Grounded theory and social process: a new direction for leadership research Essay
Grounded theory and social process: a new direction for leadership research
The purpose of this article is to argue the case for the use of grounded theory as a valid method for researching the process of leadership. The contention is that leadership is a social influence process, and that mainstream leadership research methodologies have been partially unsuccessful in theorizing about the nature of these processes. Grounded theory is a method which, if applied rigorously, will help to overcome the deficiencies in mainstream leadership research methodology. The underlying criterion driving grounded theory is to generate leadership theory rather than to test theory.
Qualitative ethnographic or sociological methodology has not been a representative feature of leadership research and theory-building to date. However, there are a number of points of justification for its use.
First, leadership research has concentrated primarily upon the use of the quantitative methodologies associated with psychology. A psychological approach to leadership has dominated research. However, this general orientation has not yet led to an enduring and integrative theory of leadership.
Second, change is an enduring and integrative theme in the leadership literature. Change incidents are inherently longitudinal, and an appropriate methodology is needed to reflect this.
Third, leadership can be conceptualized as a social
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Fourth, leadership research must incorporate the variety of variables that impact upon the social influence process. Hence, a methodology must be used which will utilize a breadth and depth of data such that the variety and range of variables are incorporated. This will necessitate theory generation rather than theory testing. Grounded theory, the main focus of this article, is a particularly relevant methodology with which to achieve this.
These points are addressed in more detail in the subsequent discussion which will begin with an examination of the nature of leadership as a social influence process. It will then consider briefly the differences between the contributions that qualitative and quantitative research can make to leadership research. This article will assess the contribution that grounded theory, as a specific though seldom used example of qualitative research, can make to the understanding of leadership.
Leadership is closely associated with the notion of change. The major dimension of organizational change relevant to leadership is the use of influence to change the activities and relationships of people within the organization. Because leadership involves a transformation in the views, beliefs, attitudes and motivations of followers, it is about change. Indeed, when investigating leadership in organizations and communities, the anthropologist Lantis (1987) found that a leader is a person who “influences in a given direction the attitudes and behavior of not one person or a few people, but a whole group or many people.” (p. 192)
Implicit within this anthropological definition is that attitudes and behavior are changed. Leadership induces others to take action (Locke, et al., 1991), it involves a restructuring of a situation (Bass, 1990), and it is differentiated from management by its capacity to produce change (Kotter, 1990). Therefore, it is axiomatic that change is an essential aspect of the process of leadership. Hence, change incidents can be the basis of investigation of the leadership process.
Similarly, a crucial aspect of leadership is the ability to influence others. The leadership literature acknowledges this dynamic. For example, a consistent feature of the leadership literature and in definitions of leadership is that it is a process of influence (Bryman, 1986; Yukl, 1994). Yukl (1994) reviewed the literature on definitions of leadership and concluded that the definitions had a few aspects in common. “Most definitions of leadership reflect the assumption that it involves a social influence process whereby intentional influence is exerted by one person over other people to structure the activities and relationships in a group or organization” (Yukl, 1994, p. 3). Similarly, based upon an extensive review of the literature, Rost (1993) defined leadership as “an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purpose.” (p. 102) Read about ‘volume and rate’ are classified under which area of consideration
In the same vein, Rost (1993) emphasized that leadership is about transformation. It is about transformation in the motivations, values, and beliefs of followers, as well as a transformation in the structures of organizations. Rost’s views reflect the findings of a number of studies (Bass, 1985, 1990; Burns, 1978). Bass (1990), in the most extensive literature review on leadership, has provided a general definition of leadership which supports the proposition that leadership is a transformational influence process. Bass defined leadership as “an interaction between two or more members of a group that often involves a structuring or restructuring of the situation and the perceptions and expectations of the members” (Bass, 1990, p. 19). The critical transformation in this definition is of the perceptions and expectations of members. Bass emphasizes that leadership, so defined, allows any member of an organization to exhibit leadership.
The transformation is about influence relationships based on persuasion, not coercion, and it is about people intending real changes to happen. Implicit within this persuasive influence is a generation of willingness within followers, as opposed to the sullen compliance which often accompanies the autocratic application of power. The transformation in motivations and actions involves also an insistence that the changes reflect the mutual purposes of the people engaged in the transformation. Rost emphasized people, their interactions, and the mutuality of their purpose. Hence, within Rost’s definition is the implication that leadership entails a social influence process.
This last point is supported by Hunt (1991) and Locke, et al. (1991). Yukl (1994) suggested that there is a strong view among leadership theorists that leadership is a social influence process that occurs naturally within a social system, and is shared among various members of that social system. This implies that leadership needs to be researched as a process, rather than through the study of leaders alone (Yukl, 1993; 1994; Bolman, 1993). In one of the few sociological interpretations of leadership, Selznick (1957) concluded that understanding leadership required an appreciation of a broader social context.
Although the literature mentions social process frequently, there is not a clear definition of the term. This is a problem for leadership scholars to resolve because a number of authors have used psychological and other quantitative methods to research leadership and claim to have investigated social influence processes (Conger, 1989; House & Mitchell, 1977; Meindl, Ehrlich, & Dukerich, 1985). However, it will be shown that because leadership can be viewed as a social influence process, grounded theory is a particularly useful method of data analysis and theory generation.
Given the prominence in the literature of the notion that leadership is a social influence process, it is now necessary to examine the contributions that qualitative and quantitative research contribute to our understanding of leadership. The discussion will in turn lead to an argument that grounded theory can help to alleviate lacunae in the field.
QUALITATIVE AND QUANTITATIVE LEADERSHIP RESEARCH
Historically, leadership research has been dominated by the discipline of psychology which has relied upon the quantitative analysis of data. As a result, the quantitative analysis of quantitative data has dominated leadership research method. Persuasive arguments have recently been put against this concentration on quantitative method to research leadership (Alvesson, 1996). On the other hand, there is an increasing body of leadership research which has used method borrowed from the disciplines of sociology and anthropology (Bryman, et al., 1988, 1992; Hunt & Ropo, 1995; Irurita, 1996; Lantis, 1987; McCaslin, 1993; Meindl, 1990; Roberts, 1985; Roberts & Bradley, 1988). This research has utilized more qualitative methods and the findings have been very influential because of their capacity to get at processes in social life.
