Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Alison M. Konrad


This thesis consists of three essays on strategic human resource management (SHRM) based on general systems theory. The first essay introduces a systems perspective on SHRM, the second essay applies the feedback concept, and the third essay considers implementing human resource management (HRM) practices as adaptive systems. The three essays suggest that general systems theory extends the SHRM literature by considering antecedents, processes, and consequences of HRM in modern organizations.

In the first essay, I review the SHRM literature and identify four traditions in SHRM studies (economic, psychological, sociological, and critical perspectives). I propose a systems perspective on SHRM as an effort to provide an integrative framework for the field. The framework based on general systems theory also directs research efforts to focus on under-studied areas in SHRM. I further identify fundamental principles, or grand propositions, in the HRM systems perspective, as a potential basis for evaluating the HRM systems perspective in future studies.

In the second essay, causality between HRM practices and organizational performance is examined. Previous researchers have questioned whether the association between high performance work systems (HPWS) and organizational performance indicates causality. This study takes a general systems theory approach to explain why performance could affect HPWS as well as the reverse. The causal associations between HPWS and performance are tested using a large longitudinal dataset with three time points. Past HPWS positively contributes to later productivity, and the positive link between past productivity and later HPWS is also found. The reciprocal relationship suggests that SHRM theories need to be extended by considering productivity as an antecedent to as well as an outcome of HRM investment.

The third essay investigates the longitudinal relationship between HPWS and productivity over a six-year period. This study suggests that the implementation of HRM practices is an adaptive process. Latent growth modeling analyses reveal that the intercept of HRM practices positively affects the slope of productivity. Continuous increases in HRM investments are not necessary to maintain productivity gains, and the data also did not support the pernicious “Red Queen” effect whereby continuous improvements in productivity required continuous increases in HRM investments. Establishment size and age moderate these effects in theoretically important ways.