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Unraveling the Influence of Organizational Context on HRM: Exploring the Dynamics

05 Jan 2023,9:59 AM



This analysis examines how organisational contexts affect the nature of HRM. The main question is how HR professionals adapt their practices to suit their work environments. HRM theory often adapts to match organisational and environmental circumstances to produce the outcomes that firms desire and value. This critique uses Google, Amazon, and the COVID-19 pandemic exigencies to uncover how HRM strategy and practices evolve to specific and relevant aspects of an employer's context.

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First, it is important to unpack the nature of HRM and the goals it seeks to achieve in firms. All organisations need people to run their operations. The people that employers bring on board require effective personnel management strategies often implemented by HR professionals. HRM impacts how employees work (Meister, 2021). It entails setting clear goals and direction. According to Armstrong (2016), HRM refers to a unified strategy encompassing the employment, development as well as well-being of individuals working in an enterprise. HRM encompasses various processes, including hiring people, onboarding and training them, providing adequate compensation, and pursuing policies that impact them (Armstrong, 2016; Rubery et al., 2002; Davis et al., 2016). The overarching goal of strategic HRM is to effectively leverage the human capital to meet a firm's strategic needs, like achieving competitiveness (Chapman et al., 2018). HRM ensures employees have the motivation, resources, and know-how to do their best (Armstrong, 2016). Good HR practice also ensures that firms bring the right talent on board and avoid high turnover.

HRM strategies are not cast in stone. They are contextual. The tactics used in one setting may not apply to another. This is especially true because organisations face diverse realities and embrace different norms, competitive activities, and HR philosophies. Military strategists often subscribe to the common adage that "no plan survives contact with the enemy" (Blythe & Megicks, 2010). This statement perfectly captures how HR theories pan out in specific contexts. The implication is that the theoretical approaches touted in the field do not survive contact with specific settings unchanged. Organisational environments are organic, meaning they always impact things around them while being amenable to different pressures. When HRM professionals enter these environments, what they know and how they work changes and adapts profoundly. Their priorities and deliverables must be in tandem with what matters in specific company contexts. Attaining company goals means embracing strategic agility in response to existing market and internal realities (Liu, Lee, & Lee, 2020). Companies must be ready to apportion their resources, coordinate various mechanisms, and properly leverage their know-how and resources (Liu, Lee, & Lee, 2020). They can only achieve this when HR practices are responsive to their unique needs. Failing to adapt HRM strategies can place businesses in a precarious position, given the crucial role individuals play in attaining organisational goals.

Real-life businesses embody the responsive nature of HRM strategy in employers' unique contexts. Consider examples like Amazon and Google. These businesses are great American success stories, yet the HRM practices they pursue are in stark contrast.

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On its part, Amazon has a performance-intensive culture, which impacts the strategic choices made by its HR team and the working conditions employees face. The company's key selling point is convenience. Online shoppers rely on Amazon because it allows them to receive purchases in the comfort of their homes. Amazon started as an online platform where people could buy books in the 1990s but has since morphed into an e-commerce behemoth. This success is attributable to the efforts of its workers, who continually apply themselves to meet customers' demands. In addition, Amazon's workforce adheres to strict performance protocols to ensure buyers get the right merchandise within the expected timeframe.

HRM practitioners in the business have to engender working conditions that advance this performance-intensive culture. In essence, working conditions refer to the crux of paid work as well as employment relationships (International Labour Organisation (ILO, 2020). Working conditions encompass various areas ranging from work design, duration of work (schedules and rest periods, pay, resources, motivators, and the physical and mental exigencies associated with the work personnel do (ILO, 2020). Because of the nature of Amazon's offerings and the philosophy touted by its leaders, HR practitioners have to implement contentious practices that contribute to significant employee turnover (Kelly, 2021). Amazon workers have for years complained that they endure grueling working conditions (Kelly, 2021). They indicate that they have few and timed bathroom breaks and must meet impossible performance goals (Kelly, 2021). Amazon workers also report that their work environment is unsafe (Kelly, 2021). Amazon is not keen to address this issue because it sees high turnover as a blessing. The constant churn in warehouse employees suppresses wages (Kelly, 2021). Amazon seems to embrace the idea hourly employees who remain with the same employer tend to expect raises, yet their input reduces with time (Kelly, 2021). As such, the business encourages its workers to leave, which allows it to fill the spot with "fresh" energy (Kelly, 2021). This also means that there is limited upward mobility (Kelly, 2021). In fact, the firm is more likely to opt for external hires when a managerial position is open (Kelly, 2021). HRM practitioners essentially model their approaches to match the firm's philosophy, even if this means forcing millions of employees to face unsuitable working conditions that force them to leave. The strategies span key touchpoints, including strict control, limited opportunities for advancement, low compensation, and unfitting working conditions. The upshot is Amazon's peculiar philosophical orientation, competitive environment, goals, and tasks impact HRM, defining the specific strategies professionals pursue.

