Human Capital in Temporary Organizations

UNC-Flagler business professor Sekou Bermiss and I are working to prepare a portion of my dissertation for publication in management journals. Below is the abstract accepted for presentation at the People & Organizations Conference at the Wharton School in the fall of 2022.

Contemporary markets have seen a marked increase in the frequency and influence of temporary organizing, which entails the behaviors and actions taken by collectives of interdependent actors to pursue an agreed upon task within a predetermined time frame (Bakker, 2016). Research in this context has focused on topics related to firm-level dynamics such as interorganizational contracting, knowledge transfer, and institutional change. Despite the growing prominence of temporary organizations, the research in this area principally conceptualizes temporary organizations as a collective, with little attention paid to the human capital dynamics that temporary organizations must manage to accomplish their given tasks. Unlike permanent organizations, temporary organizations face high levels of labor market uncertainty due in part to pre-determined organizational dissolution. 

In this paper, we aim to fill this void by examining the hiring patterns of temporary organizations and their outcomes on organizational performance. The context for this study is U.S. congressional campaigns, which are temporary organizations reconstituted every two years from extended political party networks. Our analysis includes a comprehensive novel dataset of all congressional campaigns from 2003 to 2016, which comprises the hiring of 132,113 campaign staff members and consultants.  We examine how the variance in campaign hiring practices (e.g., hiring employees based on previous individual experience and hiring employees based on shared collective experience) predicts campaign performance measured as candidate’s vote share relative to expected vote share, and total campaign funds raised relative to that of their competitor.

Our preliminary results suggest congressional campaigns that hire more experienced personnel are not any more likely to experience higher levels of organizational performance than firms that hire inexperienced personnel. However, campaigns that hire employees with more experience working together perform better in terms of votes and fundraising. These results suggest that for temporary organizations, shared work experience among acquired human capital is a stronger predictor of firm success than individual work experience. 

We complement these archival data with qualitative data collected from four dozen interviews with candidates, staff, and consultants during the 2020 election cycle. Those interviews suggest that the presence of an ongoing relationship between two team members is more than just simple reference checking. If two staffers demonstrate the capacity to work together and the desire to work together again, that suggests a lower likelihood of distracting intra-team conflict. Given the temporary nature of campaigns, which are dominated by uncertainty about which tasks lead to which outcomes, this may be the effective hiring strategy for temporary organizations.

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