Photo of JR Keller

JR Keller

Doctoral Student

Research Interests: markets within organizations, firm boundaries, organizational decision making, talent and performance management, work and employment, worker mobility

Human capital is increasingly seen as one of the most important, if not the most important, resource in most firms. My research explores the processes and structures which shape the allocation of these this critical resource within and across organizational boundaries. In particular, much of my work is linked by an interest in understanding the tradeoffs associated with the use of market and non-market mechanisms as managers attempt to find and create complementary combinations of workers and jobs. In doing so, I draw on and contribute to a variety of literatures, including work on transaction cost economics, strategic human resource management, sociological accounts of the employment relationship, and the micro-foundations of strategic organization.

In all of this research, my goal has been to conduct research that is not only theoretically and empirically rigorous, but also addresses phenomena of interest and importance to managers.

Dissertation Research

In my dissertation, I focus on the processes used to allocate human capital within the firm. While scholars have explored how other key resources (e.g. financial capital, managerial attention) are allocated within firms, we know surprisingly little about the internal allocation of human resources within contemporary organizations, despite the fact that more than half of all jobs are filled internally. I address this gap by detailing the two very different processes that firms now regularly use to allocate human capital internally – a market-oriented posting process and a relationship-oriented sponsorship process.

In the first essay, I develop theory explaining the effect of these two processes on two outcomes with direct implications for value creation: quality of hire and compensation. Analyzing five years of detailed personnel records and data on more than 350,000 internal and external job applications from a large US health insurance company, I show that posting results in higher quality internal hires, as two distinct features of markets – self-selection and formality – combine to improve managerial decision-making by helping managers avoid costly errors associated with bounded awareness. However, I also show that these same market features lead to higher salaries through their effect on salary negotiations, drawing attention to an important tradeoff associated with bringing markets into the firm. An early draft of this essay was nominated for the Best Conference Paper award at the 2014 Strategic Management Society conference in Madrid. 

Drawing on the same dataset, in the second essay I explore how these two processes shape which workers are more or less likely to advance within organizations and how much they are likely to earn. In the third essay, I focus on the market-oriented posting process, examining what happens to workers to who lose out in different internal competitions. 

Published Research

Internal & external labor markets. My dissertation complements and extends a study recently published in the Academy of Management Journal in which Matthew Bidwell and I examine how firms balance the use of internal mobility and external hiring to meet their demands for human capital (AMJ, 2014). Where applications of transaction cost economics to make-or-buy decisions revolve around the challenges of ex post governance, we build off the assumptions of transaction cost accounts of employment in developing theory that focuses on the interaction between the problems of ex ante evaluation of candidates on the one hand and the incentive costs of failing to promote eligible workers on the other. We show that two characteristics of jobs – performance variability and the supply of internal candidates – affect whether a job is filled internally or externally.

Nonstandard work arrangements. In addition to internal mobility and external hiring, firms are able to meet their demands for human resources through a variety of internalized and externalized work arrangements. In fact, nearly a fifth of all work in the U.S. and even more globally is performed by individuals working under an arrangement other than full-time employment. In a paper recently published in the Academy of Management Review, Peter Cappelli and I develop a classification system that clearly distinguishes between employment and its various alternatives based on distinctions about the sources and extent of control over the work process, the contractual nature of the work relationship, and the parties involved in the work relationship (AMR, 2013). In a related paper published in Industrial and Labor Relations Review, we use longitudinal data from the National Employer Survey to examine trends in the use of these nonstandard work arrangements and test different theoretical accounts of why firms adopt such arrangements (ILRR, 2013).

Talent management. More generally, my research contributes to a burgeoning, multi-disciplinary literature on the challenges associated with managing human capital in modern labor markets, which Peter Cappelli and I review in a recent article published in the Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior (2014).

Additional projects

Executive search. I have collected data on over 400 executive-level job searches from an executive search firm, including detailed job descriptions and candidate resumes and am in the process of designing surveys to be distributed to client firms and candidates (both successful and unsuccessful) at the conclusion of searches on an ongoing basis. In joint work with Shinjae Won (doctoral student at Wharton), we intend to use this data to examine how industry-level, firm-level, and individual-level factors interact to shape the candidates considered by firms for executive jobs, which candidates are selected, and how successful the selected candidates are.

Leadership transitions. Katherine Klein (Wharton), Andrew Cohen (George Washington) and I just launched a large-scale, mixed-method (surveys, interviews, and archival data), multi-year study examining principal successions in elementary schools in school districts throughout the U.S.  This work promises to take my research in new and interesting directions, including allowing me to explore how the ways in which an organizational leader enters a job (e.g. promoted within the school; promoted within the district, transferred within the district; hired from outside the district) shapes her strategy for affecting change.