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Title: HRM in practice : an application of actor-network theory to human resource management in retail
Author: López-Cotarelo Pérez, Juan Pablo
ISNI:       0000 0004 2749 0433
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2012
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HRM practices have predominantly been seen as means put in place by top management to achieve certain ends. This thesis argues that approaching the HRM phenomenon in this way is limiting because it establishes a divide in HRM activities between those aspects that conform to top management intentions, contribute to consistency of HRM practices, and produce desired effects; and those that are not part of top management design, are a source of variability in HRM practices, and are at best irrelevant, at worst detrimental to the efficacy of HRM practices. Variability in HRM practices within organisations has become an important focus for debate in the strategic human resource management (SHRM) literature. This thesis argues that an alternative view of HRM is required for the field to move forward. Practice perspectives in organisation and management studies provide the basis for an alternative approach to studying HRM. Actor-network theory is particularly well suited for examining patterns of repetitive activity across time and space, and thus constitutes a useful framework for understanding consistency and variability in HRM practices. This thesis presents empirical research that applies actor-network theory to provide a ‘flat’ description of HRM activities in a large UK-based fashion retailer. Through an innovative research design that uses participant narratives of HRM episodes (n=112), HRM activity in the company is characterised as distributed, emergent and patterned. It is distributed in the sense that employment outcomes were produced through assemblies of heterogeneous –human and nonhuman– elements. It is emergent in the sense that the set of associations that were made in order to produce an employment outcome was not predictable, nor was the outcome itself. Both were the result of the associations that became stabilised during the flow of activity. Finally HRM activities were patterned through the standardising actions of central actors and their associated artefacts. In particular members of the HR department found ways to retrieve information from the field, transform it into standards, and deploy these standards back to the field in order to produce repetitive patterns. This alternative view of HRM implies a novel understanding of the nature of HRM practices, the role of variability and consistency, and the ways in which the effects of HRM may be produced. Such understanding acknowledges that effects of HRM are produced as much through variability as through consistency, and that these must not be understood as opposite, mutually exclusive features of HRM systems. The implications for research and practice are wide-ranging. This thesis strongly advocates a case study research programme that provides rich descriptions of HRM activities in diverse settings, as the best way to advance the field and produce practitioner relevant knowledge and advice. Practitioners are advised to pay attention to the processes through which HRM outcomes are produced in their organisation, and to the means by which they themselves deploy their agency to create patterns in those processes.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Universidad de Navarra. Instituto de Estudios Superiores de la Empresa (IESE)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: HD28 Management. Industrial Management