High Commitment Work Systems in Chinese Organizations a Preliminary Measure

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Forthcoming on Management and Organization Review Please do not cite without consent of the authors

High Commitment Work Systems in Chinese Organizations: A Preliminary Measure

Zhixing Xiao China Europe International Business School 699 Hongfeng Road, Shanghai 201206, P. R. China xzhixing@ceibs.edu

Ingmar Björkman Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration Post Box 479 00101 Helsinki, Finland Ingmar.bjorkman@hanken.fi

May 20, 2006

High Commitment Work Systems in Chinese Organizations: A Preliminary Measure

Abstract The concept of a high commitment work system (HCWS) has so far mostly been used in the West to study the relationship between a firm’s work systems and organizational performance. In this paper, we introduce a preliminary measure of HCWS in People’s Republic of China based on the definition of Baron and Kreps (1999). In study 1, we tested the measure by surveying 442 employees in China’s information technology (IT) industry. In study 2, we re-tested the same measure from the perspective of human resource (HR) executives in 126 foreign-invested companies. The analyses not only provided some evidence for the construct validity of this preliminary measure of a high commitment work system, but also produced some interesting results that can only be understood in relation to the history and institutional backgrounds of Chinese organizations.

Key words: high commitment work system, China, scale development

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INTRODUCTION Research on the relationship between firms’ human resource systems and organizational performance in recent years has seen some convergence on the concept of high commitment work system—HCWS (Arthur, 1994; Baron and Kreps, 1999; Pfeffer, 1997; Walton, 1985). HCWS refers to a system of human resource management practices that aim at eliciting employees’ commitment to the organization (Walton, 1985). A large number of empirical studies have reported a positive relationship between HCWS and organizational performance (Appelbaum, Bailey, Berg and Kalleberg, 2000; Arthur, 1994; Delery and Doty, 1996; Guthrie, 2001; Huselid, 1995; Ichniowski and Shaw, 1999; MacDuffie, 1995; Youndt, Snell, Dean and Lepak, 1996), which suggests the robustness of the effect and also explains the wide dissemination of the concept within both academics and practitioners (US Department of Labor, 1993; Watson Wyatt, 1999). Thus far, research on HCWS, however, has mostly been carried out in Western organizations. To what extent the logic of high commitment can be also extended to China, a country with a vastly different culture and institutional background (Peng, Lu, Shenkar and Wang, 2001; Tsui and Lau, 2002), is still unknown. Further, despite the research attention that has been devoted to analyzing the relationship between high commitment work systems and organizational performance, few efforts have been made to validate instruments that measure high commitment work systems. In the present study, we attempt to provide an empirical validation of a theory-based instrument of HCWS, with a particular focus on Chinese organizations. We begin by

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reviewing the HCWS construct used in the literature and describe how social exchange theory and a focus on trust provide a theoretical foundation for the construct. Subsequently, we review how HCWS has been operationalized in the literature, and suggest a measure of HCWS that is based on the practices suggested by Baron and Kreps (1999). The empirical validation of the instrument is based on two independent samples from China, which offer an opportunity to validate our measure from the perspective of both employees and employers, as measured from the perspective of the firm’s human resource executives. The two tests not only provide initial evidence for the validity of this preliminary measure, but also produce some interesting results that can only be understood by relating them to the history and institutional backgrounds of Chinese...
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