Theorising under‐theorisation in research on the HRM‐Performance Link

Steve Fleetwood (University of the West of England, Bristol, UK)
Anthony Hesketh (Lancaster University Management School, Lancaster, UK)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Publication date: 8 February 2008



The purpose of this paper is to identify the conceptual underpinnings of the theoretical weaknesses of extant research investigating the HRM‐Organizational Performance Link (hereafter HRM‐P Link).


The paper reviews a number of different empirical approaches to the HRM‐P Link and reflects upon, and defines, theory, focusing upon two important dimensions: prediction and explanation. The paper also discusses why the field in its current guise cannot sustain a commitment to explanation, so that under‐theorisation and lack of explanatory power go hand‐in‐hand. It then tackles the possibility that theoretical underpinnings for empirical research on the HRM‐P Link might come from other disciplines such as economics. The paper also begins to set out a meta‐theoretical alternative.


The paper finds that: theoretical underpinnings will not emerge and develop simply by doing more, and/or better, empirical work; meta‐theoretical problems besetting the paradigm are actually far worse than is usually recognised; and attempts to borrow theories from other disciplines have not been successful.

Research limitations/implications

The paper shows that this is a broad and complex field and it has been necessarily selective in its evaluation. It does, however, signpost additional writing in this area to complement the word limit it faces here.

Practical implications

The paper shows that both organizations and researchers need to think more robustly about the meta‐theoretical underpinnings of the relationship between HRM practices and their capacity to enable people to perform. It is hoped that renewed meta‐theoretical debate will be triggered in this direction.


This paper is the only critical review of the meta‐theoretical underpinnings of the HRM‐P field.



Fleetwood, S. and Hesketh, A. (2008), "Theorising under‐theorisation in research on the HRM‐Performance Link", Personnel Review, Vol. 37 No. 2, pp. 126-144.

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