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International accreditation IACBE
High quality, intensive supervision and digital support
Blended learning principles as a standard
Focus on Business and Academical trajectories
Home/Research/Our Research Agenda/High Performance Organizations (HPO)

As an institute for higher education, SSM wants to contribute the leaders of tomorrow that further social and economic development in their regions. Therefore, we promote a research agenda in our doctoral program. On that agenda we have a few fields that are key aspects of social and economic development, namely: competitiveness, logistics management, high performance organizations (HPO), small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) an entrepreneurship & social and economic development.

High Performance Organizations (HPO)

Over the last decades we have seen the emergence of a multitude of high-performance models that allegedly can help organizations improve their performance. Many of these models have been developed by consultancy companies who tend to favor one-size-fits-all approaches; that is, it is suggested that one and the same model can be applied across industries and across borders. One such framework is the High-Performance Organization (HPO) model developed by De Waal (2012). The interesting aspect of this model is that the claim of universal applicability seems to be supported by academic research. The HPO-model identifies five factors (continuous improvement; openness & action orientation; management quality; employee quality; and long- term orientation) that jointly provide the holy grail of organizational performance.

A closer and critical look at the HPO-model reveals that the diagnostic framework of 35 items and the five factors aforementioned, has serious shortcomings (Goedegebuure, 2018). Even though the core of the model seems to apply to many types of organizations across industries and countries, it is argued that (i) the model is incomplete, and has to extended by adding situation-specific factors; and (ii) the diagnostic framework itself has methodological flaws. The model has been tested in just a few industries and a few nations. The challenge is to build a methodologically sound HPO-model that incorporates the idiosyncrasies of the country and the sector under study.

At Swiss School of Management, we are interested in this field of research. We have created multiple research tracks that we promote amongst our students. Those tracks are:

There’s a plethora of High-Performance Organizations frameworks. All of them suggest sets of factors, or dimensions, of what constitutes high-performance. The factors ideally represent the buttons that (managers of) organizations can press to improve performance.

The challenges are many. What is performance, how can we define it? Do all stakeholders in the organization have the same definition of performance, and if they have, do they assess organizational performance in the same manner? And if we have decided on a gross set of indicators, can we actually measure and improve performance?

In this track we challenge you to review high-performance approaches, and to apply them to one or more organizations. Typically, this will entail:

  • A critical review of literature;
  • Interviews with stakeholders in the organization;
  • Design a measurement instrument;
  • Collection and analysis of data using this instrument;
  • Conclusions on the validity of your model and the measurement instrument;
  • Recommendations to the organization(s) involved, and/or organizations in general.

While most HPO frameworks suggest a one-size-fits-all, undifferentiated approach to understanding organizational performance, organizations differ in terms of mission, history, ownership, type of industry, size and location. In this track, candidates are challenged to adapt general, relevant HPO frameworks to industries (sectors) of their choice. Examples of (sub)sectors are:

  • Manufacturing companies
  • IT-companies
  • NGOs
  • Banks
  • (Parts of) government.

It is conceivable that certain dimensions of high-performance need to be added, adapted, or specified in accordance with whatever is most crucial and/or typical in understanding sectoral performance.

It is observed that organizations operating within supply chains, tend to strive for suboptimal performance, due to lack of information or asymmetric information between the links in the chain. Two or more organizations in supply chains can improve their individual performance and the performance of the supply chain, by sharing information. However, this puts more emphasis on interfirm trust, and goal congruence. Differences in organizational cultures may hamper effective collaboration through partnerships.

In this track, students are challenged to see beyond the organizational boundaries, and apply high-performance thinking to (parts of) supply chains that organizations are operating in. Research in this track can be linked to our research on blockchain organizing.

For-profit organizations can wonder how HPO-thinking could be of benefit to them, as financial profits and growth are generally considered sound indicators of success and performance – at least in the short run. One argument in favor of HPO-thinking is that it’s aimed at long-term performance, and is broader than financial performance. In addition, having hard indicators on (financial) performance, is different from understanding which buttons to press in order to improve performance. Another argument would be that, while profits are a hard, unambiguous indicator of financial performance, different stakeholders may have different views of what they perceive as high- performance. In addition, financial profits tend to be influenced by incidental factors (luck; the state of the economy; and so on), and a poor reflection of long-term viability of the organization. For all of these reasons, it is relevant to link HPO-factors to performance as perceived by the stakeholders of the

organization. In this track, candidates are challenged to think of ways to measure perceived (or subjective) performance, as opposed to hard financial performance.

As an additional track, and on a more general level, candidates can apply stakeholder analysis, in both quantitative and qualitative designs. This is especially relevant for large, complex organizations that have an impact on many groups of stakeholders with potentially conflicting interests.

While most HPO frameworks and approaches, for good reasons, assume that performance is indicated by multiple factors, it is often more practical and equally relevant to zoom in on specific dimensions. For example, while some HPO-frameworks use long-term orientation as one of several dimensions, and measure it through a small set of items in, for example, a survey, it would be relevant to zoom in on this very aspect in relative isolation, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the role of adopting a long-term orientation on (long-term, high) performance. It is conceivable that various stakeholders disagree most on this dimension, with implications for relations between (short-term, profit-oriented) managers and employees who value career development and job security; or shareholders looking at return on investment, versus stakeholders focusing on long-term environmental impacts. This track can be linked to stakeholder analysis. Apart from long-term orientation, any other HPO-dimensions discussed in literature can be used. We mention:

  • Organizational culture
  • Leadership
  • Continuous innovation
  • (Internal) communication
  • Market orientation

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