The purpose of this study is to explore the antecedents of high-performance work systems (HPWS). HPWS promise workplaces that are both highly productive and offer employees high levels of job satisfaction. The existing literature tends to see HPWS as outcomes of planned change initiated by management as part of an human resource management (HRM) strategy. We question this assumption and show that under favourable conditions, HPWS may emerge from workers’ self-organization.
A qualitative case study of a department producing automotive components was conducted. Empirical material was collected through participant observation. The material was coded for recurring themes and used to construct an explanatory model.
HPWS may emerge in the absence of managerial or HRM interventions. The emergence and reproduction of HPWS can be explained by a shop-floor culture of craftsmanship, worker solidarity and jobs with high levels of task significance and task identity.
Future research is encouraged to explore and more carefully theorize the antecedents of HPWS. Of particular interest is the relationship between planned HPWS initiatives and elements of the informal work organization, which may also promote autonomy, flexibility and commitment.
Planned implementations of HPWS would benefit from appreciating and building on existing norms of craftsmanship and solidarity. Reinforcing and officially endorsing these norms may be preferable to introduce novel normative ideals of “teamwork”, “empowerment” or “quality”.
Few studies have systematically explored the antecedents of HPWS. The proposed concept “emergent HPWS”, captures largely unacknowledged organizational dynamics.
This work is part of the project “Lean Operations” funded by the Research Council of Norway. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 17th International Workshop on Team Working (IWOT) hosted by TNO: Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research, 28-29 November 2013.
A. Ingvaldsen, J., S. Johansen, T. and M. Aarlott, M. (2014), "Emergent HPWS: why HRM may not be needed to build a high-performance work system", Team Performance Management, Vol. 20 No. 7/8, pp. 294-306. https://doi.org/10.1108/TPM-03-2014-0021
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