How to align HR strategies and actions with corporate strategies

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Method

This section will give a thorough description of the chosen methods and techniques used for collecting the data.In order for the reader to gain a deeper understanding of chosen research methods, this section will argue and justify for why specific methods are used. It will also present problems encountered in the research process.

Choice of methodology

Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2009, p. 5) define research as, “something that people undertake in order to find out things in a systematic way, thereby increasing their knowledge”. To increase knowledge one has to have a clear purpose and data must be collected and interpreted systematically. Methodology is a tool for the researcher to help fulfil the purpose of his or her study. According to Holme and Solvang (1997) there are two methodological approaches; the qualitative and the quantitative.

Qualitative vs. Quantitative

Qualitative research examines more intangible things like values attitudes and perceptions. It is often used to gain understanding of social and human activities. The Qualitative method is more subjective in its nature (Collis & Hussey, 2003). Criticism to this approach involves that it is easy to challenge and that it might be difficult to interpret and present findings (Collis & Hussey, 2003).
Quantitative research is about collecting and analyzing numerical data statistically. This method has an objective nature and it is very detailed and structured, even though it might be more difficult to design to begin with. It is easy to collate results and present data with this method. (Collis & Hussey, 2003)
We have chosen to use the qualitative approach for our study. To fully understand how EWES is aligning HR strategies with corporate strategies we need to understand the companies´ perceptions values and attitudes towards it. SHRM also requires an understanding of social and human activities. Therefore, we believe that the qualitative approach is the most accurate method to use in order to fulfil the purpose of this study.

Deductive vs. Inductive Research

The deductive approach is quite exceptional as the findings can change and or strengthen the theory on which the research builds upon. It is about testing existing theories (Saunders, Lewis, & Thornhill, (2009). Collis and Hussey (2003) refer to deductive approach as moving from the general ideas to particular situations, the particular is hence deduced from the general idea or the broad theory.
The inductive approach on the other hand is quite the opposite. By analysing collected data the inductive approach strives for theory building. It develops a theory based upon the results from the analysis of the data that has been obtained (Saunders, Lewis, & Thornhill, 2009). This approach moves from a particular situation to create or infer general ideas or theories (Collis and Hussey, 2003).
The deductive approach was used in this thesis, as the research was based upon previous research concerning strategic human resource management. General theories regarding strategic human resource management were studied and tied to the particular case of study: EWES Stålfjäder AB. The research approach is thereby in line with Collis and Hussey (2003) definition of the deductive approach: moving from the general to the particular.

Data Collection

Data can be collected from two sources; a primary and a secondary source (Collis & Hussey, 2003) Primary data is a firsthand insight to an examined phenomenon produced for a purpose (Jacobssen, 2002). Primary data is original data that has been collected at the source by conducting interviews or surveys for example (Collis & Hussey, 2003). The collection of primary data is explained in section 3.2.1. Secondary data, on the other hand, is information previously produced for another purpose. However it can be used in different contexts. Most secondary data has originally been primary data (Björklund & Paulsson, 2003). For example, Secondary data can be collected from films, books, articles and documents (Collis & Hussey, 2003).

Primary data collection: interviews

Holme and Solvang state (1997) that one strength with the qualitative interview is that it is very much like the daily life conversation, where the person being interviewed has an effect in where the conversation is going. In this form it is important to have an interview manual, though not standardized, directing the conversation, one should also be prepared to change the direction of the conversation along the way as leads are given (Holme & Solvang, 1997). Another benefit Holme and Solvang (1997) argues for is that this kind of qualitative interviews is flexible which makes it easy to reconnect if additional information is needed or answers are not understood.

Structure of interview

There are three different ways of conducting an interviews; unstructured, semi structured, and structured. Where unstructured consists of having an interview with a clear plan in your head, while leaving a great freedom when it comes to respondents answers. Semi structured is based on the liberties given to the respondent in an unstructured interview. However it is additionally based on an Interview guide, where the topics and questions are written down and in which order they are to be handled. The semi structured also makes it possible to compare different interviews. The structured interview is a fully controlled one with questions and the order these are going to be handled (Bernard, 2002; Patton, 1984).
In our research, we have decided to conduct semi-structured interviews in order to give us guidance during the interview and freedom for the respondents when answering. The questions used can be found in appendix 1.