The situation is Google is quite different. Google often features in the World's Best Employers list because of its unorthodox HRM practices. Google's focus is on engendering an innovative workforce. The company acknowledges that it cannot maintain its position as a technology behemoth without continuous creativity and innovation, which boosts its competitiveness in an extremely dynamic market. This alignment informs all the HR strategies the business pursues. Thus, whereas Amazon's HR practitioners have controversial ways to increase performance, Google's HR team places emphasis on practices that allow its employees to thrive and be as innovative as possible.

The main question pertains to what strategic HRM looks like at Google. The fact that Google receives continuous recognition is unsurprising, given the unmatched employee compensation, perks, flexibility, and comfortable work conditions it provides (Forbes Technology Council, 2018). HR personnel in Google personalize employee incentives to offer perks that each person values. The firm also deemphasises hierarchy to allow ad hoc innovation-centred discussions among employees occupying various rungs in the organisational ladder (Stewart, 2013). The company allows its personnel to curate their workstations as they wish and pursue their passion projects (Gillet, 2016). There is a strong emphasis on ensuring each worker finds their role, conditions, and atmosphere enjoyable as well as stimulating. Keeping individuals involved, empowered, and engaged shows them that they are valued and supported and eventually results in desired performance (Armstrong et al., 2020). Motivated employees drive business success since they are ready to do their best to achieve established goals (Fiaz et al., 2017). Unlike Amazon, Google's overarching HR objective is to retain talent, which means embracing strategies that increase employees' intention to stay.

Evidently, the approaches used by Google and Amazon HRM practitioners differ because of the unique environments in which they operate. The distinct approaches used in the two businesses impact the entire employee work cycle and how employees feel about their work. The differences span various HRM areas, including work design, hiring, retention, compensation, employee development, performance management, motivation practices, supervision, and employee well-being. HR priorities in the two firms are worlds apart. Google embraces flexibility, attractive (tangible and intangible) motivators, retention, employee development, relaxed performance management, and employee oversight. In contrast, Amazon focuses on reducing the intention to stay. This orientation leads to controversial HRM policies, including limited development opportunities, grueling work, strict employee control and supervision, and unsafe working conditions. Amazon seems to embody what Kochan (2007) critique as avant-garde HRM, which may prioritise employers' goals over employees' well-being. Kalleberg (2009) problematises this form of precarious work because it hurts staff members. Google turns Amazon's traditionalist orientation on its head by putting personnel well-being first. The two examples show how HRM adapts to suit specific and relevant aspects of the employer's context.

The circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic also provide a good case study for adapting HR to suit prevailing conditions. The novelty, extensive nature, and complexity of the global health crisis constituted a serious challenge to organisations (Hamouche, 2021). This is because the pandemic happened at a time when standard HR strategies in firms hinged on a 'normal times' orientation. As such, HR professionals were thrust into an environment they had never contemplated and had to come up with far-reaching changes almost instantaneously. There was also little information as the crisis unfolded, which forced organisations into a "reactive and survival mode" (Hamouche, 2021). The only way forward was to construct the crisis as an opportunity to learn and adapt. HR practitioners pursued radical changes in all employer contexts to ensure that firms had clear guidelines for mediating COVID-19's unique difficulties. In essence, the pandemic set the pace for HR teams in organisations and defined their deliverables. It was imperative to make unprecedented changes in line, embracing remote working because of shelter-in-place orders (Leonardi, 2020). This new turn impacted working conditions in employers' contexts. Resorting to remote work meant creating coherent guidelines (covering communication, schedules, work procedures, and employee well-being) and availing needed resources and tools (Hamouche, 2021). Other focus areas included support, performance management, job cuts, compensation, oversight, professional development, safety, and change management (Hamouche, 2021). Certain roles could not be performed online, which also warranted attention. HRM practitioners had to identify the roles that required in-person presence and whether the people performing them could continue working. Physical presence was only possible with strict protective measures (Akbarpour et al., 2020). HRM professionals had to support leaders in managing exceptional circumstances and ensure the continuity of core business functions. The strategies applied at the time were specific to the exigencies associated with the global health crisis since pre-pandemic approaches could not account for the emerging organisational realities.

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The preceding analysis shows that adaptation in HRM practice is a must. Firm-specific and environmental circumstances dictate HR priorities. The contrast between Google and Amazon is particularly instructive. On one end of the spectrum, Google strongly emphasises employee well-being and satisfaction as the key to driving competitiveness through innovation. Amazon occupies the other end of the spectrum with its disproportionate focus on gleaning the most output out of its workforce, irrespective of the implications of this direction for their well-being. The key interfaces in which differences most visible arise are hiring, reward systems, work design, work atmosphere, recognition, retention, development opportunities, and career-pathing. The pandemic also presented circumstances that led to the evolution of HRM, causing firms to embrace remote working, which was particularly disruptive. Although remote work is not new, firms were not ready to implement it at the scale triggered by the health crisis. Once again, HRM practitioners had to adapt the strategies their respective firms leveraged to ensure adequate guidelines, resources, and accommodations to help employers and employees navigate exceptional circumstances. In all the discussed instances, HR strategy changes to suit the contextual realities firms face and achieve success or ensure continuity in the way specific organisations value or desire.




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