Centre for Human Resources Strategy and Development

Research Highlight

Research Highlight

How do employees contribute to the development of learning organization?
Dr. Chang Song

A firm’s capability of identifying, assimilating, and exploiting knowledge from the environment is crucial for its survival. This capability is so called firm absorptive capacity. To increase a firm’s absorptive capacity, HR practitioners should focus on recruiting employees who have strong motivation to learn. From past academic research, we know that employees who have strong learning goal orientation (i.e., the tendency to seek improvements in their own competence and to understand or master new things) are more likely to help firms’ to achieve high absorptive capacity. However, Dr. Chang’s recent study based on 139 high-technology firms and their 871 employees challenged this idea. Dr. Chang’s study shows that simply recruiting employees with high learning orientation is not enough to boost a firm’s absorptive capacity. HR practitioners should develop a strong culture of civic virtue – employees’ proactive involvement in company issues. Dr. Chang’ research suggests that firms can realize the full potential of their employees with strong learning orientation only when they can motivate these employees to contribute extra effort to the organization.

Yao, F. K., & Chang, S. (2017). Do individual employees' learning goal orientation and civic virtue matter? A micro‐foundations perspective on firm absorptive capacity. Strategic Management Journal. doi:10.1002/smj.2636.

Deviance and Exit: The Organizational Costs of Job Insecurity and Moral Disengagement
Dr. Emily Huang
The ongoing economic difficulties in many regions of the world, combined with dramatic changes in the nature of work over the past two decades, have significantly increased the level of uncertainty in today’s workplaces. It is critical to understand how employees may respond to their perceived job insecurity. Dr Huang and her coauthor suggest that the costs of this insecurity for organizations may be more severe than previously appreciated. There may be instances when individuals respond to job insecurity not only by withdrawing their beneficial contributions, but also by engaging in workplace deviance and developing turnover intentions– two activities that are costly for organizations. Their study, using two samples from various types of organizations in China, has found that job insecurity increases employees’ workplace deviant behaviors and turnover intentions by encouraging employees to morally disengage—a psychological defense mechanism that enables people to do harm without feeling bad about themselves. Such effect is contingent upon two aspects of the situation — employees’ perceived employment opportunities outside the organization and the quality of the relationship they have developed with their supervisors. This research helps managers to make sense of employee behaviors under job insecurity. They can identify employees who are particularly at risk of moral disengagement, and take steps to prevent the negative effects.

Huang, G. H., Wellman, N., Ashford, S. J., Lee, C., & Wang, L. (2016). Deviance and exit: The organizational costs of job insecurity and moral disengagement. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 102(1), Jan 2017, 26-42.


When authoritarian leaders outperform transformational leaders: Firm performance in Harsh Economic Environments
Prof. Huang Xu

When the economy is great, the potential benefits of transformational leaders are huge. Transformational managers can motivate employees to exceed expectations by articulating a compelling vision of the future and by stimulating employees to be innovative and creative. But what happens when the economy is bad? As local consumers’ purchasing power dwindles, would you still prefer having a transformational leader to drive quarterly profits at your company? Many would say, “yes.” But Professor Xu Huang and Dr. Erica Xu from Department of Management of HKBU are saying, “not so fast.” By studying a large telecom company during a period of economic duress, scholars found that leaders who were more authoritarian actually helped guide their companies through economic hardship better than those who were transformational. Particularly in resource-scarce environments, managers who stressed efficiency and obedience over innovation and creativity, tended to have more robust bottom lines over a twelve-month period. In a pinch, authoritarian leaders enabled their firm to respond rapidly to demanding, environmental requirements, putting downward pressure on the idea that transformational leadership is more often the best way to go. Still think that motivation and vision are the most important factors in getting through tough times? If so, then I order you to read this paper. 

Huang, X., Xu. E., Chiu, W., Lam, C., & Farh, J. L. L (2015). When authoritarian leaders outperform transformational leaders: Firm performance in harsh economic environments. Academy of Management Discoveries, 1(2), 1-21.