High performance work practices

Critically assess the claim that 'High Performance Work Practices' represent a 'win-win' solution; benefitting both employers and employees

Introduction

During the past two decades, the sphere of Human Resources Management (HRM) and High Performance Work Organisations (HPWOs) has evolved drastically(CLMS:iii)(R 1459-5:2). Ashton and Sung (2002:7) credit the upshot of this 'new phenomena' as a part of 'the process of globalization'. Forces of change, require organizations to adopt new approach in implementing new HRM best practices. This essay will give special interest in the model of High Performance Work Practices (HPWPs) because it has come to be promoted to harvest 'growth and benefits' within the organization and its employees' (Ashton and Sung 2002;7). The paradigm of this 'new management' requires that management's performance and employees' involvement, work at parallel (CLMS iii). CLMS (1.1)(Lloyd and Payne 2006), highlighted the fact that there are different dimensions of the model, and no consensus on the on the terminology has been reached among theorists who advocate HPWPs. There are however a number of characteristics which are being shared to a certain extent by most of HPWP theorists(CLMS :1.1). Clms( 2.4) Rosseau, 1997) Creating hp org :341)notes, that early studies on this kind of this 'new HR management' was being rooted and mostly adopted within the manufacturing industry. However, recently, other studies are giving some more attention on the application of the concept to the services sector. One can easily note that the bulk of empirical and theoretical studies target the private sector, because HPWPs studies overtly asses the link between the HRM system with the productivity of the employees and profit making of the company. Consequently, research which addresses HPWPs within the Public Sector are very limited (R1537 -4). The main difference between private firms and the public sector is, that the latter is not market driven but explicitly determined by the 'ideologies and actions of the politicians' (Asthon and Sung:43). In this scenario, the adoption of HPWPs is taking a slower pace to catch up in the public sector, however, Asthon and Sung(2002:6 para 3) through their studies, are observing that 'an increasing number of governments (are) finding ways of pushing public sector organizations in the direction of HPWO'. (R1459:6) states, that if HPWPs are being adopted within the right conditions, whether if it is a private firm or a governmental organisation, a 'win-win is a real possibility'. Even though both sectors have different economic objectives, nevertheless, they both strive to achieve the best performance out of their employees.

The author of this paper, through her 19 years of service within a Maltese Public Service Organisation, will be using her empirical experience, to critically assess the hypothesis of the question title. In this case scenario the local Government being 'the employer' and the management of the Maltese Public Services being 'the employees'. The aim of this paper is a threefold; First, it presents a brief outline on the paradigm of HPWPs and the common characteristics which are being shared by most HPWPs promoters. Then, the author will explore the local Government's strategy which shapes HR Systems within the Public Sector. In the last part, four common HPWPs as suggested by Asthon and Sung (2002) will be empirically investigated and benchmarked with HRM policies presently adopted within the Maltese Public Sector. One could therefore assess whether such practices endeavor the highly promoted results that of a win-win solution between the employer (Government) and the employees ( Management who are responsible for the Public Service Organisations).

Overview of High Performance Work Practices.

A considerable number of HPWPs theorists had written literatures and conducted research on the adoption of HPWPs. So much so, CLMS 1.4 (adopted from Butler et al 2004:4) cited a glossary of the 'key proponents' who advocated HPWPs throughout the past two decades. All these proponents, although they all speak about 'High Performance Systems' and 'High Performance Management', they emerged different formulations on which practices should be included or not (CLMS 1.1). Notwithstanding the fact that there was an ' initial mix up vis-a vis terminology and definition' (Asthon & Sung ( 2002), Clms( 3.7) and Asthton and Sung(2002:11) agree that in essence, all theorists are saying the same things and links between all HPWPs literature has been proved. CLMS (1.2) states that the three main positive characteristics which are being shared to a certain extent by most of HPWP theorists who support the model are: That the concept of HPWPs seeks to breed performance in the firm which finally assures a 'win-win' solution for both employers and employees. Secondly, the employees are being considered as 'valued assets' to the organisation, therefore, HPWPs encourage the development and involvement in the decision making. Thirdly, the best way to reap benefits from HPWPs is to adopt 'bundles' of practices.

