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Good Science–Good Practice: Embedding Innovation in I-O Practitioner Work

Tom Giberson, Oakland University

Suzanne Miklos, OE Strategies

As the last print version of TIP is produced, we reflect on the miracle of web-based materials that many of us read on phones or tablets in airports, parks, and coffee shops. Our lives and work are increasingly mobile, and we as a society pay premium prices for this experience when the product itself could be purchased for much less; think coffee. We are surrounded by innovations that provide value to consumers and to the shareholders of the companies who create them. One study (Legrand & Weiss, 2011) finds that 80% of leaders they surveyed describe innovation as important to future success but less than 30% are satisfied with their current level of innovation.

We have decided to tackle the somewhat fuzzy issue of innovation in our column because it is about change and because it is on the radar for many of our client organizations. Whether I-O consultants are selecting employees, building culture, or developing leaders, innovation is high on the list of valued corporate outcomes. For our purposes we are considering innovation to be new processes, products, or technologies that both depart in a novel way from the past and improve outcomes for the customer and the organization (Eisenbess, Knippenberg & Boerner, 2008). Some innovation is a result of adapting practices from other industries into an organization, such as the continuous improvement movement into health care, and other innovations create a new state of the art. Practically speaking, it is applied creativity that achieves business value (Legrand & Weiss, 2011). We have chosen to examine several articles on leadership contribution to innovation and several on the role of team perspective in innovation. This set of articles won’t make consultants subject matter experts on innovation but will keep us mindful of the intersection of our organizational and leadership consulting work with innovation strategies in our client organizations.

Eisenbess et al. (2008) conducted a study to examine the impact of transformational leadership on team innovation. Transformational leadership includes four factors: inspirational motivation, idealized influence, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration (Bass, 1985). Transformational leadership unlike transactional leadership is about challenging the current state and moving towards a better future state. The current research examined to role of transformational leadership on a team-level variable, which was team support for innovation and incorporated an examination of team climate for excellence into the research hypothesizing that it would have a moderating effect on team innovation. The sample included 33 intact R&D work teams who were rated on quality and quantity of innovation. The results supported that transformational leadership created stronger support for innovation within the work team, which was subsequently related to team innovation. The effect of transformational leadership on team innovation only occurred in a climate for excellence. In this study, the team dynamic had a substantial impact on the leader’s influence over team innovation.

A second article (Williams, Parker & Turner, 2010) considers transformational leadership and team proactive performance. They found support for team dynamics in conjunction with leader impact on the degree of self-management and team proactive behavior. Although innovation per se is not the focus on this article, teams who focus on action, improvement, and future-directed behavior are described as proactive teams. Transformational leadership was found to have a direct impact on team self management and an indirect relationship on proactive team behavior. The authors also measured the average proactive personality of the team, finding that the impact of leadership is stronger when the team proactive personality is higher. Their finding comes with the caveat that diversity on proactive personality has a negative effect, such that a moderately proactive personality team would perform better than one that has members with a high proactive personality in combination with members who are low on the variable. A uniformly highly proactive set of team members would most benefit from the influence of a transformational leader.

Zhang and Bartol (2010) examined the role of empowering leadership in creative process engagement and the creativity of individual workers in a Chinese IT company. Creativity is a component of innovation and typically defined as generating novel and useful ideas. Their measure of empowering leadership included enhancing meaningfulness of work, participation in decision making, expressing confidence in high performance, and providing autonomy from bureaucratic constraints. Empowering leadership was found to be related to psychological empowerment of employees. In addition, the supervisor encouraging creativity strengthened the relationship between psychological empowerment and creative process engagement, which then leads to increased creativity as rated by supervisors. Notably, the relationship between empowering leadership and psychological empowerment is enhanced by a higher level of intrinsic motivation in the employee. This article again reinforces the nature of the contribution of leadership and the relevance of individual and team characteristics.

