human resource management (HRM) and the
relatively new concept of strategic HRM (SHRM) with special reference to the United Kingdom
(UK) Higher Education (HE) community. The article reviews recent management theory in the
field and considers how it can usefully be applied in a practical context. The second part of the
article concentrates on specific issues relating to employment relations in HE with special reference
to the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Improving organisational performance by using SHRM


Strategic human resource management (SHRM) has a number of key features.
These include: the internal integration of personnel policies and their external
integration with overall strategy; line management responsibility for HR
implementation and, to a certain extent, policy; individual rather than collective
employee relations; an emphasis on commitment and the exercise of initiative,
with managers donning the role of “enabler”, “empowerer”, and “facilitator”.
Hendry and Pettigrew (1986) amplify this with the following: use of
planning; a coherent approach to the design and management of personnel
systems based on an employment policy and manpower strategy, and often
underpinned by a “philosophy”; matching HRM activities and policies to some
explicit strategy; seeing the people of the organisation as a “strategic resource”
for achieving “competitive advantage”.
The 1980s and 1990s have been a period of significant change in national and
world economies: increased globalisation and global competition, the decay of
traditional industries and the rise of new ones – not necessarily based in the
West, or even in first or second world countries – the privatisation of much
activity that was previously in the public domain, the reduction in power of
trade unions, the impact of information technology; all these and other socio-
economic and political factors have caused a rethink of the way in which
organisations are managed.
SHRM has been one of the major developments of this rethinking process.
There have been a number of reasons for this. In many organisations, staff costs
represent a major proportion of the budget; the cost-effective deployment of Library Career Development,
Vol. 7 No. 5, 1999, pp. 51-63,
personnel must be a key priority in any competitive situation. Nonaka (1996), © MCB University Press, 0968-0810
Librarian amongst others, has stressed the importance of personal commitment to the
Career effective organisation and the centrality of knowledge creation (knowledge
Development created, nurtured and stored by people rather than systems) to its long-term
7,5 well-being. Grant (1991) sums up a now-widely-held view that “capabilities are
the main source of a firm’s competitive advantage”. SHRM aims to provide the
framework within which these key characteristics can be fostered.
52 In essence, SHRM requires a holistic approach, with not only an internal
integration between personnel systems (recruitment, selection, rewards
mechanisms, appraisal performance management), but also an integration
between those systems – summarised in an HR strategy - and the organisation’s
strategy overall. Thinking holistically about HRM may lead to a greater degree
of success simply because changes envisaged in one area of an organisation (e.g.
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structures) are more likely to work because all the knock-on effects of such a
change have been considered (e.g. recruitment, selection and induction policies).
Guest (1992) argues that such a coherent approach to human resource
management policies can also lead, via the generic HRM outcomes of strategic
integration, commitment, flexibility/adaptability of the workforce and quality
(all necessary ingredients when developing a competitive edge), to the following
benefits to the organisation which has adopted SHRM:
• high job performance;
• high problem solving, change and innovation;
• high cost-effectiveness; and
• low turnover, absence, grievances.
Storey (1992) adds to this list attitude and behaviour changes amongst the
workforce, resulting in highly desirable increases in competitive performance.
However, in the hard-headed world of the 1990s, SHRM will not be taken
seriously unless it can be demonstrated that, like any other new initiative, it is
worth the return on investment. “Traditionally, the HR director could talk
abstractly and conceptually about employee morale, turnover, and
commitment. To fulfil the business partner role of HR, concepts need to be
replaced with evidence, ideas with results, and perceptions with assessments”
(Ulrich, 1997).
Employee commitment is seen as an important way of securing SHRM. This
is a difficult challenge, given the increasing job insecurity in many countries
and industries. It requires the development of new psychological (as opposed to
employment) contracts:
The employee will be employed as long as he or she adds value to the organisation, and is
personally responsible for finding new ways to add value. In return, the employee has the
right to demand interesting and important work, has the freedom and resources to perform it
well, receives pay that reflects his or her contribution, and gets the experience and training
needed to be employable here or elsewhere (Hiltrop, 1995).
Such contracts require effective and fair performance management systems Strategic human
(Sparrow, 1996) and a flexible approach with different groups of workers resource
(Herriot, 1994). management
Developing an ethical approach is an important way of achieving positive
performance:
Treating employees ethically simply means treating them with ordinary decency and
distributive justice. The ethical business rewards contributions to the business objective, and
53
is honest and fair to its staff... crucially, since trust is so dependent upon expectations, the
ethical business is extremely careful about the expectations it engenders (Sternberg, 1995).
Performance measurement systems aimed at developing and maintaining
quality will allow for a clear articulation of the outputs which SHRM is
intended to improve. These criteria will vary depending upon the particular
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context but, provided they are organisation-wide, they will enable a link
between HR and organisational strategy to be formed and the relative priorities
within both strategies to be identified more easily. Lawson (1995) has developed
a “performance pyramid” which aims to link day-to-day operations with
internal and external foci leading all the way up to the overall goals and values
of the organisation. Such an approach allows for the identification of the “key
results areas” and business processes and their integration with SHRM.
Assessing stakeholder value can be a way of achieving SHRM. By aligning
all the different stakeholders’ expectations, the holistic approach noted above
can be achieved, whilst at the same time individual and group/organisational
objectives can be compared/reconciled. Such an approach is not new in business
management, though the emphasis placed on HR strategies is novel, as are the
efforts to attach quantifiable measurements to the effectiveness of SHRM within
the organisation. There would appear to be examples of significant
improvement in an organisation’s performance as a result (Yeung and Berman,
1997).

