“High-Commitment” Workplaces Enhance Creative Problem Solving, Innovation

Organizations recognize the importance of continuous innovation to grow revenues, and often turn to human resources programs to ensure that employees produce their most creative work.

Richard E. Walton

Richard E. Walton

As a result, many organizations have experimented with “high-commitment work systems (HCWS)” described by Harvard’s Richard E. Walton, as a “lever” to exert greater control over employee productivity, retention, and innovation.

Typically, high-commitment employee benefits are intended to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to the employee to elicit reciprocal commitment and intrinsic motivation to support the organization’s objectives.
These programs may include:

  • Employee participation programs
  • Team rewards
  • Profit sharing
  • Extensive training
  • Opportunities to transfer and advance to higher organizational levels in preference to external candidates
  • Employment ”security.”
Song Chang

Song Chang

Organizations with “high-commitment” employee programs, measured by High Commitment Work System Scale, had highly innovative and creative employees when they worked with cohesive teams on complex tasks in a study of more than 50 technology firms in China by Song Chang of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, with Nanjing University’s Liangding Jia and Yahua Cai, and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s Riki Takeuchi.

Zhixing Xiao

Zhixing Xiao

“High-commitment work systems (HCWS)” can occur in organizations with very different approaches to human capital management, described by China Europe International Business School’s Zhixing Xiao and Anne S. Tsui of Arizona State University:

  • Anne Tsui

    Anne Tsui

    Mutual-investment (or organization-focused) strategies combine:
    -Specified, closed economic exchanges with
    -Unspecified, open-ended social exchanges that include implied trust and reciprocity leading to expectations of employment security

David Walsh

David Walsh

Although this job-focused approach to human capital management does not imply trust or reciprocity, many quasi spot-contract employers offer extensive employee benefits similar to those in “high-commitment” workplaces.

Joshua Schwartz

Joshua Schwartz

This contrast between the employer’s implied commitment to employees with “high-commitment” benefits but low commitment in “at-will employment” policies may appear incongruous to employees.
The result may be confusion, cynicism or disengagement.

David Walsh-Joshua Schwartz At Will Exceptions MapDespite these contrasting theories of employee relations, “high-commitment” benefit programs can enable “creative situations,” described by Harvard’s Teresa Amabile, in which individual motivation can contribute to commercial innovation.

Teresa Amabile

Teresa Amabile

She noted that organizations that establish productive “creative work situations” typically offer some, but not all of the “high-commitment” employee programs:

  • Job rotation
  • Extensive training to increase subject matter expertise
  • Job autonomy
  • Working in teams to solve problems and produce work products
  • Participative management.

Despite not guaranteeing employment tenure, these programs were associated with:

  • Egalitarian culture
  • High trust
  • Support for disrupting status quo.

Song Chang 2Workplace environment-shaping through “high-commitment” employee programs can lead to increased innovation and related commercial opportunities.

However, organizations that adhere to both at-will employment practices and offer “high-commitment” benefits can benefit from clearly communicating the limits of their commitments to avoid adverse employee reactions.

-*What are most effective ways to balance and integrate coexisting at-will employment policies with “high-commitment work systems”?

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One thought on ““High-Commitment” Workplaces Enhance Creative Problem Solving, Innovation

  1. kathrynwelds Post author

    Dr. Terence E. Maltbia, Faculty Director, The Columbia Coaching Certification Program wrote:

    Kathryn, interesting read, thanks for sharing!

    Kathryn Welds replied:

    Thanks for your comment, Terence, and the superb Coaching Certificate Program @ Columbia!
    I am impressed with the extensive research produced by participants and by specializations for coaches who work inside organizations as well as coaches who work independently.
    These seem to be unique differentiators for your highly-regarded program.

    Dr. Terence E. Maltbia, Faculty Director, The Columbia Coaching Certification Program continued:

    Thanks for your acknowledgement. We’ve had the great fortune to attract a series of cohorts with participants who have a rare combination of impressive backgrounds and records of accomplishments, yet at the same time are willing learners and humble – they inspire us to want to do more!

    If you have not already heard, we are planning the 1st International Columbia Coaching Conference in a few weeks:


    Kathryn Welds responded:

    Thank you for sharing the news of the 1st International Columbia Coaching Conference.
    I’ll spread the word to NYC-based colleagues.


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