Since the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) issued its report in 1991, organizations have been urged to become "high performance workplaces" and vocational educators are considering how best to prepare workers for them. What are high performance work organizations (HPWOs)? Do they exist? Are they really the wave of the future and the best hope for organizational survival into the next century? The myths and realities of HPWOs are explored in this publication.
I'll Know It When I See It
The first problem in clarifying the reality of HPWOs is trying to find consensus about what they are. Theorists and researchers of the phenomenon use various phrases to describe its features: "high skills, high wages," self-managed teams, restructuring, reengineering, reinventing. The most common characteristics appear to be as follows (Byrne 1993; Galagan 1994; Marschall 1991; SCANS 1991):
Flatter, horizontal structure instead of vertical hierarchy
Work done by teams organized around processes; teams empowered to make decisions so management is decentralized and participative
Empowered workers with high skill levels and cross-training; rewards for team performance
Collaboration among teams, between labor and management, with suppliers
Focus on customers, quality, and continuous improvement
The new work organizations described in "Reinventing America" (1992) are networked and interdependent; they feature inspirational leadership rather than micro-management. White (1994) characterizes them as "extraordinarily capable people working in teams, equipped with proper technology, focused on satisfying customers and improving performance" (p. 162)...
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.... 12 (December 1994): 20-27.
Gordon, J. "Into the Dark." Training30, no. 7 (July 1993): 21-29.
Marschall, D., ed. High Performance Work and Learning Systems.Washington, DC: AFL-CIO, 1992. (ED 349 434)
"The New Work Order." Economist 331 (April 9, 1994): 76.
Osterman, P. "How Common Is Workplace Transformation and Who Adopts It?" Industrial and Labor Relations Review47, no. 2 (January 1994): 173-188.
"Reinventing America. 1992 Special Bonus Issue." Business Week, 1992, pp. 10-225.
Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. What Work Requires of Schools. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, 1991. (ED 332 054)
Stewart, T. A. "Reengineering: The Hot New Managing Tool." Fortune, August 23, 1993, pp. 41-48.
White, B. J. "Developing Leaders for the High-Performance Workplace." Human Resource Management 33, no. 1 (Spring 1994): 161-168.
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