Aligning organisational and HR strategies: benefits and difficulties


Benefits
The adoption of an SHRM approach necessitates the alignment of HR strategies
with overall business strategies, as already noted. This in itself can provide a
benefit, for without a clear overall strategy into which an SHRM approach can
be integrated, then SHRM is not possible. SHRM forces the development of an
overall strategy where none exists.
Indeed, SHRM can become a driving force with regard to the development of
the organisation. “The critical management task is to align the formal structure
and the HR systems so that they drive the strategic objective of the
organisation” (Fombrun et al., 1984). Experience at Sears, Roebuck & Co. seems
to provide evidence of the benefits of HR strategy as the key driver of business
success (Yeung and Berman, 1997). Similarly, because SHRM places a strong
emphasis on ethics, business strategy can be influenced to develop beyond the
Librarian immediate needs of the profit and loss account. The “green” approach of some
Career companies is an example of such an application.
Development Mueller (1996) argues that SHRM grows out of an organic development
process which is facilitated by “persistent intent” and builds on underlying
7,5 developments in skills formation and established patterns of “spontaneous co-
operation”. This should ensure that the best of existing practices and attitudes
54 can be retained, whilst alignment with overall objectives takes place.
Additionally, the holistic approach required by SHRM encourages the best
interaction between HR and other resources, resulting in more complex
interdependencies, which are harder to imitate than straightforward good
quality HR systems (which are imitatable) or first-rate people (who can easily be
poached).
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The longer-term approach suggested above can yield additional benefits:


...consistency in the management approach, over time and across all levels of management as
a group, was...a key feature in determining whether the HR strategy was a deliberate or
evolving process...in a real sense the middle managers “made” the strategy through their
involvement in the day-to-day running of the business (Hendry, 1995).
Reference has already been made to the need for internal as well as strategic
integration of HR strategy and policies. If the strategic alignment of HR policies
is appropriate for the organisation, then the concomitant internal integration of
the associated competence-based HR policies and practices will result in a much
more effective use of human resources within the organisation, and more
efficient HR systems – simply because they are clearly linked to the overall
objectives of the organisation. If working properly, these systems will engender
better ownership of such objectives amongst the workforce.
SHRM requires the identification and building of core competences to be
successful. Such competences can become major competitive advantages for the
organisation, being difficult to imitate when they are well embedded into the
organisation (Mueller, 1996). However, at its most effective, SHRM must take
account of informal skills development and allow scope for bottom-up input
and interaction with every-day work (see also above). This coincides with the
widely-recognised need to involve and empower line management in the SHRM
process. “Human resource management [in the NHS] was perceived as effective
in those instances where senior managers were involved in the formalisation of
HR policy and where the quality and efficiency of the personnel support was
regarded positively; whether the personnel department was staffed by
professional specialists had no impact on its perceived effectiveness” (Guest and
Peccei, 1994).

