Human Resource Management
Discussion Board Assignment 1:
Answer the following question: Assume the position of a HR consultant hired to assess the approach toward HR
management taken by a client organisation. What factors might you evaluate in determining whether an organisation uses
a traditional (transactional) or strategic approach to managing its HR?
Discussion Board Assignment 2:
Answer the following question: Why is a competitive advantage based on heavy investment in human assets more
sustainable than investments in other types of assets?
Discussion Board Assignment 3:
In Module 5, read the case study titled ‘The IT firm and the performance appraisal system’ and answer the question at
the end of the case study.
Discussion Board Assignment 4:
In Module 6, read the case study titled ‘Sue upsets the applecart’ and answer the questions at the end of the case study.
The word limit for each Discussion Board Assignment is 500 words. You must strictly adhere to the word limit
otherwise a penalty will be applied. For this assignment you do not have to provide in-text citations. However, you must
provide a list of books and articles consulted that complies with ECU referencing guidelines at the end of each answer.
Criteria that will be used to assess each answer are shown below.
Case study: Module 6
Sue upsets the applecart
The partners of a small accountancy firm have just made a radical new appointment: the
firm’s first HR manager. The firm, which has 9 partners, has grown to 150 employees. Now,
the partners feel, their people management activities need more professional support. They
have always prided themselves on running a friendly, caring style of staff management but
other firms like them, with around 100 to 300 staff, typically appoint HR specialists.
Accountancy might seem to be about numbers but they know that running an accounting
firm is actually a people business. It depends on recruiting good staff, training them in the
key practices of professional accountancy, paying as well as you can (but not over the top),
doing your best to hang on to high performers, and so on. Every year, the partners
collectively monitor each other’s profit performance and engage in the soul-searching
process of deciding who, if anyone, will be offered the ultimate accolade of being invited to
join them in partnership. The firm is successful and being a partner is hard work but very
The new HR manager has actually arrived from the public sector but from no ordinary part:
from an elite department within it. This is a branch of government which only recruits
people with first-class honours degrees from the top universities and which invests heavily
in their ongoing development. The department, which will remain nameless, is not one of
the mainstream parts of the public service, where budgets are always under pressure, but a
small, select cadre dealing with the crème de la crème, much as the French do in the higher
Page | 4
echelons of their public service. Its HR policies are well established, well resourced and well
insulated from other branches of government.
The new HR manager, Sue, was an HR advisor there and, like everybody else, has a firstclass
degree from an elite university and, in her case, a flair with foreign languages. Even
though she had no private sector experience, she told the partners she was keen to get into
private-sector HR work and develop her career further on this basis. She feels more attracted
to the private sector than the public, despite the excellent conditions she enjoyed in the elite
unit. She clearly sees herself as rising, in due course, to a position as HR Director in a top-
100 company. The partners responded warmly to this and decided to recruit her because
they considered her experience in the management of professionals would have carry-over
value to their firm.
Things went well for the first three months. Sue immediately threw herself into helping the
firm with its annual recruitment of new accounting graduates. This greatly relieved the
managing partner and his PA, who had previously handled this work themselves and could
now rely on someone to handle campus liaison, presentation of the firm at recruitment fairs,
and initial screening of candidates to create a set of ‘good possibles’ that the partners could
Now, however, the partners are worried. Their staff have been coming to them to discuss
what they (the partners) consider to be unrealistic expectations for personal development.
From these conversations, they discern that Sue has been talking freely with staff about the
career development programme where she worked previously. There, it transpires, staff
were encouraged to enrol in postgraduate degrees at the employer’s expense (all fees paid)
and were, in fact, allowed plenty of paid time off to attend classes and also to prepare for
exams. This largesse was available after only one year with the department. Sue was talking
freely about this personal development policy as an HR ‘best practice’ and staff were getting
the idea from her that the firm should adopt more generous HR policies and become an
‘employer of choice’ in the industry.
