The role of high-performance people management practices in Industry 4.0: the case of medium-sized Spanish firms

Daniel Llinas, Jesus Abad


Purpose: This paper wants to build the case for the key role of high-performance people management practices in the development of I4.0 in SMEs. The research upon which this paper is based wants to prove that the consolidation of those practices should be a priority for any company willing to embark in this journey. The paper deals specifically with medium-sized Spanish firms which, on top, are already having significant issues with digitization.

Design/methodology/approach: The paper starts by digging into the literature to see how past technologies have impacted productivity, followed by a review of the material available on digitization and Industry 4.0. It moves on to explore the relationship between people management practices, productivity and innovation. Finally, the focus is placed on Spanish medium-sized companies, understanding their current levels of consolidation of high-performance people management practices as well as digitization. With all this information, several propositions are posited for validation using the Delphi methodology.

Findings: I4.0 is, at its core, about productivity improvements through business process and business model innovation. People management practices are found to be strongly correlated with both productivity and innovation. It has also been found that Spanish medium-sized firms already have a significant initial gap compared to those of other OECD countries not only in productivity, but also people management practices and digitization. The experts seem to agree on the key role of people management practices and that they should be a high priority for any firm seriously thinking about industry 4.0.  This is not to say that strategy or leadership will not play a paramount role in any digital transformation, but to emphasize the fact that the normally-forgotten people management practices will be important enablers in this process.

Originality/value: It is believed that  this is a topic that has been mostly neglected in the I4.0 literature. In that sense, the findings of this paper could be relevant for small and medium-sized businesses embarking on the industry 4.0 journey. This will entail a significant investment of time and money and, if the key role of people management practices is not on the radar screen, it may have significant implications for the success of those ventures.


Industry 4.0, CPPS, productivity, automation, human resource management, high-performance management practices, digitization, SMEs

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Intangible Capital, 2004-2024

Online ISSN: 1697-9818; Print ISSN: 2014-3214; DL: B-33375-2004

Publisher: OmniaScience