Academic journal article Management Revue

Operationalizing Career Complexity**

Academic journal article Management Revue

Operationalizing Career Complexity**

Article excerpt

There are a growing number of studies describing developments in the labour market, in employer-employee relationships, and in individual careers in a very similar way. The discussion about work force flexibility and the challenges for HRM to handle scattered arrangements is often justified by a growing complexity caused by the driving forces of globalization, virtualization, demographic developments or changes in values. However, so far there is no empirical evidence for that complexity hypothesis in individual careers. The primary aim of this article is to approach the complexity hypothesis of career research on the basis of a sound definition for complexity and to test the complexity hypothesis for data from the Vienna Career Panel Project.

Key words: complexity, career research, dynamic systems theories

1. Introduction

Strategie management inevitably involves forediought and planning (Mintzberg 1994/2000), which is an easy task in an ordered and predictable environment, but becomes increasingly difficult in an unstable, turbulent and complex world. Since the early 1990s, this dilemma has been a controversial theme in strategic management (Mintzberg-Ansoff-controversy, e.g. Mintzberg 1990; Ansoff 1991). "Indeed sometimes organizations also need to function during periods of unpredictability, when they cannot possibly hope to articulate any viable strategy. The danger during such periods is not die lack of explicit strategy but exactly die opposite - 'premature closure'" (Mintzberg 1990: 184).

There is a similar line of argumentation in die context of me so-called "make-orbuy" decision in human resource management (HRM). The "make-or-buy" decision is one of the core questions in human resource management (Miles/Snow 1984): Is it better to develop human capital internally or to purchase it on the external labour market? "Although the make-or-buy distinction is admittedly simplistic, the growing number of subtle variations on mis même makes die effective management of employment at once more complicated and more directly related to organizational effectiveness" (Lepak/Snell 1999: 31). It is therefore essential for strategic HRM to distinguish between different types of employees and to buñd an appropriate make-or-buy strategy for each of them. An influential model, developed by Lepak and Snell (1999), is based on transaction cost economics (Coase 1937; Williamson 1975), human capital theory (Becker 1964), and die resource-based view of die firm (Prahalad/Hamel 1990; Barney 1991). Key variables of their so-called "HR architecture" are die uniqueness of human capital and its value for die organization, which leads to me following assumption: unique human capital with a high value for the organization has to be developed internally, while human capital of low value and little uniqueness can be easily purchased from the external labour market. However, decisions have to be made on the value and uniqueness of me human capital in question. Moreover, a future development of these two variables and all other determinants possibly effecting them (e.g. future technological and market developments, trends in labour market and in educational systems) has to be taken into account. Aldiough die strategic HRM architecture, as developed by Lepak and Snell (1999), is dieoretically sound and of practical importance, it is unable to handle those uncertainties.

There is therefore a growing literature discussing die unpredictability of labour markets, working arrangements, and individual careers. Case studies (Koene/Van Riemsdijk 2005) and data from international surveys (Brewster et al. 2004) on flexible working arrangements are interpreted in die light of a growing "turbulence" (Polley 1997; Gooderham et al. 2004: 15), a rising "complexity" (Lissack 1999: 110; Bird et al. 2002), more "discontinuity" of developments (Weick/Berlinger 1989), organisational "instability" (Adamson et al. 1998: 255), and die increasing "unpredictability" of markets (Keen 1997: 172), technology (Technology Futures Analysis Methods Working Group 2004), society (Gergen 1993), and employment (Bird et al. …

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