Exploring HR Models: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Human Resources Management

Human Resources Management (HRM) plays a pivotal role in shaping the dynamics of an organization, contributing to its success and growth. To effectively navigate this intricate field, HR professionals often turn to various HR models that serve as frameworks for articulating HR’s role and positioning within the business. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into eight practical HR models, unraveling their intricacies and exploring how they can be applied to enhance organizational effectiveness.

What is an HR Model?

An HR model, also known as a human resources management model, serves as a guide for HR professionals in understanding and implementing their role within a business. It provides a framework that intersects with HR strategy, breaking down the plan for achieving organizational goals. HR models define key functions, processes, roles, responsibilities, and principles that guide HR objectives, standards, and accountability.

HR Models Explored

1. The Standard Causal Model of HRM

The Standard Causal Model of HRM stands as one of the most renowned frameworks in the realm of Human Resource Management (HRM). Originating from various similar models prevalent in the 1990s and early 2000s, this model delineates a causal chain commencing with business strategy and culminating, via HR processes, in enhanced financial performance.

In essence, this model elucidates the intricate relationship between HR activities aligned with organizational strategy and consequential improvements in business performance. According to this model, the effectiveness of HR is contingent upon the alignment of its strategy with that of the overall business, aligning with the principles of the best-fit theory. The HR strategy is thereby derived directly from the overarching strategy of the organization, with the ultimate aim of optimizing financial performance.

The Standard Causal Model encapsulates a sequential chain wherein HR practices, encompassing facets such as hiring, training, appraisal, and compensation, follow the trajectory of the HR strategy. These HR practices, in turn, yield specific outcomes, exemplified by heightened commitment, superior quality output, and increased engagement among employees.

The subsequent HRM outcomes, comprising factors like heightened productivity, innovation, and overall quality, contribute to an ameliorated internal performance within the organization. These internal performance improvements, when aggregated, manifest as enhanced financial performance, encapsulated by metrics such as increased profits, financial turnover, improved margins, and augmented Return on Investment (ROI).

Two noteworthy dynamics within this model warrant attention: the unmediated HRM effect and the reversed causality. The unmediated HRM effect postulates that certain HR practices can exert a direct influence on internal performance without necessarily affecting HR outcomes. For instance, effective training initiatives can directly enhance overall performance. Conversely, the reversed causality aspect underscores that robust financial performance can stimulate increased investments in HR practices, leading to more favorable HR outcomes. Notably, during periods of robust financial performance, employees often exhibit heightened engagement, constituting a notable HR outcome.

In summation, the Standard Causal Model offers a comprehensive depiction of the interplay between business strategy, HR practices, internal processes, and the ultimate financial performance of an organization. By emphasizing the necessity for alignment between HR strategy and overall business strategy, this model provides a robust framework for understanding the intricacies of HRM and its profound impact on organizational success.

2. The 8-Box Model by Paul Boselie

The 8-Box Model, conceived by Paul Boselie, stands as an alternative and widely utilized Human Resource (HR) framework, adept at modeling the intricacies of HR functions. This model serves to elucidate the myriad external and internal factors that exert influence on the efficacy of HR practices.

In the comprehensive layout of the 8-Box Model, four external factors take precedence: external general market context, external population market context, external general institutional context, and external population institutional context. These external dynamics significantly shape the landscape of HR operations.

For instance, the market’s skill availability dictates the approach to sourcing, recruiting, and hiring. An insufficient supply of specific skills necessitates unique strategies compared to situations where a surplus of qualified workers prevails. Simultaneously, the institutional context, shaped by legislation, trade unions, and work councils, imposes constraints and delineates the permissible scope of HR activities.

At the heart of the model lies the core process, commencing with configuration. This involves the interplay of company history, culture, and technology, all pivotal in influencing HR communication, objectives, and the effectiveness of HR policies. These factors collectively mold the HR strategy.

