Nadler and Tushman define congruence or fit as "the degree to which the needs, demands, goals, objectives and/or structure of one component are consistent with the needs, demands, goals, objectives, and/or structure of another component" (1980: 40). In contrast, Sanchez defines flexibility as "a firm's abilities to respond to various demands from dynamic competitive environments" (1995: 138). Flexibility provides organizations with the ability to modify current practices in response to non-transient changes in the environment (Wright & Snell 1998). At first glance, it might appear that the desirability of strategic fit and the need for organizational flexibility conflict. Indeed, the relationship between fit and flexibility in the context of strategic HRM is not well understood, and little agreement exists regarding the definitions and the value of each (Wright & Snell 1998).
The birth of the field of "Strategic Human Resource Management" (Strategic HRM) arguably took place less than 20 years ago with an article titled "Human Resources Management: A Strategic Perspective" (Devanna, Fombrum, & Tichy 1981). In such a short time, however, an explosion has occurred in writing and research on Strategic HRM (Wright 1998). In 1996 both Academy of Management Journal and Industrial Relations devoted special issues to the topic of HRM practices and firm performance and in 1997 International Journal of Human Resource Management published a special issue on Strategic HRM and firm performance (Wright 1998). The almost exponential growth of interest in understanding the strategic role that HRM can play in firm performance implies a mindset of "more, more, more" with regard to research on Strategic HRM. However, before we heed the simplistic call for more, more, more, perhaps we need to step back and reflect on where we've been, where we are, and where we need to be. The purpose of this issue is to identify the current state of the art in Strategic HRM research, and to propose a future research agenda for the field as we approach the 21st Century (Wright 1998).
Consistent with this idea, SHRM has been based in large part on the notion that a firm must align its human resource management (HRM) practices to support business objectives (Delery 1998). As such, researchers have focused predominantly on two forms of "fit," vertical and horizontal (Wright & McMahan 1992). Horizontal fit refers to the alignment of HR practices into a coherent system of practices that support one another. Vertical fit refers to the alignment of HR practices with the specific organizational context. Although there have now been several empirical investigations of the effectiveness of both forms of "fit," there is relatively little empirical evidence to suggest that such alignment is necessary or beneficial (Delery 1998).
Despite this small but growing support for the effectiveness of the horizontal fit of HRM practices, there is still much to be learned (Delery 1998). First, researchers need to assess HRM systems throughout the organization. Research has demonstrated that HRM systems differ within organizations yet most research