The management of people at work: strategy, HRM, discourse

Dear, Brian (1998). The management of people at work: strategy, HRM, discourse. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e150

Abstract

This thesis critically examines the concept of strategic human resource management (HRM). Existing 'critical' approaches identify prescriptive HRNI literature as 'rhetoric' that does not match 'reality'. Such an approach understands management initiatives as separate, individual, discrete, and ad hoc. However, this thesis develops an alternative perspcctivc, informed by a Foucauldian approach to 'discourse', that understands 'HRM' and 'strategy' as cultural constructs that are used by actors as they 'make sense' of discursively constructed organizational 'realities'. This perspective is then utilized to demonstrate that the existing 'critical' approaches are engaged in particular practices that define strategic HRM in a way that constructs the 'gap' between 'rhetoric' and 'reality' as HRM is simultaneously created as an academic subject.

This alternative perspective provides a means of understanding and analysing prescriptive management literature and texts generated from interviews with managers in terms of two different discursively constructed 'rationalities'. Both 'rationalities' establish causal relationships between concepts of environment, organization and individual as organizational 'reality' is constructed. This perspective is utilized in the identification of the connections that are established between the managerial initiatives that are thought of as separate, individual, discrete, and ad hoc by the 'critical' literature.

There are two parts to this thesis. The first part describes the development of HM4, outlines a Foucauldian conceptualization of 'discourse, and re-examines prescriptive and 'critical' HRM literature. The second part analyses texts generated from interviews with HRIpersonnel managers in a range of public and private sector organizations. This analysis demonstrates that, while there is great variety in the descriptions of organizational 'reality', connections between concepts of environment, organization and individual arc established as two key 'rationalities' are discursively constructed. It is argued that these 'rationalities' position people and practices within organizational 'reality'.

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