Journal of Human Resource and Sustainability Studies, 2013, 1, 51-59
Published Online December 2013 (
Open Access JHRSS
HR Practices as Antecedents of Supply Relationship
Integration: The Inter- and Intra-Firm Contexts
Marie Koulikoff-Souviron1,2, Sophie Claye-Puaux3
1SKEMA Business School, Nice-Sophia Antipolis, France
2CRET-LOG, Aix-en-Provence, France
3CRET-LOG, Aix-Marseille Université, Aix-en-Provence, France
Received July 31, 2013; revised September 1, 2013; accepted September 10, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Marie Koulikoff-Souviron, Sophie Claye-Puaux. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative
Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original
work is properly cited. In accordance of the Creative Commons Attribution License all Copyrights © 2013 are reserved for SCIRP
and the owner of the intellectual property Marie Koulikoff-Souviron, Sophie Claye-Puaux. All Copyright © 2013 are guarded by law
and by SCIRP as a guardian.
This research draws on organizational constructs to investigate the role of HR practices as antecedents of supply rela-
tionship integration in inter- and intra-firm contexts. We argue that HR practices can be designed to follow a “special-
ized” approach or to follow a “relational” approach by promoting collaboration and information sharing at supply rela-
tionship level. Drawing on inductive case data from two earlier papers, we identify HRPs supporting standardization as
a critical facilitator of inter-firm integration and HRPs supporting mutual adjustment as a critical facilitator of intra-firm
integration. This paper contributes to operational integration literature by highlighting the role of HRM in supply rela-
tionship integration.
Keywords: Supply Relationship; Integration; Organizational Drivers; HR Practices; Case Study
1. Introduction
One way to address growing environmental pressures on
supply relationships is to intensify efforts for integration,
both in inter- and intra-firm contexts [1]. Integration re-
quires that interdependent units adjust to each other and
therefore adapt their operations to the partner [2,3]. In-
terdependence is a key characteristic of organizational
integration along with the time span for reciprocity and
interaction pattern [2,4,5]. Different studies have invest-
tigated the drivers of internal and/or external integration
[4,6,7], identifying organizational practices that inhibit or
facilitate integration. Though internal and external inte-
grations are distinct processes [1], the specificities of or-
ganizational drivers in intra and inter-firm integration
contexts have not been empirically addressed [4].
Human aspects are keys to integration because inte-
grated processes require the close collaboration of a large
number of people [4]. Coordinative and cooperative be-
havior can be encouraged through multi-functional teams,
careful selection of team members and appropriate re-
ward systems [6,8-10]. A feature of HR practices that
promote integration is that they are based on outcomes at
relationship rather than individual unit level [7]. As such,
HR practices can be designed to follow a “specialized”
approach and facilitate coordination within the individual
site [11] or to follow a “relational” approach by promot-
ing collaboration and information sharing at supply rela-
tionship level [8-11]. HR practices thus can be viewed as
antecedents of organizational drivers of integration [10].
This premise is supported by the body of literature that
looks at the role of HR practices in inter-firm [12-14],
and intra-firm supply relationship contexts [15].
The aim of this study is to contribute to the under-
standing of integration mechanisms by investigating the
similarities and differences among HR practices in the
intra- and inter-firm contexts and how they constitute
antecedents of organizational drivers—are they inhibitors
or facilitators—of supply relationship integration. For
that purpose, this study builds on and compares data
from two case studies, presented in earlier papers: the
first between separately (US-) owned partners in the
chemical industry in the UK [14] and the second between
French and English sites of a recently merged pharma-
ceutical firm that worked at different stages in the manu-
facture of a drug [15]. The paper presents a cross-case
analysis and draws conclusions on how HR practices as
antecedents of organizational drivers can either inhibit or
facilitate integration in the two contexts. Our findings
have practical implications for the design of HR practices
at two levels: within MNCs characterized by complex
and fragmented internal operational environments (in-
tra-firm) and within external strategic supply relation-
ships characterized by reciprocal interdependence (inter-
firm). The paper contributes to the operational integra-
tion literature by highlighting intra and inter-firm speci-
ficities of HRM in supply relationships.
