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Human resource issues related to disruptive technology.


Christensen's (1997) analysis of disruptive technology is complemented by an analysis of specific human resource issues related to disruptive technology. Relevant changes in the field of human resources are presented along with a description of the following human resource functions: job design, organizational design; recruitment, selection, and placement; rewards; training and development; and organizational change and development. These specific human resource functions must be designed carefully if a firm wants to increase the likelihood that disruptive technology will be developed and/or implemented. Human resource systems can significantly affect disruptive technology. These effects occur through identifying disruptive technology as an organizational goal, encouraging the development and implementation of disruptive technology, rewarding employees for actions related to disruptive technology, and providing an organizational climate that facilitates development of disruptive technology. Both the intended and unintended effects of specific human resource practices must be considered. Also, firms must be prepared to accept the development of unsuccessful new technologies if they want to encourage the development of new technologies, some of which may become disruptive technologies.


Christensen (1997) describes an innovator's dilemma, which concerns the adoption of technologies so new and dramatically different they are characterized as disruptive technologies. These disruptive technologies change the nature of their industry and the viability of firms not using the disruptive technologies. Although these technologies may result in worse product performance initially, they are associated with later successes due to advantages such as lower cost, simpler operation, smaller size, and greater convenience. Also, this success results in the eventual obsolescence of other previously dominant technologies. Competing firms may eventually fail without the relevant disruptive technology, even when such firms have previously dominated their industry. Examples of such disruptive technologies include those seen when the production of personal desktop computers was introduced into the computer industry, which was dominated by firms focusing on mainframe computers; the transistor replaced vacuum tubes and transformed the electronics industry; and production of small off-road motorcycles successfully challenged the market dominated by powerful over-the-road motorcycles (Christensen).

Disruptive technology, which also has been referred to as digital disruption (Six ..., 2002), has been found more frequently in the past 100 years than in any other time in history. Disruptive technology is expected to continue to occur in the future, most likely at an accelerating rate (Six).

Christensen (1997) distinguishes between disruptive technologies and sustaining technologies, which may be characterized as either incremental or discontinuous. The distinguishing features of sustaining technologies concern their relationship with product development. Sustaining technologies, which account for most technological advances in a specific industry, improve performance of established products. These improvements are made along performance dimensions historically valued by the industry's mainstream customers. Their use generally contributes to a firm's success even when these technologies are very difficult (Christensen).

Technology may be categorized as disruptive or sustaining, but all types of technology depend on human resources for development and implementation. The necessary human resources may be found in employees of a specific firm implementing the technology, or they may be found outside the firm through various competing organizations, entrepreneurs, or independent agents.

Christensen's (1997) analysis of specific innovations and technologies provides valuable insights concerning the development and implementation of disruptive technologies. However, he includes minimal information on human resource issues related to these technologies. In this paper, Christensen's analysis is complemented by an analysis of specific human resource issues related to disruptive technology. Relevant changes in the field of human resources are presented along with a description of the following human resource functions: job design; organizational design; recruitment, selection, and placement; rewards; training and development; and organizational change and development.

Relevant Changes In The Field Of Human Resource Management

The field of human resource management has changed during the past century. The changes are not so dramatic as those observed in technology. However, these changes are significant enough to affect the role of technology in specific firms. Also, many of the changes are closely linked to technological changes, so the role of human resource management in disruptive technology should be considered.

One relevant change in human resource management concerns the greater importance of human resource departments in determining the direction of firms. For example, the human resource consulting work of C. Ingrain, chair and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Aon Consulting, lead Ingrain to conclude that human resource departments are assuming a more strategic role within business. This greater strategic role also is related to a greater focus on the bottom line (Technology ..., 2002).

Human resource development is seen as part of the larger system that includes organizations, the economy, and society. As those systems change, human resource professionals consider the changes needed in the field of human resources. Changes relevant to technology include the following: creating synergy between research and practice, leveraging technology, effectively managing learning and knowledge, fostering lifelong learning, and recognizing the importance of human capital (Short, Brandenburg, May, & Bierema, 2002). In fact, Short and his colleagues emphasized the importance of human capital by referring to it as "the true bottom line."