Yet, there is a growing appreciation that both quantitative and qualitative methods are necessary to leadership research. For example, Table 1 illustrates some methodological examples relating to combinations of data gathering and their analysis in both the quantitative and qualitative formats.
The quantitative analysis of quantitative data is the research methodology traditionally favored by the discipline of psychology. For leadership research, this has been dominated by the use of questionnaires as the data gathering instrument. The quantitative analysis of qualitative data is typical of content analysis which has potential for leadership research, but a drawback is that the richness of qualitative data may be lost. However, studies like Chen and Meindl’s (1991) content analysis of the construction of leadership images in the popular press demonstrate its potential. Table 1 also points to the possibility of qualitative analysis of quantitative data. Using discourse analysis, Potter and Wetherell (1994) have demonstrated the utility of a qualitative analysis of “quantification rhetoric”, that is, of arguments based on quantitative data. Gepahart (1988) describes this general approach as “ethnostatistics”. Alvesson (1996) touched on this issue in the context of leadership research.
However, of the various methods available to leadership researchers, the qualitative analysis of qualitative data has received far less attention so far. An explanation for this could be a traditional difficulty in generating theory by using this research method. However, this paper will show that grounded theory research is able to overcome this limitation. Table 1 depicts grounded theory as an example of the qualitative analysis of qualitative data. Grounded theory has been supported as a valid qualitative form of research into organizations (Martin & Turner, 1986; Turner, 1983) and into the leadership process (Hunt, 1991; Hunt & Ropo, 1995).
Most qualitative data are descriptive by nature, and this makes theory generation difficult. However, the theory generation of the grounded theory method helps to integrate the descriptive data, as well to begin to explain and interpret those descriptive data. Pettigrew (1990) emphasized the importance for theory generation of secondary data collection via further interviewing and subsequent observation of the phenomenon under investigation. Secondary data collection is an integral element of the grounded theory process of theory generation (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) and is representative of the inductive nature of the method. A grounded leadership theory will integrate and attempt to explain the descriptive data that are gathered.
However, these reflections are not meant to imply that qualitative research and associated approaches like grounded theory should supplant traditional quantitative research. A consistent theme running through much recent research methodology literature is that neither qualitative research nor quantitative research is clearly better than the other; rather, they are complementary. Indeed, the combination and triangulation of different methodologies is recommended by a number of writers (Bryman, 1988; Jick, 1979; Wilson & Hutchinson, 1991; Yukl & Van Fleet, 1982).
An overview of grounded theory now follows, including discussion of how grounded theory is beneficial to the study of leadership as a social influence process. This will include theoretical and epistemological considerations in relation to the extant literature.
OVERVIEW OF GROUNDED THEORY AND ITS USEFULNESS FOR LEADERSHIP RESEARCH
As has been shown above, a major theme in the literature is the notion that leadership involves a social influence process, but this process (and its many forms) has been studied only rarely through the rich data that a qualitative methodology can provide. In recent times, leadership researchers have been calling for more qualitative approaches to leadership research (Avolio, 1995; Bass, 1990; Bryman, 1992; Bryman, Bresnen, Beardsworth, & Keil, 1988; Hunt, 1991; Strong, 1984; Yukl, 1994). For example, Avolio (1995) has called for more qualitative methodologies for leadership research, in particular that of Grounded Theory:
Let’s see what a grounded theory approach to leadership brings as opposed to the very quantitative and empirical experimental approach. I can’t imagine why either grounded theory or qualitative applications can’t both make a contribution. (p. 4)
Grounded theory is a research method in which theory emerges from, and is grounded in, the data (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). A grounded theory is inductively derived from the study of the phenomenon it represents, such as the leadership process. Central to grounded theory is the identification of the basic social process, the nature of which is the subject of the derived theory. The grounded theory, is discovered, developed, and provisionally verified through systematic data collection and analysis of data pertaining to that phenomenon. Therefore, data collection, analysis, and theory stand in reciprocal relationship with each other. One does not begin with a theory, then prove it. Rather, one begins with an area of study and what is relevant to that area is allowed to emerge (Strauss & Corbin, 1990, p. 23).
The grounded theory approach uses a systematic set of procedures to develop an inductively derived theory about a phenomenon. Through this methodology, concepts and the relationships between them are generated and provisionally tested. Strauss and Corbin (1990) have asserted that if carded out correctly and methodically, grounded theory meets the criteria for “good” scientific research. Those criteria are significance, theoryobservation compatibility, generalizability, reproducibility, precision, rigor, and verification.
In the course of generating a grounded theory, there is an iterative interplay between data collection, data analysis, and conceptualization/theorizing. This concurrent process is known as the constant comparative method of analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) and is central to grounded theory. Constant comparison indicates that the researcher is constantly gathering more data, analyzing them, comparing the analyses to past analyses, then gathering and analyzing more data in order to clarify an emerging theoretical relationship among variables. Silverman (1993) asserted that the constant comparison method, or “analytic induction,” is a source of validity in research. (p. 60)
This process means that concepts and preliminary theoretical ideas emerge out of data which prompts further, but more purposeful data collection which in turn results in more theoretical work, and so on. During the course of the analysis, working hypotheses are generated. The investigation of these working hypotheses will require the gathering of new data and/or the reinterrogation of existing data. By so doing, concepts can be made more clear and abstract, and the relationships between concepts can be confirmed. This process of generating higher levels of theoretical abstraction is called theoretical coding (Glaser, 1978). The result is the identification of a basic social process and the generation of an explanatory theory.
