HRM is delivered through the HR architecture of an organization, which includes the HR system and the HR delivery model adopted by the HR function.
Purcell (1999: 38) suggested that the focus should be on ‘appropriate HR architecture and the processes that contribute to organizational performance’. HR architecture is much more than just the structure of the HR function; it also includes the HR systems and processes and employee behaviours. As explained by Becker et al (2001: 12): ‘We use the term HR architecture to broadly describe the continuum from the HR professionals within the HR function, to the system of HR related policies and practices, through the competencies, motivation and associated behaviours of the firm’s employees’. Becker and Huselid (2006: 899) stated that: ‘It is the fit between the HR architecture and the strategic capabilities and business processes that implement strategy that is the basis of HR’s contribution to competitive advantage’. It was noted by Hird et al (2010: 25) that: ‘… this architecture is seen as a unique combination of the HR function’s structure and delivery model, the HR practices and system, and the strategic employee behaviours that these create’.
The HR system
The HR system consists of the interrelated and jointly supportive HR practices that together enable HRM goals to be achieved. The HR structure and method of delivery are important but as Becker and Huselid (2006) argue, it is the HR system that is the key HR asset. Boselie et al (2005: 73) pointed out that in its traditional form HRM can be viewed as ‘a collection of multiple discrete practices with no explicit or discernible link between them. The more strategically minded system approach views HRM as an integrated and coherent bundle of mutually reinforcing practices.’ Kepes and Delery (2007: 385) comment that ‘One of the defining characteristics of SHRM has been the proposition that HRM systems and not individual HRM practices are the source of competitive advantage: specifically, it is proposed that coherent and internally aligned systems form “powerful connections” that create positive synergistic effects on organizational outcomes’.
As illustrated in Figure 1.1, a HRM system brings together HR philosophies that describe the overarching values and guiding principles adopted in managing people. Taking account of the internal and external contexts in which the organization operates, a HRM system also develops:
- HR strategies that define the direction in which HRM intends to go;
- HR policies that provide guidelines defining how these values, principles and strategies should be applied and implemented in specific areas of HRM;
- HR processes that comprise the formal procedures and methods used to put HR strategic plans and policies into effect;
- linked HR practices that consist of the approaches used in managing people;
- HR programmes that enable HR strategies, policies and practices to be implemented according to plan.
The HR delivery model
The HR delivery model is the approach used by HR to make a strategic contribution to the achievement of organizational goals, provide specialist expertise, and carry out the transaction elements of HR’s work such as recruitment, training and administration. This may or may not be translated into the so-called ‘three-legged stool’ of HR structure consisting of strategic business partners, a centre of expertise and shared services. This is based broadly on Ulrich’s (1997) ideas, although, as reported by Hird et al (2010), Ulrich has recently stated that this is not actually ‘his idea’ at all, but an interpretation of his writing.