James' (2002) analysis of human resource practices indicated that most human resource practices employ an operations mindset that fails to consider the differing needs of employees who work in different stages of the innovation process. A clear appreciation of these differing human resource needs is required in order to properly time the introduction of breakthrough innovations. Firms must simultaneously balance the need to stay ahead of the competition (in order to facilitate future success) with the need to introduce incremental innovation that will maximize profits (for current success). These two needs, which at times conflict, represent a clear challenge for anyone working in high-tech industries.

These changes in the field of human resource management have meant that human resource professionals are greatly concerned about their ability to add value to their organization, and one clear way to add value is by maximizing the value of the organization's human capital. This concern is related to technology in two ways: (1) using technology to optimize employee performance, and (2) using the human resource management function to maximize the likelihood that employees will develop and implement technologies contributing to the organization's success. This latter concern (maximizing the likelihood of developing and implementing technology) is most closely related to the issue of disruptive technology. Human resource systems must encourage employees to create the best technologies (including disruptive technologies) for their employers. Also, human resource systems must encourage the adoption of disruptive technologies that will facilitate the long-term success of the organization.

Issues For Specific Human Resource Functions

Job Design

Job design can be used to identify jobs in which employees are more likely to develop new technologies and/or consider implementing disruptive technologies. These goals can be facilitated by incorporating them into the design of individual jobs. If new technology development and innovation are specified as goals of the job responsibilities, employees are more likely to focus on these goals.

Job design for engineers and scientists, who are the main source of new technology, provide an excellent opportunity for modification. Today's engineers and scientists perform work that is essentially technical. They identify needed information and solve specific problems that may lead to the development of new products (Farris & Cordero, 2002). If these scientists and engineers are going to develop disruptive technology, they must see their work as part of a larger picture. Technical work related to solving specific problems is necessary, but an understanding of development, implementation, application, and business issues would make scientists and engineers more likely to develop disruptive technology.

The disruptive technology associated with the transistor provides an excellent example of the importance of the value of this type of understanding. Bell Labs, as part of their research for the telephone company, developed the transistor to replace the bulky, fragile, and inefficient vacuum tube. This technology, for which Bell Lab scientists won the Nobel Prize in 1956, was developed to amplify electrical current and improve communication over telephone lines (Travers, 1994).

Ibuka, founder of the Sony Corporation, paid Bell Labs twenty-five thousand dollars for a license to develop the transistor for products such as radios, which required higher frequencies than those used over telephone lines. In 1953 Mascarich, Vice President of Licensing at Western Electric (parent company of Bell Labs), told Ibuka that Western Electric scientists did not believe that the transistor was useful for this purpose. Western electric scientists saw the transistor as a power source for hearing aids only. The Sony Corporation developed this technology to produce and sell the first "pocketable" transistor radios in 1957 (Nathan, 1999). The success of the transistor proved to be a classic disruptive technology that launched the success of Sony in the multinational electronics industry while its competitors were using the less reliable and bulky vacuum tubes. Later, the transistor was described as the invention with the largest impact on the communications industry since World War II. It created a billion dollar industry selling consumer products such as computer games and portable stereos, as well as complicated electronic systems for business and industry (Travers, 1994).

The most effective job design for disruptive technology would incorporate systems encouraging scientists and engineers to see the "big picture" that connects laboratory research with its later development and eventual sale to consumers. Sometimes this goal can be accomplished by giving scientists and engineers additional responsibilities concerning development and sales. Other times this goal is facilitated by redesigning many jobs.

Cross-functional Teams

Many different jobs can redesigned and linked cross functionally so that a whole set of jobs includes the responsibility for working cross functionally. A cross-functional team might include employees from Research and Development (R & D), applications, manufacturing, finance, and sales. The combination of these different jobs gives the team a valuable range of knowledge and increases the likelihood that they will see the applications and opportunities presented by the development of disruptive technologies. Modern R & D laboratories often rely heavily on cross-functional teams Meyer (1993).

