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Communication Dans Un Congrès Année : 2022

Innovative HRM Designers: The Design Regimes of Human Resource Management in French Industrial History

John Levesque
Cédric Dalmasso
Sophie Hooge


The topic of Strategic Human Resource Management (SHRM)’s impact on a firm’s innovativeness (or its contribution to innovation, as it is often phrased) has been an ongoing subject of academic debate for the past 2 decades, for both the HRM and the innovation management communities. Indeed, if the purpose of SHRM is to allow “the choice, alignment, and integration of an organization’s HRM system so that its human capital resources most effectively contribute to strategic business objectives.” (Kaufman, 2015, p.404), then it becomes quickly relevant to understand in what ways the HRM systems contribute to a firm’s innovative activities. This type of questioning has produced several works on topics such as 1) how specific HRM strategies, practices or tools directly or indirectly affect a firm’s capability to innovate, through its workforce, whether it be employees, managers, or professionals from other support functions; 2) whether the HRM function, characterized by its actors, themselves innovate, to provide the firm with new strategies, practices or tools; 3) how HRM professionals help the firm to respond to external innovations that disrupt its organization and threaten its core activity. It is not coincidental that the same period has been characterized by a profound shift in the context in which firms, particularly large industrial ones, have been operating. Today, the disruptive effects of exogenous breakthrough innovation are no longer an isolated or ephemeral phenomenon: digital transformation, for instance, has become a reality for most industries, creating observable impacts across all sectors of activity, as well as the functions that drive them. This context of intensive innovation, which imposes an acceleration of the pace and intensity of innovation (Christensen, Raynor & Anthony, 2003; Hatchuel et al., 2010; Midler, 2002; Phelps, 2013), implies being able to establish an ambidextrous approach to the firm’s activities and steer continuous exploration activities (March, 1991) to renew "dynamic capabilities" simultaneously (Teece, 2007). This current context impacts the entire organization of firms, thereby generating important repercussions on their employees. As a result, Human Resources Departments today are faced with problems that call into question the sustainability of their operations and, by extension, of the firms they support: the actors of HRM find themselves having to deal with new challenges, such as accompanying and/or preventing the accelerated mutation of strategic skills, managing the loss or appearance of knowledge and expertise, as well as recruiting or implementing training programs in the face of unknown futures, or assessing the value of the work of exploring innovative project teams (Wright, Nyberg & Ployhart, 2018). At the SHRM level, this brings both practitioners and researchers to wonder how to ensure an alignment between the firm’s goals and its available human resources if its strategies keep changing in real time and their employees’ competences (sometimes even highly specialized ones) are being made less relevant by exogenous innovations. Yet, this new context is far from being the first transformative episode to challenge HRM systems and practices: on the contrary, the HR function has a rich history of evolution and diversification when it comes to its mechanisms. The present paper is built on the theory that HRM actors have long been unrecognized designer collectives, who have regularly mobilized their resources and organized creative processes to introduce new managerial solutions, in the form of innovative processes, structures and tools. To test this theory, a longitudinal qualitative study was performed, using the conceptual framework on design regimes to identify collective design phenomena within the evolution of the HRM function throughout industrial French history. The main source of historical data was obtained from Jean Fombonne’s seminal work “Personnel & HRM: the affirmation of the Personnel function in [industrial] firms (France, 1830-1990” . The article starts by presenting a review of the literature on HRM contributions to a firm’s innovative activities and highlight the enduring absence of a framework to describe the “design activity” expected from SHRM actors. Subsequently, the research question will be presented, and the following longitudinal study will rely on the conceptual framework of design regimes to analyze the historical evolution of the HRM function in French industrial firms. This approach will aim to confirm the hypothesis that HRM actors have historically demonstrated collective design activities that mirror those of industrial engineers, albeit in a less formal way. The core managerial implication of this work is that HRM actors, can build on this history of informal design activity to institutionalize HRM design practices and empower SHRM actors to create better dynamic alignments in intensely innovative situations.
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hal-04067851 , version 1 (13-04-2023)


  • HAL Id : hal-04067851 , version 1


John Levesque, Cédric Dalmasso, Sophie Hooge. Innovative HRM Designers: The Design Regimes of Human Resource Management in French Industrial History. EIASM 37th SHRM Workshop 2022, EIASM, Apr 2022, Braga, Portugal. ⟨hal-04067851⟩
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