Is Bureaucracy Bad for Creativity? That Depends on You

Topic: Creativity, Strategic HR, Teams

Publication: Academy of Management Journal

Article: How does bureaucracy impact individual creativity? A cross-level investigation of team contextual influences on goal orientation-creativity relationships

Authors: Giles Hirst, Daan Van Knippenberg, Chin-Hui Chen, & Claudia A. Sacramento

Reviewed By: Katie Bachman

Index Bureaucracy and creativity. They might seem like mortal enemies—we often think of red tape and paper work as the killer of creative thinking—but it doesn’t have to be! Really, it depends on your employees. When we talk about goal orientation (why people do what they do), we usually take about three types of people. First, you have your learning-oriented workers. These are the ones who do what they do for sheer enjoyment of the work. They are intrinsically motivated. Second, you have your performance-prove-oriented employees. These workers want to show you how good they are. Third and finally, you have your performance-avoid workers. These are your risk-adverse employees—the rule followers. They all respond to bureaucracy differently, particularly when it comes to creativity.

We can divide bureaucracy into two dimensions—centralization and formalization. Centralization deals with the amount of decision making ability team members have. The more centralized decision making is, the less team members have opportunity to add their input. Formalization deals with the paperwork. It’s the policies and procedures employees have to adhere to in their job. Like centralization, the more formal the procedure, the less wiggle-room there is for workers.

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Perceived similarities make it easier for newbies to adjust. But how?...

Topic: Diversity, Work Environment, Culture, Creativity

Publication: Journal of Vocational Behavior (APR 2011)

Article: Perceived similarity, proactive adjustment, and organizational socialization

Authors: J. D. Kammeyer-Mueller, B. A. Livingston, & H. Liau

Reviewed by: Charleen Maher

Images Organizational newcomers carry the stress of adjusting to their new jobs, working with new people, and learning the ins and outs of a new organization. Previous research has shown that when organizational newcomers engage in proactive adjustment behaviors (e.g. feedback seeking, relationship building), they are more likely to be committed to their new organizations and are more likely to be accepted by their coworkers.

This study sought to find out if perceived similarity to one’s new work group leads to more proactive adjustment behaviors and, in turn, has an effect on important work outcomes (e.g. creative performance, organizational citizenship behaviors). The authors examined the following aspects of perceived similarity: surface-level (similarity in age, education, race, gender) and deep-level (similar work style).  So, what is the relationship between perceived similarity and proactive adjustment behaviors?

Perceived similarity in age, race, gender, and education predicted perceived similarity in work-style. Similarity in age actually decreased the chances that organizational newcomers would engage in proactive feedback seeking.  Similarity in education increased the likelihood that newcomers would socialize with coworkers. 

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Creativity at Work…Through Increased Workplace Structure?

Topic: Creativity, Strategic HR, Stress

Publication: Human Resource Management (NOV/DEC 2010)

Article: Does Structuring of Human Resource Management Process Enhance Employee Creativity? The Mediating Role of Psychological Availability

Authors: G. Binyamin, A. Carmeli

Reviewed By: Lauren A. Wood

Creativity The environment of the modern workplace is increasingly becoming more dynamic and unstable leading employees to perceive high levels of work-related stress. To battle this increased uncertainty in the external environment and provide a sense of stability to employees, organizations are looking internally at the way human resources processes are designed. Structuring of HRM processes consists of 7 essential dimensions: strategic alignment with organizational goals, managerial engagement, employee job functions structured and evaluated based on a job analysis, clarity of HRM policies and evaluation criteria, planning, flexibility, and internal consistency or synergy of all processes. Structuring HR around these 7 dimensions was shown to help alleviate employee stress perceptions by decreasing feelings of uncertainty.    

Despite these positive outcomes, intuitively, it seems that by providing a structured work place, employee creativity (an indispensable factor for knowledge work) would decrease. However, as the authors of the current study show, this does not appear to be the case – because structuring HRM processes around the 7 dimensions decreased perceived employee stress and uncertainty, employees’ psychological availability (psychological recourses an employee can allocate to a given situation) was freed-up, allowing room for higher-order cogitative processes like creativity.