Process of selecting respondents

The process of selecting who, and how many participants that should participate in the research, is an important part in the empirical research process. The choice will be important when it comes to the quality of the collected empirical material. There are many methods to choose participants for a study. The choice of method will be determined by the purpose of the study (Lekvall & Wahlbin, 1993).
Since we have chosen to study the HR strategies and corporate strategies at EWES we have decided to choose people that have firsthand knowledge within these areas and that can provide a clear picture of these two aspects.
To identify interviewees we asked Anton Schön to tell us who he thinks is the most appropriate to talk to regarding these matters. We have asked Anton Schön specifically because he knows the organisation best and will soon be taking over the CEO position from Kjell Svensson. The names, positions, date and length of interview can be found in the table below.

Administration of interviews

We have chosen to conduct our interviews by having one of the authors of the thesis to lead the interview while the other two has focused on listening and taking notes. We have also recorded our interviews digitally so that we can go back and listen to the interviews if we have missed something in our notes. All our interviews were conducted in Swedish since all the interviewees’ mother tongues was Swedish. The interviews were designed to last approximately 45 min. All interviewees were informed about the purpose of the thesis before the interviews.

Secondary data collection

The theoretical framework in this study is based on secondary data in form of literature and peer reviewed academic articles. We have searched for well-known and respected authors within the field of Strategic Human Resource Management. The databases used for collecting published materials were ABI/INFORM, Google Scholar, Business Source premier and JULIA. When searching for articles and literature we have chosen keywords such as: “strategic human resource management”, “Human resource management and organisational performance”, “SHRM”, “HR practices”. We have identified journals such as Academy of Management Journal, Strategic Management Journal and Human Resource Management as relevant journals within the field of Strategic Human Resource Management.
In addition when conducting a qualitative study of a company, secondary sources can help to triangulate findings based on the primary data collected (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill, 2003). If two or more sources explain a phenomenon in the same way one can conclude that the information is reliable (Jacobssen, 2002). According to Jacobssen (2002), the result can be controlled and supported by using both primary and secondary data. That is why we have chosen to use secondary material in form of written internal documents to obtain a better picture of EWES’ corporate strategies and HR Strategies. The document consists of meeting protocols from meetings with the board of directors and EWES’ corporate website. Material from and interview 2006-09-26 with CEO Kjell Svensson and an interview 2010-02-26 with Anton Schön has also been used.

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Empirical findings and analysis

In a qualitative study, the strength is dependent on the quality of the analysis (Miles & Huberman, 1994). The analysis should be separated into three parts; reduction of the data collected, presentation of relevant data, and conclusions that can be drawn from the data presented.
In the first phase of the analysis the data that has been collected is shortened, simplified and changed (Miles & Huberman, 1994). After completing the interviews we have brought together all the notes to get a good picture of the material. Thereafter, we revised the interview material and put it into our empirical chapter. The revised interview material has then been translated to English.
The foundation of the analysis is the empirical material (Miles & Huberman, 1994). In the second phase of the analysis process the researcher summarizes the empirical material and presents it in an organized form. We will structure our empirical chapter according to the main areas of our theoretical framework. We will present EWES’ corporate strategies and how EWES works with HRM so that we can easily assess the alignment between these two areas in our analysis part.
In the last phase of the analysis process the revised material is analyzed so that conclusions can be drawn (Miles & Huberman, 1994). In the analysis part we will compare the theories in the theoretical framework with our empirical findings so that a good evaluation can be made on our purpose.

Reliability and Validity

We have chosen to perform a qualitative study, which Holme and Solvang (1997) argue is less dependent upon representativeness of the information, reliability, and validity compared to quantitative studies. However, they are still relevant to take in consideration when conducting a qualitative study.

Representativeness of the information

Representativeness of the information is according to Holme and Solvang (1997) concerned with if the selected sample is representative for the entire population and that it is especially important for quantitative studies. If this concept is adapted on our qualitative study, we believe our sample is representative for the entire population of EWES’ managers that are handling both corporate strategic issues as well as HR strategic issues. The deputy CEO, Anton Schön, selected the respondents. We are, however, aware of the risk of biases when having someone else choosing the interviewees. In this case we believe that the interviewees are representative for the population mentioned above since the respondents were all involved in working with HR strategies and corporate strategies at EWES. Therefore they also have extensive knowledge in these matters.