They decided to call Sue in for a meeting to hear her views on HR issues in the firm. Sue
started by talking about ways of improving their employee selection practices through some
tests to assess cognitive ability rather than relying on university grades and a more formal
method of reference checking for experienced job hires. All this sounded good and the
conversation ran along in a non-threatening way for some time. Then, Sam, the managing
partner, decided to grasp the nettle:
I think I speak for the partners when I say this is all very good, Sue. We like your ideas on how to
make this firm a more effective recruiter and I know I’ve benefited already from your assistance with
this year’s graduate recruitment. However, something has changed in the last 3 months that we are
not so sure about. Staff have been coming to partners with the idea that the firm should pay for
postgraduate study for them and give them generous time off for study. We’ve never done this sort of
thing before and, more importantly, we try not to raise these sorts of expectations. After all,
everything we do has to be charged to clients and, as we explained to you at your recruitment, we’re
not a first-tier accountancy firm… We’re in a tier of small and mid-size firms where we try to pay
well relative to our competitors and can look after people, up to a point. People often come to us
because they don’t want to work in a huge firm where nobody takes any notice of them. They’re not
the A students but they are good B students who can do the job well enough. We have a personal
touch with our people. When Jayne, who has worked for our tax section for 28 years, had a stress
breakdown last year when her husband died suddenly, we gave her 3 months of paid leave to help her
Page | 5
recover. That’s the sort of thing we do but we’re never going to be big spenders on further education
for new staff. There’s always going to be a high rate of attrition among new accounting graduates. At
least half of them will leave us after 3 years, that’s the reality. We see their best development as taking
place through the experience we give them, not through more education …
Sue thought for a while and then responded:
Well, I think you are in the game of managing professionals and professionals have these sorts of
expectations these days. I think you have to change or … die. Yes, I think it’s as serious as that: you
need to evolve beyond a small-firm mentality. Any HR professional will tell you the same thing. How
do you expect to become more successful if you don’t embrace best practice?
At this point, another senior partner, Joe, chipped in:
But we are successful! Your view is simply not commercial. It’s not something accounting firms
operating in the private sector can take seriously. If one size fits all in ‘HR’, then I say, ‘HR be
This brought a nervous laugh or two and, as it was now after 6pm, Sam, sensing the need to
de-stress the situation, suggested they adjourn to the pub. Perhaps they might be able to
take the matter further there, in a more relaxed vein ….
1. How does this case illustrate the best-practice and best-fit perspectives of HRM?
2. What should Sue have done differently?
3. What should the partners have done differently?
Source: Boxall, P. & Purcell, J. (2011). Strategy and human resource management (3rd ed.).
Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Review and Discussion Questions:
1. Summarise the debate between the best-fit and best-practice schools.
2. What are criticisms of the best-practice approach to HRM?
3. What are limitations of the best-fit approach to HRM?
4. If you were an HR director charged with developing an HR strategy for your
organisation, would you be considering a universalist or contingent approach to
designing the HR system, and why?
contextual variables that influence HR strategy?
5. What do you think are the key contextual variables that influence HR strategy?
Which are the most important and why?
Case study Module 5
The IT firm and the performance appraisal system
The company is an innovative IT service business, providing consulting and software
applications to insurance companies. It has 700 employees, all of whom are employed on
individual employment contracts. If its historical rate of growth continues, it expects to have
1000 staff fairly shortly. The firm has expanded very quickly in its specialist segment of the
industry and senior management realises its HR policies have not kept pace. Given the
company’s desire to professionalise all parts of the business, two years ago, Angus, the CEO,
Page | 7
appointed an HR Director, Glenys. Since then, she has built a small HR department of 3
Glenys is a member of the senior management team, which also includes Angus and five
other senior managers: three in charge of service divisions, one in charge of the company’s
own information systems and one the financial controller. All have lower level managers
reporting to them, with the greatest number of middle managers and team leaders (first-line
managers) in the operating divisions.
With Angus’s full support, one of Glenys’s first acts, 21 months ago, was to hire a firm of HR
consultants to help the company develop a good performance appraisal (PA) system, one
which would help managers to set performance objectives, formalise the process for making
merit-based pay recommendations, and foster employee development. Senior management,
led by Glenys, worked with the consultants on the design of the system. Angus felt he could
leave it to the members of his senior management team to speak up if they thought anything
was unwise in the design and, besides, he thought, “I’ve now got a highly paid HR Director
and an HR department and they’re the experts on this stuff.”