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Transformational Leadership and Innovative Behavior

Topic:  Leadership, Creativity

Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior

Article: Transformational and transactional leadership and innovative behavior: The moderating role of psychological empowerment (MAY 2010)

Author: A. Nederveen Pieterse, D. van Knippenberg, M. Schippers, & D. Stam

Reviewed by: Sarah Teague

Images In recent years, the role of creativity and innovation in the workplace has grown exponentially. Being innovative is often considered a competitive advantage in terms of both product outcomes (e.g. new designs) and people processes (e.g. employee recruitment). It has been argued that innovative behavior is more contingent on motivation rather than ability (Amabile, 1988). Assuming this is the case, leadership should play a pivotal role in fostering innovation. In particular, two types of leadership come into play.

Transformational leadership is conceptualized as influencing followers to “rise above their self-interest” and focus their efforts on higher-level goals (i.g. group- or organization-level). A great deal of the current literature posits that transformational leadership should have a profound impact on innovation. Alternately, transactional leadership centers on clarifying expectations and monitoring follower performance, and this style is generally thought to seriously detract from innovation. However, empirical inconsistencies suggested a need to investigate potential boundary conditions. To this end, the authors of the present study were interested in psychological empowerment (PE; i.e. “active orientation towards a work goal” that encompasses self-efficacy). They propose that PE is relevant, because it gives people a feeling of capability; the “can-do” aspect of behavioral intent.

Accordingly, the current study sought to investigate the impact of psychological empowerment on the relationship between these two different types of leadership (transformational and transactional) on employee innovation. The authors predicted a main effect for transactional leadership on employee innovation but no effect for transformational. Additionally, they predicted that psychological empowerment (PE) would moderate the relationship between leadership style and innovation.

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Maximizing your stakeholders' experiences in product creation

Topic: Business Strategy, Creativity

Publication: Harvard Business Review (OCT 2010)

Article: Building the co-creative enterprise

Authors: V. Ramaswany, F. Gouillart

Reviewed By: Liz Brashier

Stakeholder We all know that companies care about their customers – especially when it comes to the customer experience with products. After all, where would any company be without customers? Ramaswamy and Gouillart (2010), however, challenge us to consider other stakeholders (i.e., employees, distributors, etc.) who have a tremendous impact on the customer experience.

The traditional process of creating a new product focuses solely on meeting customer requirements while streamlining the existing process; it saves time and money. It also ignores the interests of everyone involved in that creation process except for the company and the customers. But by ignoring the “internal players” in the product creation process, companies are inadvertently missing out on opportunities to create a new experience for the customer. When internal players don’t have a say in creation, their experience isn’t necessarily optimal for them – and that is where the problem lies.

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Task Conflict, Team Creativity and…Goldilocks?

Topic: Conflict, Creativity

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (AUG 2010)

Article: Task conflict and team creativity: A question of how much and when

Authors: Farh, J. L., Lee, C., & Farh, C. I.

Reviewed By: Bobby Bullock

Images The concept of team creativity has become more and more salient in recent years due to an increasing reliance on teams to enhance an organization’s competitiveness.  Team creativity is defined as the creation of new and helpful ideas concerning services, procedures, products, and processes by a team of individuals.  So while, yes, we all want our teams to be creative, what environmental factors will encourage this? 

Searching for such factors, Farh, Lee, and Farh (2010) set out to examine the roles that task conflict (or conflict about policies, procedures, decisions, interpretation of facts, and the distribution of resources) and the phase of a project team’s lifecycle (i.e., team formation, mid-point, and project deadline) have in determining team creativity.

Consistent with previous findings, Farh et al. (2010) found that there is a curvilinear relationship between task conflict and team creativity, meaning that when task conflict was extremely low or extremely high, team creativity was at its lowest, and moderate amounts of task conflict were linked with the highest amounts of team creativity.  This supports the ‘Goldilocksian’ idea that too much disagreement and team members may become frustrated or lose sight of the group’s main goal, while too little disagreement could lead to groupthink and complacency.  However, ‘just the right’ amount of disagreement can expose members to new ideas and stimulate divergent thinking! 