The remainder of the paper is structured as follows:
first we present the literature on organizational drivers of
supply relationship integration; second, we discuss the
role of HR practices and introduce our research model
and propositions; third we present the methodology;
fourth we show the findings and fifth the discussion and
2. Literature Review
2.1. Organizational Drivers of Supply
Relationship Integration
Many definitions have been proposed for the concept of
integration. In the field of operations management, sup-
ply chain integration may be defined as the coordination
and collaboration among supply chain partners on intra
and inter-organizational processes in order to achieve
effective and efficient flows of products, services, infor-
mation, money and decisions [16]. With a broader, or-
ganizational perspective, Barki and Pinsonnault [4] de-
fine integration as “the extent to which distinct and in-
terdependent organizational components constitute a
unified whole’ (p. 166). They distinguish between inte-
gration of processes that are internal vs. external, and
integration of primary (those that directly produce an
organization’s output) vs. secondary processes (those that
support the primary activities). These distinctions are
relevant in the field of OM [7]. This research focuses on
integration of primary processes—that is the supply rela-
tionship—both at intra- and inter-firm context. For the
purpose of our study, intra-firm refers to supply rela-
tionships between plants of a single company, which is a
common feature of multinational companies; inter-firm
refers to strategic supply relationships between plants
belonging to distinct companies.
In OM studies, the scope of integration varies signify-
cantly. From the narrowest to the broadest perspective,
studies may refer to: internal (intra-plant) integration,
dyadic integration, triadic (chain level) integration and
extended (network level) integration [17]. The level of
analysis of our study is dyadic, as we focus on integra-
tion in intra and inter-firm buyer-supplier relationships.
Within buyer-supplier relationships, factors that inhibit
integration can be grouped into two categories: speciali-
zation and political barriers [4-6].
Specialization may act as a barrier to integration
through two different routes: goal and frame differences.
Different goals and priorities have been found to hinder
integration [18], in that they promote a local focus and
goal orientation [4]. Reward systems aligned on different
organizational goals can create conflicts within supply
relationships [13]. Different frames of reference can also
inhibit integration: as partners lack a common organiza-
tional or work background, they do not develop the cog-
nitive models and tacit knowledge that enable communi-
cation and coordination [6]. Lack of understanding of the
partner is the result of limited direct, face to face com-
munication and socialization [7-9].
Another potential barrier to integration is power and
political considerations [4-6]. Transactional relationships
are characterized by temporary, impersonal ties, which
focus on calculation of benefits and costs and manipula-
tion [19]. The political aspects of power struggles in
terms of competition for scarce resources are more im-
portant in intra- than inter-firm contexts [4].
Four main mechanisms can facilitate integration
[4,6-20]: shared values [6] that is establishing common
norms and beliefs through various mechanisms for face
to face communication [7], socialization [9] and joint
problem solving [5]; direct supervision involving some-
one responsible for coordinating the activities; stan-
dardization of work or knowledge and mutual adjustment,
which allows individuals or teams to adapt to each other
as the work progresses [2-4].
Harzing [21] classified the control mechanisms in
MNCs based on two dimensions. The direct/indirect di-
mension relates to the explicit or implicit nature of con-
trol over subsidiaries. The personal/impersonal dimen-
sion, also labeled cultural/bureaucratic or cultural/tech-
nocratic, indicates that control may be realized through
social interactions or through instrumental artefacts. At
the junction of these dimensions, four types of control
mechanisms are identified. The direct-personal type de-
notes the idea of hierarchy and direct supervision. The
direct-impersonal type refers to written manuals and
standardization. The indirect-personal type concerns so-
cialization and networks, shared values and goals, infor-
mal information exchange, and team work. Finally, the
indirect-impersonal type refers to “output control”. While
the three former types focus on controlling behaviors, the
latter type of mechanism oversees results.
We draw on Harzing’s [21] framework to classify the
organizational drivers of integration. Some are explicitly
directed toward integration (eg. standardization of work),
while others, such as shared values, act toward integra-
Open Access JHRSS
tion in an implicit manner. Additionally, some drivers are
founded on social interactions (eg. mutual adjustment),
while others draw on instrumental artefacts (eg. resource
allocation). Table 1 presents this classification, and
specifies the nature of the drivers: facilitators (indicated
by a positive sign) or inhibitors (indicated by a negative
According to the above literature, these different driv-
ers should act in the same way in both intra and inter-
firm contexts of integration, except for political barriers.
Indeed, Barki and Pinsonneault [4] suggest a prevalence
of political barriers (political considerations and resource
allocation problems) in the intra-firm context, as political
struggles are typically more important within the con-
fines of an organization. In a context of reciprocal inter-
dependence, the competitive stakes of performance out-
comes in external integration tend to cancel out the pos-
sible inter-firm political barriers.
2.2. The Role of HR Practices in Integrating
Supply Relationships
Past research has studied the characteristics and role of
human resource management within supply chains. Many
studies have adopted an internal plant-level analysis; they
have sought to understand and measure the impact of
human resource strategies on operations management
and performance [22-29]. Pagell [7] identified human
drivers of operations, purchasing and logistics integration
at site level.
Studies focusing on dyads have been numerous at in-
ter-firm level but quite neglected at intra-firm level. In-
ter-firm dyad studies highlight the need for HRM in-
volvement in strategic SC partnerships [30-34] in a way
to align HR practices with customer requirements [35-36]
or to adapt them to buyer-supplier relationships [12,37-39].
At the internal chain level, some HR practices have
been identified as key to inventory and material man-
agement performance [40,41], in particular aligned
managerial incentives [42]. At the external chain level,
Scarbrough [13] highlighted the need for socialization
Table 1. Classification of organizational facilitators and
inhibitors of supply relationship integration.
(Founded on social
(Founded on instrumental
explicit + Direct Supervision + Standardization of work
+ Shared values
+ Mutual adjustment
Political considerations
Frame differences
Goal differences
Resource allocation
through teamworking, training and employee involve-
ment in order to meet the supply chain requirements.
HR issues within intra and inter-firm networks have
also received attention, notably as regards the creation of
dynamic network capabilities [43,44] and interorganiza-
tional knowledge transfers [45,46].
The various contributions of this body of literature
may be generalized to posit that HRPs influence the
quality and effectiveness of supply relationships, either
in inter- or intra-firm contexts. A set of “high perform-
ance work practices” such as heavy investments in train-
ing and selective hiring practices [47] may support
buyer-supplier interaction. By extension, HRPs can in-
fluence supply relationships integration as previously
defined. In the service operations context, Gittel [11]
showed that HR practices could be designed to promote
coordination within a single function, a single site or a
single stage of the supply chain; Chuang and Liao [48]
also highlight the role of HRPs in encouraging coopera-
tive behaviors. HRPs support relational coordination de-
fined as “coordination that occurs through frequent, high-
quality communication, supported by relationships of
shared goals, shared knowledge, and mutual respect”
(Gittel [11] p. 730). A feature of HR practices that pro-
mote relational coordination is that they are based on
outcomes at collective rather than individual level [10].
HR practices may be insulated from the supply rela-
tionship [13,14] and focused on achieving goals at single
site level. Such HRPs are viewed as “specialized”; they
have been proved to hinder the development of supply
relationships, in inter- [14,49] and intra-firm contexts
[15]. We propose that these specialized HRPs obstruct
supply relationship integration by acting as antecedents
of organizational inhibitors of integration. Conversely,
HR practices that are adapted to the supply relationship,
aligned on shared goals and which promote shared
knowledge and mutual respect at relationship level foster
the development of supply relationships [14,15,49]. Such
HRPs are labeled “relational”; they promote supply rela-
tionship integration by acting as antecedents of organiza-
tional facilitators of integration.
We further propose that the set of specialized and rela-
tional HRPs differ in intra- and inter-organizational con-
texts. This assumption is based on a contextual or con-
figurational approach of human resource practices [25]
that has been applied to internal as well as external or-
ganizational contexts [8,50]. Figure 1 shows the con-
ceptual model which underpins our research.
