Human Resource Management and Unit Performance in Knowledge-Intensive Work

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Abstract

To clarify the potential value of a targeted system of human resource (HR) practices, we explore the unique effects of a relationship-oriented HR system and the more commonly studied high commitment HR system on unit performance in the context of knowledge-intensive work. We develop theoretical arguments suggesting that the high commitment HR system contributes to unit performance through its positive effects on employees’ collective organizational commitment, general and firm-specific human capital, and access to knowledge. We argue that the relationship-oriented HR system contributes to unit performance through its positive effects on employees’ collective access to knowledge by fostering a social context and interpersonal exchange conditions which support employees’ ongoing access to knowledge flows within and outside their unit and broader organization. Based on unit-level data collected from a matched sample of employees and managers in 128 units in the science and engineering division of a large hydroelectric power organization, our results suggest that the targeted, relationship-oriented HR system is related to firm performance and may complement a broader, high commitment approach to managing knowledge workers. Specifically, the positive relationship between the high commitment HR system and unit performance is mediated by employees’ collective organizational commitment, firm-specific human capital, and access to knowledge in other organizational units; whereas the positive relationship between the relationship-oriented HR system and unit performance is mediated by units’ access to knowledge within the unit, in other units, and outside the organization.

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