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HPWS and SME innovation: the indirect effects of leadership, employee voice and trust

  • School: Nottingham Business School
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Self-funded


This proposed study will explore the association between high performance work practices (HPWS) - defined as ‘the primary means by which firms can influence and shape the skills, attitudes, and behaviour of individuals to do their work’ (Chen and Huang, 2009: 104) and firm innovation.  
It builds on the expertise of CPWOP co-director, Helen Shipton (Do & Shipton, 2019), and offers the potential to extend and benchmark the ERDF funded ‘Enabling Innovation’ project, which has supported over 500 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.   It also progresses research carried out by CPWOP in conjunction with the CIPD investigating Employee Voice, following the publication of the CIPD report ‘Talking about Voice’ co-authored by the CPWOP team:

The overall aim of the study is to examine when, how and why HPWS influence firm innovation SMEs.  This will be achieved as follows:
(1) Theorizing transformational leadership, trust in management, trust in supervision, employee engagement and innovative behaviour as potential indirect pathways that uncover the relationship between HPWS and firm innovation;

(2) Examining the cross-level effects of HPWS on both top-down and bottom-up performance outcomes;

(3) Drawing on social exchange theory to frame direct voice and supervisor support as potential moderators that in turn amplifies (a) the relationship between transformational leadership and trust in management (b) the relationship between transformational leadership and trust in supervision;

(4) Empirically testing the hypothesized model using a sample of SMEs in an interesting context where innovation is instrumental for their survival, growth and competitive advantage.

By addressing the above aims, this study contributes to the existing knowledge in a number of ways. First, this study will cast new light on the vexed question of how HPWS influence organizational innovation in the context of SMEs (Beugelsdijk, 2008; Shipton et al., 2006). Second, mediating and moderating mechanisms will be addressed carefully to provide a more nuanced understanding of a HPWS-performance relationship in response to conflicting or mixed outcomes (e.g., Bowen and Ostroff, 2004; Do and Shipton, 2019; Guest and Conway, 2011). Third, this study contributes to the interlink between leadership, employee voice and trust by highlighting the moderating mechanism of direct voice on the relationship between transformational leadership and trust in management as two-way communication between managers and employees (Holland, Cooper and Sheehan, 2016). Finally, the study provides useful implications for practitioners who wish to support and nurture SMEs to progress and innovate.

The study will adopt a mixed methods approach to examine the utilisation of HPWS in SMEs in order to increase the accuracy of their data and yield a comprehensive picture by incorporating information from complementary kinds of data (Denscombe, 2008). Specifically, the qualitative phase aims to explore how and why HPWS practices are pursued and valued within through interviews. Meanwhile, the quantitative phase will be conducted afterwards to help validate the results of the qualitative data. To test the proposed hypotheses, the study will focus on small but highly-skilled and knowledge-based environments such as IT, pharmaceuticals and professional service firms with the scope of 10 - 200 employees (Do and Shipton, 2019). In terms of analytical techniques, SPSS software (Version 25) will be utilised to check the robustness of the studied variables as well as run EFA tests. In addition, MPlus (Version 7.3) will be utilized to test multilevel models, the measurement and structural models (Jensen, Patel and Messersmith, 2013; Preacher, Zhang and Zyphur, 2011).


Beugelsdijk, S. (2008). Strategic human resource practices and product innovation. Organization Studies, 29(6), pp.821-847.

Bowen, D. E., & Ostroff, C. (2004). Understanding HRM–firm performance linkages: The role of the “strength” of the HRM system. Academy of management review, 29(2), pp.203-221.

Chen, C. J., & Huang, J. W. (2009). Strategic human resource practices and innovation performance-The mediating role of knowledge management capacity. Journal of business research, 62(1), pp.104-114.

Denscombe, M. (2008). Communities of practice: A research paradigm for the mixed methods approach. Journal of mixed methods research, 2(3), pp.270-283.

Do, H., & Shipton, H. (2019). High-performance work systems and innovation in Vietnamese small firms. International Small Business Journal, 37(7), pp.732-753.

Guest, D., & Conway, N. (2011). The impact of HR practices, HR effectiveness and a ‘strong HR system’on organisational outcomes: a stakeholder perspective. The international journal of human resource management, 22(8), pp.1686-1702.

Holland, P., Cooper, B., & Sheehan, C. (2017). Employee voice, supervisor support, and engagement: the mediating role of trust. Human Resource Management, 56(6), pp.915-929.

Jensen, J. M., Patel, P. C., & Messersmith, J. G. (2013). High-performance work systems and job control: Consequences for anxiety, role overload, and turnover intentions. Journal of Management, 39(6), pp.1699-1724.

Nguyen, B., Mickiewicz, T., & Du, J. (2018). Local governance and business performance in Vietnam: the transaction costs’ perspective. Regional Studies, 52(4), pp.542-557.

Preacher, K. J., Zhang, Z., & Zyphur, M. J. (2011). Alternative methods for assessing mediation in multilevel data: The advantages of multilevel SEM. Structural Equation Modeling, 18(2), pp.161-182.

Shipton, H., West, M. A., Dawson, J., Birdi, K., & Patterson, M. (2006). HRM as a predictor of innovation. Human resource management journal, 16(1), pp.3-27.


Professor Helen Shipton

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Helen Shipton