Academic journal article Business Management and Strategy

Characteristics of High Performance Organisations

Academic journal article Business Management and Strategy

Characteristics of High Performance Organisations

Article excerpt


Because of the recent recession, interest into the factors that determine sustainable organisational success has increased. Managers all over the world are trying out various improvement concepts, seeing mixed results. One likely reason for this is the lack of consensus on the organisational characteristics that lead to high performance. The research study described in this article aimed at identifying the factors which have a positive relation with organisational performance, through a literature review of 290 research studies into high performance and subsequent testing of possible high performance factors in 1470 organisations worldwide. The research yielded 35 characteristics - grouped into five factors - that have a significant correlation with high performance and seem to be generic for all types of organisations, industries and countries. The research results provide managers with a framework that adds focus to their continuous improvement efforts in order to achieve better performance. The framework will also support academics in their pursuit of ever more specific improvement factors.

Keywords: High performance organizations, HPO, Excellence, Sustainability, Performance, Quality

1. Introduction

Despite the recent upheavals in the business world, Mintzberg maintains that little has changed in the activities of managers between the 1970s and 19902 (Mintzberg, 1973, 2009). Apart from using new tools like e-mail, managerial work remained essentially the same. Mintzberg is supported in his opinion that the fundamentals of the global business economy have not changed. It seems that there is no consensus among researchers on whether or not business fundamentals have changed, leaving as yet the following question unanswered: 'What organisational or business models might be proposed, whether existing in the past or at present or drawn from scratch, as potential solutions to the problem of designing the firm for sustainable high performance in changing circumstances?' (Freeman and Zollo, 2009).

To find an answer on this question, we turned to research into factors that may explain long-term success of firms and which can be used to develop a framework for building sustainable organisations. In the wake of the landmark book In Search Of Excellence (Peters and Waterman, 1992) and the bestsellers Built To Last (Collins and Porras, 1994) and Good to Great (Collins, 2001), there has been a strong interest among academics and managers in identifying these high performance factors (O'Reilly III and Pfeffer, 2000; Thoenig and Waldman, 2007; Gottfredson and Schaubert, 2008; Simons, 2008; Tappin and Cave, 2008; Spear, 2009). Research into factors that cause or facilitate high performance is driven by developments in the resource-based view of the firm (Lockett et al., 2009) and the theory of dynamic capabilities (Peteraf and Barney, 2003; Easterby-Smith et al., 2009; Teece, 2009). In the literature on the resource-based view and dynamic capabilities many different factors are identified as potentially important for high performance. The type of factors found seems to depend on the angle of research or the personal views and interests of the researchers what characteristics are found that will lead to the creation of a high performance organisation (HPO). This makes it difficult to define a set of factors which describes the HPO in general. It is therefore imperative that a clear HPO framework is developed to allow generalization (Pearson et al., 2008). The aim of this study was to identify factors that determine HPOs irrespective of context (for example country, industry, type of organisation, time period). The research question was formulated as follows: What are the factors, derived from empirical study, which have a positive correlation with the performance of organisations? These factors can guide managers as to which actions to take to lead their organisations to superior results. This study contributes to management research as the described review is one of the most extensive of its kind and takes a different root than previous research. …

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