We also reviewed several articles on the topic of perspective taking and creativity. The first deals with the relationship between intrinsic motivation and creativity (Grant & Berry, 2011). Previous work on the subject of intrinsic motivation (motivation to engage in something out of interest and satisfaction, rather than because we “have to” [cf., Amabile, 1996]) and creativity (novelty, originality of ideas) has demonstrated a direct effect of intrinsic motivation and creativity. However, as the authors note, the relationship has been demonstrated primarily in terms of artistic and purely creative endeavors wherein originality and novelty are valued in and of themselves. Originality and novelty are interesting but not particularly helpful in the context of solving organizational/business issues, which also require practicality and usefulness (Grant & Berry, 2011). In this work, the authors build upon the intrinsic motivation–creativity literature, as well as findings that suggest perspective taking increases the usefulness of ideas in organizational settings (Mohrman, Gibson, & Mohrman Jr., 2001). Grant and Berry examined a mediated moderator model to assess whether prosocial motivation and perspective taking affected the impact of intrinsic motivation on creativity. When an individual adopts another’s viewpoint to understand their unique viewpoint—such as their values or preferences—they are engaging in perspective taking (Parker & Axtell, 2001). Or as Harper Lee’s (1962) Atticus described it to Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Grant and Berry’s results suggest that indeed, prosocial motivation influenced perspective taking, which in turn influenced creativity. The authors suggest that managers who are interested in enhancing both the creativity and usefulness of solutions create not only conditions for intrinsic motivation (e.g., interesting tasks) but also conditions for perspective taking with customers, suppliers, and other employees. In our minds, perspective taking likely relies on good active listening skills, which are “trainable” skills; such skill development might not only encourage strong relationships but also better, more creative problem solving.

A second article cites the often-cited assumption that diversity in teams/groups increases creativity as the inspiration for their work (Hoever, Knippenberg, van Ginkel, & Barkema, 2012). Diversity of perspectives on an issue, such as the best way to accomplish a task or goal, provides a useful resource to teams as they go about problem solving and decision making. However, empirical work on the subject has found significant but small effects of diversity on creativity (Hulsheger, Anderson, & Salgado, 2009), suggesting that there could be something more to this relationship. The authors found that, indeed, perspective taking did moderate the relationship between diversity and creativity. Further, the authors found that perspective taking did not increase creativity within homogenous groups. Thus, managers could improve the creative potential of diverse groups by training and/or encouraging perspective taking, and increase the potential creativity of homogenous groups by increasing the diversity of ideas introduced along with perspective taking.

These articles remind us as practitioners to focus on the individual, the team, and the leader behaviors when working to cultivate future oriented and innovative thinking. For example while engaging in a leadership transformation project intended to support skills needed in a significantly different business model, we will collaborate with our colleagues to consider how we might create a stronger context for leaders who are responsible for innovation or even the adaption of innovative practices. We may consider additional internal research to assess in the particular environment and industry what we might select for, include in team education or support through culture initiatives to leverage the effectiveness of the leaders who we are assessing and developing. Further, it is not enough to simply assume that diversity or intrinsic motivation alone can lead to creativity in groups or teams; taking on another’s perspective and elaborating help to ensure the promise of diversity and intrinsic motivation lead to creative, practical outcomes. In a strategic planning session, we might specifically view the key result areas from the lens of the magnitude and degree of innovation that is required in the other parts of the plan. The literature adds useful thinking to strategic dialogues and strategic planning.


   Amabile, T. M. (1988). A model of creativity and innovation in organizations. Research in Organizational Behavior, 10, 123–167.
   Bass, B. M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York, NY: Free Press.
   Eisenheiss, S. A., Knipeenberg, D., & Boerner, S. (2008). Transformational leadership and team innovation: integrating team climate principles. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(6), 1438–1446.
   Grant, A. M., & Berry, J. W. (2011). The necessity of others is the mother of invention: Intrinsic and prosocial motivations, perspective taking, and creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 54(1) 73–96.
   Lee, H. (1962). To kill a mockingbird. London: Harper.
   Legrand, C., & Weiss, D. S. (2011). How leaders can close the innovation gap. Ivey Business Journal, July/August.
   Hoever, I. J., van Knippenberg, D., van Ginkel, W. P., & Barkema, H. G. (2012). Fostering team creativity: Perspective taking as key to unlocking diversity’s potential. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(5), 982–996.
   Hulsheger, U. R., Anderson, N., & Salgado, J. F. (2009). Team-level predictors of innovation at work: A comprehensive meta-analysis spanning three decades of research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94, 1128–1145.
   Mohrman, S. A., Gibson, C. B., & Mohrman, A. M., Jr. (2001). Doing research that is useful to practice: A model and empirical exploration. Academy of Management Journal, 44, 357–375.
   Parker, S. K., & Axtell, C. M. (2001). Seeing another viewpoint: Antecedents and outcomes of employee perspective taking. Academy of Management Journal, 44, 1085–1100.
   Williams, H. M., Parker, S. K., & Turner, N. (2010). Proactively performing teams: The role of work design, transformational leadership and team composition. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 83, 301–324.
   Zhang, X., & Bartol, K. (2010). Linking empowering leadership and employee creativity: The influence of psychological empowerment, intrinsic motivation and creative process engagement. Academy of Management Journal, 53(1), 107–128.