‘Unconventional’ International Human Resource Management
The importance of Human Resource Management (HRM) for today’s organisations cannot be underestimated. Several organisations are prioritising the needs of the employees compared to the customers’ needs. Moreover, a number of literary sources state that employees are the most critical organisational asset. Currently, the scope of Human Resource (HR) is not only restricted to HR planning, selection and recruitment, staffing, and training and developing employees (traditional HR functions), but also adapted in accordance with the prevailing needs of the organisation. Every organisation has its own distinctive HR policies and practices used for managing their employees. With organisations adopting cross-border expansion strategies, international HRM (IHRM) plays a crucial role in managing employees in diverse business contexts in order to ensure that the objectives of the organisation are achieved. A recent trend that has been observed in a number of organisations is related to the use of unconventional HRM practices, which have been instrumental in enabling the given organisations to develop competitive advantage. Unconventional HRM practices are risky and not all organisations are in a position to adopt such a unique approach to HRM; nonetheless, some of the organisations have reported immense success owing this approach. In the current paper, a case study of a company that uses unconventional HRM practices is presented. To this end, a literature review focusing on unconventional HRM practices is conducted, while the methodology used for developing the case study is presented, and lastly, the findings related to the case study on Google Inc. are presented. The managerial and policy implications of the findings are discussed in the conclusion.
The term unconventional means not conforming to something ordinary; therefore, something conventional means that it does not comply with the accepted standards. In the context of HRM, unconventional practices denote the use of approaches and practices that are different from the traditional HRM perspectives. The use of unconventional HRM practices is justified based on the fact that the business environment is dynamic and ever changing; therefore, traditional approaches to HRM are sometimes obsolete and need to evolve. The functions of traditional HRM focus on selecting and recruiting the right people and using them to achieve the goals and objectives of the organisation. To put it simple, firms that use conventional HRM focus on recruiting people and subsequently motivating them. There is no doubt that when an organisation evolves during the period of its existence and enters a stage that requires the establishment and continuous improvement of effective management, HRM should also be changed. This means that organisational change might also influence a change in the HRM approaches used by an organisation. As mentioned earlier, conventional HRM is all about recruiting the right employees based on the demands of the job position, and then ensuring that their abilities fit the requirements of their positions. Conventional HRM perspective places emphasis on the work experience, skills, and the educational background of an individual.
When an organisation enters a stage that requires more profound strategic thinking such as international expansion, conventional HRM approaches are of little importance in helping the organisation accomplish its goals. Traditional HRM has been vastly studied in the literature, with researchers acknowledging the need for organisations to adopt unique HRM practices that would match the changes taking place in the external environment such as the labour markets and the opportunities that technological developments offer to refine HRM. In the following subsection, the features of traditional HRM are discussed in order to shed light on the nature of unconventional HRM practices.
Features of Traditional HRM
A key feature of traditional HRM is its emphasis on functional activities as well as process orientation. The functional activities emphasised by conventional HRM include training of employees, management of compensation, appraisal of the employees’ performance, management of employee relations, selection and recruitment, job analysis, and HR planning. Process orientation in the traditional HRM is characterised by the establishment of guidelines, contracts and procedures as well as policies and initiatives aimed at enhancing employee performance through compliance with these crafted agreements. For example, selection and recruitment under traditional HRM is based on the strict adherence to the established norms and such measures as performing a job analysis, publicising the vacant position depending on the requirements and specifications of the job, gathering resumes, performing written evaluations, conducting interviews, and developing a rank list according to the published criteria for selecting the potential applicants. These written procedures and rules are applied in all HR activities. Moreover, these rules are often inflexible and standardised, and are marginally oriented towards achieving the strategic objectives of the organisation. Since traditional HRM focuses on the process orientation and functional activity, the result is an institutionalised HRM characterised by fixed grades as well as restricted mobility between the grades for employees.
The second feature of the traditional HRM is the controlled work atmosphere characterised by narrow and structured job definitions as well as detailed procedures and rules to be followed in the workplace. As a result, employees lack autonomy, while deviation from the established policies and procedures results in disciplinary actions. Moreover, collective bargaining by the trade unions plays a dominant role in determining the pay scales for employees. Because of the inflexible work environment in traditional HRM, promotion is primarily influenced by seniority. Apart from the tightly defined job structure with respect to written job obligations, the top management is considered to be competent in making decisions. In organisations using traditional HRM, merit is determined by the outcomes of systematic employee appraisals as well as educational qualifications. Merit is an important factor when determining the rates of compensation and promotion. Since conventional HRM focuses on control, it is characterised by the supervision and monitoring of employees aimed at making sure that they comply with the given contracts, guidelines, procedures and rules. The core factor in regard to the establishment and subsequent maintenance of such regulations are the rules of collective bargaining and group negotiation, but not individual facilitation. In this respect, Godard points out that benefits and contracts in traditional HRM are often standardised instead of being individualistic as is the case with unconventional HRM. In addition, the traditional HRM pursues the goal of motivating employees using direct methods such as the simplification of the job, rewards and incentives in order to improve employee performance. Such an approach is based on the assumption that enhancing job satisfaction results in enhanced employee performance, which is contrasted with the modern motivational methods like providing employees with an opportunity to be creative and be assigned with challenging work.