High Commitment Management Model

08/12/2020 1 By indiafreenotes

High-commitment management emphasizes personal responsibility, independence, and empowerment of employees across all levels instead of focusing on one higher power; it always intended to keep commitment at high level “calling all the shots”.

A high commitment system is unusual in its job design and cultural structure. These practices emphasize getting the tasks complete, but do it in a way that their employees enjoy doing it. According to Harvard Business School Professor Michael Beer, “leaders develop an organizational design, business processes, goals and measures, and capabilities that are aligned with a focused, winning strategy.” This kind of environment allows employees to approach tasks at ease, wearing jeans instead of suits and staying home to watch their children get on the bus for school before coming to work. Technology also plays a role in this system. Recently, technology has slaughtered barriers of communication, which makes this high-commitment model fit that much better. That father waiting for the bus can still answer phone calls and check emails for work, so is he working or is he spending time with his daughter? He can be doing both. As long as the job gets done, this system is casual on how it gets done, relieving employees of constant stress.

A flat organizational structure is one of the biggest success factors. Individuals are responsible for their own decision-making and these decisions, their skill, and their performance is how they get paid. Instead of putting too much weight on the individual, “people are likely to see the locus of the control coming from ‘within’ through the adoption of self-created demands and pressures as opposed to external and making them feel subordinate.” While these companies allow each employee to be a manager in their own way and try not to distinguish its structure by higher levels of employment, it doesn’t mean that they lack these higher powers entirely. It’s that under this system people aren’t relying on the general managers, CEOs, or other employees to do their work for them. This personal discipline is what drives the employees to help the company be successful. and eliminates the chance at a thought like, “Why would I want to help my company become better if I know I’m just going to get yelled at?”

Another focus of high commitment practices is their employee relationships. They only hire people who are flexible, determined, and are willing to handle challenges. Because this system relies on individual performance, there is a big emphasis on hiring the right people for the job. The detailed recruitment process can consist of many interviews with different members of the company, an induction course, and in some cases, team-building exercises. Once found, the right employees help create a strong bond and high trust throughout the entire company.

High commitment workplaces are successful through their importance on an individual’s responsibility in order to help the team prosper. By creating a culture that motivates individuals to want to succeed while sustaining high commitment, “these firms stand out by having achieved long periods of excellence.”

These models of best practice can take many forms; while some have advocated a universal set of HR practices that would enhance the performance of all organisations to which they were applied (Pfeffer, 1994, 1998), others have focused on high-commitment models (Walton, 1985; Guest 2001) and high-involvement practices (Wood, 1999) which reflect an underlying assumption that a strong commitment to the organisational goals and values will provide competitive advantage.

Others have focused on ‘high-performance work systems/ practices (Berg, 1999; Applebaum et al., 2000). This work has been accompanied by a growing body of research exploring the relationship between these ‘sets of HR practices’ and organisational performance (Pfeffer, 1994; Huselid, 1995; Huselid and Becker, 1996; Patterson et al., 1997; Guest, 2001). Although there is a wealth of literature advocating the best-practice approach, with supporting empirical evidence, it is still difficult to reach generalised conclusions from these studies.

This is mainly as a result of conflicting views about what constitutes an ideal set of HR best practices, whether or not they should be horizontally integrated into ‘bundles’ that fit the organisational context and the contribution that these sets of HR practices can make to organizational performance.

  • Universalism and high commitment

One of the models most commonly cited is Pfeffer’s (1994) 16 HR practices for ‘competitive advantage through people’ which he revised to seven practices for ‘building profits by putting people first’ in 1998. These have been adapted for the UK audience by Marchington and Wilkinson (2002).

Pfeffer (1994) explains how changes in the external environment have reduced the impact of traditional sources of competitive advantage, and increased the significance of new sources of competitive advantage, namely human resources that enable an organization to adapt and innovate. Pfeffer’s relevance in a European context has been questioned owing to his lack of commitment to independent worker representation and joint regulation (Boxall and Purcell, 2003), hence Marchington and Wilkinson’s adaptation, highlighted in Table.

HR practices for ‘competitive advantage through people’

With the universalist approach or ‘ideal set of practices’ (Guest, 1997), the concern is with how close organisations can get to the ideal set of practices, the hypothesis being that the closer an organisation gets, the better the organization will perform, in terms of higher productivity, service levels and profitability. The role of Human Resources, therefore, becomes one of identifying and gaining senior management commitment to a set of HR best practices, and ensuring that they are implemented and that reward is distributed accordingly.

