History of Human Resource Management

Let’s take a look at the history of human resource management in public service. A useful framework for considering the history of government reform efforts considers the tides of reform. The tide of reform identifies four reform philosophies, each of which has its own goals, implementation efforts, and outcomes: scientific management, war on waste, watchful eye, and liberation management.

The first tide is scientific management. Here the focus is on hierarchy, microdivision of labor, specialization, and well-defined chains of command. This philosophy, usually associated with Frederick Taylor, is particularly manifest in the bureaucratic organizational form, with its emphasis on structure, rules, and search for “the one best way.“

Technical experts in this environment apply the “scientific“ principles of administration (e.g., unity of command and POSDCORB—planning, organizing, staffing, directing, coordinating, reporting, and budgeting). Scientific management has implications for human resources.

It emphasizes conformity and predictability of employees’ contributions to the organization (machine model), and it sees human relationships as subject to management control. Current emphasis on productivity measurement, financial incentives, and efficiency reflects the continuing influence of scientific management.

The implications of the war on waste for human resource management are plentiful. Frequently audits, scandals, critical reports, and whistleblowing point out gaps in rules and lax implementation of rules; such revelations often bring needed attention and/or corrective actions.

The third tide of reform, the watchful eye, emphasizes fairness through openness, transparency, and access. Whistleblowers, the news media, interest groups, and the public need access to information to ensure that the public’s rights and the common interest are protected as well as individual rights.

Before these strategies are implemented, it is necessary for managers to determine the readiness of employees and units to assume new responsibilities, forge new relationships, and increase outputs.