The 8-Box Model further delineates the human resource strategy and practices:

  1. Intended HR Practices:
    • Signifying the planned objectives behind recruitment, training, and other HR practices, this facet establishes the initial aspirations. However, as per the 8-Box Model, these intentions are recognized as merely the starting point.
  2. Actual HR Practices:
    • While intentions are crucial, execution is a collaborative effort between HR and managers. Discrepancies may arise when managerial decisions deviate from the intended practices, showcasing a misalignment between intention and execution.
  3. Perceived HR Practices:
    • This facet gauges how employees perceive organizational activities. Even with optimal efforts from HR and managers, if the perceived reality differs from the intended and executed actions, the overall perception will not accurately mirror the HR practices.
  4. HR Outcomes:
    • The perceived HR practices, as per the 8-Box Model, ideally lead to specific HR outcomes. These outcomes align with those outlined in the Standard Causal Model of HR, encompassing elements such as commitment, quality output, and engagement.

These HR outcomes, in turn, contribute to critical HR goals, including but not limited to cost-effectiveness, flexibility, and legitimacy. Ultimately, these critical HR goals pave the way for overarching business objectives like profitability, market share, and market capitalization, all integral to the sustainability and competitiveness of the organization.

In essence, the 8-Box Model provides a nuanced understanding of the multifaceted relationships within HR, acknowledging the impact of external factors while emphasizing the dynamic interplay between intended, actual, and perceived HR practices and their cascading effects on organizational success.

3. The HR Value Chain

The HR value chain stands as a pivotal tool in elucidating and showcasing the inherent value that Human Resources (HR) contributes to organizational goals. This article delves into the intricacies of the HR value chain, highlighting its utility not only in demonstrating HR’s added value but also as an effective framework for people analytics, enabling a comprehensive analysis of HR’s impact on business outcomes.

HR Value Chain in Research: The HR value chain serves as a tangible depiction of how HR activities directly contribute to achieving organizational objectives. Empirical evidence underscores positive relationships between HRM (Human Resource Management) practices, HRM outcomes, and overall organizational outcomes. Despite this evidence, articulating HR’s added value has remained a challenge due to the unique nature of each organization and the difficulty in presenting added value practically. The HR value chain addresses this challenge effectively.

Key Components of the HR Value Chain: The HR value chain unfolds as a three-step process, commencing with HRM activities, followed by HRM outcomes, and culminating in organizational objectives. It provides a clear pathway illustrating how HR activities align with and propel organizational goals.

  1. HRM Activities and Processes – Efficiency Metrics:
    • Positioned on the left of the chain, HRM activities are gauged using efficiency metrics. These metrics, such as the cost of hire, time to hire, and learning and development budget, quantify HR processes’ efficiency. However, these metrics primarily focus on HR efficiency without providing insights into how HR contributes to the broader business goals. Organizations primarily fixated on these metrics are deemed Level 1 HR organizations, emphasizing cost savings at the expense of recognizing HR’s value addition.
  2. HRM Outcomes – Effectiveness Metrics:
    • In the second category, HRM outcomes take center stage. These outcomes encompass traditional HR Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) like engagement, retention, absenteeism rates, and individual and team performance. Effectiveness metrics delve into how well the workforce is faring, acknowledging the joint responsibility of HR and line management. Level 2 HR organizations prioritize these outcomes, aiming for HR effectiveness rather than merely achieving cost savings.
  3. Organizational Objectives:
    • The final category encompasses organizational objectives, representing the strategic goals the organization aspires to achieve. Metrics include market share, profit margins, market capitalization, customer satisfaction, and customer loyalty. These metrics signify outcomes that truly add value to the business, contributing to its long-term viability. Level 3 HR organizations strategically align all their people policies with these organizational objectives, embodying truly strategic HR functions.

The HR Value Chain in Practice: Illustrating these levels with an example, consider the goal of increasing learning within the organization:

  • A Level 1 HR organization might allocate more Learning and Development (L&D) budget with a focus on cost reduction.
  • A Level 2 organization would allocate more L&D budget, evaluating whether these investments result in improved knowledge retention and individual performance, adjusting strategies if needed.
  • A Level 3 organization, on the other hand, aligns increased L&D spending with broader organizational objectives like innovation and profitability. They rigorously test the impact on key performance indicators and deem success only when a positive relationship is established.

The HR Value Chain and Analytics: Analytics plays a crucial role in this context, as it aligns HR activities with organizational objectives. HR, as a service to the business, utilizes analytics to measure the effectiveness of HR interventions aimed at achieving these objectives. Tangible analytics evidence serves as a bridge, connecting HR practices to tangible financial business outcomes, providing concrete proof of HR’s added value.