Difficulties
Aligning organisational and HR strategies also presents a number of
difficulties. “...strategy development may be incremental, ad hoc social, cultural
and political affairs where numerous cognitive, information limitations – allied
to cultural ways of thinking, and political loyalties, and historic relationships
and interests – play major roles in structuring how managers think and what Strategic human
they think about” (Mabey et al., 1998). SHRM assumes a stability and a resource
rationality which is simply not evident in the “real world”. The same is true of management
textbook performance management systems, with their clinical control loop
approach. Where SHRM is imposed “top-down” as a “scientific exercise”, then
the result is likely to be a cynical workforce (Mallon, 1998; Stiles et al., 1997).
Much SHRM writing presents idealised lists of the way in which SHRM (as 55
opposed to personnel and industrial) “dimensions” can be achieved. While such
lists provide a useful checklist of features and a way of placing individual
organisations in terms of their adoption of SHRM, they are over-simplistic.
“SHRM presents as inevitable and necessary organisational strategies which
may in fact be political choices aimed at displacing the costs of organisational
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decline to the less advantaged members of the organisation, while presenting


these policies as inevitable and neutral” (Mabey, et al., 1998). Many
organisations may be unable to formulate clear strategic objectives which can
be cascaded and owned round the organisation. Strategy may be determined
bottom up rather than top-down, or cross-sectorally, putting the holism of
SHRM into jeopardy.
Moreover, “it [i.e. SHRM] has been held to consist of contradictory ideas – for
example, simultaneously stressing individualism (in pay schemes) and co-
operation; employee commitment and managerial flexibility...” (Mabey et al.,
1998). This also raises issues of “strategic fit” and the difficulty of matching
long-term ideals expressed in the form of high-level SHRM statements with
short-term requirements (e.g. to cut costs and to lose jobs). Additionally, “single
recipe” approaches to SHRM take little or no account of cultural difference
between organisations or even countries (Hoecklin, 1995). The pressure to
succeed may run counter to the long-termism of SHRM. Despite the earlier
comments about successful implementation of SHRM, there is still relatively
little evidence that SHRM has a direct causal relationship to improved
performance within organisations. This relates back to Mueller’s (1996)
arguments that the real benefit of SHRM is at the more organic, underlying
levels and that SHRM is often caused by success rather than being an
influencing factor in the first place. Such arguments are unlikely to win over
hard-hearted finance directors or shareholders interested in next year’s balance
sheet. In this context it is interesting to note that the present series of radio
advertisements in the UK for Investors in People (IiP) concentrate on
productivity increases at those companies where IiP has been adopted.

Employment relations and human resource management


The management literature provides differing views and definitions with
regard to both employment relations (ER) and human resource management
(HRM). The Harvard Group labels HRM as the “high commitment work
system”, one of a number of employment systems, all of which are still in
operation (Lawrence, 1985). HRM may only apply to a core or primary group of
Librarian workers, with secondary or peripheral workforce groups being subject to other
Career ER (or IR – industrial relations) practices.
Development Bain and Clegg’s (1974, p. 98) earlier definition of IR as “the study of the rules
governing employment and the way rules are changed, interpreted and
7,5 administered” supports this view, given that this allows for coverage of all
aspects of the employer-employee relationship. This approach emphasises
56 process and regulation. Mabey et al. (1998, p. 278) note that IR has become too
closely associated with the traditional and declining industries; ER represents a
more holistic viewpoint, being industry-neutral and more reflective of a
situation where all employees (and not just trade union members) are included;
and where, increasingly, the relationships are with the individual employee
rather than the industry workforce as a whole, possibly to the exclusion of
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collective relations.
HRM may be categorised as a subset of ER, with ER encompassing a broader
range of activities and concerns. Strategic HRM is certainly more broadly based
than such a categorisation, however. It can also be seen as evolving from ER/IR.
As Cappelli (1995, p. 595) notes: “The pressure on employers to break many [my
emphasis] different aspects of the traditional employment relationship are
intense and appear unlikely to abate in the immediate future”. This is reinforced
by the writings of Kochan et al. (1986), though it is economic pressure as much
as strategic choice which is the driver. “The critical management task is to align
the formal structure and the HR systems so that they drive the strategic
objective of the organisation” (Fombrun et al. 1984, p. 37).
The Harvard approach has as its core “the responsibility and capacity of
managers to make decisions about the relationship between the organisation
and its employees such as to maximise the organisational outcomes for key
stakeholders”. While this “undermines workforce organisation or collectivist
values...” it nevertheless encompasses a range of activity no less wide than
IR/ER, as defined above, focussing as it does on “managers’ responsibility to
manage four key SHRM policy areas: employee influence (participation);
human resource flow; reward system; and work systems (work organisation)”
(Mabey et al., 1998, p. 61). Given the definition of HRM as the “high commitment
system”, it can also encompass worker participation, not least because
employees are one of the key stakeholder groups (Kaplan and Norton, 1992).
In reality, then, there is a considerable degree of overlap between IR/ER and
HRM. Both share similar contexts: geography (global, national, regional, local);
industry (type, traditions, markets, product, technology push/pull); size (sector,
structures, globalisation workforce, organisation); politics (economics, culture,
legislation); ethics (equity, fairness). ER emphasises the interaction and, indeed,
conflict, between employer and employee, within the pluralistic and the radical
frames of reference defined by Alan Fox (Donovan, 1968), while (S)HRM leans
towards Fox’s unitary perspective where “there is essentially only space for one
source of legitimacy and there is or ought to be a single, shared, set of
objectives...” In its purest form, “there is no legitimate place for trade unions
because they represent an alternative, competing, source of legitimacy and
crystallise alternative objectives” (Mabey et al. 1998, p. 281). More realistically, Strategic human
Fox’s “pluralist frame of reference” recognises that conflict is an inevitable and resource
ongoing part of ER with trade unions “being accepted and even valued for their management
representational role” (Mabey et al., 1998, p. 282).

