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The Effects of Human Resource Management Systems on Economic Performance: An International Comparison of U.S. and Japanese Plants

  • Casey Ichniowski

    (Columbia University, Business School, 713 Uris Hall, 3022 Broadway, New York, New York 10027)

  • Kathryn Shaw

    (Carnegie Mellon University, Graduate School of Industrial Administration, Room 250, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213)

This study uses personally collected data from 41 steel production lines to assess the effects of Japanese and U.S. human resource management (HRM) practices on worker productivity. The Japanese production lines employ a common system of HRM practices including: problem-solving teams, extensive orientation, training throughout employees' careers, extensive information sharing, rotation across jobs, employment security, and profit sharing. A majority of U.S. plants now have one or two features of this system of HRM practices, but only a minority have a comprehensive system of innovative work practices that parallels the full system of practices found among the Japanese manufacturers. We find that the Japanese lines are significantly more productive than the U.S. lines. However, U.S. manufacturers that have adopted a full system of innovative HRM practices patterned after the Japanese system achieve levels of productivity and quality equal to the performance of the Japanese manufacturers. This study's evidence helps reconcile conflicting views about the effectiveness of adopting Japanese-style worker involvement schemes in the United States. United States manufacturers that have adopted a definition of employee participation that extends only to problem-solving teams or information sharing do not see large improvements in productivity. However, U.S. manufacturers that adopt a broader definition of participation that mimics the full Japanese HRM system see substantial performance gains.

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File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.45.5.704
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Article provided by INFORMS in its journal Management Science.

Volume (Year): 45 (1999)
Issue (Month): 5 (May)
Pages: 704-721

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Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:45:y:1999:i:5:p:704-721
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  1. George Baker & Robert Gibbons & Kevin J. Murphy, 1994. "Subjective Performance Measures in Optimal Incentive Contracts," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(4), pages 1125-1156.
  2. John Paul Macduffie, 1995. "Human Resource Bundles and Manufacturing Performance: Organizational Logic and Flexible Production Systems in the World Auto Industry," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 48(2), pages 197-221, January.
  3. Paul Osterman, 1994. "How Common is Workplace Transformation and Who Adopts it?," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 47(2), pages 173-188, January.
  4. Ichniowski, Casey & Shaw, Kathryn & Prennushi, Giovanna, 1997. "The Effects of Human Resource Management Practices on Productivity: A Study of Steel Finishing Lines," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(3), pages 291-313, June.
  5. Kochan, Thomas A., 1996. "What works at work : overview and assessment," Working papers 3886-96., Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
  6. Milgrom, Paul & Roberts, John, 1990. "The Economics of Modern Manufacturing: Technology, Strategy, and Organization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(3), pages 511-28, June.
  7. Holmstrom, Bengt & Milgrom, Paul, 1994. "The Firm as an Incentive System," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(4), pages 972-91, September.
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