What is HRM?

For those of you who aren’t aware, I run a module for students in the final year of their undergraduate degree called Employee Resourcing and Development. In order to differentiate the module, as well as building on the student’s knowledge from their first two years of study, I have been developing a more critical (as opposed to mainstream) focus.

The students returned last week and so far I’ve delivered two lectures; an introduction to the module, including a reminder about critical reading, writing and thinking. If I want my students to come away with one thing from my module, it’s to improve these skills. This will support them not only in their dissertations but will hopefully also help them find (or refine) their own perspectives so they can question the empty rhetoric we are all constantly bombarded with. So with the importance of questioning in mind, I asked them to use these questions to analyse an extract of this article in Harvard Business Review. On the basis of what we are presented with can we believe what the author is telling us?

At the end of the first lecture I tasked the students to think about, and answer the question What is HRM? This was also the title of my second lecture. At the start of this lecture I asked my students to anonymously write their answers on post-it notes (as many as they wanted to fill) and stick them on the whiteboard. I was clear to them that I would be drawing their ideas together on the blog and asked those who didn’t agree to put their post-it notes in a separate area. I provided the students with four underpinning questions to help them if they were a bit stuck with the broader question, which were; what is the purpose of HR? What does HR do? Is HR important and why? And What is HRM trying to achieve?

Obviously this isn’t an academic study, but a classroom exercise to support the students in their thinking outside the classroom. However, I think their ideas and opinions are an interesting barometer. I hope the students themselves might use this forum to consider their thoughts, and also that we might be able to engage some practitioners or external HR thinkers in our discussion.

There were a number of key themes, some of which were at least guided by the sub-questions, although there was one in particular which I was quite surprised at, which I will save until last.

Theme: HRM is the link between employer and employees

There were around 12 post-it notes that mentioned HRM’s role as smoothing the relationship between an employer (or organisation/management) and the employees. This is illustrated by thoughts such as,

“HRM is the vital link between managers and employees and looks out for the rights of employees.”


“HRM is how to make the relationship between the organisation and the employee as good as possible.”

Some went further towards the employee side of this;

“HRM is the function of the business that takes care of the employees.”

This is certainly in line with some scholars who we discussed in the lecture that followed, although the critical view is that HR should represent the rights of the employees (and may often be the only place in the organisation that does so) but that it has lost (or ‘sold out’) on this potential in order to legitimate it’s own existance and gain a seat at the strategic table (e.g. Wilcox, 2013).

Theme: HRM as a function

The second largest category, with 21 post-its (bearing in mind that some comments had relevance to more than one category) was HRM as a function. These are largely in answer, I suspect, to the question of what does HR do, although some students referred to the ‘purpose’ of HRM being to undertake these functions on their post-its. Training and development was widely mentioned as a function of HR, as was recruitment/staffing. Performance and pay/benefits also received a few mentions.

Theme: HRM provides strategic direction

Around 8 post-it notes focussed on HRM as a strategic focus. We’re not covering strategic HRM via the lectures until this week, but some students clearly already have a grounding in this area;

“HRM provides strategic sense of direction for any organisation. Typically in the past HRM was seen as a [sic] Admin type role now it helps support the overall direction.”

“Assists the organisation in achieving it’s strategic business plan, by recruiting, retaining and developing the best people.”

A few also made the link between high level strategic goals and employee behaviour in achieving these;

“HRM – the strategic management of employees to help achieve business goals and aid overall performance.”

Theme: HRM manages/directs employees

I felt the highest number of post-it notes (26) fell into this category. Some of the these were fairly simply stated;

“People Management” and “Managing personnel”

It was this category that was a surprise to me as I had never considered HRM as ‘managing’ employees; this being really down to line managers. However many comments alluded to HRM having a large degree of control, such as;

“The process of managing people in organisations – in a structured manner.”

“It manages people within companies.”

“HRM is the governance of an organisation’s employees.”

I would be interested to if students took a more critical view on this following the lecture in which I outlined mainsteam HR’s tendency to assume that people act in a logical, rational and predictable manner.

Closing thoughts: holistic view

There were a few post-its that took what I would call a more holistic view of HRM. Three or four of these referred to the importance of HR (one of the questions) and/or, of the organisation’s people, such as;

“HRM is the life and blood of any business.”

“Human: most valuable and necessary resource – special treatment.”

And I’m going to finish with this one:

“[HRM has] Many alternative meaning, depends on internal and external factors and the different theoretical perspectives.”