Employment relations: strategic choices


Child (1972) proposed the idea of “strategic choice”, in contrast to earlier 57
theories of organisational behaviour which took a systems perspective and
assumed that patterns within IR/ER were largely as a result of societal and
economic variables. Piore and Sabel (1984) postulate that it is the prevailing
economic system which drives the way in which ER issues are resolved.
Historical analysis of ER suggests that strategic choice is typically set within
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the context of overall trends: Fordism, Taylorism, new industrial relations,


outsourcing.
Microeconomic considerations at sector, industry and even business unit
level may affect the way in which strategic choice can be exercised. Union
derecognition in the traditional manufacturing sectors is relatively low; union
recognition ab initio in growth sectors (technology, services) is much lower
(TUC, 1999). Additionally, SHRM theory would argue that involvement of all
key stakeholders, and not just those with the power or responsibility to make
strategic decisions, is important, thus limiting overall flexibility of ER choices.
Choice may also be limited by the extent of regulation, whether nationally,
sectorally or locally. Rules may apply to some aspects of ER, whether as a result
of legislation, context or tradition. On the other hand, regulation may be
welcomed by both employer and employees as a way of managing ER, whether
in terms of process (how the relationship is conducted) or substance (the agenda
for discussion within the relationship).
Regulation may be self-imposed or externally and (sometimes) legally laid
down. The European Working Time Directive and the national minimum wage
are examples of strategic choice exercised primarily by governments which
then limit the flexibility of management across the board to exercise strategic
choice in ER matters. Regini (1984) argues that regional groupings are a
powerful determinant of managers’ or even sectors’ ability to make choices.
Additionally, industries themselves may regulate the way in which ER are
managed.
Where and how can local determination of ER or HRM policy and practice be
effectively made, given the regulatory framework within which management
has to operate, regardless of whether that framework is internally or externally
driven? Given the importance of employee commitment within the (S)HRM
model, the manager will need to consider the most appropriate ways of
engaging the workforce. This will need to encompass strategies for developing
partnership and consultation, including a determination of the extent to which
the employer-employee relationship is carried out with and through trade union
representatives.
Librarian This last strategic choice will need to resolve issues such as the nature and
Career extent of collective bargaining, and the level of recognition of the trade union for
Development negotiating and bargaining purposes. This will involve decisions regarding
when, where and how employees are treated managerially and contractually as
7,5 individuals and when as members of a workforce for whom consultation is
carried out via representatives, who may be acting within a trade union. The
58 types of contract to be used, and the location of the division between primary
and secondary labour markets within the organisation or the industry are
important strategic choices, though the individual manager’s opportunity for
flexibility may be governed not only by external regulation (perhaps enforced
through trade union involvement and agreed employment practices) but also by
custom and practice within the industry and/or market forces, especially in
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relation to core workers from whom high commitment is particularly desired