Technological changes such as the Internet have made cross-functional teams even easier to assemble than in the past. Web-based systems provide a system for storing all the team's information in an easily accessible manner. Projects can be identified, and designs can be completed online. Also, they can be completed faster with minimal or no travel even if team members are located around the world (Dvorak, 2001). This method of teamwork has become so useful that user-friendly software programs have been developed for collaborative product development (CPD) with a common workspace for team members (Hamilton, 2001).

Incorporating Entrepreneurial Activities

Valuable job design changes also are found when a firm designs jobs to incorporate entrepreneurial activities. In some cases, this change is accomplished by identifying entrepreneurial jobs within the firm. These jobs may include entrepreneurial responsibilities as one of a many responsibilities for the job, or these jobs may be devoted specifically to entrepreneurial activities.

Jobs that include entrepreneurial activities completed within the firm are described as intrapreneur jobs. Pinchot (1985) described these jobs as being held by "dreamers who do"--that is, the people who take responsibility for creating any kind of innovation within an organization. These employees create or invent. They are aware of the connection between an interesting idea and a profitable reality.

Intrapreneurship has been used for many years by firms wanting to compete. Its importance has increased recently as firms seek characteristics such as flexibility, growth, and innovation that are usually associated with entrepreneurship (Stevenson & Jarillo, 1990). Intrapreneurship stimulates innovation and creative energy of employees who use their employer's resources to innovate within the firm (Carrier, 1996)

Organizational Design

Organizational design also can be used to facilitate the development of disruptive technology. One successful design change is made by organizations' setting up a separate division or business unit expected to develop new technologies. IBM provided an excellent example of this approach. During the early years of the personal computer industry, IBM established an autonomous organization in Florida. This organization, which was far away from the influence and control of IBM's headquarters in New York, made independent decisions regarding procuring computers, identifying channels for sales, and developing a cost structure well suited for the competitive and technological requirements of the personal computer market. This independent unit was more successful than the in-house units used by other leading mainframe and mini-computer manufacturers. Thus, this unit experienced success in the disruptive technology of the desktop computer industry (Christensen, 1997).

Christensen's (1997) analysis of disruptive technology lead him to conclude that disruptive technology projects will thrive only if these projects are completed in organizationally distinct units. This necessity applies to all types of disruptive technologies, even to straightforward ones. Christensen observed two factors determining the optimal organizational structure for facilitating a project's success. These two factors are (1) the degree of disruptiveness in the technology, and (2) the degree to which the innovation requires people to interact differently from the way they interact usually in the organization. Relevant differences include those found when people and groups must interact with different people, concerning different subjects, and with different timing. Different products and technologies require different development and commercial structures. For example, sustaining technologies can operate successfully with strong teams in mainstream organizations. However, disruptive technologies are best suited for autonomous teams operating in autonomous organizations.

Christensen's (1997) observations concerning the influence of organizational size also support the establishment of independent units. Projects expected to develop disruptive technologies should be implanted in commercial organizations whose size matches the market being addressed. If an organization is small enough, its employees will become excited about projects geared toward commercializing disruptive technologies. Small emerging markets cannot satisfy the profit and growth requirements of large companies (especially in the short term).

Early success with a disruptive technology may be so small as to be unattractive to a large organization. The amount of potential revenue, when compared with the firm's total revenue, may be so small that the large firm would prefer to concentrate on success being experienced with sustaining technology. As firms become larger and more successful, they want to add significant amount of revenue in order to maintain the desired rate of growth. Therefore, it is less likely for them to enter emerging markets early enough to experience success in these markets. However, if the disruptive technology is found in a small independent unit, this independent unit can be satisfied by the comparatively small amount of revenue generated for this unit (Christensen, 1997).

Another useful organizational design change occurs when the "chain of command" restriction of traditional organizational design is relaxed. If employees see organizational design as a guide, rather than a roadmap, they can communicate across traditional organizational lines and have contact with individuals who work in other divisions. The aforementioned use of cross-functional teams provides an example of a formalized way to allow these changes. Also, a relaxation of the traditional chain of command allows employees to communicate with superiors who may be many levels above them in the organization. These types of changes facilitate communication of new ideas and the eventual development of disruptive technology. Christensen (1997) concluded that innovation is facilitated when teams are structured In ways that encourage the cross-functional interaction characteristic of different types of projects.