How far this interplay between data gathering and analysis works in practice is debatable. In many cases, the term “grounded theory” is used simply to imply that theory was derived from data and therefore the approach as a whole was not implemented. In such cases, the attribution of a grounded theory approach is meant to act as a rationalization for the use of qualitative research. In a sense, then, there are two types (at least) of grounded theory: a full grounded theory approach of the kind described and recommended by Glaser and Strauss (1967) and detailed further by Glaser (1978) in which the iterative approach is played out in full, and a “partial” grounded theory approach in which data are collected and then theorized upon. Indeed, some of the rigors associated with qualitative research may account for the presence of the second type. For example, the length of time involved in transcribing large numbers of interviews and in writing up fieldwork notes may make the opportunity for breathing space in which to reflect upon and theorize about one’s data difficult to achieve in practise.
Therefore, there are two main shortfalls with the “partial” grounded theory method which reduce its efficacy as sound scientific research. The first shortfall is that the analytic process by which concepts are built up to higher levels of abstraction is not explained. The second shortfall is that the determination of the nature of relationships between categories (or concepts) is not undertaken; at least, it is not explained sufficiently in write-ups. Taken together, it could be said that the theoretical coding component of data analysis is not undertaken with sufficient rigor in the “partial” grounded theory method. Hence, this partial method fails to meet the “precision” and “rigor” criteria for good scientific research (Strauss and Corbin, 1990, p. 7).
Additionally, the use of computer software to maintain large data sets assists with the maintenance of precision and rigor in the analysis of data (Richards and Richards, 1992, 1994). NUD*IST and Ethnograph are two of the most popular software packages used by grounded theorists. This is not to say that the use of such software is methodologically essential to ensure rigor, but there is considerable anecdotal agreement among researchers in the field that its use is mandatory for good scientific grounded theory research. The point about “partial” grounded theory is not to identify two research designs. Rather, it is to highlight the problem that some research is being published as grounded theory, when in reality it is not.
Glaser (1992) has observed that grounded theory, in particular, is useful to “researchers and practitioners in fields that concern themselves with issues relating to human behavior in organizations, groups, and other social configurations.” (p. 13) Because leadership is a process of social influence, this implies clearly that grounded theory can have a significant role in the study of leadership, and some of the studies outlined in this article illustrate its potential.
The differences between grounded theory and mainstream approaches to leadership research have been introduced above. Whereas mainstream approaches using quantitative methods tend to generalize across frequencies, grounded theory tends “to generalize in the direction of theoretical ideas, thus emphasizing theory development rather than testing of a theory” (Hunt & Ropo, 1995, p. 381). Hunt and Ropo have noted that grounded theory identifies the processes or forces that give rise to activity, whereas mainstream organizational research methodology concentrates on abstract elements and their relationship to activity, and that “in this sense grounded theory emphasizes dynamism, whereas mainstream analysis emphasizes static structure” (Hunt & Ropo, 1995, p. 381). Mainstream approaches have a bias toward static, cross-sectional analysis. On the other hand, grounded theory lends itself to processual analysis quite readily (Hunt & Ropo, 1995). This tendency toward processual analysis can enhance one’s understanding of leadership.
Hunt and Ropo (1995) posit further that there is and should be an increasing emphasis on processual analysis in organizational research, including leadership research. Also, Glaser (1992) noted that the contribution of grounded theory to well-worked areas of research is not the generation of a new concept or pattern, since these are usually saturated, but a better conceptual grasp of the basic social processes which might be missing. Leadership is a well-worked area of research, and grounded theory may give a better conceptual grasp of the basic social influence processes associated with leadership.
Central to grounded theory is the identification of a basic social process (Fagerhaugh, 1986; Glaser, 1992; Glaser & Strauss, 1967) to explain the social phenomenon under investigation. In the case of leadership, a grounded theory approach would entail detailed investigation of the process of social influence. Of course, a number of forms of “basic social process” may be identified as grounded theory investigations of leadership are accumulated. However, grounded theory analysis will progressively integrate the various processes that emerge to a higher level of abstraction such that one overarching social process emerges which can explain variation in all lower level concepts and processes.
In conducting a grounded theory analysis of leadership with this orientation, researchers would need to distance themselves from a central, though largely implicit tenet of most leadership research–the idea that the study of leadership is about what formal leaders do. Instead, the contention of this article is that the focus should be on social influence process. In so doing, the researcher will need to adopt a research stance that flies in the face of two features of mainstream leadership research. First, the emphasis in mainstream leadership research is on leaders and not on the process of leadership as such. Second, when undertaking grounded theory research, leadership will implicitly be sought out in a variety of contexts only some of which may be associated with the behavior of formal leaders. Mainstream research has not always neglected informal leadership (e.g. Fleishman et al., 1955), but by and large formal leaders have been the focus of attention. The reason for this tendency is at least in part methodological: It would be very difficult to administer standard questionnaire instruments about leader behavior (such as the LBDQ, LOQ, SBDQ, LPC scale, or MLQ) other than to those who are formal leaders or formally designated subordinates. Mainstream research instruments can evaluate informal leaders, but they have been less successful at evaluating informal leadership processes.
For example, in a partial grounded theory study of leadership in three specialized transportation organizations (or community transport as it is known in the UK), Bryman et al. (1992) found that in the most obviously successful of the organizations, a key leadership role was exercised by an individual who was not part of the formal structure but was in fact external to it. Early studies of groups sometimes devoted considerable attention to informal leaders, such as the Bank Wiring Observation Room phase of the Hawthorne Studies and Whyte’s (1943) study of street comer gangs, both of which provided Homans (1949) with considerable evidence with which to formulate a number of rules of leadership. This preparedness for leadership researchers to investigate leadership from the vantage point of the leadership process rather than the leadership position has dwindled and even many qualitative studies of leadership in organizations exhibit the latter position (e.g. Bryman et al., 1988, Hunt & Ropo, 1995). The reasons for this change in emphasis over time are unclear. In the case of qualitative research within what is variously called the “transformational leadership” or “new leadership” tradition, there has been a tendency to emphasize not just formal leaders but those at very senior levels (e.g. Bennis & Nanus, 1985). If the implication of a grounded theory approach is taken seriously, leadership will necessarily be examined in a variety of different levels and contexts.
