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Emergent HPWS: why HRM may not be needed to build a high-performance work system

Jonas A. Ingvaldsen (Department of Industrial Economics and Technology Management, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway; and Product and Production Development, SINTEF Raufoss Manufacturing, Raufoss, Norway)
Tobias S. Johansen (Department of Industrial Economics and Technology Management, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway)
Mats M. Aarlott (Department of Industrial Economics and Technology Management, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway)

Team Performance Management

ISSN: 1352-7592

Article publication date: 7 October 2014

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Abstract

Purpose

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.

Design/methodology/approach

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.

Findings

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.

Research limitations/implications

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.

Practical implications

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”.

Originality/value

Few studies have systematically explored the antecedents of HPWS. The proposed concept “emergent HPWS”, captures largely unacknowledged organizational dynamics.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

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.

Citation

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

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited