Since the 1960s practitioners and academics alike have become interested in what makes organizations perform better. This ‘quest for excellence’ received a major boost by the work of researchers such as Tom Peters and Jim Collins, who wrote best-sellers on high performance. Since their pioneering work many publications on excellence and high performance have appeared. The literature review that was part of the HPO research encompassed already 290 publications over the period 1960s to 2007 and since that time an estimate of another hundred books and articles have appeared on this topic. So what makes the HPO Framework unique compared to previous developed high performance models?
The main difference concerns the selection of research subjects. Many researchers selected their research population based on financial analyses of organizations that perform excellently in a certain sector and then compared these with competitors that did not perform so well. They then determined the characteristics of high performance on the basis of these comparisons. Making such a selection always brings with it an element of chance: was the correct information available and was the selection based on the right criteria? What if the organizations that were not selected had interesting and maybe even distinguishing characteristics, were these ignored? How can we be sure we have included all the relevant research subjects? In recent years this type of approach to high performance research of comparing the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ is in academic circles considered inadequate. In addition, most of the previous studies concentrated on the Western – mostly North-American – profit market while Eastern countries, emerging markets and developing countries, and non-profit and governmental organizations were usually not taken into account. This limits a world-wide generalization of the results of these studies as well as the applicability in other than Western organizations.
The HPO Framework to me is a validated analysis of what makes an organization excellent. A validated framework means that we don’t have to research this ourselves. We can use it with great confidence to start our own transition to HPO, to try to move the department as close as possible to the characteristics of the framework, with the idea that if you are able to do this, you will become an HPO. We also find the HPO Framework better validated and certainly more elaborated than other models and frameworks that we know, so we could use it directly and easily.
In the HPO research no selection was made prior to research
- In Phase 1, the studies that were going to be included in the descriptive literature review were not selected beforehand on the basis of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. A broad set of studies from many different scientific disciplines and also the professional literature were studied. It was the most comprehensive literature study ever conducted, which incorporated many different elements about organizational structure, human, emotional, strategic, material, resources, HRM, and the like.
- In Phase 2, the empirical part of the HPO research, the organizations that participated in the study were not selected in advance. Data were collected though questionnaires and interviews from organizations in many profit, non-profit and government sectors, in Western and non-Western countries (in Asia, Africa and South America), and finally both high, average and low performing organizations were included in the study. The fact that no selection was made in advance made it possible to generalize the outcomes, making them valid for different organizations and in different contexts.Another way in which the HPO Framework differs from previously developed models of high performance concerns the transparency and completeness of reporting. The reviewed studies often did not provide an exact account of how the data were processed (e.g. which statistical methods were used). Also there was in many of the studies no proof of peer review or expert validation (by other researchers or scientific institutions). In the HPO research, on the other hand, openness was observed during the entire process. It was meticulously documented how the study was conducted and how the data were analyzed and processed. In addition, the research results (both intermediate and final) were regularly presented at scientific conferences and published in academic and practitioner journals. This way, the research was criticized and validated, as is common practice in science, yet not always practiced by all.A third reason why the HPO Framework and previous models are different has to do with the claims of validity that are made. Many researchers claim that their findings, which are usually transferred into a model, are always valid in every context. Unfortunately, as many organizations have discovered to their detriment, such a claim cannot be fulfilled as it is impossible to have a magic formula for excellence which will work anytime anywhere anyplace. Many of those models have not been tested over a longer period of time to see whether they actually help organizations create sustainable higher performances. The HPO Center, on the other hand, has included its findings in a Framework, not a model. The difference between a framework and a model is that a model is normative, in the sense that it states a set of steps which an organization should follow to achieve better performance, whereas a framework indicates what is important, not how an organization should act. To many people, working with a model has a certain appeal because it looks very practical and rather easy. One only has to follow the steps meticulously – almost without thinking – to improve performance. The question is however: will performance really improve over the long run? Because models bring along a degree of uncertainty as they do not take into account the specific context and characteristics of the organization, such as company history, the features of the industry it operates in, the skills and creativity of its workforce, the culture of the country it is based in. Working with a framework, such as the HPO Framework, has a higher probability for creating high performance because the framework does take the circumstances of the organization into consideration. After the ‘what’ provided by the framework (as in ‘we now know what is important’), the tailoring of the organization, the ‘how’ (as in ‘how we should improve this depends on the organization’), is done by the organization itself. This tailoring as well as the involvement or organizational members increases the probability of high performance considerably. Working with a framework is therefore generally much more effective than working with a model. In addition, the workings of the HPO Framework have been tested in longitudinal research to evaluate whether organizations that used the framework actually experienced an increase in performance over time. It turned out that this was indeed the case. The fact that the HPO Framework has been tested repeatedly in real-life situations makes it unique and a proven framework with a high probability of transforming an organization into an HPO.
It is sometimes stated that the HPO Framework is nothing new under the sun
The implication of being that organizations often have already implemented various quality and improvement models such as the EFQM model, Great Place to Work, Six Sigma or the balanced scorecard in recent years, and with that already addressed several of the HPO characteristics. So what new has the HPO Framework to offer and why spend time, energy and money on it? The fact is however that a lot of these quality and improvement models, as stated before, are not based in science and have an unproven chance of sustainable success. One could state that the HPO research identified with the initial 189 characteristics 189 opportunities to improved performance. The HPO research indicates which opportunities are less likely and which are more likely to lead to success. The five HPO factors and the underlying 35 characteristics are the thus the opportunities with the highest probability of success.