High-performance work systems (HPWS) are a group of separate but interconnected human resource (HR) practices – e.g. selection, training, performance appraisal, and compensation – designed to enhance employee effectiveness. Employees should have better skills, more motivation, and more opportunities to excel when these high-performance HR practices are aligned and working in harmony.
A study by Jake Messersmith, Pankaj Patel, and David Lepak recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (full citation below) helps us understand how HPWS contribute to group performance. This study of employees and managers in 119 service departments of local governments in Wales examined both the direct effect high performance HR practices have on departmental performance, and how these practices affect departmental performance indirectly by influencing employee attitudes and discretionary behaviors.
The employee attitudes they examined were job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and empowerment. The study found that HPWS had a significant, positive effect on these attitudes, and these attitudes in turn enhanced the organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) of the employees. Departmental performance was affected both directly by HPWS and indirectly via the citizenship behavior of employees. Here is how the authors explain the findings:
The study demonstrates that building an effective HR system may have a powerful influence on the attitudes and behaviors of individual employees. Not only is this likely to create a more positive work place environment but it also seems to have an influence on departmental performance. Investing in the selection, training, information sharing, compensation, and performance management processes may have a positive effect on employee attitudes and behaviors and may pay further dividends with higher service quality and performance. This highlights the importance of not just managing based upon results but also paying attention to the role that attitudes and behaviors play in creating better results. (p. 11)
This study further reinforces one of my core beliefs about how to change the behavior and improve the performance of your employees. Attitudes are strong drivers of behavior, especially job satisfaction and organizational commitment. You are making a big mistake if you don’t consistently measure and evaluate the satisfaction and commitment of your employees.
If your employees are not performing as well as you would like, it’s very likely because they are not very satisfied with their jobs and committed to the organization. Their lack of satisfaction and commitment is most likely a result of a crappy HR practice or system of practices. Stop blaming employees and fix the systems if you want to improve attitudes, behaviors and performance.
Bob Sutton’s point is once again proven by this study – the law of crappy systems trumps the law of crappy people.
Full citation: Messersmith, J.G., Patel, P.C., & Lepak, D.P. (2011) Unlocking the Black Box: Exploring the Link Between High-Performance Work Systems and Performance. Journal of Applied Psychology