3. Methods
Case studies can be used for different types of research
purposes, including theory building, which identify and
describe key variables and their linkages, and theory
Open Access JHRSS
Focus of the study
inhibitors of
Goal differences
Frame differences
Political considerations
Resource allocation
facilitators of
Shared values
Direct supervision
Standardization of work
Mutual adjustment
Intra-firm /
Figure 1. Conceptual model.
testing. Voss et al. [51] argue that research questions
may evolve over time with a change of focus from theory
building to theory testing. Our study reflects such an ap-
proach. It draws on the cross-case analysis [52] from two
exploratory cases: Wheatco-Chemco [14] and Tyrenco
[15]. Wheatco and Chemco were two separate partners
physically situated next to each other on a site in the UK
and bound through a reciprocally interdependent rela-
tionship. The Tyrenco case was based on an intra-firm
supply relationship between the drug manufacturing and
finishing divisions of a pharmaceutical organization,
which were situated in France and the UK respectively.
Amundson [53] argues that the use of a different theo-
retical lens can “cause identical situations to be viewed
differently, suggesting different course of actions for
observers’ (p. 347) and provide a different interpretation
of the same situation. This form of theoretical triangular-
tion [54,55] helps avoid potential blind spots linked to
the theoretical lens. This paper re-analyses the two qua-
litative dataset to test the relevance of organizational in-
tegration constructs [4,6] in highlighting the role of seven
HR practices in intra- and inter-firm integration.
In both cases, the unit of analysis was the relationship
(at inter- and intra-firm level), rather than the single or-
ganizational unit (the site). A feature of the research de-
sign was 84 semi-structured interviews (48 in one and 36
in the other) with a wide cross-section of employees and
managers from both sides of the two dyad. The aim was
to collect rich data, which was “pluralist” in nature, hence
providing competing versions of reality [56]. The seven
HR practices observed included: staffing, job design,
appraisals, rewards, training, socialization and communi-
Data coding includes different steps. The two qualita-
tive datasets were first analyzed using deductive and in-
ductive coding to highlight the HR issues associated with
supply chain relationships and to identify specialized
versus relational HRPs. This analysis has been presented
in earlier papers [14,15,49]. For the purpose of this study,
the dataset has been re-coded in an inductive manner to
interpret the specialized and relational HRPs as antece-
dents of integration organizational drivers. Systematic
matrix analysis will be provided in the next section.
4. Results and Discussion
4.1. The Specialized and Relational Approaches
to HRPs Take Similar and Specific Forms in
the Intra and Inter-Firm Contexts
Intra and inter-firm contexts present specific specialized
and relational HRPs, but they also show many similari-
ties (Table 2). This result suggests that the requirements
of supply relationships are very close in intra and inter-
organizational contexts, thus designing similar roles for
HRPs, but the particular answers and practices developed
to meet those requirements may differ according to the
The many similarities between intra- and inter-firm
confirm that integration in any context requires a broad
holistic approach, which is supported by relational prac-
tices such as shared objectives and extended socialization
and which is hindered by specialized practices such as a
focus on internal work organization or appraisal criteria.
Yet the literature also argues for a specific approach of
integration process within the inter- and intra-firm con-
texts [4,7].
The presence of specialized HRPs in the two contexts
highlights the persistence of a fragmented, transactional
approach within supply chains. The holistic and rela-
tional approach underpinning the integration literature
encounters many barriers.
The limit of the relational approach in inter-firm bu-
yer-supplier relationships reflects the complexity and un-
certainty of competitive environments, which create con-
flicting demands on firms. On the one hand, there is a
need for operational performance and flexibility, which
are achieved through relational practices. On the other
hand, strategic flexibility also calls for transactional prac-
tices. As Mahapatra et al. [57] (p.537) state, “firms oper-
ate in environments where the contextual contingencies
do not present ideal conditions for practicing purely re-
lational or transactional approach (…). Developing an
effective exchange arrangement (…) is especially diffi-
cult due to the potential mismatch in resource capabili-
ties, strategic priorities, and organizational legacy/cul-
ture of the counterparts.”
The limit of the relational approach in intra-firm
buyer-supplier relationships reflects the debate over the
required level of centralization needed in MNCs or
multi-site companies. The tension between decentralize-
tion and centralization echoes the cultural distance and
inter-unit power struggles that arise in internal contexts
and make intra-firm supply chains difficult to manage
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Table 2. Identification of specialized versus relational HRPs
in the intra and inter-firm contexts.