The first difficulty with the best-practice approach is the variation in what constitutes best practice. Agreement on the underlying principles of the best-practice approach is reflected in Youndt et al.’s (1996: 839) summary below: Lists of best practices, however, vary intensely in their constitution and in their relationship to organisational performance. A sample of these variations is provided in Table. This results in confusion about which particular HR practices constitute high commitment, and a lack of empirical evidence and ‘theoretical rigour’ (Guest 1987: 267) to support their universal application. Capelli and Crocker-Hefter (1996: 7) note:

  • Integrated bundles of HRM: horizontal integration

A key theme that emerges in relation to best-practice HRM is that individual practices cannot be implemented effectively in isolation (Storey, 1992) but rather combining them into integrated and complementary bundles is crucial (MacDuffie, 1995). Thus the notion of achieving horizontal integration within and between HR practices gains significance in the best-practice debate.

HR practices for ‘competitive advantage through people’

The need for horizontal integration in the application of SHRM principles is one element that is found in the configurational school of thought, the resource-based view approach and in certain best-practice models. It emphasises the coordination and congruence between HR practices, through ‘a pattern of planned action’ (Wright and McMahan, 1999). In the configurational school, cohesion is thought likely to create synergistic benefits, which in turn enable the organisation’s strategic goals to be met.

Roche (1999: 669), in his study on Irish organisations, noted that ‘organisations with a relatively high degree of integration of human resource strategy into business strategy are much more likely to adopt commitment-oriented bundles of HRM practices’. Where some of the best-practice models differ is in those that advocate the ‘universal’ application of SHRM, notably Pfeffer (1994, 1998). Pfeffer’s argument is that best practice may be used in any organisation, irrespective of product life cycle, market situation or workforce characteristics, and improved performance will ensue.

This approach ignores potentially significant differences between organisations, industries, sectors and countries however. The work of Delery and Doty (1996) has highlighted the complex relationship between the management of human resources and organisational performance, and their research supports the contingency approach (Schuler and Jackson, 1987) in indicating that there are some key HR practices, specifically internal career opportunities, results-oriented appraisals and participation/ voice, that must be aligned with the business strategy or, in other words, be context-specific.

The ‘bundles’ approach, however, is additive, and accepts that as long as there is a core of integrated high-commitment practices, other practices can be added or ignored, and still produce enhanced performance. Guest et al.’s analysis of the WERS data (2000a: 15), however, found that the ‘only combination of practices that made any sense was a straightforward count of all the practices’. As with many high-commitment-based models, there is an underlying assumption of unitarism, which ignores the inherent pluralist values and tensions present in many organisations. Coupled with further criticisms of context avoidance and assumed rationality between implementation and performance, the best-practice advocates, particularly the universalists, are not without their critics.

Self-directed work teams

In a study of illumination in the workplace of Hawthorne and the Western Electric Company, a sociologist from Harvard Business School, Elton Mayo, concluded that when the organization established experimental work groups, “the individuals became a team and the team gave itself wholeheartedly and spontaneously to cooperation.” Through a natural system of collaboration, the teams are not only responsible for the work but also the management of their group. Mayo’s research uncovered that teams under their own direction established a capacity for self-motivated learning and change. This concept of designing the work system with the full participation of the people proved to be a breakthrough for organizations during the 1990s. During that time, employees closest to the product and customer began to have increasing decision making capacities and capabilities.

Interview programs

The Hawthorne Experiments sought to determine a correlation between light levels and productivity. Researchers had divided the employees into teams of six and interviewed the individuals to determine the effect of the lighting. Mayo discovered that the interview program set up by the study inherently gave the employees a sense of higher purpose.[9] Exposure of employee thoughts and concerns to managers appeared to be a fundamental aspect of the relation between managers and employees. Evidently, by having the ability to speak to their managers, the employees at Western Electric exhibited a dramatic improvement in their attitudes towards work. Essential to a highly committed work force, the interview program formally developed and sustained cooperation with management.

Problem-solving teams

The Hawthorne experiment further highlighted that teams working without coercion from above or limitation from below could astonish even their own expectations of themselves. Sociologist Fritz Roethlisberger argued that this informal organization left the team responsible for addressing the myriad of problems that continuously arose. Roethlisberger noted by studying the chemistry of informal groups that human interactions and collaboration have the potential to set when teams have to face problems on their own. Together the individuals of the team strive to improve the processes of the team by adapting to different demands and learning from each other.

Cross training

Cross training began to be heavily examined through the scope of modern Japanese management in the automobile industry in the 1970s. Sociologists examined the way in which the Japanese automobile firms cross-trained its employees through a company wide orientation and training program. As Japanese firms trained their employees in a multitude of aspects in the production process, sociologists discovered that the training brought the employees together and formed a connection in which all the employees were dedicated to the company’s mission. These established connections appeared to solicit cooperation among the work force. The Japanese auto plants revealed that flexibility within the production teams allowed employees to work on their own tasks while keeping others efficient.