Reliability

Bell (2000) states that reliability measures to what degree an instrument or line of action would give the same results at different occasions if duplicated under similar circumstances. According to Holme and Solvang (1997), there are two problems when it comes to qualitative measures. Firstly, the researcher’s experience of the interview situation can be false, where interpretation and misunderstanding of the situation can lead to false conclusions. The second problem is the communication between the interviewer and the interviewee, where nearness between the two can give an abnormal behaviour or reply from the person who is interviewed.
We have attempted to provide as thorough explanations as possible for our chosen methods, this to enable the readers to evaluate the reliability of this study. In order to attend to the possible biases in the researcher’s experience of the interview situation, we have all chosen to attend during the interviews. This enables us to compare our different experiences and thus minimizing the biased and false impressions and interpretations of the situation. The comparison between the different experiences, but also the discussion of the interview questions before execution is intended to raise the reliability.

Validity

According to Bell (2000), validity is concerned with if a certain question measures or describes what it was intended to measure or describe. Even though a question has a high reliability it does not necessarily have a high validity, however if the question has a low reliability then it will also lack validity (Bell, 2000). Considering trustworthiness of a study Andersen (1998) states that it is important to gain a high validity. Trustworthiness can further be described in two terms; relevance and validity (Andersen, 1998). Where relevance covers how relevant the theoretical framework and empirical findings are concerning the purpose and problem of the paper. The Validity however deals with the general agreement between the theoretical concepts and empirical concepts.
To strengthen the validity of our research we used interviews and written documents. In collecting the empirical data we used semi-structured interviews, which make it a more open discussion giving us cooperation with the respondent (Bernard, 2002). This makes it possible to clear possible misunderstandings along the way, which will be of importance when connecting the theoretical framework with the empirical findings. The semi-structured interviews also give the respondent an opportunity to speak in a free way about the pre-determined topics (Bernard, 2002). This enables us to find out more profound answers and thus increasing our validity.
Concerning the written documents, they are assumed to be reliable, since the potential customers are to rely on this information. The written document used is the firm’s website for gathering background information concerning EWES Stålfjäder AB. We have also confirmed this information with EWES, so we assume this information has a high validity.

Empirical Data

This section presents the empirical data gathered through in-depth interviews with the management team of EWES. In order for the reader to get a comprehensive picture of this section, EWES Stålfjäder AB is described briefly with focus on their Corporate and HR strategy, which is the focus of this study.

EWES’ Stålfjäder AB

EWES is a well established medium sized company within the manufacturing industry. The company was started in Bredaryd 1935, where they still have their biggest production facilities and head office (EWES, 2010). As a family enterprise, they started out producing steel springs for mattresses, which they during the 1960’s left due to changes in the industry. Instead they started to produce springs for the mechanical industry. The former clients were replaced by companies such as; Asea Skandia, EKS, SAAB and Electrolux. At this important change of customer base EWES had 17-18 employees. The first generational change took place in 1970 when Kjell, the son of the founder, took over the post as CEO. This started a new era where EWES’ production was automated which led to increased efficiency and reduced costs. During this new era EWES won new ground as they made the first computer based calculation program for springs together with a researcher within the field, and received one year exclusivity on this program. This more or less revolutionized the industry, and gave EWES a greater international clientele. This has resulted in a revenue increase of about 25 times from 1970 until 2006 (K. Svensson, personal communication, 2006-09-26).
EWES is today one of the leading producers of steel springs in Scandinavia with a yearly revenue of 100 million SEK and about 90 Employees (A. Schön, personal communication, 2010-02-26). Their aspiration is to be the most obvious partner in production of springs, wire material and environmental products used to cleanse combustion gases in plants and use the latest technology along with modern machinery within their business segments (EWES, 2010b). Today, EWES have production within two business areas springs and environmental products. Which are divided into six product areas; automotive, electronics, standard, environmental, industry and gas struts (EWES, 2010a).

Table of Contents
1 Introduction
1.1 Background
1.2 The Problem Discussion
1.3 Purpose
2 Theoretical Framework 
2.1 How to align HR strategies and actions with corporate strategies
2.2 Challenges when working with SHRM
2.3 How to measure effectiveness of SHRM
3 Method
3.1 Choice of methodology
3.2 Data Collection
3.3 Empirical findings and analysis
3.4 Reliability and Validity
4 Empirical Data
4.1 EWES’ Stålfjäder AB
4.2 EWES’ organisation
4.3 EWES’ Strategic situation
4.4 EWES’ strategic plan
4.5 EWES’ HR Strategy
4.6 Organisational Performance
5 Data Analysis
5.1 EWES’ business strategies
5.2 Identified workforce requirements
5.3 EWES’ strategic HR policies and activities
5.4 Scorecard measures
5.5 Overall challenges
6 Conclusion, Discussion, Contributions and Further Research 
6.1 Conclusions and Recommendations
6.2 Discussion
6.3 Contributions
6.4 Further research
References
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