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Organisational form at the technical core of Australian engineering design companies

Egan, Victor (2003) Organisational form at the technical core of Australian engineering design companies. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The theory of the high-performance work system (HPWS) is a relatively recent development that is encompassed within the rubric of strategic human resource management (SHRM). The theory suggests that a company can achieve sustained competitive advantage provided HRM practices are employee focused, internally consistent, and dynamically aligned with corporate objectives and strategies. While the theory has been supported by considerable empirical evidence, the present research study identified a number of methodological biases in the HPWS research to date that appeared to contribute to systematic error, and support a generalised theory without recognition of contextually specific assumptions. The present study used a multilevel/ mixed methodology approach to explore HRM practices in five Australian engineering design companies (EDCs). Practical implementation was compared to idealised HRM practices determined a priori to fit the HPWS framework. The research found that implementation of HRM practices was minimal, rather than high-performing, and that human resources at the technical core were not a contributory factor to company performance. This finding would appear to be paradoxical to the opinion of mainstream HRM scholars, who profess human resources as a major asset of any company and a potential source of sustained competitive advantage. Indeed, the findings of this study revealed the major asset as not human resources per se, but rather, the corporate leaders, who were able to leverage substantial sector growth to the benefit of the companies. The research also demonstrated that firm growth and long-term survival can eventuate despite minimal, non-strategic HRM systems. In an external context characterised as hypo-competitive, market buoyancy and the quality of strategic decision-making at the corporate level overwhelm human resources at the technical core in contributory significance to company performance. This finding suggests that the long-held and much vaunted notion of the ‘resource-based view of firm growth’, rather than a generalisable truism, is spurious and context-bound.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Business, Information Technology and Law
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Pearson, Cecil and Chatterjee, S.
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