High Performance Work Systems, the High Road to Innovation and their impact on the Innovation Ecosystem

author: Thomas Wallner, Upper Austria University of Applied Sciences
published: May 11, 2011,   recorded: April 2011,   views: 3589


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Innovation is still in the focus of attention when it comes to formulating policies for economic development or devise programs to recover from the recent – or still prevailing - global economic crisis (e.g. Wang 2009: 1). In this context the concept of innovation ecosystems has been discussed extensively in the field in recent years, using different scopes, models and perspectives. The current understanding of innovation ecosystems is characterized by a focus on institutions (Wessner, 2007: xiii; Adner, 2006) such as companies, universities, investors, governments and their tightly enmeshed interactions. An Innovation ecosystem can be described from various perspectives such as an individual player (e.g. a company) (Adner, 2006), or a public body (e.g. a nation) (Wessner, 2007: 68). The key questions asked are, how to design, build and operate a – in the eye of the beholder - favorable innovation ecosystem. To answer these questions often rather linear or rather deterministic approaches are adopted (e.g. Adner and Kapoor, 2010: 309), although the notion of an innovation eco”system” per se contradicts suchlike. Socio-cultural aspects are considered as mere contextual domains that influence the rate and direction of innovative activity (Milbergs, 2007: 11). They are not considered as a variable factor, interacting with and within the innovation eco system. On the contrary we argue, that also aspects have to be integrated , which are not directly related to innovation processes including feedback-loops which lead from all kinds of innovation activities into the regional communities and society and back again into the stream of innovation processes. Thus the “fertility” of an innovation ecosystem is as much an emerging quality of a region as a whole, as a collaborative arrangement of institutions (Adner, 2006: 1), and the former cannot be viewed isolated from the latter. Our medium term objective is to develop a framework for Innovation ecosystems, which includes these feedback loops and is consistent with the “systemic” characteristics. One of these feedback-loops in this context could be related to the implementation of High Performance Work Systems (HPWSs) in companies of a certain region. Thus our leading question here is: Do HPWSs have an impact on the innovation ecosystem of a region? Our motivation to do this research came from the observation, that Austria as our home-country was not exactly what you would call innovation friendly or embracing change. This was the finding of the “Innovationsindikator Deutschland 2009”, an extensive study funded by the Federation of German Industries and the Deutsche Telekom Foundation. This index is based on 180 individual indicators including soft factors and investigates the 17 leading developed countries as ranked in the OECD. In the overall ranking Austria is on the 14th position (Von Hirschhausen et.al.2009: 7). In the category societal innovation climate Austria is ranked last out of 17 nations (ebd.: 109) . Taking into consideration the importance of process innovation and the potential, which lies in the design of new business models or the reconstruction of entire supply chains, this may result in a competitive disadvantage in the future. These aspects of value creation always involve larger parts of a company, often crossing boundaries within the organization and to the outside world as well. Here, an innovative culture of the entire organization or of society itself becomes the fertile ground for innovative progress and substantial change. So the question arises, how can these emergent qualities in the dynamics of an innovation ecosystem, whose manipulation elude the common deterministic approach be fostered; how can the development of these qualities be facilitated? There is some evidence, that HPWSs can make a contribution to that.

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