High-performance working was defined by Combs et al (2006) as the sum of the processes, practices and policies put in place by employers to enable employees to perform to their full potential. They referred to employee participation and flexible working arrangements as examples of such systems that have a direct impact on ways of working and therefore flow through to job design.
Sung and Ashton (2005) defined high-performance work practices as a set or ‘bundle’ of 35 complementary work practices covering three broad areas:
- High employee involvement work practices – eg self-directed teams, quality circles and sharing/access to company information.
- Human resource practices – eg sophisticated recruitment processes, performance appraisals, mentoring and work redesign.
- Reward and commitment practices – eg various financial rewards, family-friendly policies, job rotation and flexible hours.
Lean manufacturing or lean production, often known simply as ‘Lean’, is a process improvement methodology developed by Toyota in Japan. Lean focuses on reducing waste and ensuring the flow of production in order to deliver value to customers. It concentrates initially on the design of the process so that waste can be minimized during manufacture. It then examines operations in order to identify opportunities to improve the flow of production, remove wasteful practices and engage in continuous improvement. Various tools are available such as ‘FiveS’, which is a workplace methodology that uses a list of five words starting with the letter ‘S’ (sorting, straightening, systematic cleaning, standardizing and sustaining). Reference to these enables a dialogue to take place with employees on how work should be done.
But as noted by the CIPD (2008: 11), the success of Lean depends not so much on the tools but on its approach to work. Lean is implemented by communities of people who carry out and supervise the work and may include stakeholders such as customers. Lean team members are encouraged to think flexibly and be adaptable to change. They have a sense of ownership of what they do and achieve.
Work organization: W L Gore
As described by the CIPD (2008: 25–26), W L Gore, which is best known for its GORE-TEX® fabrics, has a non-hierarchical, flat organization structure (a ‘lattice’ structure). There are no traditional organization charts, no ranks or job titles and no chains of command nor predetermined channels of communication. What is important when recruiting new people is that they have the right fit with Gore’s culture. There are no rigid job specifications. Instead, associates make a commitment to contribute individually and collectively to work areas or projects according to their skills. Individuals are encouraged to take an interest in a wide variety of job areas or projects. Provided the core responsibilities within their role are carried out, associates can then stretch and build on their role to suit their interests, aspirations and the business needs. Gore’s ‘lattice’ structure gives associates the opportunity to use their own judgement, take ownership of work areas and access the resources they need for projects to be successful. Gore’s core values and ways of working are built on the principles of ‘smart working’. Its unique culture, which fosters creativity, self-motivation, participation and equality, has proved to be a key contributor to associate satisfaction and retention.
Flexible working: B&Q
Flexible working arrangements have been extended at B&Q in association with its diversity strategy. The main components of its flexible working policy are:
- term-time contracts available to parents and grandparents with children/grandchildren up to the age of 16 years (18 if the child is disabled);
- job-share for employees who do not want – or are unable – to work full-time; online job-share register available to help individuals find a job-share partner;
- staggered start/finish times, allowing for personal commitments/interests;
- part-time hours;
- split shifts to fit in with employees’ personal commitments;
- dual store contracts, allowing employees to work at more than one location;
- one employee/two roles, allowing employees to develop new and different skills, benefit from multiskilling and work in more than one area of the business;
- home/remote working, allowing employees to work from home or away from their normal workplace on an occasional basis;
- career breaks of 3 to 12 months can be taken for any reason;
- child care vouchers available across the organization;
- maternity, paternity and adoption policies enhanced above the statutory minimum;
- shared maternity/paternity leave; unpaid additional leave can be taken by father/partner where both parents work for B&Q and mother returns to work;
- IVF leave: one week paid time off for IVF treatment;
- paid compassionate or carer’s leave: one week off per year.