In essence, the HR value chain, coupled with analytics, becomes a dynamic tool that not only portrays HR’s value but also substantiates its contribution to achieving overarching business success. It transcends operational efficiency, delving into the realms of tactical effectiveness and strategic alignment with organizational goals.

4. The Harvard Model of HRM

The Harvard Human Resource Management (HRM) Model, originating from the 1984 publication “Managing Human Assets” authored by Michael Beer, Richard E. Walton, and Bert A. Spector, stands as a prominent and influential ‘soft HRM’ approach. Distinguished by its emphasis on people rather than strict outcomes, this model aims to cultivate an optimal environment for individuals to excel in their work.

Harvard HRM Model in Practice: At its core, the Harvard HRM Model asserts that HR bears the responsibility of considering the interests of all stakeholders when formulating HRM policies, envisioning a future-oriented strategy. This involves making policy choices based on an assessment of stakeholder interests and situational factors, with the ensuing HR outcomes holding long-term implications for employees, the business, and society.

Key Elements of the Harvard HRM Model: The model is segmented into five integral sections, each interconnected to reflect the dynamic relationships between elements:

  1. Stakeholder Interest:
    • Multiple stakeholders, encompassing management, employee groups, government, the community, and unions, must have their values and perspectives considered before HRM policy creation.
  2. Situational Factors:
    • Internal and external factors, including workforce characteristics, business strategy, management philosophy, labor market conditions, technology, and legal aspects, should be evaluated before making policy choices.
  3. HRM Policies and Policy Choices:
    • HRM policies, depicted as an interconnected web of work systems and reward systems, determine the approach to work, rewards, HR functions, and employee influence. Balance among these elements is crucial for effective employee performance.
  4. HR Outcomes:
    • The model introduces the 4Cs (Commitment, Congruence, Competence, and Cost-effectiveness) as key HR outcomes. Achieving the right balance in HR policies results in commitment to organizational goals, congruence in management styles, competence in attracting and retaining skilled employees, and cost-effectiveness.
  5. Long-Term Consequences:
    • By utilizing the Harvard HRM model in crafting and executing HRM strategy, the anticipated outcome is a ripple effect of far-reaching, long-term consequences. A well-aligned HRM strategy is envisioned to meet employee needs, fostering competitiveness in the external market and benefiting society and the community.

Strengths and Weaknesses: Notable Strengths:

  • Provides a comprehensive framework for HR leaders, emphasizing the interconnectedness of employees, operations, and management.
  • Recognizes employees as active contributors, highlighting their pivotal role in organizational success.
  • Encourages a balanced consideration of multiple stakeholders’ needs, emphasizing the importance of trade-offs and collaboration.
  • Prompts line managers to assume greater responsibility for employees, reducing reliance on HR.
  • Helps identify factors within HR’s control and distinguishes internal and external influences in strategic HR planning.

Notable Weaknesses:

  • The model’s broad scope may be challenging to translate into practical implementation.
  • Assumes that meeting all stakeholders’ interests leads to utopian working practices, which may not always align with reality.

Frequently-Asked Questions: What Are the Four Models of HRM?

  • The Harvard model is one of four key models of HRM, alongside the Fombrun, Guest, and Warwick models. These models offer frameworks for HR planning, lending credibility and legitimacy to HR policies.

Is the Harvard Model Considered Soft HRM?

  • Yes, the Harvard model adopts a ‘soft’ HRM perspective, focusing on people, attitudes, culture, and motivation, while also acknowledging the importance of reward systems, including payment.

Who Developed the Harvard Model of HRM?

  • Michael Beer is commonly credited as the creator of the Harvard HRM Model. The model was first published in 1984 by a group of experts at Harvard University, led by Beer, along with Bert Spector, Paul R. Lawrence, D. Quinn Mills, and Richard E. Walton.

5. The Guest Model

The Guest Model of Human Resource Management (HRM) is a strategic approach that combines elements of both soft and hard HRM approaches to achieve organizational goals. Developed by David Guest in 1987, this model aims to integrate the strengths of both approaches in a strategic manner, focusing on individual employees to enhance organizational flexibility. The model emphasizes the importance of HR practices and their alignment with overall HRM strategy, ultimately contributing to various outcomes crucial for organizational success.