Specialized HRPs Relational HRPs
Similar to
intra and
People turnover
Focus on internal
selection criteria
Employee inter-site
competency as
selection criteria
Caliber of employees
signals the priority
assigned to the
Job design focused
on internal work
Broad job designs
Contact points, roles
and responsibilities
Decision making
power; neutrality and
End-to-end jobs
Design of job with
end-to-end authority
Job design
Lack of information
on partner’s job
Focus on internal
appraisal criteria
Other priorities
Shared objectives
include a relational
specific Informal appraisals
Bonus aligned on
conflicting objectives
Concern for intra-site
specific Based on
end-to-end goals
Similar Lack of priority for
human elements
socialization rather
than formal training
Seminars highlight
technical vs
Language barriers
Formal program
of visits
Induction programs
for new recruits
Clear joint message
from top management
Lack of joint top
management goals;
political agendas
specific Joint steering
committee charter
4.2. The Specialized and Relational Approaches
to HR Practices as Inhibitors and
Facilitators of Integration
Table 3 shows that there were a number of similarities
across both cases regarding the HR practices that inhib-
ited relationship integration. Thus staffing decisions ba-
sed on internal site priorities resulted in high people turn-
over perceived at relationship level. This disrupted the
existing routines and inter-personal communication and
created a lack of trust. Job design which was focused on
the internal work organization and did not allow much
direct interface and face to face communication caused a
lack of understanding of the partner’s operations and
work organization. Appraisals and rewards driven by
local goals and focused on internal site performance
caused conflict and blame culture. Training and sociali-
zation that did not foster face to face interaction at rela-
tionship level further reinforced the lack of information
sharing and the lack of understanding between the part-
ners. Finally, lack of communication about the benefits
of the relationship failed to promote collaboration.
Beside their local goal orientation, HR practices were
influenced by political considerations: the resources
needed to integrate the relationship were competing with
internal resource allocation. This was particularly true
within the intra-firm context, where political barriers and
survival issues were prevailing.
Whilst the specialized approach characterized the first
period of both fieldworks, following various quality and
customer service issues a more relational approach was
implemented that sought to improve the relationship
performance through better integration (Table 4).
Thus the HR practices were modified or new processes
were introduced to better enable relationship integration.
Thus staffing decisions resulting in appointing an em-
ployee who was familiar with the partner’s organization
(a transfer in the intra-firm case) created an improved
environment for problem solving. Job design now re-
sulted in roles that promoted cooperation, and the design
of appraisals and rewards was based on shared objectives
and goals. Training and socialization processes that pro-
vided opportunities for formal as well as informal inter-
actions were conducive to joint sense making and know-
ledge sharing. Finally, communication clarified the stra-
tegic importance of the supply relationship.
4.3. Comparing the Role of HR Practices in
Inter- and Intra-Firm Supply Relationships
This research confirms the well documented role of goal
differences as inhibitor of integration within the inter-
and intra-firm relationship [4]. It also highlights the pre-
vailing role of political processes within the intra-firm
context: conflicts over territorial and survival issues. At
inter-firm level, political considerations were also ex-
pressed: as partners engage in supply relationships, these
compete with other priorities for scarce resources. The
study stresses the prevalence of frame differences within
intra- as well as inter-firm relationship.
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Table 3. Specialized approach to HR practices as antecedent of integration organizational inhibitors.
Inhibitors of integration
Specialization Politics
HR practice Specialized practices
Inter Intra
Lack of experience of employees appointed to work on the
relationship interpreted as a lack of priority X X X
People turnover disrupts inter-personal relationships and routines X X X
Internal criteria as main driver X X X
Lack of information on partner’s job design X X
Decision making power; neutrality and impartiality X XJob design
Handled separately by the two partners X X X
Internal criteria as main driver X X X
Other priorities X X X
Bonus aligned on conflicting objectives X X X
Concern for intra-site consistency (unions) X X X
Seminars highlight technical vs. social/human/relational X X X
Language as barrier X X X
Cancellation of socialization events viewed as jolly.
Lack of priority for human element X? X X X
Communication Lack of joint Top management goals; political agendas X X X
GD: goal differences; FD: frame differences; PO: political considerations; RE: resource allocation.
Table 4. Relational approach to HR practices as antecedent of integration organizational facilitators.
