Work design in professional service firms: three perspectives

Organisation Studies

Speaker:Dr Frederic Ponsignon, University of Exeter Business School
Date: Tuesday 15 October 2013
Time: 4.00 pm
Location: Bateman Lecture Theatre, Building One

Further details

The aim of this research is to examine the relationship between work design principles, job engagement and employee performance and loyalty behaviours in professional service firms. In doing so, the research seeks to provide some potential remedies to the problems of “opaque quality” (i.e. the difficulty to evaluate the performance/output of professionals in an objective and quantitative manner) and of high staff turnover that are typical of this sector. The idea is to identify the ways in which the work of professionals and their work environment should be structured in order to drive high levels of job engagement, which should positively affect employee’s performance and loyalty. Based on the academic and practitioner literatures as well as on 10 face-to-face interviews with management consultants, I have developed 3 conceptual models that address the above issues from three different but complementary perspectives, which I will be looking to test empirically in the next few months.  

The first model focuses on how work should be structured to facilitate learning and development – the idea is that professionals work in a relatively uncertain/unpredictable operational environment, and, as a result of this, they must continually acquire new skills and knowledge and develop professionally in order to be successful in their jobs and improve their career prospects. This framework seeks to identify the salient work design characteristics (e.g. autonomy, task and skill variety, problem-solving etc) that organisations need to focus on in priority in order to promote the consultant’s perception of learning and development.

The second model focuses on the relational aspects of work. It posits that client-professional co-production behaviours (external interactions) as well as “esprit de corps” and leadership (i.e. internal interactions) affect job engagement. I suggest that job engagement is affected by the client’s co-production behaviours (e.g. communication openness, participation in problem solving, personal dedication…), esprit de corps and leadership style.  

The third model looks at organisational aspects of work design, focusing on the key practices that make the employee feel the organisation care for his/her well-being. The final framework proposes that work-life balance practices, promotion opportunities, types and levels of compensation (i.e. performance-based or deferred) are likely to affect job engagement. 

I am looking to (1) receive feedback on the conceptual worth of the three models as well as their potential contributions to theory and practice, (2) listen to suggestions about the research design and (3) gather ideas as to how to gain access into professional service firms.

Frederic Ponsignon is a Research Fellow in Service Management at the University of Exeter Business School, where he was awarded in PhD in 2011. As a member of the Centre for Innovation and Service Research (ISR), Frederic leads several research projects focused on a variety of service related themes including process design and improvement, work design, customer experience design and management and service modularity. His work has been published in the International Journal of Operations and Production Management and in the TQM & Business Excellence journals.