A Handbook of Human Resource Management Practice by Michael Armstrong Book Summary


Human resources professionals will find Michael Armstrong’s book practical, helpful and relevant. It discusses all facets of current practice, including such relatively new developments as e-learning, and it discusses how you can help your organization implement change. The book would make an excellent college text, since it covers HRM’s evolution, principles, theories, practice, research, job descriptions and more. The author seems to have two goals: to provide comprehensive information about human resource management and to persuade upper level managers to integrate HRM into strategic planning. This would empower HR departments to generate broader organizational results. To get the most from this manual, given its textbook style, practitioners may wish to study it chapter by chapter. Since organizational philosophies, functions and practices differ, it even lends itself to further discussion when HRM professionals gather to share ideas and swap proven practices. getAbstract thinks those in the field will derive a great deal of value from this book.


  • Human resource management (HRM) encompasses the processes and policies related to employee recruitment, hiring, retention and development.
  • Align your human resource policies with your firm’s strategy, vision and objectives.
  • Today’s HRM is the result of a natural evolution of personnel management in response to rapid workplace changes. It has roots in the 1980s.
  • Huge discrepancies usually exist between HRM theory and practice, between the ideal and the reality.
  • Management’s support of HRM can pay long-term dividends for your company.
  • Use strategic HRM to match HR policies and procedures to specific corporate goals.
  • Most companies need formal HR policies covering at least 20 critical issues.
  • An HR practitioner’s role varies greatly. The core competencies range from problem solving to leadership, people skills, technical know-how and even public speaking.
  • HR professionals must be able to boost others and achieve results through them.
  • HRM should function in partnership with management, working to streamline processes, promote quality, eliminate redundancies, improve service and reduce costs.
A Handbook of Human Resource Management Practice Book Cover

A Handbook of Human Resource Management Practice Book Summary

Not Just “Personnel Management”

Human resource management (HRM) is the sum of an organization’s policies, procedures and practices dealing with the recruitment, hiring, retention and development of employees. In some organizations, it may focus only on direct personnel management. However, the theory of Human Resource Management suggests it should be proactive in supporting business goals, solving problems and improving the bottom line. Organizations that agree with this theory make HRM part of strategic planning, but others treat it strictly as a service department. Although HR takes its orders from the executive suite, top managers often seem to believe it has nothing strategic to offer.

“Human resource management (HRM) is a strategic and coherent approach to the management of an organization’s most valued assets: the people working there who individually and collectively contribute to the achievement of its objectives.”

When HR is included as a partner in strategic discussions, it can make a significant overall contribution. Among other things, HR can play a vital role in defining the organization’s direction, in identifying and recruiting the people needed to develop it in that direction, in assessing work practices, and in streamlining processes and systems. It can improve customer service, raise morale, lower absenteeism, halt turnover, foster participation, create a better workplace, support supervisors and manage change. HR is much more than hiring and firing.

“The overarching objective of HRM is to contribute to the achievement of high levels of organizational performance.”

In practice, most HR departments evolve based on the size of the company, management’s degree of acceptance of new ideas, the firm’s specific purpose and its HR practitioners’ approach to following new theories or maintaining the status quo. What works for one company will not necessarily work for others. Your approach as an HR professional depends on your organization, management, HR team and corporate culture, among other factors.

What HRM Does

Insofar as it has upper management support, HRM improves the company’s competitive edge by selecting staff members whose abilities and commitment fit the company’s goals. Then, it provides those employees with tools and support, and tries to boost their job satisfaction. HR facilitates relationships among high-level managers, supervisors and employees. It helps develop performance standards and measurements. And, when employees succeed, it rewards them appropriately to retain them, thus building the organization’s intellectual capital.

“HR practitioners may be involved in initiating change, but they can also act as a stabilizing force in situations where change would be damaging.”

HR departments vary from small inside operations to quasi-independent bodies serving internal “customers” or departments, or even outside organizations. Some companies make HRM decisions at the top and delegate only routine system administration to the HR department. Others outsource the entire HR function. These variables make it difficult to categorize this increasingly complex field. Ideally the head of HRM reports directly to – or is a part of – top management and is involved in strategic planning. HR managers must define their objectives and make the business case for their budgets.

“It may not be possible to ’manage’ trust but…trust is an outcome of good management.”

HRM philosophy often is sharply divided into two camps. One supports “hard HRM,” based on quantitative, measurable returns on investment. The other focuses on “soft HRM,” based on communication, relationships and client commitment. Most organizations mix hard and soft approaches. Generally, HRM responsibilities fall into nine broad categories:

  1. Organizational tasks – Design and structure groups and departments. Plan programs and processes. Identify job functions, skills and competencies. Review organizational functions and recommend improvements. Manage reorganization and change.
  2. Resources for the organization – Determine staffing needs. Recruit, hire, develop, review and reward staffers. Advertise positions, screen and interview applicants, test, check references, facilitate offers and present contracts. Manage orientation, retention and termination, whether by resignation, retirement or dismissal.
  3. Performance management – Set performance standards and improvement objectives, assess performance and provide feedback. Monitor, measure, evaluate and document performance against expectations. Identify performance problems, propose solutions, facilitate feedback, and coordinate and document disciplinary action.
  4. Employee development – Provide career development, training and coaching. Facilitate management succession (i.e. knowledge and skills training, experiential learning, on-the-job training, internal and external training, guided reading, computer-based or e-learning, video instruction, courses, role playing and other options). Monitor the learning process and its results, and evaluate teaching approaches.
  5. Reward management – Establish fair pay systems and other financial rewards, such as profit sharing or pay based on incentives, performance, contributions, teamwork or competency. Develop and facilitate non-financial motivational programs. Implement bonuses, gain-sharing, flexible benefits, pensions and living allowances.
  6. Employee relations – Work with the union, employee-supervisor mediation, negotiations, legal issues, feedback and grievances. Build relationships with employees through various policies, procedures and outreach (Intranet, newsletters and so on).
  7. Health and safety – Provide a safe working environment. Comply with standards. This may mean dealing with hygiene, first aid, ergonomics, accident prevention, risk assessment, audits, safety training, removal of hazards and policies assuring health and safety, such as risk reduction and risk minimization programs.
  8. Employee welfare – Help with individual services such as employee assistance, leaves of absence for long-term illnesses, family issues, issues of aging and the elderly, employment problems, death in the employee’s family and counseling. Offer group activities, clubs, retiree events and wellness or support programs.
  9. Administration – Manage HR policies, procedures, functions and systems. Develop, implement and direct the processes needed to capture, track, evaluate and report data, maintain records and comply with legal requirements.