Farh et al. (2010) also found that project team lifecycle interacted with task conflict to produce creative outcomes.  Their findings indicate that the curvilinear relationship was only present at the early phase of a team’s lifecycle.  This means that, as project teams near their deadline, task conflict will cease to produce creative solutions.  They theorized that this is due to a team’s inability to change course or incorporate new ideas when they are nearing their deadlines. 

The implications to this research are valuable for any organization that wishes to get the most from their project teams:

  • Managers or team leaders should not discourage conflict based on ideas, decisions, etc…  In fact, if they encourage some level of task conflict, they can expect their teams to come up with more creative solutions through the dissemination of more ideas and divergent thinking.
  • Task conflict should be embraced particularly at the early phases of a team project, when members are defining/refining objectives and planning a course of to attain those objectives.
  • According to Farh et al. (2010), managers should also “build a psychologically safe team climate early on in the project, so that team members feel safe to bring up ideas that may be counter to the majority opinion,” (pp. 6-7). 

With all this said, it’s important for managers to keep in mind that too much task conflict and too many arguments can shift a team towards relationship conflicts, frustration and lack of productivity!  Just like  that old story with the blond girl, the three bears and the porridge!

Farh, J. L., Lee, C., & Farh, C. I. (2010). Task conflict and team creativity: A question of how much and when. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0020015

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Cheated Employees: Less Organizational Commitment and Less Creativity

Topic: Fairness, Organizational Commitment, Creativity

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (July, 2010)

Article: Psychological Contract Breaches, Organizational Commitment, and Innovation-Related Behaviors: A Latent Growth Modeling Approach

Authors: T.W.H. Ng, D.C. Feldman, S.S.K. Lam

Reviewed By: Ben Sher


ImagesOkay, here’s the deal.  Employees make assumptions about what they owe their employers and what their employers owe them in return.  This is called a psychological contract.  According to Ng, Feldman, and Lam (2010), when employees think this psychological contract is being violated, they may feel less organizational commitment and become less innovative.

So what does happen when employees feel bamboozled?  According to the authors, two things happen.  First, employees will naturally begin to feel less emotional attachment to the company.  This is not revenge; it’s just an inevitable emotional reaction.  Secondly, employees will indeed have some interest in getting back at the employer as long as they can keep their jobs.

That sounds ominous.  So, what do the employees do about it?  Basically, they become less creative.  The authors explain that there are two ways an employee can be creative on the job.  Employees can solve problems and they can implement ideas.  Problem solving is difficult to measure, so instead the authors measured idea implementation.  They defined this as anytime an employee shared a new idea with a colleague or superior, or anytime an employee either worked to implement those new ideas or helped others to implement them.  When employees perceived psychological breaches, they ended up engaging in less of these innovative behaviors.  Because the study included employees from a wide variety of jobs, the authors concluded that the complexity of the job makes no difference, and innovation will always suffer.

A key finding of this study is that this decrease in innovation continued over time.  Employers may mistakenly think that breaking psychological contracts won’t have lasting consequences and that employees will eventually forgive and forget.  This is a mistake.  Because the authors were able to identify the role psychological contract breaches have in reducing organizational commitment, or the overall attitude employees have towards their employers, it is easy to understand how innovation will continue to decrease over the long run.  Employers should be warned of these consequences, and should be encouraged to fix the situation and give employees what they believe they are owed.   

Ng, T.W.H., & Feldman, D.C., & Lam, S.S.K. (2010).  Psychological Contract Breaches, Organizational Commitment, and Innovation-Related Behaviors: A Latent Growth Modeling Approach. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95, 744-751.

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Hands-on practice increases creativity in teams

Topic: Creativity, Teams

Publication: Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (MAR 2010)

Article: First, get your feet wet: The effects of learning from direct and indirect experience on team creativity

Authors: F. Gino, L. Argote, E. Miron-Spektor, G. Todorova

Reviewed By: Jared Ferrell

Teams-take-flight-group It is a widely accepted fact that experience leads to creativity, but the question posited by the authors in this study was whether a certain type of experience leads to more creativity. 