Like most qualitative research, grounded theory is implicitly longitudinal. The focus on the unfolding of the social influence process associated with leadership, especially in contexts of rapid organizational change, entails and requires a built-in longitudinal element. This feature chimes well with the current preoccupation with change and change management (e.g. Wilson, 1992). Conversely, most mainstream methodological approaches to leadership adopt a predominantly static stance and may therefore be less consonant with the preoccupation with change. However, mainstream approaches allow a greater degree of generalizability of findings, whereas grounded theory research findings are applicable only to the substantive setting from which they are derived. Indeed, Alvesson (1996) has advocated strongly the use of more substantive settings within which to research leadership, at the expense of attempting to generate generalized theory.
Therefore, because grounded theory research projects are confined to substantive settings, and because they are implicitly longitudinal, they have much in common with case study research. The case study has long been a popular method by which to analyse organizational phenomena. A point of similarity between grounded theory analysis and case study research is raised. There are four levels of outputs which can be generated from research into the process of leadership within case studies:
1. Analytical chronology of the case.
2. Diagnosis of the case.
3. Interpretative/theoretical outputs.
4. Meta level analysis across cases (adapted from Pettigrew, 1990).
Each level represents a higher level of complexity in interpretation and output. Level 1 represents a very descriptive output. Level 2 outputs assist in the iterative process of inductive pattern generation and theory generation (Petrigrew, 1990). Level 3 outputs attempt to link theoretical codes and emerging themes into a more complex explanation of phenomena. Grounded theory methodology will generate level 3 outputs. Level 4 outputs are generated through the meta-analysis of a number of replicated studies of similar cases. From such a meta-analysis, a formal theory can be generated to explain a more generalizable phenomenon. Pettigrew (1990) emphasized the importance of the grounded theory processes of Glaser and Strauss (1967) and Strauss (1987) for moving from level 1 and 2 outputs, to level 3 and 4 outputs. In a sense, it is this emphasis on encouraging the generation of theory that differentiates grounded theory from many other forms of qualitative data analysis, and which makes it such an important complement to mainstream leadership research. Further consideration of the usefulness of grounded theory for leadership research will involve some consideration of the application of the method to research situations.
The Application of Grounded Theory: Some Initial Considerations
When giving consideration to the implementation of the grounded theory method, one important point to recognize is the importance of the theoretical sensitivity of the researcher toward the generation of emergent theory. To research leadership, one must observe or interview in depth about processes of social influence. Thus, one must know what it is that one is observing or questioning. Consequently, we need some definition of leadership so that we can be sure that we are observing leadership, and not some other phenomenon. This is a delicate point regarding grounded theory, because its strength lies in theory generation, not theory testing, and researchers must remove their “intellectual baggage” and have no preconceived ideas about what the research might find (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). This is a controversial area within grounded theory because the extent to which a tabula rasa approach is feasible is highly contentious (Henwood & Pidgeon, 1995; Pidgeon & Henwood, 1996). Also, since as we have suggested, leadership research should be concerned with leadership processes rather than simply with what formal leaders do, the definition and theorization of “leadership” become of paramount importance.
One way to circumvent this potential problem is to interview people in depth about concepts which are subordinate to the overarching concept of leadership, but which have been confirmed in the extant literature as being closely associated with it. For example, rather than asking interviewees about “leaders” or “leadership”, they can be asked about people who are going to get them through a particular change process, who they look to for a lead, who have the most impact on their attitudes and motivation at work, or who they see as being exceptional or influential. Further in-depth interviewing about the processes by which these outcomes are achieved can shed light on the social influence processes at work in organizational settings.
The proposed method will use a combination of theoretical and statistical sampling to select interviewees (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). The initial interview subjects should be statistically random in that they came from a range of levels in the hierarchy; from a range of functional areas; and from different stages of the change process. The use of this sampling strategy is supported by Law (1994). Bryman (1993) suggested that subjects for the present research should be “everyday people in everyday situations”. By randomly selecting people from all levels of the organizational hierarchy in the initial stages of data gathering, this can be achieved.
However, the theoretical sensitivity of the researcher must be a part of the grounded theory development process. Glaser and Strauss (1967) believe that theoretical sensitivity has two characteristics. The first is the involvement of the researcher’s personal and temperamental bent. The second involves the researcher’s ability to have theoretical insight into the area of research, combined with an ability to make something of the insights. Hence, it is necessary for the researcher to have some understanding of the theoretical area before commencing the grounded theory generation. However, this prior understanding must not be allowed to force the development of some theory that does not emerge from the data.
There is not sufficient space within this article to detail the application of grounded theory to leadership research. That would be the subject of a separate paper. However, some discussion is required about guidelines or considerations for prospective researchers with regard to this important challenge of integrating pre-emergent analytic thinking. For example, it is well established in the leadership literature that leadership involves the use of influence to effect real change (Yukl, 1994). Therefore, an initial question of respondents could be “Who has had most effect in creating, driving or stifling these changes?”, followed by “How have they had that effect?”. Similarly, it is well established that leadership can be interpreted as an attribution of exceptionality by followers (e.g. Conger & Kanungo, 1987; Conger, 1989). Therefore, an initial question might be “Do exceptional people stand out as affecting your application, motivation, or your ability to get things done?”, followed by “How have they had that effect?”.
Third, it is well established that the leadership process results in extra effort from followers (Bass, 1985). Therefore, an initial question might be “Are there people you would do that bit extra for?”, followed by “How do they get that bit extra from you?”. For all three examples, intervening and supplementary questions might relate to expanding and giving detail on incidents, processes, and the impact of particular people, as well as specifying the role of people at senior and junior levels in the organization. Hypothetically, it may quickly become apparent to the researcher that there are no exceptional people obvious to respondents in the substantive setting under review. In such a case, subsequent interviews must concentrate on other leadership issues such as the clarification of meaning, perceptions about how the manifestation of leadership has been inhibited, and so forth.