(Hendry, 1995).
Trade union involvement: Within the UK “over the last few years there have
been many changes to the laws on employment rights and on trade union
affairs. The effect of many of these changes has been to weaken the influence of
trade unions and the rights people have at work” (TUC, 1999). This has been
replicated in other countries (Mabey, et al., 1998, p. 288). However, “the new
Labour Government is committed to restoring some rights which workers have
lost. They will [sic] sign the European Social Chapter, introduce a national
minimum wage and publish a white paper on fairness at work” (TUC, 1999).
Options can themselves be grouped into and determined by an ER strategy,
the overarching development of which is in itself a strategic choice. Arguably it
is at this point that ER and (S)HRM overlap most. An SHRM approach offers
strategic choice and strategic constraints, given the link between ER and
overall unit or sectoral business strategy. On the one hand, SHRM can partially
drive overall objectives; on the other, it is driven by the other considerations
which typically make up corporate strategy.
“The notion of strategy, as its military origins suggest, means choosing
means and resources to achieve selected objectives...business strategy involves
two key elements: formulating strategies and implementing them” (Mabey et
al., 1998, p. 62). The choices listed above are strategic, not least in that they:
(1) choose means (e.g. collective bargaining) and resources (e.g. personnel
staff, trade union representatives) to achieve engagement of the
workforce in achieving overarching unit or industry objectives; and
(2) assist in the formulation of strategy and its implementation, the results
of these choices creating both means (e.g. negotiating procedures) and
resources (a committed workforce) by which macro-level strategy can be
achieved.

Key choices: key factors


The extent to which the exercise of choice in ER contributes effectively to
overall strategic success will depend also on the way in which the necessary
decisions are reached and implemented. Trade union recognition is an Strategic human
important aspect of ER and encompasses a number of the strategic choice resource
issues listed above. In this discussion, particular reference will be made to one management
particular sector (UK higher education – HE) and a specific organisation within
that sector (the University of East Anglia – UEA) as exemplars.
The Trades Union Congress (1999) has recognised that the fall in
membership from 55 per cent in 1979 to 32 per cent of the total UK workforce in 59
1995 (figures taken from the Labour Force Survey) is only partly as a result of
“hostile” legislation. Other factors include:
• A dramatic fall in the number of jobs in manufacturing industries where
union membership was traditionally high.
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• Larger numbers of unemployed people .