It has been unanimously agreed by all HPWPs proponents, that by end large, HPWPs influence how organizations work. Although the paradigm of HPWP is being claimed that it represents a mutually gain solutions to both employers and employees, one must not forget the implications and drawbacks that it succumb. 'Work intensification' is one of the key negative implications which is associated with HPWPs. Since employees would need to engage more into work responsibilities and higher participation at work , this will lead to work longer hours and thus will result to a more stressful life at the place of work. r1459-9. ( R 1459 -17 conc ( Ramsey et al 2000:506). Another factor is the issue of budget. Not all employers are financially steady enough to implement HPWPs. Investing in employees and rewarding their performance with financialcompensation, means a lot of money. If employers would need to engage HPWP to do a cost cutting exercise HPWPs just won't work. HPWPs is not in a magic wand, they do not change an organisation overnight. Instilling a HPWP attitude in an organisation needs time, money and commitment from both employers and employees.

It has also been agreed that in order to maximize the best output of HPWPs, a number of practices are to be amalgamated(CLMS 1-2). The combination of these practices known as 'bundles' of practices are intended to complement each other and thus they 'yield synergies that are greater than net effects of their individual component parts' (CLMS 1.1). All proponents suggested ways and means, how and which bundles should be adopted. For example, Ashton and Sung (2002:12) referred to the 18 HPWP practices (Guest 2000: 12) which are commonly used in the United Kingdom and Becker and Husleid (1998)the 30 practices used in research based in the USA. Lists from other various HPWPs theorists are never ending. The complexity of these 'bundles' might be a barrier to employers who might wish to adopt HPWPs in its organisation but finds it too confusing. Ashton and Sung(2002: ) reasoned out that instead of going into the complexity of numerous practices, they simplified these practices into four key pillars, that by end large are being mentioned in every HPWP literature. These are;

  • Employee's autonomy and involvement in decision making
  • Support for employees performance
  • Rewards for performance
  • The sharing of information and knowledge.

In the following part of this paper the author will analyze whether these four basic characteristics are present within the Public Sector in Malta and what are the implications that they carry.

Government's HRM strategy at macro level.

In order to measure the assumption of most proponents of high performance paradigm wherein they imply that HPWPs provide a 'win win' solution between the employer and the employees, first and foremost, one should have sound knowledge of who is the employer and what are its working settings. Duncan, 1972;Wheatlye 1992 in Creating HP Organisations in the public sector :341) say that ' every organisation exists within its complex and dynamic environments" This paper will be particularly focusing on the Maltese Public Sector (MPS), which is the largest employer on the island. According to the statistics derived from the National Statistics Office ( Quote) the MPS absorbs 33- 40 % of the Maltese labour supply. Therefore, one can reckon that HR strategies and policies within the MPS are extensive. Due to word limitations, the subject could not be properly explored in all perspectives. The author will only be delving into the relationship between employer and employees wherein the employer is the Government and the employees are the Management of Public Services Organisations. This relationship would be referred to ' Macro' relationship. On the 'Micro' level we have the Heads of Public Services Organisations as the employers and the rest of Government employees as the employees. Both relationships are important and they complement each other . On a Macro level, Management needs to be involved and motivated in order to motivate its staff, from the other end all the staff should be well treated and motivated in order to provide sterling services to the general public. Through empirical experience, the author is of the opinion that both scenarios would have emerged different findings and conclusions, therefore only one scenario could be explored. The author chose to assess the hypothesis of the title question on a Macro level, because in order to understand the internal office politics -on a Micro Level, one first should understand what is happening in the higher chain of command. The policies and the politics of the Government highly affect HRM within the Public Sector.

The former Minister of Social Policy, presently, the Prime Minister of Malta Hon Dr. Gonzi during a meeting held with a group of HR Practitioners, stated that ' ... (the) Government has a dual role to play. First as Malta's largest employer, and secondly as the prime mover for economic and social development for and behalf of the common good'(DOI:2). This implies that being the largest employer, it is in the interest of the government to secure 'mutual gains' in every aspect. It is therefore imperative that the government strengthen its HR policies to utilize its human capital to provide the best service to the citizen, which by end large, everybody is a citizen. Dr Gonzi, trusts that the Public Sector is rich in '..intellectual capital which can spring into effective if highly mobilized, motivated and rewarded'(DOI :2). He also acknowledges that fact that there is a problem of mismanagement, and thus in some Public Organisations, the effective utilization of the human resource is not being reached (MPO:2). So much so, it is often being claimed that government employees aka civil servants are 'fat -cow(s) draining the public purse'(DOI:2). All this implies that the government, out rightly is declaring that in order to make the most out of its human capital, he has the responsibility to stimulate its employees at management level. The Prime Minister suggested that management should be 'highly mobilized'(job rotation), 'motivated', and 'rewarded'. All these aspects are clearly incorporated in HPWPs. The next part will delve into the HRM practices which are being employed within the MPS.

'Bundles' of HRM Practices being employed within the Maltese Public Sector (MPS).