Therefore, Glaser (1978) does acknowledge some pre-emergent analytic thinking is necessary for the “emergent fit” model of grounded theory. A researcher cannot come into a topic like this completely cold. The researcher must have some predetermined idea of the things about which the subjects will be questioned, without asking explicitly about esoteric topics from the existing leadership literature. Thus, questioning of subjects should revolve around a range of leadership-related topics including those indicated above. Having said this, existing leadership theories must not be considered until after the grounded theory has been generated. Obviously, the emergent theory must be compared with the extant leadership literature. This will avoid the possibility of existing theories or biases being “forced” into the data being gathered. At most, they will provide a mere backcloth to data collection.
Conversely, the benefits to grounded theory research of investigating the implicit theories of participants were identified by Millett (1994). The methodological implication of recognizing these contrasting viewpoints about esoteric terminology is that generic terminology should be relied upon as the basis of the interview questions, but that in addition, esoteric terminology should be used as a supplement in order to gauge the impact of the implicit theories of participants upon their interpretation of reality. The implicit leadership theories of interviewees help to give an indication of the values that they hold dear (Millett, 1994). Hence, there is merit in asking supplementary questions of interviewees about their implicit definitions of leadership, and asking for elaboration on the manifestation of such leadership in the organizational setting under investigation. Also, subjects could be asked about people who they believe are obvious leaders and people who are not obvious leaders. Subsequent theoretical sampling would ensure that other perspectives are gained on the identified people and also that the identified people are interviewed about their own leadership styles and behaviors. This type of sampling helps to achieve the 360 degree research which is so essential to the understanding of social processes. Dawson (1994) has emphasised the importance of this contextualist issue in a processual approach to organizational change research. It is also necessary to ensure that such questioning relates to all levels of the organizational hierarchy to avoid the previously acknowledged problem of concentrating on senior management positions.
The notion of leadership as social influence relates mainly to the social and psychological dimensions of organizational change, and to a lesser extent to the structural, technological or other dimensions. These various dimensions of change operate concurrently, but leadership relates directly to the social impact on followers, not to the entire range of dimensions of organizational change. Grounded theory research into the leadership process is therefore different from, although related to, organizational change research. However, all is not rosy when advocating the use of the qualitative analysis of qualitative data to research leadership. There are some potential weaknesses of the grounded theory method which warrant consideration.
Some Potential Weaknesses of Grounded Theory Analysis of Leadership
Apart from the strengths and weaknesses that grounded theory shares with other qualitative method vis-a-vis quantitative method, there are some other issues that relate to grounded theory specifically.
Discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of grounded theory relate mainly to the issues of validity and reliability. It must be noted, however, that the criteria by which objectivist, positivist, quantitative research is evaluated are not necessarily appropriate for evaluating qualitative research (Guba, 1981; Kirk & Miller, 1986; Strauss & Corbin, 1990), although these criteria are often applied to qualitative research. On the other hand, as Kirk and Miller (1986) have noted, objectivity is the simultaneous realization of as much validity and reliability as possible.
Therefore, if grounded theory research can be shown to be both valid and reliable, then that “subjectivist” research will be seen to be quite “objective”. Further, objectivity in subjectivist research like grounded theory is essential, albeit difficult. Strauss and Corbin (1990) suggested that the usual canons of good research should be retained, but modified to fit the realities of grounded theory research. Also, Silverman (1993) asserted that research becomes scientific by adopting methods appropriate to its subject matter. Discussion of these issues now follows.
Validity refers to the best available approximation to the truth of propositions (Chenitz & Swanson, 1986; Cook & Campbell, 1979). Kirk and Miller (1986) gave a less precise definition of validity as being the extent to which research gives the correct answer, although as Cook and Campbell (1979) pointed out, there is no one “correct” answer in the social sciences, hence their insistence on validity being the best “approximation” of the correct answer. (p. 37)
Historical events that occur before or during data collection can affect the validity of that data collection (Chenitz & Swanson, 1986), if not incorporated into the research or accounted for in some other way. Chenitz and Swanson asserted that these problems can be averted by assessing the importance of such events, and by incorporating them into the research. In leadership research, the impact of critical incidents are integral to the data gathering process. Critical incidents, either immediate or from recent history, are the catalyst for examining leadership processes.
Moreover, multiple sources of data gathering help to moderate the negative impact of these events on research validity. The use of observation and document analysis to supplement interviewing is a widely accepted method of enhancing validity (Kirk & Miller, 1986). Another way that this can be achieved in grounded theory leadership research is by gathering multiple perspectives on the same critical incident. Interviewees are observers of the phenomenon under investigation. This use of multiple observers helps to enhance validity by not relying on the one observer, namely the researcher. Also, the use of field notes and memos helps the researcher to chart the researcher-informant relationship over time to determine if the validity of the findings have been affected in any way. The necessity for the detailed and comprehensive taking and analysis of “memoed” fieldnotes is an axiom of full grounded theory method, and helps to maintain both validity and reliability.
A preference for interviewing over participant observation helps to overcome the potential validity problem of researcher reactivity. This problem relates to the impact that the researcher’s presence has on the phenomenon under investigation. Reactivity can be seen as interference, or it can be seen as data (Chenitz & Swanson, 1986). However, by utilizing in-depth interviewing over participant observation as the predominant source of data, the direct involvement of the researcher in the phenomenon under investigation is reduced. This will reduce the negative impact of reactivity on research validity. This data gathering strategy is not to imply that interviews should be used to the exclusion of other sources such as participant observation, non-participant observation, document analysis, and the like. Quite the contrary–the dangers of relying overly on the interview have been identified by Alvesson (1996). Multiple sources of data are essential. However, an interviewing strategy should be the core of the data gathering strategy for grounded theory research into leadership.