This study focused on differences in team creativity between teams who had direct task experience (learning by doing), indirect task experience (vicarious learning), or no task experience.  The authors found that teams with direct and indirect experience were more creative than teams with no task experience.  They also found that teams with direct task experience were significantly more creative than teams who had indirect task experience.  This gives evidence that learning by observing others is not the optimal way to instill creativity in employees.  The authors suggest that this may happen because people with indirect task experience do not fully understand the whole process behind why something was done or what other possible solutions there were to a certain problem; things upon which those with direct task experience would have a better grasp. 
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Brainwriting – a New Trend for Increased Innovation?

Topic: Creativity
Publication: Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology (MAR 2009)
Article: Better than brainstorming? Potential contextual boundary conditions to brainwriting for idea generation in organizations.
Author: P. A. Heslin
Reviewed By: Sarah Teague

Brainwriting  The generation of innovative ideas is essential to the success of modern organizations. In attempts to facilitate this idea generation, group brainstorming has become a fixture in many organizations today. The current article compiles a list of the potential limitations of brainstorming and describes why brainwriting may be more effective.

Brainstorming involves the oral sharing of ideas within a group. In such a setting, there are several factors that may prevent group members from sharing ideas. Some individuals may feel that their ideas are not good enough, or they may hold back to avoid upstaging their superiors. Additionally, the value of the process can be negatively impacted by those who contribute too much (monopolizing the conversation), as well as those who contribute too little due to a lack of accountability (social loafing). 

Brainwriting refers to the sharing of ideas among group members in a written form. The author cites evidence that suggests that this method could promote accountability and potentially eliminate the social pressures involved in a face-to-face group setting, thereby improving productivity. While the author strongly emphasizes the need for continued empirical research, this technique shows promise as a viable alternative to traditional brainstorming and builds on the adage that, “Two heads are better than one” – just not at the same time.    

Heslin, P. A. (2009). Better than brainstorming? Potential contextual boundary conditions to brainwriting for idea generation in organizations. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 82, 129-145.

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Lead to inspire creativity and innovation. Gandhi did it – how hard can it be?

Topic: Creativity, Leadership
Publication: Journal of Business Research (APR 2009)
Article: Transformational leadership, creativity, and organizational innovation
Authors: L. Gumusluolu, A.Llseve
Reviewed by: Lit Digger

Although Gandhi had passed away before the idea of transformational leadership was academically introduced by Burns in 1978, Gandhi’s life and work exemplified transformational leadership.  Transformational leaders:

·      Demonstrate charisma
·   Build relationships with their followers
·   Express a vision for the future
·   Inspire and encourage their followers to reach big-picture goals
·   Intellectually stimulate their followers. 

Such leaders enable followers to achieve what might otherwise be viewed as impossible.  Gandhi effectively did all of these things.

If Gandhi was leading your company today, is it likely that he could also inspire creativity and innovation?  Yes . . . simply by using his same transformational leadership style.

Gumusluoglu and Ilsev (2009) recently conducted the first study that examined multiple organizational levels while evaluating transformational leadership’s effect on employee creativity.  Their sample included employees within numerous small Turkish organizations specializing in software development.

Gumusluoglu and Ilsev supported the link between transformational leadership and individual-level creativity.  Transformational leaders build their employees’ self-confidence, enable employees to identify with their company’s vision, and encourage their employees to think in new ways. 

Importantly, the authors found that psychological empowerment plays a role in this relationship.  When employees feel psychologically empowered by their transformational leader, they also exhibit a greater sense of autonomy that naturally leads to creative thought. 

On the flip side, Gumusluoglu and Ilsev found that transformational leadership is less likely to result in employee creativity when it does not involve the psychological empowerment of followers.

Findings also supported the relationship between transformational leadership and organizational-level innovation.  Interestingly, the innovation measure captured the organization’s innovative activity as well as the returns the organization saw from those innovations.  How thoughtful to include money in this outcome measure.

So, what’s the take-away?  If you’re leading a company that relies on creativity and innovation for bottom-line profit, perhaps you should consider adopting a transformational leadership style.  If you empower your employees, this will encourage them to make calls on their own and think outside of the box.  We can’t ALL be Gandhis, of course, but we CAN learn from his example to inspire others in new ways.

Gumusluoglu, L., Ilsev, A. (2009). Transformational leadership, creativity, and

organizational innovation. Journal of Business Research, 62, 461-473.

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