HR Roles, Competencies and Policies

HR professionals become advisors, guides, business partners, strategists, consultants, mediators, monitors, innovators and change agents. They master problem solving, leadership, people skills, technical skills, procedures, written and oral communication, cultural awareness, trustworthiness, confidentiality, a positive attitude and resourcefulness. An HR professional should be able to influence others, develop personally, think strategically, achieve results through others and focus on the business and its customers.

“The overall objective of job design is to integrate the needs of the individual with those of the organization.”

To match your HR policies to your company’s strategic goals, you must understand your organization’s values and culture. To begin policy reviews, study existing verbal and written policies, ensure legal compliance and get feedback from management and employees.

Most companies need fair, consistent HR policies on 20 key issues:

  1. Equality and equal opportunity among employees.
  2. Individual consideration of employee circumstances.
  3. Working environment and conditions.
  4. Work life quality and balance.
  5. Commitment to ongoing training and development, such as promotion from within.
  6. Job application or posting procedures.
  7. Employee compensation, performance reviews and rewards.
  8. Health and safety.
  9. Complaints and grievances.
  10. Disciplinary actions, and procedures and causes for dismissal.
  11. Employee rights.
  12. Opportunities for participation.
  13. Sexual harassment.
  14. Bullying and intimidation of other employees.
  15. Redundancy and outdated practices and procedures.
  16. New technology and work processes.
  17. Substance use or abuse.
  18. Smoking where permitted.
  19. Health issues, particularly as related to AIDS.
  20. Use of e-mail, including monitoring, ownership and disciplinary policy.

Challenges for the HR Professional

HRM practitioners who are working to develop organizations face many challenges, including: economic and competitive pressure, reorganization, downsizing, re-engineering, demands for increased teamwork and flexibility, continuous change, employee stress and lack of job security, mixed messages from management and front line supervisors, and contradictions between actual practice and professional ideals. HR must also deal with increasing globalization, which means managing policies and procedures in different cultures, communicating in multiple languages, coordinating team efforts, training, establishing competencies and coping with diverse payments, benefits and regulations.

“Reward management is concerned with the formulation and implementation of strategies and policies that aim to reward people fairly, equitably and consistently in accordance with their value to the organization.”

One problem area is the tendency for conflict to arise between line managers and HR, particularly if a manager believes that HR is “interfering” with his or her staff management. To solve this problem, adopt a posture of teamwork; don’t be adversarial. Establish clear guidelines and responsibilities to avoid confusion, duplication of effort or missed opportunities. Be aware of the potential roadblocks people erect when they dislike a policy or do not understand it. To achieve buy-in, make a case for your policy to each affected group. It is easier to gain support from managers and employees if you consult them before a change. Morally, HR should advocate for everyone’s benefit.

“Incentives are forward-looking while rewards are retrospective.”

The benefits that sound HR practices provide – valuing your employees, demanding high performance, developing individual potential, being flexible, sharing a clear vision – yield productivity, quality and employee satisfaction. These components of a high performing HR department also have positive financial results. HR can help the organization’s bottom line by developing work practices that improve performance, helping people understand the company’s vision and their role in achieving it, and selecting employees who can maintain that level of buy-in. HR develops and implements policies that make people want to work for your company. It supports front line supervisors and administrators in the implementation of HR policies and, critically, it helps manage change in the workplace.

“Involvement means that management allows employees to discuss with it issues that affect them but that management retains the right to manage.”

Although there are no standard measurements for evaluating an HR department’s performance, the criteria could include:

  • Contributions to management objectives.
  • The organization’s success in achieving its vision and goals.
  • HR’s ability to manage a budget, reduce expenses or generate return on investment.
  • Achievement of calendar goals, such as meeting date objectives.
  • Achievement of performance goals, such as reduced attrition or increased productivity.
  • Quantitative costs, sales, profit or value per employee.
  • Rates of employee activities, such as increased profitability due to worker suggestions.
  • The percentage of time HR meets or exceeds established service level agreements.
  • The results of employee satisfaction surveys and individual evaluations.

“Change can be managed only by ensuring that the reasons for and the implications of change are communicated to those affected in terms which they can understand and accept.”

HRM should function in partnership with management, working to streamline processes, promote quality, eliminate redundancies, improve service and reduce costs. HRM also should champion employees and advocate for them while participating in shaping the organization’s overall culture, working as an agent for positive change and transforming the organization to meet its own vision of what it can become.

About the Author

Michael Armstrong

Michael Armstrong has 22 years experience in corporate human resources, having been an executive director at a large publishing firm for 12 years and then head of a HR consultancy division for a major accounting firm. He works as an independent consultant in the HR field, and is the author of numerous related books including A Handbook of Management TechniquesManaging People, How to Be an Even Better Manager, Performance Management and Reward Management.