Recruitment, Selection, and Placement

In order to facilitate the development and implementation of disruptive technology, human resource professionals must recruit and select employees who are most likely to develop disruptive technology, see its potential, identify ways to implement it, and assure its success. Therefore, the aforementioned factors identified for job and organizational design must be considered--that is, ability to see the "big picture," be an entrepreneur, work in a cross-functional team, and so on.

Other important employee characteristics include creativity, positive attitude toward risk-taking, tolerance for ambiguity and lack of traditional structures, independence, nonconformity, optimism, strong self concept, ability to deal with failure, self-drive, and a long-term orientation. People involved with disruptive technology must also be comfortable with change and value the development of new and different ways to work. Shaw's (1921) words can still be used to describe an important philosophy for organizations considering development of disruptive technology, "You see things as they are and ask, 'Why?' I dream things as they never were and ask, 'Why not?'"

Human resource professionals also can look for people who have worked in innovative environments and liked this type of environment. In many cases, this means that the human resource staff must itself become mere innovative by recruiting applicants from non-traditional sources, evaluating applicants in new ways (less attention paid to the job title and more attention paid to competencies and aptitudes), and taking a chance on applicants with no experience in the specific industry.

Obviously, the desire for innovation must be communicated to applicants if the organization wants to recruit and hire individuals who will work successfully in an innovative organization. This innovative dimension must then be used to select the people who are eventually hired.

Employees who confront disruptive technological change may be different from many of the individuals who are successful in more traditional technological conditions. The employees (especially the managers) must be leaders, not followers, in commercializing disruptive technologies. Leadership is more important for coping with disruptive technology than with sustaining technology (Christensen, 1997).

Related information is seen in research completed concerning methods to recruit and hire scientists and engineers for R & D laboratories. These employees are often the ones who initiate and complete work in technology that later becomes disruptive technology. Former methods used for hiring scientists and engineers focused on technical skills. These methods have been modified as R & D laboratories look for more varied skills (Kirchhoff & Lyn, 1994; Schonberger, 1994). Examples of these varied skills include the following: (1) leadership and interpersonal skills needed to function in cross-functional teams; (2) cross-cultural skills needed to work with demographically diverse coworkers; (3) communications skills (often computer-based) needed to work with different team members, some of whom may be located around the world; and (4) knowledge skills related to learning about functions such as marketing and manufacturing, which traditionally were not included in the R & D knowledge base (Cordero, 1999; Cordero, DiTomaso, & Farris, 1996; Kayworth & Leidner, 2001; Pelled & Adler, 1994; Rosenbaum, 1990; Valenti, 1996).

The need for new and/or additional skills also has lead to specification of new identities for employees who move organizations ahead in competitive high-tech industries. Examples of important roles are "rainmakers" and "knowledge athletes." Employees in these roles are technical specialists who take their technical skills one step further. They become the highly valued backbone and spirit of new technologically focused organizations working in areas such as biotechnology, information technology, and e-commerce. The goal of these organizations is to develop commercializable technologies for startup firms or redesigned firms that will replace older, less innovative firms (James, 2002).

Responsibilities and expectations for employees in innovative organizations also have been expanded and modified for organizations expecting innovation from their employees. Critical functions included entrepreneurship, Innovating, championing, idea generation, project leading, gatekeeping, sponsoring, and coaching (Markham & Aiman-Smith, 2001; Markham & Griffin, 1998; McDonough, 2000; Nochur & Allen, 1992; Quinn, 2000; Roberts & Fusfeld, 1981; Schilling & Hill, 1998).

Recruitment and selection are not the only staffing issues. Placement decisions also must consider the organization's need for innovation, disruptive technology, and so on. Employees must be carefully placed in positions where they are most likely to maximize potential value to the firm. In the case of disruptive technologies, this placement requires careful (and sometimes new) ways of assessing the potential of individual employees. Often, this placement requires assigning the employee to an independent unit or a cross-functional team.