• A fall in traditional full-time employment and an increase in part-time
and temporary workers who are less likely to join unions.
• An increase in the proportion of the workforce employed by small
companies (SMEs – small- to medium-sized enterprises) where it is often
difficult for unions to organise.
For the manager working within a multi-national company (MNC) such factors
will vary between countries, regions and cultures (European Network for SME
Research, 1996). The structural reordering of larger organisations into groups
of strategic business units (SBUs) and the decentralisation of ER management
has created an environment where union-management interaction (where it
exists) is at a micro rather than macro level.
In UK HE, national level pay bargaining is being replaced by local variation
and even opt-out from national structures, and where union membership has
declined significantly across all grades of staff, because of a growth in
individual contracts (for professorial staff), a significant increase in part-time
and fixed-term personnel and outsourcing of non-core activity[1]. The latest pay
review within UK HE may provide a sector-wide bargaining for pay levels, but
with institution-specific flexibility in how such levels are interpreted, across all
grades and types of staff (Swain, 1999). Such an approach will allow UEA to
pay less for a professor or a cleaner than University College London, because it
is easier to recruit to, and within, Norfolk than central London.
Universities have undergone significant restructuring over the last ten years,
moving towards an SBU model of substantial delegation to individual academic
and service units, each of which has its own budget, management style and
objectives, all of which will impact upon the way in which ER are handled. In
this context, sector-level leaders and unit-level managers will have to determine
where trade union representation fits (given that trade unions represent the
relevant workforce overall rather than specific workers) and the extent to which
it can be a force for good (in the sense of positive SHRM developments) in a
devolved managerial environment.
Librarian The TUC argues that dismissal rates and low pay are higher in non-
Career unionised units than in unionised ones (Workplace Industrial Relations Survey,
1990). This is borne out by Storey (1994) and others. The manager is thus faced
Development with ethical as well as strategic issues, though the resolution of these can be a
7,5 useful benchmark in respect of the efficacy of trade union recognition. Is the
casualisation of the workforce or a tendency to operate “at or beyond the
60 margins of legality” (Storey, 1994, p. 179) acceptable? Can a good university
employer tolerate the creation of a “peripheral” workforce outside the high
commitment system as the result of outsourcing activities such as catering and
cleaning, estate and management information services, while senior academic
staff enjoy the “perks” of “full” SHRM?
Recognition or involvement of trade unions within an ER framework is an
important way of responding to these challenges. Freeman and Medoff (1984)
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argue that trade unions can act as an important extension and partner of
management, including an agency function (collective rather than individual
handling of cases and issues); communication (generic and apposite articulation
of workforce concerns); legitimation (of procedure, substance and managerial
roles). Research by Kochan et al. (1986) suggests that when trades unions play
these roles with and for management, positive benefit in ER can ensue.
UK HE has traditionally adopted a hybrid approach to trades union
recognition. Constitutionally, universities are independent organisations which
can determine their own ER strategies, within overall legislative and financial
constraints. In practice, most if not all, UK higher education institutions (HEIs)
delegate pay and bargaining to a national body – currently the Universities and
Colleges Employment Association (UCEA) – with other terms and conditions
being determined locally, with or without union involvement, depending upon
HEI-level policy and practice. This approach is seen as having more advantages
than disadvantages: nationally set minimum terms and conditions can be locally
adapted; it prevents leapfrogging or individual universities being “picked off”; it
frees up local HR staff for other work; it acts as a safety valve in national
disputes; it maintains individual university involvement through the UCEA.
UEA is looking to develop a partnership approach with the trade unions (cf.
Kochan and Osterman, 1994; IPA, 1992). This is within the framework of a
number of undertakings by the management: no compulsory redundancy; equal
opportunity; joint consultation (through formal committees where necessary).
Representation (rather than recognition) has been extended to include: regular
and formal single-table consultation about major issues relating to corporate
strategy and affecting the workforce; membership of the formal body (with
delegated authority from UEA’s governing body in respect of all HRM matters).
Recognition continues for grievance resolution and single-union negotiation on
terms and conditions affecting particular groups of workers. This policy has
been adopted because UEA recognises on the one hand that it does not have the
skills or (more importantly) the resources to engage in regular collective
bargaining on pay, but that it does have local expertise and resource (in the
form of a centralised personnel office) to develop policy and practice within this
overall framework.
Experience will suggest to specific sectors and managers the extent to which Strategic human
trade union involvement and recognition is an inhibitor or a positive force. Non- resource
union environments have been regarded increasingly as having a “largely management
favourable and benign image” (McLoughlin and Gourlay, 1994, p. 3). The TUC
itself – promoting the partnership approach – recognises that “organisations
must be competitive in the global markets if they are to be successful and
provide secure employment for employees” with trade unions “working in 61
partnership with employers”; they must act “as a positive force for change – by
winning employees’ support to the introduction of new technologies and work
organisation” (TUC, 1999) (see also Daniel, 1987; Daniel and Millward, 1993).
The development of a single pay spine for all HE staff is moving national as
well as local negotiations towards a single table model, though because of the
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differing needs of, say, academic staff and technical staff, some continuance of
tiered arrangements is likely (Swain, 1999). Notwithstanding this, single table
arrangements at both national and local level are seen as being a positive move
towards harmonising not just pay and conditions for university employees, but
also from minimising the number of peripheral “ancillary” workers and
building commitment amongst all staff groups.
In a highly decentralised organisation such as UEA, corporate level
monitoring of implementation of agreements must take place. In some areas, for
example, flexi-time is practised; in others, not. Differing interpretations of pay
and grading schemes may emerge, with “rich” SBUs paying more than “poor”
ones; the trade union can play a useful monitoring role alongside corporate HR
staff in identifying misuse of agreements.
What UEA is now aiming to do is to codify its approach to ER/HRM by
developing an overarching HR strategy. In this context, the corporate approach
aims to stress high commitment and trade union recognition and involvement,
despite Guest’s (1998) comments about the possible conflicts between
commitment to trade union and the organisation. The aim is to avoid
“piecemeal HRM initiatives” and the bypassing or ignoring of the industrial
relations system (Guest, 1998, p. 245), though thus far trade unions have been
cast as the formal negotiating body rather than a real partner. What must be
avoided is a move towards Guest’s HRM blackhole. In practice, we are likely to
have a cross between his high HRM/IR priority and the high HRM/no IR model
for certain groups (e.g. professors) who have benefited from being taken out of
the traditional IR model (Millward et al., 1992).

Note
1. See, for example, the latest issue of The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES), for
articles on a university opting out of national bargaining; the collapse of the Australian
equivalent procedures; tougher terms and conditions (imposed seemingly top-down by
management) in colleges. Durham University has outsourced its MIS operations (Annual
Report, 1998); Newcastle University reports a 1 per cent increase in full-time permanent
academic staff and an 87 per cent increase in contract teachers and researchers since 1987
(presentation to National SAP Seminar, December 1998).
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