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

Richard E. Walton

Richard E. Walton

Some organizations have implemented suggestions by  Harvard’s Richard E. Walton to cultivate a  “high-commitment work systems (HCWS)” as a “lever” to positively influence employee productivity, retention, and innovation.

High-commitment employee benefits are designed to elicit employees’ reciprocal commitment and intrinsic motivation to support the organization’s objectives.
These programs include:

  • Employee participation initiatives,
  • Team rewards,
  • Profit sharing,
  • Career development training,
  • Internal transfer opportunities,
  • Internal advancement opportunities, with preference over external candidates,
  • Employment ”security.”
Song Chang

Song Chang

Organizations with these programs, measured by High Commitment Work System Scale, had employees who provided more innovative solutions to 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 varying 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:
    Economic exchanges with
    Social exchanges including implied trust and reciprocity leading to
    Expectations of employment security,

David Walsh

David Walsh

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

Joshua Schwartz

Joshua Schwartz

This contrast between employers’ implied social contract by offering high-commitment benefits with at-will employment may appear incongruous to employees.
The result may be confusion, cynicism or disengagement.

David Walsh-Joshua Schwartz At Will Exceptions MapHigh-commitment benefit programs can enable “creative situations,” where individual motivation can contribute to commercial innovation.

Teresa Amabile

Teresa Amabile

Organizations that establish creative work situations typically offer some high-commitment employee programs, according to Harvard’s Teresa Amabile:

  • Job rotation,
  • Training to increase subject matter expertise,
  • Job autonomy,
  • Working in teams to solve problems and deliver products,
  • Participative management.

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

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

Song Chang 2High-commitment employee programs can lead to increased innovation and related commercial opportunities.

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

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


©Kathryn Welds


1 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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s