One placement alternative is represented by the decision to outsource innovation. Quinn (2000) recommended outsourcing as a way to deal with the complex knowledge that can be found with only a broad network of specialists. Quinn (2000) concluded that firms should strategically outsource innovation. This outsourcing can give the company a sustainable leadership position while lowering innovation costs, decreasing cycle time, and leveraging the impact of the firm's internal investments significantly. Firms can use the newest technologies and management techniques to deal with the fact that no one firm can possibly out-innovate all competitors and potential competitors if it acts alone.

It is becoming Increasingly common for firms to outsource R & D projects in whole or in part. One variation on outsourcing is used when a firm brings contracted employees on site to work with the firm's core employees (Rothstein, 1998; Temporary.., 1998). Outsourcing allows a firm to innovate faster and less expensively while it takes advantage of knowledge that is not available with its core employees (Quinn, 2000; Studt, 2001).

Outsourcing encourages the development of firms that specialize in specific types of innovation. Other organizations contract with these specialized firms to complete work related to development of new technologies.

Outsourcing takes advantage of four powerful forces driving the innovation revolution. First, demand for products is doubling every fourteen to sixteen years, so there are many new specialist markets large enough to make innovation attractive. Second, the supply of scientists, technologists, and knowledge workers has increased dramatically, and the knowledge bases needed to access these workers has also increased. Third, there are growing capabilities for interaction. The Internet, other information technologies, and interactions among technologies have grown exponentially. Fourth, there are new incentives and possibilities for innovation. Changes such as the relaxation of many national and international trade barriers; greater incentives for entrepreneurs located throughout the world to develop and exploit advances in knowledge; and new management techniques, software, and communication systems have facilitated coordination of highly dispersed innovation activities (Quinn, 2000).

The decision to outsource innovation must be carefully considered. The general advantages and disadvantages related to all outsourcing are likely to occur. For example, the main advantage is the economy-of-scale benefit found when one firm is devoted to developing technology for many firms, who may all be part of the same industry. The main disadvantage is found with employees who are generally more loyal to their own firm (that is, the specialized technology firm) than they are to the firm that contracted with their employer for the specific work. Most innovations are being developed in order to create a competitive advantage, so there may be serious problems if innovations are developed outside the contracting organization (especially when the contracted organization works for competing firms in the same industry). Also, the skills and knowledge of contracted employees vanish when the contract is over. These skills and knowledge are retained by the organization if employees remain as core employees (Rothstein, 1998).

Core competencies related to innovation should not be outsourced. Therefore, firms generally should not outsource responsibility for the development of technology that is potentially disruptive technology for an industry. However, Quinn (2000) recommends outsourcing innovation related to non-core competencies. Such outsourcing can take advantage of the "best-in-world" suppliers (Quinn).


An organization can use many rewards to positively reinforce and encourage the development and implementation of disruptive technology. These rewards include extrinsic rewards such as those used in a firm's compensation system (for example, salary and bonuses) as well as awards such as recognition plaques. Intrinsic rewards such as the type of work can also be effective.

Extrinsic rewards related to the compensation system include cash or equity awards, bonuses, pay increases, or special pay policies. This type of compensation may be determined by methods such as managers' or colleagues' identifying the employee's outstanding performance, linking bonuses to the employee's specific contribution to the development of a new technology, determining the value of revenue generated, or calculating profits associated with a specific patent (Despres & Hiltrop, 1996; Geraci, 1994; Gomez-Mejia, Balkin, & Milkovich, 1990; Triendl, 1998).

Organizations must consider the consequences of providing different types of rewards. In general, any valued reward is likely to increase the likelihood of the desired behavior. The desired behavior for disruptive technology is any behavior that will increase the likelihood of developing or implementing the disruptive technology in a way the organization values. In most cases, this translates to a financial measure such as profits or market share.

In some cases rewards for a dramatically successful disruptive technology can lead to unintended outcomes. For example, stock options were offered to many Microsoft employees in the 1980's and early 1990's. The value of these stock options made many employees multi-millionaires. Obviously, this financial gain was extremely rewarding to employees who experienced this level of financial gain. Unfortunately, some highly valued employees saw their financial success as an opportunity to leave Microsoft to pursue hobbies or other interests. In recent years Microsoft has been placing less emphasis on stock options and finding other ways to use financial rewards. For example, employees can be encouraged to look at options as a long-term retirement program (When.., 2002).