I would like to thank the students for their involvement in the teaching session and for allowing me to discuss their ideas on the blog.


#durhamminersgala 2017 favourite snaps

The Durham Miner’s Gala is one of my favourite days of the year. I have been attending most of them for around 13 years. I love the brass band music, the colourful banners and the history of the event. This year I decided to take a camera and try to capture some of the atmosphere. Here are my favourite personal pictures from the day.

“Gala Special”

This was one of the only photos I took that I feel captures what I was trying to achieve. I think it demonstrates the spirit of the Gala. Many people attend to enjoy a drink. I like the juxtaposition of the quiet corner and the busy crowd in the background.

“Tursdale Mechanics”


This was one of the oldest banners I saw. Even though Tursdale is a tiny hamlet it still warrants it’s own banner. Many of the banner themes focus on nationalisation or key political figures. I like that this one focuses on some of the gritty realities of mine working.

“Abandoned Instruments”


Once the bands have played to the politicians and marched to the show ground they often relax for a while. If you look closely you can see the Socialist paper laid on the central tuba. As I walked away after taking this photo a photographer with a better camera than mine got right up close to the instruments to take a photograph. I tried to resist the temptation to edit my photos to make them look “better”. When I undertake my visual research I don’t want my participants to feel the pressure to produce “acceptable” images.




I couldn’t decide which one I liked better out of these two photos. When the bands arrive at the showground the banners are placed on ‘display’ around the field. In the first you can see a banner in it’s protective cover in the foreground with a colourful banner behind it. The covers are normally only used in the rain so this indicates it is probably an older banner. The second shows four very colourful banners.

“Take our photograph”


As I walked around the showground with my camera around my neck, the two men in the centre of this photograph said to me “You can’t have a camera and not take our photograph!”. Of course I obliged. I like how even the people around them appear pleased to pose for the photograph. They joked to me that I had left my lens cap on! I was in the same area for a few minutes afterwards and they continued to ask people to take their photograph.

“Pink Balloon”


My youngest daughter wanted a balloon at the showground and this is my oldest daughter holding it as we walked home. One of the stories I have been telling people about the Gala is how the balloon made us many “friends” as it blew around in the strong wind at the showground and was often bumping into people.

“In Loving Memory”

IMGP4428 One of our annual rituals is to stop at a playground on the way home. Many old gravestones which have been moved or relocated are laid against the wall opposite the playground. Reading the gravestones is quite touching as whole families are wiped out by disease, including extremely young children. The children’s graves we used to see in previous years are now completely overgrown by bushes. This is one the larger ones that is still exposed and sits under a tree against the wall.

From Political Economy to the Job Centre

Last week I attended the Critical Management Studies conference, hosted by Edge Hill University in the faded grandeur of the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool. It was my second time visiting the city and also my second academic conference. Although my stream had the rather intimidating title of Political economy, value and valuation: Advancing contemporary critiques of capitalism and exploring alternatives, it was really useful not only to get feedback on my own paper, but also to find out about current research in this field.

Continue reading “From Political Economy to the Job Centre”

The Art of Seeing

Some time ago I read a neuroscience book that suggested a technique for seeing issues from another person’s perspective. The process, accompanied by an explanatory diagram, involved imagining yourself physically occupying the same space as that person, as well as subsequently picturing yourself as an impartial observer. This was supposed to occur as you were interacting with said other person, which the book reassured would become easier with practice. Despite the impossibility, in my opinion, of accompanying all these difficult tasks at once, it completely ignores the important cues that people give regarding their potential feelings and behaviour, both verbally and physically. Continue reading “The Art of Seeing”

Place Based Leadership

“The social world is accumulated history” (Bourdieu, 1986)

“The social space we occupy has been historically generated.” (Skeggs, 1997)

One of the best parts of research is when you stumble across one or two pieces of information that enable your current thinking to ‘fall into place’, even if this is only temporary. That was the feeling I got when yesterday when I came across these two quotes in quick succession. They’re from two of the theorists that I see as being central to my thesis. When this happens, it can be interesting to consider the process of crystallisation behind such moment of clarity.  Continue reading “Place Based Leadership”

My Own Reflection

I’m currently reading Roald Dahl’s Matilda with my middle daughter. I smile, not just at the funny parts, but when Matilda is curled up with her nose in a book while the rest of the family is watching TV. Certainly my parents were not like Matilda’s, but I do remember them making objections to me doing the same, particularly in social situations. Continue reading “My Own Reflection”