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PhD Defence Amy Tan Bee Choo | Leadership and lean innovation training for employee innovative work behaviour in Singapore

Leadership and lean innovation training for employee innovative work behaviour in Singapore

The PhD Defence of Amy Tan Bee Choo will take place in the Waaier building of the University of Twente and can be followed by a live stream.
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Amy Tan Bee Choo is a PhD student in the department Change Management & Organization Behaviour. (Co)Promotors are prof.dr. C.P.M. Wilderom and dr. D.H. van Dun from the faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences.

The overall objective of this Ph.D. research was to investigate the leadership behaviours and interventions necessary to foster individual innovative work behaviour (IWB) among subordinates in the service industry in Singapore. The research was based on the premise that innovation is an important driver of organizational performance, and that effective leadership and a training and coaching intervention can bring about IWB of employees. Managers tasked with enabling IWB are faced with several challenges. First, there is no guarantee the innovation-inducing behaviours studied in one culture will work in another. Second, the work environment that supports employees in displaying IWBs varies considerably. Third, employees’ IWBs are known to depend in part on their perceived need, willingness, and ability to innovate. Thus, this research aims to advance the development of theoretical frameworks by providing insights into the mechanisms that underlie the relationship between leadership and IWB. Additionally, it aimed to examine the mediating effects of psychological factors and generate new knowledge on effective leadership interventions that organizations can choose to promote IWB.

Three empirical studies presented herein were built on each other starting with the analysis of the effects of transformational leadership and its mechanism to achieve high IWB for individuals in Study I. Besides transformational leadership, training interventions that advance employees’ attitude for innovation and continuous process improvement could also contribute to their IWBs. Therefore, the impact of an action-learning Lean Innovation Training intervention and transformational leadership on employee’s creative role identity, and ultimately, their IWB was examined in Study II. In the course of conducting Study I and Study II, it became apparent that transformational leader behaviours do not describe all potential behaviours that might evoke employees innovative work behaviours. Hence, leader behaviours, beyond transformational leadership, that have the potential to evoke employee’s individual IWB in a collectivistic Asian context were investigated in Study III.

All three studies were conducted in public and private service organizations in Singapore. The city-state of Singapore is reliant on innovation for its continuous economic growth and constantly implements initiatives that support innovation. Past research indicated a significant relationship between leadership behaviour on individual follower’s innovation, and therefore there was a scope to improve the understanding of how leadership behaviours evoke the IWB of employees.

A quantitative study with 406 employees from three public and three private sector service organizations measuring transformational leadership, perceived support for innovation, individual innovation readiness, and IWB is presented in Chapter II. The hypotheses were tested using structural equation modelling. The findings indicated that transformational leadership worked through a three-path mediation model with perceived support for innovation and innovation readiness in a series to effect employee’s individual innovative work behaviour.

In Chapter III, a longitudinal action-learning intervention was applied to analyse leaders’ transformational leadership practice and its influence on employees’ creative role identity and consequentially, employees’ IWB in a public service agency. A mixed-methods approach was adopted to investigate quantitatively and qualitatively the effect of a customised programme, titled Lean Innovation Training (LIT), that combined Lean Six Sigma (LSS) and Creative Problem-Solving (CPS) tools. The action learning approach of the LIT contributed to a significant improvement in employee creative role identity and IWB. Specifically, the results showed that employees’ creative role identities were boosted when managers and co-workers listened to each other’s innovative ideas and actively experienced the application of both LSS and CPS tools for identifying and solving problems and generating ideas to address organizational issues. In other words, as employees felt psychologically safe and were enabled to modify their social relations through a shared learning and action-based experience, they were more likely to increase their potential for innovation. Effective transformational leadership and LIT helped creating these conditions. The results also confirmed that a transformational leadership style, which emphasizes vision, motivation, and feedback, has a strong impact on creative role identity and IWB.

In Chapter IV, a measure was developed, with which one may assess leaders’ behaviours that are likely to evoke employee’s IWB in a collectivistic Asian context by linking specific leader behaviours and the innovation process more directly. Three consecutive studies were performed. In Study 1, in-depth interviews with 60 leaders and employees of four organizations were conducted. Based on the literature search, a new survey scale was constructed. The content of the survey scale was validated by two content experts and three individuals with non-professional expertise in the field, commonly referred to as “lay experts”. Then, in Study 2, the so-called Innovative Leader Survey (ILS) was crafted and employed among 1,037 leaders and employees of a public-service organization to gain multi-source leader feedback. In Study 3, discriminant validity of the ILS was determined through a multi-source feedback survey with 287 respondents of one higher educational institution. The IWB of the leaders’ followers was also measured four months later. The resulting ILS not only contributed to future academic research on leadership conducive to non-managerial employee innovative work behaviour, but also enabled customization of leader recruitment, training, and development across Asia.

Overall, the research extends empirical evidence of a positive relationship between transformational leadership and employees’ individual IWB, mediated by employees’ perceived support for innovation and their individual innovation readiness, in a collectivistic culture. It also shows that employees’ creative role identity and, in turn, their IWBs can be developed through an action-learning type of LIT intervention that also instilled leaders’ transformational leadership behaviours. The findings re-emphasized the importance of the role of leader behaviours in involving employees in setting up and implementing innovation initiatives and leading them to integrate knowledge across the organization. Additionally, this research has advanced the understanding of other leaders’ behaviours, beyond transformational leadership, as the antecedents of employees’ readiness for innovation and employees’ IWB in collectivistic Asian work environments.

In summary, this research has contributed to the understanding of the factors that drive IWB and provided insights into how public and private organizations in Asia can leverage on leadership and LIT to unleash the innovative potential of their employees and to foster a culture of innovation. The first two empirical studies (Chapters II and III) were published in international journals and the third study (Chapter IV) is currently under review at another international Organizational Behaviour journal.

In addition, this research has added three openly available solutions for practitioners. Firstly, the Innovation Readiness Survey (IRS) can be used to assess organizational and individual innovation readiness. Secondly, the 5-day action-learning based LIT (Figure 1, Chapter III) integrating both LSS and CPS tools as well as project coaching may serve as practical framework for enhancing managers’ transformational leadership behaviours and raise non-managerial employees’ creative role identities and IWBs. Thirdly, the ILS offers a reliable and valid measurement to test current and desired levels of innovation-promotion leader behaviours in organizations. The results may be used to tailor individual development plans for leaders as part of organizational leadership development programmes.