The message and the messenger: Identifying and communicating a high performance “HRM philosophy”

Ashlea Kellner*, Keith Townsend, Adrian Wilkinson, David Greenfield, Sandra Lawrence

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to develop understanding of the “HRM process” as defined by Bowen and Ostroff (2004). The authors clarify the construct of “HRM philosophy” and suggest it is communicated to employees through “HRM messages”. Interrelationships between these concepts and other elements of the HRM-performance relationship are explored. The study identifies commonalities in the HRM philosophy and messages underscoring high-performing HRM systems, and highlights the function of a “messenger” in delivering messages to staff. Design/methodology/approach: Case study of eight Australian hospitals with top performing HRM systems. Combines primary interview data with independent healthcare accreditor reports. Findings: All cases share an HRM philosophy of achieving high-performance outcomes through the HRM system and employees are provided with messages about continuous improvement, best practice and innovation. The philosophy was instilled primarily by executive-level managers, whereby distinctiveness, consensus and consistency of communications were important characteristics. Research limitations/implications: The research is limited by: omission of low or average performers; a single industry and country design; and exclusion of employee perspectives. Practical implications: The findings reinforce the importance of identifying the HRM philosophy and its key communicators within the organisation, and ensuring it is aligned with strategy, climate and the HRM system, particularly during periods of organisational change. Originality/value: The authors expand Bowen and Ostroff’s seminal work and develop the concepts of HRM philosophy and messages, offering the model to clarify key relationships. The findings underscore problems associated with a best practice approach that disregards HRM process elements essential for optimising performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1240-1258
Number of pages19
JournalPersonnel Review
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sept 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Communication
  • Healthcare
  • High-performance work systems (HPWS)
  • Human resource management
  • Human resource management system
  • Mixed methodologies
  • Qualitative


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