Intrinsic rewards can also be very rewarding, especially to scientists and engineers. In fact, Chen, Ford, and Farris's (1999) study of over one thousand R & D engineers working in over thirty companies lead them to conclude that intrinsic rewards can be more effective than extrinsic rewards. Other researchers' analyses of the factors motivating for scientists and engineers have reported specific intrinsic rewards as the most effective motivator for scientists and engineers. These intrinsic rewards include challenging work, development of new skills, and the opportunity to pursue research interests (Alpert, 1992; Chen et al., 1999; James, 2002; Katz, 1998; McKinnon, 1987). Also, scientists and engineers value the opportunity to experience the challenge of starting a new business without worrying about the financial risk associated with the possibility of the business' failing (Gomez-Mejia et al., 1990).

Different individuals perceive different relative value for extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. Chen and his associates (1999) observed differences in the perceived value of different types of rewards. Different genders and members of different ethnic groups reported differing beliefs about the value of different types of rewards.

The relative value of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards and the relationship among these types of rewards is a complicated one that varies for individuals. For example, Maslow (1970) describes different levels of needs whose importance varies for different individuals. His findings imply that extrinsic rewards (for example, base pay and bonuses) are most rewarding to individuals who are in most need of money. Once financial needs are met, people are motivated more by intrinsic rewards such as self-esteem and self-actualization. Herzberg (1987) offers a related explanation. His two-factor theory of motivation implies that base pay must be set high enough to satisfy basic economic needs. After basic economic needs are met, performance-based pay is motivating to the extent that it is tied to employee needs concerning recognition, achievement, and so on. These interpretations are supported by Huselid's (1995) study of human resource practices in over 3,000 firms. The findings of this study indicate that pay-for-performance does, in fact, improve firm performance. Overall, findings of existing research suggest that the effects of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards do vary. Their relative importance is based on unmet needs. If employees are satisfied with their extrinsic rewards (for example, wages), they will be motivated by intrinsic rewards (for example, challenging work) or by extrinsic rewards that are seen as indicative of achievement and recognition. However, if employees have unmet financial needs, extrinsic rewards will be very motivating. This relationship between extrinsic and intrinsic rewards accounts for findings concerning the greater value reported by scientists and engineers for intrinsic rewards. Most scientists and engineers are paid well enough that they can focus on the value of intrinsic rewards.

One of the most difficult decisions about rewards for disruptive technology concerns the methods used to identify the desired behavior. Everyone knows that employees should be rewarded if they develop a disruptive technology resulting in financial success for the organization. The problem arises when employees develop a potentially disruptive technology that does not result in financial success for the organization.

The value of disruptive technologies typically is not experienced initially. Therefore, firms need to take a long-term orientation to determining rewards related to developing this type of technology. Also, disruptive technologies are generally novel and ahead of consumer demand, so it is unreasonable to expect all potentially disruptive technologies to be successful. If firms want to encourage employees to develop disruptive technologies, they should reward employees for the development of any new technology that seems reasonable at the time of development. It is understandable when some of these technologies fail to achieve financial success (especially in the short-term). If employees are rewarded for developing successful technology only, employees will be less willing to take the risks necessary to develop new technology. If employers expect employees to be risk takers with entrepreneurial approaches, the organizations also must be risk takers with entrepreneurial approaches.

One of the best ways to discourage the development of disruptive technology is to expect all new ideas to be successful. Of course, the very best way to discourage the development of disruptive technology is to punish employees by actions such as terminations or withholding promotions for employees who develop potentially disruptive technology that does not lead to later commercial success.

