Designing and implementing high-performance work systems: Insights from consulting practice for academic researchers

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Jewell, DO
Jewell, SF
Kaufman, BE
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The central subject of the strategic HRM field is the relationship between HRM practices and firm performance and the focal construct is the high-performance work system (HPWS). The first two of the authors began their careers in the early 1970s as professors in a business school management department but decided in the late 1980s to leave academe and devote full time to their organizational design consulting practice. For over three decades they led large-scale HPWS design and implementation projects for several dozen companies in not only manufacturing plants but also banks, airlines, hospitals, and corporate headquarters. With the help of the third author, a comparison is made of the HPWS as discussed and conceptualized in the academic literature and the HPWS designed and implemented in practice. The academic version has little resemblance to the real-world version, pointing to a quite large research-practice gap that appears to widen over time. The remainder of the paper describes in more detail the socio-technical design principles used to construct an HPWS, the major challenges and pitfalls in successful implementation and sustainability, and a short case study of an actual HPWS project. If academics want to do useful, relevant research on HPWS, they need to engage with the real thing in the field.

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Human Resource Management Review

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Business systems in context

Human resources and industrial relations

Strategy, management and organisational behaviour

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Jewell, DO; Jewell, SF; Kaufman, BE, Designing and implementing high-performance work systems: Insights from consulting practice for academic researchers, Human Resource Management Review, 2020