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Exploring necessary conditions in HRM research: Fundamental issues and methodological implications

Abstract Although the notion that HRM activities are necessary conditions for achieving certain outcomes is widespread in HRM research, most empirical studies follow an additive sufficiency logic. That is, they analyse whether HRM activities increase an outcome, assuming that they can compensate for one another. However, this does not correspond to the idea of necessity where single HRM activities are required for an outcome to occur and cannot be compensated when absent. We discuss the differences between sufficiency and necessity logics in terms of theory, methodology, and practical relevance. Also, we suggest using a new approach and analysis technique in HRM research: necessary condition analysis. We illustrate the application of the method by analysing data on the relationship between ability‐, motivation‐, and opportunity‐enhancing HRM practices (i.e., high‐performance work practices) and employee performance. This illustrative example highlights that necessary conditions require particular theoretical attention and suitable empirical methods. The paper concludes by showing the value of studying necessary conditions, because such analyses allow straightforward recommendations to be given of high relevance for HRM practice, which differ from and add to recommendations based on additive sufficiency logic and analyses.

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