Facilitators of integration
HR practice Relational practices SV DS St MA
Inter Intra
Transfers from one site to another as bridge-builders X X X X
Specific relational competency required to work on the relationship X X X X
Broader jobs X X X X
End-to-end jobs X X X
Design of job with end-to-end authority X X
Job design
Clarify contact points and roles and responsibility. X X X
Shared objectives includes a relational element X X
Informal appraisals X X X
Rewards Based on end-to-end goals X X X
Extended socialization preferred to formal training X X X X
Formal program of visits X X X
Induction programs for new recruits X X X X
Joint steering committee charter X X X
Need for clear joint message from top management X X X X
V: shared values; DS: direct supervision; St: standardization; MA: mutual adjustment.
Both at inter and intra-firm level, a focus on the “tech-
nical” side of the relationship induced a lack of priority for
the “soft” or human” aspects, with socialization viewed
as time wasting event [9].
A strength of the intra-firm context was the ability to
use the hierarchy to impose integration through a rela-
tional approach, for example by designing HR practices
(jobs, rewards and supervision mechanisms) that spanned
the end-to-end internal supply chain. Conversely, the
inter-firm context drew on informal practices that sup-
ported mutual adjustment [2] necessary to operate the
supply relationship.
Two elements were not specifically highlighted in the
literature and therefore merit further investigation: the
role of standardization of work as integration mechanism
in the inter-firm and of mutual adjustment at intra-firm
level. Indeed, at inter-firm level, the context of interde-
pendence required formal plans to ensure that HR proc-
esses took place. To some extent, standardization acted
as a proxy for hierarchical integration. The importance of
mutual adjustment and shared values at intra-firm level
highlights the need for relational processes within an
internal interdependent operational context [58].
We may conclude that in the intra-firm context, the
use of hierarchy as integration mechanisms fosters the
emergence of direct/explicit drivers of integration, which
then appear as “natural” drivers. Implicit drivers con-
versely require higher levels of implementation effort, in
particular implicit social interaction drivers such as mu-
tual adjustment that has been found to require specific
attention. As regards the inter-firm context, the urge to
get to know each other and to build a common project for
integration favors a fast implementation of implicit driv-
ers, which then appear as the most “natural” drivers of
integration. Explicit drivers require most of the integra-
tion implementation effort, notably instrumental direct
drivers such as standardization of work. Tables 5 and 6
summarize these propositions.
Managerial implications can be drawn from this
analysis. In intra-firm integration contexts, managers are
naturally more focused on direct drivers of integration
supported by hierarchical mechanisms. Our findings
Table 5. Characterization of organizational drivers of inte-
gration within the intra-firm context.
(Founded on social
(Founded on instrumental
explicit Natural drivers
(easily implemented)
Natural drivers
(easily implemented)
Critical drivers (very
important yet requiring high
implementation effort)
Built drivers (requiring
implementation effort)
Table 6. Characterization of organizational drivers of inte-
gration within the inter-firm context.
(Founded on social
(Founded on instrumental
explicit Built drivers (requiring
implementation effort)
Critical drivers (very
important yet requiring
high implementation effort)
implicit Natural drivers
(easily implemented)
Natural drivers
(easily implemented)
suggest that they should also be aware of the importance
of implicit drivers of integration. In particular, they
should pay special attention to designing HRPs in such a
way that they favor mutual adjustment. Conversely, so-
cial bonding, along with indirect organizational drivers,
is the natural practice of managers looking for inter-firm
integration. Our findings suggest that priority should also
be given to the formal construction of integration through
standardization of work. Table 4 provides examples of
HRPs that can be implemented for those matters.
5. Conclusion
This paper reanalyzes the cases in two earlier papers
[14,15] by linking the specialized and relational ap-
proaches to HR practices to integration constructs from
organizational literature. The study addresses the call for
including human aspects into integration constructs [4]
and it contributes to operations management by drawing
on “alien” theoretical perspectives [53] and by further
bridging the OM and HRM literature.
This study was limited in that it drew on inductive data
collected from two dyadic relationships and therefore
could not be used to generalize. Large sample data col-
lection would be needed to test the proposed role of HR
practices in inhibiting or facilitating integration. In par-
ticular, more research is required to investigate the role
of standardization in integrating inter-firm contexts and
the role of mutual adjustment within intra-firm supply
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