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The notion of a high-performance work system (HPWS) constitutes a claim that there exists a system of work practices for core workers in an organisation that leads in some way to superior performance. In this article, we dissect this fuzzy notion and examine its companion terminology: high-involvement work systems and high-commitment management. We argue that a focus on the high-involvement stream usefully grounds HPWS studies in an important area of workplace change in the current context and takes us away from eclectic and contentious selections of ‘best practices’. We review research models and findings in this stream. The path to better research lies in examining the underpinning processes experienced by workers when management seeks to pursue high-involvement systems, and charting their links to employee and operational outcomes.