Academic journal article Journal of Leadership Studies

The Challenge of Leadership in High Performance Work Organizations

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership Studies

The Challenge of Leadership in High Performance Work Organizations

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

The purpose of this paper is to integrate the diverse literatures on High Performance Work Organizations (HIPO) Varied definitions of the HIPO are presented, common components across the definitions are identified, and then each component is examined in more detail. A model integrating the components is presented and separate sets of leadership challenges for middle and senior managers are inferred from the model.

In response to increasingly complex environments, organizations are seeking new models and structures to navigate environmental uncertainty. These models typically include both structural changes (e.g. team form of organizing) and process changes (e.g. flexible manufacturing systems) in pursuit of higher levels of organizational performance.

Much has been written in both the popular and academic press regarding the high performance work organization (Arthur 1994; Luthans, Hodgetts and Lee, 1994; Pasmore 1994; Reich 1994). While known by only one name, there are a variety of definitions associated with the concept. The difficulty in arriving at a single agreed-upon definition of a high performance work system (HIPO) is exacerbated by the lack of consensus regarding the components it should have (Gephardt & Van Buren, 1996).

Before we can begin a dialogue on the leadership challenges presented by HIPOs, it is imperative that some consenus be achieved on the nature of the entity that is supposed to be so challenging for leaders to manage. Our review of the literature on high performance has uncovered certain core assumptions and components of the HIPO. Unfortunately these components are not consistent across the various streams of literature. For example, in the management science literature the HIPO is one that adopts tools such as CAD/CAM and Flexible Manufacturing Technology while in the organizational behavior literature the HIPO is an organization that adopts the team form of organizing and empowers employees. The purpose of this paper is to integrate the diverse literature on HIPO's in an effort to explicate the current and future leadership challenges that arise from managing this type of entity. We begin with a discussion of the various ways the HIPO has been defined and then examine each component in more detail. Next we define a set of key challenges facing leaders at the middle management level and a distinctly different set of challenges for upper management executives. Finally, we discuss future challenges likely to confront managers in HIPO's.

Definitions of the High Performance Work Organization

The Center for Effective Organizations (CEO) at the University of Southern California, an organization that has been studying high performance work practices for years, defines the HIPO as employee involvement, participative management, democratic management, and total quality management (Lawler, Mohrman and Ledford, 1995; 1). Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of management at Stanford University, includes flexible or lean manufacturing methods and associated employment-relation practices, team-based work, and participation in his definition of the HIPO (Pfeffer, 1996: 35). William Pasmore, author of Creating Strategic Change: Designing the Flexible, High-performing Work Organization, states that "creating flexible, high-performing, learning organizations is the secret to gaining competitive advantage in a world that won't stand still." (Pasmore, 1994: iv)

Clearly, existing definitions and approaches to the HIPO share some common ideas. Companies organize their workflow around key business processes and often create work teams within those processes. HIPO systems often include a number of human resource policies such as hiring, training, performance management, and compensation intended to enhance employee skills, knowledge, motivation, and flexibility. HIPOs also involve fewer levels of management and require new roles for managers that remain such as coaching, integrating, and facilitating. …

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