Sunday, April 17, 2016

17/4/16: Human Capital, Management & Value-Added

The value of management to a given firm rests not only in more efficient use of physical resources and financial capital, as well as corporate / business strategy, but also in the ability of the firm to identify, hire, retain and enable high quality human capital. This is a rather common sense conclusion that might be drawn by any analyst of management systems and any business student.

However, the question always remains as to how much of the firm value-added arises from managerial inputs, as opposed to actual human capital inputs.

Stefan Bender, Nicholas Bloom, David Card, John Van Reenen, and Stephanie Wolter decided to attempt to quantify these differences. In their paper “Management Practices, Workforce Selection and Productivity” (March 2016, NBER Working Paper No. w22101: they note that “recent research suggests that much of the cross-firm variation in measured productivity is due to differences in use of advanced management practices.”

“Many of these practices – including monitoring, goal setting, and the use of incentives – are mediated through employee decision-making and effort. To the extent that these practices are complementary with workers’ skills, better-managed firms will tend to recruit higher-ability workers and adopt pay practices to retain these employees.”

The authors then use a survey data on the management practices of German manufacturing firms, as well as data on earnings records for their employees “to study the relationship between productivity, management, worker ability, and pay”.

Per authors: “As documented by Bloom and Van Reenen (2007) there is a strong partial correlation between management practice scores and firm-level productivity in Germany. In our preferred TFP [total factor productivity] estimates only a small fraction of this correlation is explained by the higher human capital of the average employee at better-managed firms. A larger share (about 13%) is attributable to the human capital of the highest-paid workers, a group we interpret as representing the managers of the firm. And a similar amount is mediated through the pay premiums offered by better-managed firms.”

Human capital value-added is neither uniform across types of employees, nor is it independent of the management systems, which means that increasing the value of human capital in the economy requires more emphasis on the structure of the overall utilisation of talent, not just acquisition of talent. This is exactly consistent with the C.A.R.E. framework for human capital-centric economy that I outlined some years ago, here, the framework of Creating, Attracting, Retaining and Enabling human capital.

The study also confirms that “looking at employee inflows and outflows, … better-managed firms systematically recruit and retain workers with higher average human capital.”

Overall, the authors concluded that “workforce selection and positive pay premiums explain just under 30% of the measured impact of management practices on productivity in German manufacturing.”

These results should add to questions about the ability of the Gig-economy firms, e.g. online platforms providers for labour utilisation, such as Uber, to significantly improve productivity in the economy. The reason for this is simple: contingent workforce talent pool is at least one step further removed from management than in the case of traditional employees. As the result, it is quite possible that contingent workforce productivity does not benefit directly from management quality. If so, that sizeable, ‘just under 30% of the measured impact’ in terms of improved productivity, arising from better management practices, workforce selection and pay premiums can be out of reach for Gig-economy firms and their contingent workers.

Again, as I noted repeatedly, including in my recent presentation at the CXC Global “Future of Work” Summit (see here:, the key to developing a productive and sustainable Gig-economy will be in our ability to develop institutional, regulatory and strategic frameworks for improving management of human capital held by contingent workforce.

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