HPWPs are meant to be implemented in 'bundles' so that the outcome of each practices 'yield combined benefits' (CLMS 1-2). Reference is being made to the four main, 'bundle' of practices recommended by Ashton and Sung (2002). The author of this paper reckon the fact that HPWPs should not be defined by specific bundle of practices, but by the way they are being combined according to the needs of the organisation (CLMS 1-6). These four practices were being chosen as a point of reference, since Ashton and Sung (2002) state that by end large, these four practices are featured in every HPWPs literature. The aim of this benchmarking exercise will help the reader to have an indication whether in practical terms - HPWPs constitute mutual benefits between all parties involved. From one side we have the Government being the main employer carrying a political and economical mandate. On the other, there are the employees, which in this case scenario these are the management who administer Public Sector organizations. The latter too has a dual role, that of being employees, with all their extrinsic and intrinsic requirements, and that of being employers themselves, wherein they are being given the mandate to motivate and inspire all other employees. These practices will be critically assed and discussed one by one.

  1. Employee (management) autonomy and involvement in decision making
  2. In the early 1990's, the Government has established one centralized HRM office namely Management Personnel Office (MPO). Its main scope is to standardize HR policies and strategies, and to support management to execute government plans, so that efficient service will be provided to the public. http://www.mpo.gov.mt/. Even though this entity has been established to support HR Management within the Public Sector, at the same instance, Management has been given less flexibility to adapt to the circumstances and the needs of individual public organizations. Lack of management autonomy is evident. When a public organisation would need to employ new recruits, in order to abide by MPO standardized procedures, a lengthy process would need to be followed. For example, to recruitment a clerk, the process would take not less than 6 months. This beurocracy is disrupting the operations of the organizations and thus is causing frustration and more stress at work until the vacant post will be filled.

    Another vital aspect which is included in HPWPs is employees involvement in decision making. If one analyze whether such practice is being administered within the MPS, one would find that at Macro level, management are being consulted. For example when a new Legal Notice would be in the process of drafting, management whom will be directly affected, would be requested to take part in the consultation process and merely will be requested to set out proposals. But, there are other circumstances where decisions are being taken by higher authorities without requesting any opinions from the management concerned. Such policies usually will be communicated through a meeting with the CEO/Manager concerned, and the latter would have no option but to abide by.

    Management often feel disempowered with 'the intense partisanship for Maltese politics,(and) the pervasive influence of political parties...'(Cassar Bezzina - Warrington pg 18 ). A common scenario is, when HR Managers, due to organisation exigencies would need to transfer employees to other sections and divisions. Due to our 'partisan' culture, employees would go to a 'Minister' or a Member of Parliament to put pressure on HR Managers so that the transfers would not be affected. If the HR Managers would fall for such political pressures, the latter would feel disgruntled and futile. From the other hand if the HR Managers would stick to the exigencies of the organisation, a cold 'political' war would have been subtly declared. In such situations, management would feel sandwiched between the power of the staff and the politicians, and the worse than that, would be that the employees feel more powerful than the management.

    One should question, What is the role of the management within the Public Sector? Is it a typical public administrator, whose job is to stick with the mechanism established by the MPO or other line Ministries? Are management really being given the autonomy to manage their employees and 'their' organisations? Wouldn't be more empowering if management would have the flexibility to shift their energies to perform a more strategic profession, rather than maintaining the status quo? The author is of the opinion that with this lack of autonomy and lack of involvement, management can never feel engaged as partners with the whole process. Is democracy being employed when it comes to autonomy? Or is it still a far cry? The author believes that autonomy within PSO is still distant. Both ends can never meet. The interests of both parties are different. Politicians need to retain and attract new voters to maintain their seat in parliament, on the other hand, management's interest is to administer the organisation as smooth as possible. The best solutions would be if management would be given more freedom to action according to the organisations' exigencies.

  3. Support for employees performance
  4. Employees' performance should be supported all way through, by providing training and development to employees at all levels, and to promote organizations who adopts/suggests new strategies to improve organizations performance.

    In 1999, the Government through a Public Services Act, introduced a Public Service Charter, wherein the PSOs publicly commits themselves to provide a high quality service to their customers. Since, then a good number of departments were being awarded the Quality Service Charter logo, so far so good. But one has to highlight the fact the last time that such award was given was in November 1995http://www.servicecharters.gov.mt/index.html. This means something. Are management lacking from enthusiasm, are they performing less? or they are so overwhelmed with work that they do not have the time to go into such commitment?