There is further support for the use of interviewing over observation as the predominant source of data. Most participant observation is of a particular observable setting or of a physical process. This especially is so in the nursing industry, a particularly fertile area for grounded theory research (Boyd, 1993; Chenitz & Swanson, 1986; Irurita, 1990; Lundrigan, 1992; Munhall, 1994), and the education industry (Conrad, 1978; Eichelberger, 1989; Guba, 1978; Millett, 1994). In both nursing and education, social processes are at least as important as technical processes. Hence, grounded theory has correctly been found to be beneficial there. The use of participant observation to gather data for grounded theory analysis is also prevalent in cultural anthropology (eg Henrickson, 1989; Lantis, 1987; Stewart, 1990), where the situations and processes are easily observable. Indeed, Strong (1984) recommended the use of observation to gather data for the study of leadership, but explicit within this recommendation is that the researcher observes managers. The point has been well made that managers can be observed but a process such as leadership cannot be observed easily. Therefore, the social processes of leadership are not easily observable. A social process is being researched, not a physical setting. Therefore, unstructured and semi-structured interviewing is suggested as the predominant form of data gathering, with observation as the secondary or supplementary form of data gathering.
External validity relates to the generalizability of the research to other populations (Denzin, 1970). In grounded theory, external validity is assisted by having maximum internal variety in subjects (Glaser, 1978). In the method proposed in this article, internal variety is limited by having a small number of subject organizations, but it is enhanced by having maximum variety within those organizations. The grounded theory activity of theoretical sampling ensures that sufficient internal variety in data sourcing is obtained to saturate the categories which emerge from the analysis. However, it has already been acknowledged that grounded theories are difficult to generalize. Rather, they are substantive to the settings from which they are generated.
Reliability refers to the accuracy of a measuring instrument over repeated measures (Chenitz & Swanson, 1986). Kirk and Miller (1986) stated that reliability is “the extent to which a measurement procedure yields the same answer however and whenever it is carried out.” (p. 19) Reliability remains the major challenge for qualitative researchers. Chenitz and Swanson (1986) and Denzin (1970) have claimed that qualitative researchers generally avoid terms like validity and reliability. Instead, the truth and accuracy of the data and their analysis are handled by their evidence and credibility. Be that as it may, one major way of addressing the issue of reliability is by replicating the study (Chenitz & Swanson, 1986). It is very difficult, although not impossible, to replicate a grounded theory study because no two situations are alike. Indeed, situations are changing continuously, even within the one research project (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).
The lack of replicability of grounded theory has been a criticism of the method from positivist researchers. As Chenitz and Swanson (1986) pointed out however, the conventional positivist notion of replicability is not relevant to grounded theory. The issue at stake is whether the same questions can be asked of people in different organizational settings, and whether the same observation can be carried out across organizations. By the very nature of semi-structured interviewing, the interview schedule will be different for every research project. In fact, the schedule will be different for every respondent. Therefore, complete replication is impossible. On the contrary, it is more appropriate to ask whether or not the grounded theory, if applied to a similar situation, will allow the researcher to interpret, understand, and predict phenomena. If used to investigate leadership in the manner outlined in this article, full and detailed grounded theory will do so, and therefore can claim reliability. Moreover, the research process outlined in this article can be conducted in different organizational settings, recognizing that pure replication is not feasible for the reasons outlined above. If researchers use the sampling frame, critical incidents, and introductory questions outlined here, they will get as close as can be achieved to a replicative grounded theory study. A final issue relating to reliability is the degree of fit of the theory with the extant literature. If the theory does not support the existing literature, but the variation can be explained by substantive differences in the research situation, then the theory could be said to be reliable.
Having discussed the appropriateness of grounded theory as a research method suitable for investigating leadership as a social influence process, it is necessary to consider the few extant examples of leadership research which have used grounded theory. By so doing, gaps in the existing grounded theory-leadership literature may be identified, and proposals for future leadership research can be put forward.
LEADERSHIP RESEARCH AND GROUNDED THEORY
It would be apposite at this point to elaborate on the processual nature of leadership, for which grounded theory is so relevant. In addition to the discussion earlier about the deductive work of Rost, Bass, Hunt and Yukl regarding leadership being a social process, some further discussion about social process is necessary within the context of what we understand to be leadership. Such elaboration will help to judge the grounded theory research used to date which claims to investigate leadership. Process involves change which occurs over time (Fagerhaugh, 1986; Glaser, 1978) and the linking of action/ interactional sequences (Strauss & Corbin, 1990,). Therefore a social process is a process which is concerned with human beings in their relations to each other. Social processes are ubiquitous through an organization, and not concentrated at any particular level or rank.
A number of established characteristics of leadership help to confirm its status as a social process. First, as stated earlier leadership involves changes to the beliefs, actions and motivations of followers over time. Second, interactional linkages between a range of variables have been established in leadership research, whether via the disciplines of psychology, sociology, anthropology or political science. Indeed, a grounded theory basic social process can be multivariate (Glaser, 1978), incorporating interactions between variables form psychology (e.g. perceptions), anthropology (e.g. culture), political science (e.g. popular support), organization theory (e.g. power and politics) and so forth. Third, leadership is clearly involved with human beings in their relations with each other. Specifically, leaders are individual people, as are followers. This assumption provides the justification to conceive of an organizational setting as a society, and the interactions within that society being social interactions. Consequently, there is conceptual support for considering leadership as a processual construct, in addition to the scholarly support acknowledged earlier.
The extent to which grounded theorists have sought out leadership processes is varied. For example, some researchers have used qualitative methodologies, but have investigated only how managers, or entrepreneurs, or CEOs, engage in leadership behavior (Bennis & Nanus, 1985; Howell & Higgins, 1990; Kotter, 1990; Kouzes & Posner, 1987; Levinson & Rosenthal, 1984; Peters & Austin, 1985; Tichy & Devanna, 1986). These works utilize qualitative data and varying amounts of qualitative analysis, but most are largely descriptive of people, and have not theorized on the process of leadership throughout an organization. Irurita (1990) and Lundrigan (1992) conducted rigorous grounded theory analysis of the leadership processes of senior nursing administrators, but restricted their analysis to senior managers. These examples have neglected the some of the processual issues of leadership by continuing the identified problem of concentrating attention on senior managers.
