Strategic HRM (SHRM) is a relatively new field that integrates strategic management and human resource management. Academics teaching SHRM need to develop curricula that bring together these areas in order to develop graduates who are well informed and able to meet the needs of employers.
However, the study of strategic management often downplays the human issues that affect the performance of firms, while human resource management can be preoccupied with the traditional operational functions such as recruitment, selection and training, so we develop understanding of the role that SHRM plays in the management of organisations.
Faced with the challenge of achieving a balance, we undertook a Delphi study, asking what core knowledge, skills and attitudes strategic HRM students should acquire. Delphi is a method designed to achieve consensus among groups of experts; it generally involves selecting an expert panel, then formulating questions, generating opinion statements, reducing and categorising these statements, and rating their relative importance.
We wanted to canvas the views of expert academics and expert practitioners, so our panel comprised a group of 37 leading academics and practitioners. We then circulated three iterative rounds of online surveys to these experts.
Round 1: We developed statements of potential ‘core’ areas in SHRM: knowledge (17), skills (6) and attitudes (5). The knowledge areas fell into three categories: foundational knowledge, focal knowledge and contemporary knowledge. Panellists indicated how important each was and also suggested any additional areas to be added to the list.
Round 2: We fed back the results of the Round 1 survey and asked panellists to rate the additional knowledge and skill items. Since no additional attitude items were added, panellists were asked to rank the attitudes (5) in order of importance.
Round 3: We fed back the results of Round 2 and gave panellists a consolidated list of the knowledge (30) and skills (11) areas and asked them to select the top 10 knowledge areas and top five skill areas they thought should be taught.
Knowledge: In Round 1 participants ranked almost all of our 17 knowledge items as ‘fairly’ or ‘very important’. They also proposed 13 additional items. In Round 2 they rated the importance of these additional items and in Round 3 we gave them a consolidated list of knowledge items (30) and asked them to select the top 10 core knowledge areas that they thought should be taught in SHRM. (See Table 1).
Skills: In Round 1 the participants showed strong support for our six propositions and added five more. In Round 2 they rated the importance of these additional items and in Round 3 they were given a consolidated list of skills (11) and asked to select the top five core skills they thought should be taught in SHRM. (See Table 2.)
Attitudes: In Round 1 participants agreed with the core attitudes we proposed, with no additions. We asked them to rank these in order of importance. (See Table 3.)
Interestingly, none of the foundational knowledge areas that we initially proposed made it to the final top 10 core knowledge areas. Two of the three contemporary knowledge areas we proposed (HR’s role in managing strategic change and strategic talent management) were included in the top 10, but employee engagement was absent from the list. About half of our focal knowledge areas ended up in the top 10. Several of the knowledge areas around research into the HRM-performance link are absent from the final top 10.
When we generated our initial list of core skills we focused on intellectual skills (e.g. analysis). The results show that panellists placed greater emphasis on behavioural skills associated with emotional intelligence, e.g. relationship management, persuasiveness and use of influence tactics.
The results regarding core attitudes show particularly strong support for two attitudes: students should be able to demonstrate a belief in (a) employees as a strategic asset and a potential source of sustainable competitive advantage; and (b) the importance of strategic thinking. Given critical thinking is emphasised in higher education, the relatively low ranking (5/5) assigned to adopting a critical perspective on SHRM theory, research and practice is surprising.
We are in the process of redeveloping our SHRM curricula with a view to developing learning outcomes that more accurately reflect the consensus view of what knowledge, skills and attitudes SHRM graduates need to develop through their studies. Of course, knowing what graduates require is only the start; developing the teaching strategies to ensure these knowledge, skills and attitudes are developed is a further challenge but one we are confident is worthwhile given the consensus amongst practitioners and academics of their importance for new SHRM graduates.