The Strategic Role of International HRM
Summarize the strategic role of human resource management in the international business.
A large and expanding body of academic research suggests that a strong fit between human resources practices and strategy is required for high profitability.3 You will recall from Chapter 12 that superior performance requires not only the right strategy, but the strategy must also be supported by the right organization architecture. Strategy is implemented through organization. As shown in Figure 17.1 (which is based on Figure 12.5), people are the linchpin of a firm’s organization architecture. For a firm to outperform its rivals in the global marketplace, it must have the right people in the right postings. Those people must be trained appropriately so that they have the skill sets required to perform their jobs effectively and so that they behave in a manner that is congruent with the desired culture of the firm. Their compensation packages must create incentives for them to take actions that are consistent with the strategy of the firm, and the performance appraisal system the firm uses must measure the behavior that the firm wants to encourage.
FIGURE 17.1 The Role of Human Resources in Shaping Organization Architecture
As indicated in Figure 17.1, the HRM function, through its staffing, training, compensation, and performance appraisal activities, has a critical impact upon the people, culture, incentive, and control system elements of the firm’s organization architecture (performance appraisal systems are part of the control systems in an enterprise). Thus, HRM professionals have a critically important strategic role. It is incumbent upon them to shape these elements of a firm’s organization architecture in a manner that is consistent with the strategy of the enterprise, so that the firm can effectively implement its strategy.
In short, superior human resource management can be a sustained source of high productivity and competitive advantage in the global economy. At the same time, research suggests that many international businesses have room for improving the effectiveness of their HRM function. In one study of competitiveness among 326 large multinationals, the authors found that human resource management was one of the weakest capabilities in most firms, suggesting that improving the effectiveness of international HRM practices might have substantial performance benefits.4
In Chapters 12, we examined four strategies pursued by international businesses: localization strategy, international strategy, global standardization strategy, and transnational strategy. Firms that emphasize localization try to create value by emphasizing local responsiveness; international firms, by transferring products and competencies overseas; global firms, by realizing experience curve and location economies; and transnational firms, by doing all these things simultaneously. In this chapter, we will see that success also requires HRM policies to be congruent with the firm’s strategy. For example, a transnational strategy imposes different requirements for staffing, management development, and compensation practices than a localization strategy. Firms pursuing a transnational strategy need to build a strong corporate culture and an informal management network for transmitting information and knowledge within the organization. Through its employee selection, management development, performance appraisal, and compensation policies, the HRM function can help develop these things. Thus, as we have noted, HRM has a critical role to play in implementing strategy. In each section that follows, we will review the strategic role of HRM in some detail.