Key Components of the Guest Model in HRM:

  1. Strategic Integration:
    • Involves the precise treatment of human resources, considering them as essential pillars for achieving business goals. Strategic integration highlights the pivotal role played by strategy in the success of the company.
  2. Flexibility:
    • Recognizes the significant relationship between organizational flexibility and employees’ ability to adapt to the work environment. This component emphasizes the behavioral adaptability of the organization, ensuring that employees behave in a manner conducive to organizational success.
  3. High Commitment:
    • Places a strong emphasis on fostering high commitment within the organization. This involves cultivating behavioral commitments characterized by a solid identification with the organization. Employees with the right level of commitment contribute to the effective realization of organizational goals.
  4. Quality:
    • Focuses on maintaining high standards of quality in goods and services, underlining the need for quality personnel within the organization. The model asserts that compromising on the quality of human resources is not acceptable for the success and sustainability of the business.

Perspectives in the Guest Model of HRM:

  1. HRM Strategy:
    • Encompasses the overall strategy employed by HRM to achieve organizational goals. It is a critical aspect of the Guest Model, emphasizing strategic alignment in HR practices.
  2. HRM Practices:
    • Encompasses various HR practices, including hiring, training, appraisal, and employee relations. These practices play a crucial role in shaping organizational behavior and outcomes.
  3. HR Outcomes:
    • Consists of key HR outcomes, such as commitment, flexibility, and quality. These outcomes are integral to fulfilling the company’s goals and ensuring organizational success.
  4. Behavioral Outcomes:
    • Refers to the different sequences of actions performed by employees in the organization to complete tasks, influencing overall organizational growth.
  5. Performance Outcomes:
    • Drives the performance of the company, contributing to the achievement of organizational goals and overall growth.
  6. Financial Outcomes:
    • Focuses on the financial results of the organization, providing insights into profits and revenue generation.

In summary, the Guest Model of HRM offers a comprehensive framework that considers strategic integration, flexibility, high commitment, and quality as essential components for effective HR management and organizational success.

6. The Warwick Model

The Warwick Model of Human Resource Management (HRM) is a conceptual framework developed by Hendry and Pettigrew in 1990 at the University of Warwick. This model aims to offer a comprehensive understanding of HRM within various organizational contexts, emphasizing the integration of HR functions into overall business strategy.


The Warwick Model identifies five distinct contexts that influence HRM practices: Outer Context, Inner Context, Business Strategy Context, HRM Context, and HRM Content. Each context comprises specific factors that shape HRM policies, and a thorough understanding of these factors is deemed essential for the effective implementation of HR practices.

Key Contexts in the Warwick Model:

  1. Outer Context:
    • Refers to the external environment in which an organization operates, encompassing factors like the economy, labor market, government regulations, and societal values. HRM is influenced by external elements such as labor laws, trade unions, and demographic trends.
  2. Inner Context:
    • Encompasses the internal environment of an organization, including its culture, structure, and leadership. HRM in this context is shaped by organizational culture, leadership styles, and employee attitudes. The organizational structure and culture dictate the approach to HRM, ranging from hierarchical to flexible.
  3. Business Strategy Context:
    • Relates to the overall strategy of the organization, considering market positioning, product/service offerings, and competitive advantage. HRM practices are influenced by the company’s growth strategy, industry type, and competitive position. For instance, growth-focused companies may invest heavily in recruitment and training.
  4. HRM Context:
    • Involves specific HRM functions such as recruitment, selection, training, development, performance management, and compensation. HRM practices are influenced by organizational culture, leadership style, and business strategy. For example, companies valuing employee development may prioritize training programs.
  5. HRM Content:
    • Encompasses the underlying principles and values guiding HR policies and practices. This includes the organization’s mission, values, approach to employee relations, and commitment to diversity and inclusion. The HRM content shapes the fundamental values embedded in HR policies.

Finally, the Warwick Model of HRM provides a valuable and holistic framework for comprehending HRM within diverse organizational contexts. By considering the outer, inner, and business strategy contexts, alongside the HRM context and HRM content, organizations can develop comprehensive HR policies aligned with their overarching business strategy.

7. The Ulrich Model

The David Ulrich HR model, introduced by David Ulrich in 1995, is a framework designed to organize and streamline roles and responsibilities within Human Resource (HR) departments, particularly in large corporations. This model focuses on enhancing efficiency and effectiveness by clearly defining the responsibilities of HR professionals.