Similarly, Sarros (1992) interviewed business executives to generate a grounded theory of leadership in an Australian context. This work was restricted to the investigation of successful senior executives of large organizations. The work of Sarros, Butchatsky and Santora (1996) also was restricted to an investigation of successful senior executives of large organizations. Likewise, Tierney (1988) undertook a comprehensive grounded theory analysis of leadership in a small Roman Catholic liberal arts college in the USA. However, this was restricted to the leadership processes of the college president, and not to the leadership processes buried within the whole organization. Similarly, Martin (1993) used a partial grounded theory methodology, but restricted her investigation to the leadership styles of senior managers. One of the originators of grounded theory insists that “grounded theory research is the study of abstract problems and their processes, not units” (Glaser, 1992, p. 24). “Units” would include people, or leaders, or managers, or CEOs. Because research needs to investigate the process of leadership, the relevance of grounded theory is manifest. Clearly, the research focus should be firstly on the interactions between people which result in change, rather than primarily on the behaviors or characteristics of the people themselves. However, by studying mainly senior managers, writers like Tierney and Martin will uncover leadership processes but these are likely to be of a specific type and representative only of the higher levels of the organization.
Other researchers have theorized about leadership, but they also have restricted their data gathering to senior managers only. Brugger (1992), Card (1992) and Kirkland (1990) investigated the relationship between leadership succession and culture with a partial grounded theory methodology, but in effect investigated senior management succession, not the leadership process. Leadership succession is a structural issue rather than a sociological or psychological one. Theorization about structural issues is not excluded from basic social processes, so long as there is a primary focus on psychological issues (Glaser, 1978).
The work of McCaslin (1993) utilized grounded theory to investigate the leadership process in rural communities. This work is unique in that it investigated the leadership process throughout the community, and did not concentrate only at the senior management level. Similarly, Harchar and Hyle (1996) used grounded theory to investigate the instructional leadership processes of people at various levels of the organizational hierarchy. Based on these precedents, leadership research should investigate the leadership process, not a group of people, not a population, and not a rank in the organization. However, as with McCaslin’s and Harchar’s research, the leadership process will relate only to the substantive setting from which it was generated, and will not be generalizable to other settings. On the other hand, since the aim of grounded theory is the generation of substantive and eventually formal theory, it is the quality of the theorizing that is the key issue rather than the question of generalizability.
Scarborough Gavares (1993) used grounded theory to investigate aspects of the processual nature of leadership, but concentrated specifically on the issue of empowerment rather than on leadership. Scarborough Gavares also concentrated data gathering on the senior management teams of the organizations in question, rather than throughout the whole of the organizations. Likewise, Robbins (1989) generated a grounded theory of leadership, but concentrated only on “vision” as one aspect of leadership. This is a shortfall in her research that she acknowledged (1989,p. 229). Of course, empowerment and vision are important variables associated with leadership. However, the problem is that many other important variables are associated with leadership, and they must not be excluded intentionally from any research method which purports to investigate process.
So far the usefulness of grounded theory for leadership research has been examined, and the existing attempts at using it for this purpose have been evaluated. It is necessary now to conclude a little more clearly by proposing a method by which grounded theory could be used by researchers.
CONCLUSION AND A PROPOSED METHOD
The purpose of this paper is to put forward the case for using the grounded theory method to examine the nature of the leadership process within a substantive area of inquiry. This purpose involves questioning the nature of leadership as much as it involves describing the grounded theory method. The suggested context of the proposed research is one of change. Grounded theory is a method used in some qualitative research. Although its use has not characterized leadership research to date, it has been argued in this paper and by others there is a clear justification for its use. Scholars as eminent as Bass, Hunt, Rost, Yukl and Alvesson have been saying for years that leadership is a social process, and Glaser, Strauss and others have emphasised that grounded theory generates theory about social processes. The usefulness of grounded theory is therefore manifest. Moreover, the social processes which evolve from grounded theory analysis help with our understanding of leadership not because they exclude psychological or structural issues, but because they integrate them.
However, much of the use of grounded theory has not yet examined the nature of the leadership process throughout organizations. Its use has been concentrated at the higher end of organizational hierarchies. Such research has examined leaders or senior managers, and has neglected the process of leadership throughout the organizational hierarchy. It is assumed that leadership can be exhibited at all levels of an organization. Other published “grounded theory” research has not utilised the full method proposed by Glaser and Strauss, or has not progressed past the descriptive stage of analysis. Still other grounded theory leadership research has concentrated on specific elements of the leadership paradigm, thereby excluding other essential elements from consideration. Finally, some grounded theory research has studied structural elements of leadership while neglecting essential consideration of the social and psychological elements.
Consequently, a number of research objectives could be proposed to drive future leadership research. By so doing, the above shortfalls might be remedied, and the chances of generating valid and reliable theory about the social influence processes of leadership may be enhanced. The following research objectives relate to the research problems associated with adequately theorizing about the nature of leadership as a social influence process.
1. Investigate change incidents in organizations. The social influence and leadership processes at work during those change incidents will be the focus of investigations. Resultant changes in the perceptions, attributions, beliefs and motivations of followers will be investigated. Semi-structured and unstructured in-depth interviewing should be the predominant source of data, supplemented with observation and document analysis. People and incidents from all levels of the organization should be the subject of investigation. Inquiry should be about who did what, when and where. But more importantly, it also should be about why, and more importantly how outcomes were achieved.
2. Use an analytical method which is appropriate to the study of social processes in organizations. Grounded theory is the suggested sociological research method, and will involve the qualitative analysis of qualitative data. The full, iterative Glaser and Strauss (1967) methodology must be utilized to initiate rigor into the research. Computer software such as NUD*IST or Ethnogragh can be used to assist with the recording and analysis of data, and to enhance the rigor of the analysis.
3. Generate an integrarive theory of the social influence processes at work in the substantive organizational setting under investigation. Grounded theory analysis of qualitative data will help to ensure that the theory considers all the relevant variables which impact on leadership within that substantive setting. The purpose of the research will be to generate theory, not to test theory. The resultant theory should then be compared with the extant leadership literature. Replication of the research should be attempted in a range of substantive settings with the aim of moving toward a more formal theory of leadership.
