Friday, 12 September 2008

Two to Read for HR Specialists in Airlines and Healthcare

I enjoyed my first visit to the British Academy on Management (BAM) since 2001 (see previous post). Two papers in the HR stream particularly caught my attention. The first was a presentation by Greg Bamber, who is now at Monash, on a new book written with American and European colleagues (including colleagues from Glasgow - Judy Pate and Phil Beaumont) entitled 'Up in the Air: how airlines can improve performance by engaging their employees', Cornell University Press (januray 2009). The second was a paper presented by Paula Hyde and Claire Harris on 'Expectations and Performance in Healthcare', which is based on the study they, and others from Manchester Business School, undertook for the Department of Health and the CIPD on HR in the NHS in England.

The material on the airlines was very well researched and well argued, with some useful frameworks for understanding the relationships between commitment strategies and unionisation. The authors have done an interesting job in mapping out the changes in HR strategies over time of the low cost and legacy airlines, showing that being low cost and good at HR isn't incompatible. For example, South West Airlines has a positive relationship with unions, employees high commitment strategies and was the most profitable airline in the industry last year. Greg quoted a senior airline official from one of the pilots associations, which went along the lines of 'Why is it that other airlines don't get it'? It is clear that some don't and have developed other consistent strategies of low cost and low commitment HR/anti-union stance, which also have been successful. The problem children seem to be those airlines that, to borrow from Michael Porter's phrase, are 'stuck in the middle', neither making one decision or another. While this is an appealing analogy, it only takes us so far. Reminiscent of criticisms of Porter's boxology, life isn't quite so simple and if everyone followed the same strategy, where's the competitive advantage in that?

The HR in the NHS study is the culmination of three years 'hard labour' for a multi-author research project for the CIPD and Department of Health. For any HR manager in healthcare, this research is an essential read. Claire and Paula's paper provided some excellent data on HR strategies, psychological contracting and HR outcomes. They have also developed a very useful model bringing these issues together, which is both rigorous and relevant (the theme of the conference) to academics and practioners in healthcare. However, they may want to think about how the issue of public value might be incorporated into their model (see earlier post from work we are doing on human capital and public value) and on the notion of valued expectations in psychological contracting, which I discussed in our book on corporate reputations, branding and HR.

This is definitely one to read for my colleagues and students working in the NHS in Scotland.

See Hyde, P., Boaden, R., Marchington, M.P., Claire Harris, Paul Sparrow, Sarah Pass, Carroll, M. & Penny Cortvriend (2008) 'The process of engagement and alignment: Improving health through human resource management', Department of Health, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

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