Key Components of the David Ulrich HR Model:

  1. Strategic Partner:
    • Focuses on managing the development and growth of the workforce. This role looks outward to the customer, evaluates systems and processes, and aims to deliver what the customer wants more efficiently. Emphasizes strategic workforce planning.
  2. Administrative Expert:
    • Internally focused role that manages costs, people, and day-to-day operational activities. Ensures the smooth delivery of routine business processes and functions. Emphasizes efficiency in administrative tasks.
  3. Change Agent:
    • Examines the overall organizational culture and identifies opportunities for improvement. Collaborates with line managers to lead and facilitate positive changes, making the organization a better place for both personal and professional growth. Emphasizes organizational culture transformation.
  4. Employee Champion:
    • Supports employees in expressing their views, ensures they feel heard and respected, and assists in delivering processes that prioritize employee well-being. Addresses practicalities related to employee satisfaction, safeguarding, and overall health. Emphasizes the importance of employee advocacy.

David Ulrich: David Ulrich, born in 1953, is a renowned university professor, author, speaker, and management coach. With a Ph.D. in Business Organization Theory, Ulrich has been a thought leader in HR, contributing significantly to strategic leadership and human resources practices. His work focuses on aligning HR practices with customer needs, effective leadership outcomes, and the impact of leadership on shareholder value.

Relevance of the David Ulrich HR Model: While some argue that the Ulrich model may be considered somewhat outdated in today’s technology-focused world, it remains relevant for many modern businesses. The model’s core principles, such as defining roles, creating a unified team structure, and balancing operational and strategic planning, still offer a useful foundation for organizing HR functions.

The model was groundbreaking when introduced, providing clarity and efficiency to HR departments. Despite changes in the HR landscape, it continues to be valuable for businesses that recognize its importance and use it as a foundational framework adaptable to their specific needs. The four key roles outlined by Ulrich ensure a balanced approach to HR, addressing both traditional tasks and forward-thinking strategies.

8. The HR Value Chain Advanced

The HR value chain is a conceptual framework that illustrates how Human Resources (HR) contributes to the achievement of organizational objectives. Based on empirical evidence, positive correlations exist between HR management practices, HR outcomes, and overall organizational performance. Despite this, demonstrating HR’s added value has remained challenging due to the uniqueness of each organization and the difficulty in practically showcasing the value.

The HR value chain addresses this challenge by providing a structured model that connects HR activities to organizational goals. It emphasizes the importance of aligning HR practices with business outcomes. Additionally, analytics plays a crucial role in measuring the effectiveness of HR interventions aimed at achieving these business outcomes. By connecting HR actions to tangible financial results, analytics provides concrete evidence of the value added by HR practices.

For a more in-depth understanding of the HR value chain and its practical application, individuals can explore courses such as the Strategic HR Metrics course, which focuses on creating meaningful key performance indicators (KPIs) within HR. Furthermore, for those interested in leveraging strategic analytics to enhance business value, the HR Analytics Lead course offers valuable insights.

In essence, the HR value chain serves as a tool to demonstrate the concrete contributions of HR to organizational success, connecting HR activities to measurable business outcomes.

Selecting an HR Model

Choosing the right HR model for an organization involves considering various factors, including business strategy, organizational design, industry and competition, HR team capabilities, and cost-effectiveness. Each organization is unique, and the selected HR model should align with its specific needs and goals.

A Final Note on HR Models

While HR models provide valuable frameworks for understanding HRM, it’s crucial to recognize that they are simplifications of reality. There is no one-size-fits-all HR model, and organizations may need to experiment to discover the most suitable approach for their specific circumstances.

Future Trends in HR Models

As HR continues to evolve, future HR models are likely to incorporate technological advancements, such as AI and automation, into HR service delivery. Concepts like Agile HR and Sustainable HR are gaining traction, reflecting the ongoing changes in the nature of work and the workforce.


Understanding and leveraging HR models is instrumental for HR professionals in navigating the complex landscape of human resources management. These models provide a roadmap for aligning HR practices with organizational goals, contributing to enhanced efficiency, employee satisfaction, and overall business success. As the world of work evolves, HR models will continue to adapt, ensuring their relevance in guiding HR strategies and practices.

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