Internal Code: MAS5609
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 rewarding.
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
echelons of their public service. Its HR policies are well established, well resourced and well insulated from other branches of government.
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?
4. Summarise the debate between the best-fit and best-practice schools.
5. What are criticisms of the best-practice approach to HRM?
6. What are limitations of the best-fit approach to HRM?
7. 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?
8. What do you think are the key contextual variables that influence HR strategy? Which are the most important and why?
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