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HPWS and SMEs Innovation: A Multilevel Framework of Psychological States, Individual Ambidexterity, and Innovative Work Behaviour

  • School: Nottingham Business School
  • Starting: 2022 / 2023
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Self-funded


In a rapidly evolving business landscape characterized by uncertainties and ambiguities, no wonder innovation has become an essential prerequisite for organizational survival (Subramaniam and Youndt, 2005). Meantime, the COVID-19 outbreak has globally sparked an economic crisis and intensified competition, manifolding the exigency of innovation and creating competitive advantage (Khazanchi et al., 2007). In this line, ambidexterity literature- the ability to exploit existing competencies and explore external opportunities with equal dexterity- has bolstered the micro-foundational role of individuals in striking a balance between exploitation and exploration (O’Reilly & Tushman, 2013). However, research is witnessed high variance in individual ambidexterity, and poverty still exists in this area of study and barely research illustrates how individuals should properly alternate between two distinct modes of ambidexterity (Rogan & Mors, 2014). Moreover, the recent studies call for more research to investigate how individual ambidexterity is developed and works in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) (Mu et al., 2020; Klonek et al., 2021). Drawing on prior research, we intend to advance our understanding of how high-performance work systems (HPWS) enable employees to show ambidextrous behaviours through developing psychological states- role breadth self-efficacy and felt responsibility for change.

This proposed study will explore the association between HPWS, defined as ‘the primary means by which firms can influence and shape individuals' skills, attitudes, and behavior to do their work (Chen and Huang, 2009: 104), and firm innovation in SMEs. To this end, upon social exchange theory, we propose that HPWS first shape and alter employees’ attitudes and behaviour, leading to better individual ambidexterity and subsequent innovative work behaviour. Specifically, shedding new light on social cognitive theory, we postulate that HPWS will enhance the development of role breadth self-efficacy and felt responsibility for change; both will act as a predictor for individual ambidexterity and innovative work behaviour. The study will be a time-lagged, multisource, survey-based research to examine the hypothesized model in SMEs. Addressing these questions, the study follows four main objectives:
*To theorize and examine multilevel theory concerning the cross-level influences of HPWS on firm innovation;
*To draw on social exchange theory to elucidate why and how HPWS promote employee ambidextrous behaviour, which in turn acts as a potential predictor for IWB;
*To further extend the social cognitive theory to clarify how such HRM systems are related to two psychological states— role breadth self-efficacy and felt responsibility for change-, which, in turn, are related to individual ambidexterity;
*Drawing on the ability–motivation–opportunity (AMO) framework (Appelbaum, Bailey, Berg, & Kalleberg, 2000), we propose that such HRM systems can support the selection and training of proactive individuals, incentivize and reward ambidextrous behaviours, and provide opportunities to take advantage of their potential.

This study contributes to the existing knowledge in several ways. First, this research will address the under-debated question of how HPWS influence firm innovation in the context of high-tech industries. Second, adopting a multilevel framework helps us better understand how HR practices at the organizational level, aimed at enhancing organizational outcomes, are first converted to the individual level to make organizations more capable of changing. Third, this study contributes to social exchange theory and social cognitive theory by adding new insights into that participative HR practices such as HPWS offer employees to develop their psychological states within and beyond the prescribed job requirements. Fourth, this study contributes to the interlink between HPWS, IWB, and firm innovation by highlighting the mediating mechanisms of psychological states and individual ambidexterity.

Application Enquiries:

Entry qualifications

An applicant should normally hold a Master’s degree at distinction or merit level of a UK university or an equivalent qualification. International students will also need to meet the English language requirements - IELTS 6.5 (with minimum sub-scores of 6.0). Applicants who have taken a higher degree at a UK university are normally exempt from the English language requirements.

How to apply

Please visit our how to apply page for a step-by-step guide and make an application.

Application deadline: 15th August for 1st Oct 2022 start date, or 15th Nov for 1st Jan 2023 start date.

Fees and funding

This opportunity is for self-funded PhD students. Applicants are encouraged to apply for external funding and we will support this process if and when required. Find out about fees and funding for PhD projects.

Guidance and support

Find out about guidance and support for PhD students.

Still need help?

Prof. Helen Shipton