The new PA system is based on setting individual performance objectives on an annual basis
(a management-by-objectives (‘MBO’) system). It involves staff participation in setting these
goals and requires managers to keep an eye on how goals are going every three months in
case some goals need to change or employees need coaching. At the end of the financial
year, the system requires managers to meet with each of their team members to discuss
achievement against planned goals. It uses a five-point rating scale to assess overall
achievement against these objectives, anchored as follows:
1 2 3 4 5
Unacceptable Marginal Competent Commendable Outstanding
The performance appraisal system is not simply about performance issues, however. Once
the performance rating has been discussed, it then moves into a section on employee
development in which the manager is supposed to discuss employee knowledge and skills
and agree a development plan, which may include training recommendations.
All the company’s managers were put through 2 days of appraiser training. This was
designed to help them deal with such issues as ‘rater bias’ and how to handle difficult
appraisal interviews. After the training was complete, the consultants declared the system
‘installed’ and departed. The CEO, Angus, then told managers to go ahead and set objectives
with each team member. This was done, not without some difficulty, but it happened. Then,
after 12 months, appraisal interviews were carried out, with Glenys and a member of her
staff helping to ensure this happened. Managers found the system’s requirements somewhat
laborious but at least the forms were on-line and the recommendations on pay and training
could be sent directly to the company’s HR department that way. Some four months ago,
Glenys informed Angus that all the recommendations had arrived.
Unfortunately, no merit pay increases have emerged yet and disquiet is bubbling up among
the staff. A round of post-installation focus groups, comprised of randomly selected team
leaders and staff members, has just been conducted by the HR consultants who installed the
Page | 8
system. They show that employees are losing confidence that anything positive will come
out of the new PA system. The sort of comments people have been making include the
The idea of rewarding our stars is good but HR makes it all too complicated!
Look, I’m prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt but the whole thing has taken too
long. Why are they not making any decisions?
Well, in my view, things were better before there were any ‘high-powered’ HR procedures in
the company. My manager had more pull then and could get his boss to act quickly on a pay
increase. There was no form filling and people were gung-ho and pretty loyal for this
Several of the best performing staff have resigned in the last month, moving for better pay
and conditions elsewhere. There is currently a very healthy labour market for talented
Part of the delay relates to a problem with the pattern of appraisal ratings across
departments. Managers in Division X, the largest service department (where problematic
employee turnover is occurring), have rated 60% of their staff as outstanding (five on the
scale) while most other managers in the company have given an average rating of (close to)
4 with around 20% in the outstanding category. Glenys is not at all happy with Division X.
Along with the pay recommendations, she has reviewed the training recommendations from
Division X: these actually suggest that a lot of fairly expensive training and development
activity is needed for most staff there. This is hardly consistent with the view that 60% of the
staff are at level 5 in terms of job performance. What are Division X’s managers up to?
Just to make matters worse, the business environment in the insurance industry has
deteriorated dramatically in the last 3 months (due to a string of adverse weather events)
and this is expected to make insurance companies less likely to commission new software
projects. There is now a board-driven directive to review costs in all departments. Angus,
who has enjoyed running a high-growth company, now finds himself in the position of
having to manage a different context altogether. He has to ask Glenys to meet with him and
the rest of the senior management team to review all recommendations for salary increases.
Despite lower level managers having told staff that their performance is commendable or
outstanding (and, in Division X, that 60% are outstanding), he makes it clear to her that any
pay increases will now have to be very carefully handled and will not proceed without his
Analyse this case study using the Wright and Nishii (2013) HRM-performance model.
Source: Boxall, P. & Purcell, J. (2011). Strategy and human resource management (3rd ed.).
Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Page | 9
1. Explain the meaning of ‘HR system’.
2. Discuss the critical role of line managers in the HRM-performance link.
3. Firms that want to enhance the quality of their HRM need to think carefully about the