A successful disruptive technology (for even one product) can result in enormous financial success (Christensen, 1997). The amount of potential success must be considered along with the cost of developing the necessary technology. Therefore, firms serious about developing disruptive technology should be willing to accept the losses associated with new technology that does not result in later commercial success. Obviously, these failed technologies must be carefully monitored. No employee should be rewarded for developing a new technology in a careless manner. Also, no firm (regardless of the size of its R & D budget) can afford to absorb the losses associated with continual failure. The true art of managing for potentially successful disruptive technology requires identifying the important features of innovation, rewarding innovation, and knowing whether to support or discourage employees in pursuing an idea.

Training and Development

Training and development can be used to increase the likelihood that employees will develop and implement disruptive technology. These activities must be directed toward developing the skills and knowledge previously mentioned as facilitating disruptive technology through job design, organizational design, recruitment, selection, and placement. This training and development should encourage employees to ask "what if" questions, rather than "what was" or "what is." It also should encourage employees to look outside the organization to see not only related industries in their country, but also other industries and those located in other countries.

Some of the changes that encourage innovation create the need for additional training. This need is especially apparent for cross-functional teams in which members may not be accustomed to working in a team environment. In addition to the differences experienced with different functions, teams are increasingly more likely to be demographically diverse. Diversity generally facilitates creativity and decision making through the different perspectives provided by diverse groups (Cordero et al., 1996; Ely & Thomas, 2001; Pelled & Adler, 1994). However, diversity may increase conflict and, therefore, impede creativity and decision making (Cordero et al., 1996; Tsui, Egan, & O'Reilly, 1992). If firms want to minimize group conflict and experience the benefits of diverse work groups, they can provide training so employees will be able to work effectively in diverse groups (Wentling & Palma-Rivas, 1998).

Organizational Change and Development

If the organization wants to facilitate disruptive technology, the organizational culture may have to change and develop. The organization must value the types of attitudes and behaviors that facilitate the development and implementation of disruptive technology. Some organizations have this culture already, while others will have to change in order to have the desired culture.

If organizational change is required, organizations must motivate employees to change. Kotter and Cohen's (2002) analysis of over one hundred organizations provides some evidence for recommendations concerning ways to effect organizational change. Their observations imply that change is best made through a "see-feel-change" model of persuasion, rather than the "analyze-think-change" model that is often used to introduce change. This model requires organizations to increase employees' sense of urgency regarding change. Compelling and understandable arguments can increase the employees' sense of urgency for changing. Also, organizations should carefully build a guiding team. The choice of the right team members (who optimally represent all levels of the organization and a variety of different skill sets) is crucial for the success of the desired change. Communication regarding the change is important. This communication should be used to effect employee buy-in concerning the change. In addition, the organization must empower action. This empowerment allows employees to understand the change and creates a performance system to reward those who make the desired changes. Finally, a vision regarding the desired change is important. The vision should be clear enough for all employees to understand. It must be continually addressed so that all changes can move the organization toward achieving this vision. The vision must have a supporting structure that provides a basis for the desired changes (Kotter & Cohen, 2002).

Discussion And Conclusions

Human resource policies and practices can significantly affect the development of technology, which may become disruptive technology. The findings of Christensen (1997) must be considered along with findings related to the effect of specific human resource functions in order to identify the most appropriate human resource policies and practices.

Each disruptive technology is, by definition, new. Therefore, human resource professionals are presented with new challenges as they try to optimize the value of the firm's human resources. Most human resource practices are designed by analyzing past practices and determining their effect of behavior. Disruptive technology requires designing for the future, so specific issues related to the development and implementation of each technology are not known before the technology is developed. Human resource management should focus on what is known about factors that facilitate innovation and change as a way to increase the likelihood that a disruptive technology may be developed. Specific changes related to disruptive technology may require human resource professionals to develop their own disruptive (or at least innovative) technology to deal with the challenges associated with disruptive technology.

Christensen's (1997) observations concerning successful disruptive technologies must be considered along with observations of the development of unsuccessful disruptive technologies. Human resource management policies and practices must be designed appropriately to deal with these unsuccessful technologies as well as the successful technologies. Robert Kennedy's (2003) statement concerning success and failure provide insight into the relative importance of failure and achievement: "Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."


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Margaret E. Mitchell, Management and Organization Department Connecticut State University

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Date:Mar 22, 2002
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