High-Performance Work Systems Affect Employee Attitudes And Group Performance

August 15, 2011

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

Related Posts:

Employee Empowerment: Why It Matters And How To Get It

Employee Withdrawal: A Big Reason You Need To Care About Job Satisfaction

Empowering Work Relationships

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Comments (9)

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  1. davidburkus says:

    Timely post. Yesterday I was discussing Deming’s 85-15 rule with my students.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    My Hero! Deming, not you (yet) David. Thanks! Bret

  2. Brilliant post. The attitudes (and behaviors) of employees are like a fluid filling a container – the attitude will swell to fill culture provided. It’s up to leadership to create the appropriate “culture vessel.” We’ve found a culture of recognition is the most powerful positively and frequentlyy for reinforcing desired employee behaviors and attitudes (ideally based on your company values).

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Very interesting concept, Derek. Expectations and support can create the kind of culture you advocate. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Bret

  3. Bob Gilbert says:

    I spent 10 years as the Plant Manager of a HPWS from building the site to creating the system. the key is obtaining the comittment of the people by involving them in decisions about their work. They become worker-managers in every sense by both doing work and making decisions like managers.
    You have to be a person who believes in these things to be a successful leader of a HPWS.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Thanks for sharing, Bob! Bret

  4. Tareq says:

    Interesting post.
    I am a part of a team who is starting a new plant with a HPWS. I have not worked in such a system before. But I was selected to be in this team, I guess for a reason. Now, being in the mid management level for this plant, what should I focus on?

    Lawrence Aldridge Reply:

    Tareq – Sorry for such a late response. First, now that you are on the team, make sure you accomplish everything the team expects you to accomplish. Second, go out of your way to insure you help your team mates accomplish their responsibilities. If you do this, you will soon find yourself in upper management.