Research Highlights

Richard Posthuma's research crosses borders, including the U.S. - Mexico border shown here. He studies employee staffing, conflict managment and legal institutions in the United States and international settings.

Professor Studies Ethical Management

Growing up in Grand Rapids, Mich., Richard Posthuma, J.D., Ph.D., Professor of Management in UTEP’s Department of Marketing and Management in the College of Business Administration, never dreamed he would be living in the arid mountain desert, investing himself in a bicultural community, but now he says he is “fully embedded” in his El Paso and UTEP families. 

According to Posthuma, UTEP is an amazing place to conduct research.

“Being a part of the UT System gives us a huge advantage to do high-level research with a wide variety of databases and resources to draw from,” Posthuma said.

His research has largely been compiled through international comparative studies, field research in organizations and surveys with employers and employees. 

He focuses on three elements of “high performance work practices” needed to make a workplace more profitable and effective: staffing, or how a company hires, trains and deploys staff to the positions they should fill; compensation, because fair incentive compensation produces happy employees and positive results; and justice, because employees who are treated fairly are more likely to go above and beyond, and have higher morale and effectiveness.

Although all three elements are equally important, and are not the only high-performance work practices a company can implement, one of the most beneficial is justice in the workplace, according to Posthuma.

“When employees are treated fairly, several good things happen: they are less likely to quit, more likely to exceed expectations in the level and quality of their work, less likely to complain or file lawsuits against an employer, and, best of all, they are more creative and come up with new innovations. It’s a win-win,” he said.

Posthuma points out that of the three elements he studies, justice is one that costs an employer almost nothing.

“Justice is part of good leadership,” he said. “Supervisors need to be able to say ‘I’m sorry, I made a mistake, forgive me.’”

Posthuma says these high-performance practices can be applied across the board in any country, with adjustments made for cultural differences. 

“People are people and want to be treated fairly and paid a fair wage. They are similar in every country, but in this research we also study the differences,” he said.

Some of those differences are profiled in the highly sought-after publication that Posthuma edits, the International Journal of Conflict Management: Conflict Management in the Middle East. The publisher, Emerald Group Publishing Ltd., reports that the journal is a hot commodity in Israel.

In his research, Posthuma applies a philosophy that springs from his years of success as an attorney and human resources professional.

“The ‘Golden Rule of Research’ is: if you’re involving human beings in your research, treat them with fairness and respect – and publish something that will actually help others,” he said.

The experience of being downsized does not have to be devastating, but Posthuma said employers are not always wise in carrying out what has to be done. He recalled an example of the “total opposite” of a high performance practice, when a large company decided to inform employees not to come back on Monday by sending text messages to their phones at the end of the business day on Friday.  

“When negative things must happen, how you do them matters – especially to the employees,” he said.

The China Challenge: Visiting Scholar Ralph Watkins Studies Border Trade Issues

Ralph Watkins after presenting “Current Challenges to Mexico’s Maquiladora Industry”, Downtown Lions' Club of El Paso on January 30

As a child growing up on his parent’s farm in Oregon, Ralph Watkins spent his summers working side-by-side with the Mexican Braceros picking fruit. From this experience, he developed an early interest in Mexico and its economic issues. Later, as a graduate student at the University of Oregon in the 1970’s, he further explored his fascination while he conducted field work in Baja, Mexico.

Today, he’s a Senior International Trade Analyst with the U.S. International Trade Commision, an expert on the Maquiladora industry and border trade issues, and a Visiting Scholar at the UTEP College of Business.

The U.S. International Trade Commission is an independent federal agency that provides advice and technical assistance to the U.S. Congress and the President. International Trade Analysts monitor developments in assigned industries and provide assessments regarding factors affecting the global competitiveness of U.S. and foreign industries.

In residence at the UTEP College of Business for Spring 2009, Ralph is working with students and faculty in the International Business PHD program, collaborating on research in international trade projects, and developing a conference on international trade. The First Annual Symposium on Hemispheric Integration will bring together students, faculty and members of the profession in May of 2009. The conference will explore the Obama Administration's Trade Agenda and what it means for the future of the Paso del Norte.

Watkins is taking advantage of his time on the border to update his research on China’s challenge to Mexico’s manufacturing industry. Watkins has studied the impact of China on Mexican exports and believes Mexico has certain advantages over China. Many are due to its proximity and integration with the U.S. economy.

Measuring the Economic Impact of Security Failures in Information Systems

Dr. M. Adam Mahmood,
Professor of Information Systems

Some of the most basic questions surrounding information systems security are as much economic as technical. Who pays the price when a system is compromised? What are the financial impacts of employee non-compliance with information systems security policies?

These are some of the questions that Dr. M. Adam Mahmood and Visiting Research Scholar Dr. Seppo Pahnila from the University of Oulu, Finland are investigating. Dr. Pahnila is collaborating with Dr. Mahmood of the UTEP Business Information and Decision Sciences department on research projects involving the economics of information security. Assisting them is Adolfo Coronado, an International Business PHD candidate who is specializing in Information Systems.

Security often fails not for technical reasons, but because the incentives are wrong. Often the people who should protect a system are not the ones who suffer most from the failure of the system. In other words, systems are particularly prone to compromise when the people who gain the most from a system do not pay the most when the system is compromised.

The objective of Dr. Pahnila’s research is to measure the economic impacts of employees’ non-compliance with information and information systems policies. This research will also set the stage for conducting a series of future research studies on the economics of: a) disclosing software vulnerabilities instantly on vendors developing security patches more frequently; b) budgetary constraints on digital forensics; and c) gathering information on a participant in a social network on third parties connected to the participant in the network.

Dr. Seppo Pahnila

Dr. Pahnila received his Ph.D. in Information Processing Science from the University of Oulu in Finland, where he is presently serving as a lecturer. He teaches in the areas of Web Information Systems Engineering, E-commerce and Information Systems Theory. He has published in the International Journal of Bank Marketing, Internet Research Journal, in the proceedings of the 11th Pacific Asia Conference on Information Systems (PACIS) and in the proceedings of the Hawaii International Conference on Systems Science (HICSS40).