    The government has also established a centralized entity namely Staff Development Organisation (SDO). Its main aim is to assist HR Management within the Public Sector, to enhance training and development for public officials. The courses provided by SDO reflects the needs of the market and are aimed for all levels, from clerical grades to CEO's. http://www.sdo.gov.mt/. All training is being provided without any extra costs and courses are being held during office hours. It is a known fact that Management of a certain level for example CEO's tend to refrain from attending to courses/training. They say that 'training is a waste of time', they have 'other important things to do', ' it is time consuming', others feel that they 'know enough'. The author believes that all government employees from all levels should be trained according to their needs. A number of training hours per year should be compulsory. No one knows everything. The government, as the macro employer, is providing all the tools in order to continuously development its internal labour supply, but it is under the management's discretion to utilize it properly.

    In both scenarios, one can conclude that support for employees performance is evident, but, for some reasons management are not exploiting the support enough to achieve the maximum benefits. The lack of participation in both set-up could be for three reasons, (1) It can be reflecting a low life-long learning culture within management and employees, (2) HR sections within individual organisations do not have enough staff compliment to take care of the staff training needs/engage into a commitment, (3) Management are so overwhelmed with work intensification, that may affect management to introduce new initiatives.

  5. Rewards for performance
  6. The government, being the main employer and the prime economic mover, aims to encourage more people (especially woman) to enter into the labour market. The best way to increase the labour market population is to provide family friendly measures and good working conditions to its employees. The government is walking his talk, he is leading by example. Government employees are covered with collective agreements, approved by the unions representing particular organizations, such agreements are being reviewed every 5 years. Yearly salary increments are for everyone. This implies, that all employees who highly perform or barely perform are benefitting from the same conditions, same increments. Management within the Public Sector, above all good working conditions, also enjoys up to 15% of the basic salary based on their performance output of the prevailing year plus other perks which are exclusively for management grades. Therefore, management makes it their own business to perform as much as possible so that they would earn some extra money. The author notice an imbalance in this situation. From one side we have the management striving hard, stressing their lives out to achieve and perform more. On the other hand there are the employees whose performance cannot we rewarded no matter how hard they work. This missing gap may have a negative influence on the management due to 'work intensification', and on the employees which they find it unfair that only the management are enjoying such bonuses, so why should they perform more?

  7. The sharing of information and knowledge.
  8. As mentioned earlier, the sharing of information on HR policies, procedures and training programmes within the Maltese Public Sector are readily available and easy accessible on the Government Portal. Therefore the formal information sharing is there. But this is not enough. The author feels that there are lack of personal communication and networking between management of other Public Organisations. Although a number of fora are being organised by MPO to keep them abreast with the new policies and initiatives that comes to effect, from time to time http://www.mpo.gov.mt/downloads/annualreport2007.pdf, the author believes that such fora meetings are just 'one way traffic'. Mangers are being requested to attend for these fora to listen to policies and procedures which had already been approved by the cabinet, and to disseminate the jist of such meetings to their staff. Thus no proactive feedback could be given. To obtain the maximum benefits, to create a win-win solution, as suggested by (CLMS 1- 6) team working helps in '... promoting tacit knowledge and skill sharing across functional divisions ( Belanger et al 2002:39) . To reach for a win-win solution, the author suggests that ad hoc committees (quality circles) should be set-up to discuss HR Policies in the early stages of drafting. Such ad hoc committees would add up value to all the initiatives the government is taking and at the same time management would feel more engaged and understand better why and how certain practices/directives are being introduced. While Management and Personnell Office will strengthen its existence with policies that are based on real experiences.

Conclusion

Through all the initiatives being undertaken by the Government, one can observe that during the past decade forces of change, had also reached our small island. The Government (the employer) required to adopt new approaches in implementing the best HR practices. Its holistic approach towards a HPWO was proved by setting up centralized units to improve HRM policies and training and development of Government employees, to ensure that its service delivery would be more efficient and more effective to the public community. To embrace this new change, government and its management's needed to work hand in hand. Findings in this paper shows that there are areas which needs to be improved. From the government side, less political intrusions and more autonomy to management. On the other hand management should utilize better all the support which is being provided by the government. Training and development should be given more prominence. It came out clearly that management are overloaded with work. With some more training on how to utilize its human resources better and time management skills, management would be in a position to delegate and thus work life balance would also be achieved. Once the government and management will understand the mutual aims and objectives, change will happen on a Macro Level, they would be in a position to make it an internal event and to transfer all the win-win situations at micro level. The author fully agree with the theory of (R1459:6) states, that if HPWPs are being adopted within the right conditions, whether if it is a private firm or a governmental organisation, a 'win-win is a real possibility'.

Bibliography

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