With these concluding comments in mind, and in view of the arguments for grounded theory as a relevant method by which to research leadership and to generate leadership theory, it is contended that this method will constitute an important direction for leadership research to take in coming years. It will complement and supplement the enormous progress made in recent years of our understanding of leadership. Specifically, grounded theory can integrate the complex range of interrelated variables which make up what we know as leadership.
Acknowledgments: The author would like to acknowledge the advice and assistance of Alan Bryman, James Sarros, Bruce Millett, and three anonymous reviewers; in particular Alan’s input to the ideas and concepts included within this paper.
Methodological Examples of the Relationship Between Qualitative and
Quantitative Data and their Analysis
Analysis Qualitative Quantitative
Quantitative * Qualitative analysis of * Questionnaire surveys
Data quantification rhetoric * Experiments
* Ethnostatistics * Structured interviews
* Structured observation
and their analyses
Qualitative * Participant observation * Statistical content
Data * Unstructured interviewing
* Life history
* Grounded theory analysis
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REDEFINING ORGANIZATIONAL INNOVATION: TOWARDS THEORETICAL ADVANCEMENTS , By: Ravichandran, Thiruvenkatam, Journal of High Technology Management Research, 10478310, Fall99, Vol. 10, Issue 2, p243, 32p
REDEFINING ORGANIZATIONAL INNOVATION: TOWARDS THEORETICAL ADVANCEMENTS
This paper is a first attempt to redefine innovation in the context of organization. An analysis of a sample of previous studies indicates that most of the earlier researchers committed content fallacy and contextual fallacy, by equating adoption with innovation and employing innovation merely as a cover term for adoption. In this attempt, a new definition for innovation is constructed, distinct from adoption, and a set of propositions are developed which could effectively guide the development of new theories. Finally, a metric for innovation is proposed in order to examine innovation simplistically, with potentials for producing robust data. Copyright 2000 Elsevier Science Inc.
The unprecedented economic growth of a country can be primarily attributed to innovations. Today, the increasing complexities, resource scarcity and rising customer expectations have left organizations with a single choice: innovating, i.e., creation of technological and managerial innovations. While technological innovations are essential for the fundamental growth of a firm, the accompaniment of managerial innovations is critical for the successful management of technological innovations, and for influencing and transacting with the external environment (Snow & Hrebiniak, 1980; Thomas, 1995).
Research on innovation began to proliferate during early 1960s and continues to advance. The focus of innovation research, like any other specialized field of management research, during the 60s and 70s was on conceptualization and theory building. These studies were more of a descriptive nature, analyzing the association between various contextual factors and characteristics of organization. Studies, which emerged during the 80s and 90s, broadened the theory of innovation and offered prescriptions towards designing innovative organizations. The ever increasing importance given to the field of `Innovation’ is quite evident in the recent special issue on this topic by Academy of Management Journal (Oct, 1996), and regular publications in other journals and popular magazines. Further, Kelly & Kranzberg’s (1978), review of over 4,000 items in the literature on technological innovation alone, two decades ago, emphasizes how the Organizational Science literature is saddled with a surfeit of innovation studies. Innovation researchers examining organizational strategies in the context of innovation, and strategic management scholars analyzing innovation in the strategic management perspective are ever increasing. There exist two dominant reasons why researching innovation from different perspectives is still exciting for the academia and business–(a) identifying normative solutions to develop appropriate structures and systems, for effectively organizing technological innovations, and effective utilization of human resources through creation/adoption and adaptation of managerial innovations; (b) gaining competitive advantage through production of technological innovations. Thus, management of innovations in organizational setting has become a focal issue for researchers, policy makers and practitioners. Therefore, the concern is how to create innovations and/or design innovative organizations.
Innovation has been studied in depth by researchers belonging to various disciplines, such as psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology and organization theory. Past researchers, though with different objectives, analyzed and offered several insights into the complex and dynamic nature of innovation. These studies conducted in different organizational settings–manufacturing and voluntary organizations, R&D laboratories, hospitals, schools and libraries at individual, group and organizational levels, varying in nature–descriptive/normative, with cross-sectional or longitudinal approaches, have broadly enriched the literature. Inspite of the richness of the studies, there appears to be a general lack of conceptual clarity, eventually precluding a definition and a measure for organizational innovation. What plagued the development of the theory and measure is the usage of the two terms “innovation” and “adoption” interchangeably and equating adoptions with innovations. This article, while not developing any new theory, points out how misconceptualization of innovation deluded the conduct of future research. In doing this, the paper attempts to answer the following questions:
1. How can organizational innovation be defined?
2. What are the individual and organizational characteristics that facilitate innovation creation and how are they different from those facilitating innovation adoption?
3. How can organizational innovation be measured?
In other words, this article attempts to distinguish adoption and innovation as two different concepts, and provide prescriptions for measuring innovation as different from adoption. As a first step, a sample of 60 empirical studies conducted by researchers since 1961 is presented (Table 1). Also discussed are articles that aided theory development. While this paper does not span the entire gamut of issues involved in understanding innovation, it focuses only on the issues that foiled the attempts to build a unique theory.
Nature of the Studies: Descriptive vs Normative
Studies on innovation can be classified, on the basis of their objectives and focus into two major models: Normative and Descriptive. Normative models are prescriptive in nature, specifying how, and under what conditions can organizations be more innovative. Some of the normative studies, based on empirical evidence (Table 1) have provided guidelines for designing innovative organizations and creating innovations. Theoretical studies, normative in nature, have also enriched innovation literature, by offering directions and insights into design and development of innovative organizations (e.g., Galbraith, 1982; Drucker, 1985, 1986; Quinn, 1985; Kanter, 1982, 1984, 1989). Research on innovation, pertaining to the descriptive kind is overwhelmingly large. The descriptive models summarize the characteristics observed in organizations, for instance, the relationships between innovation and the organizational structure, the processes and the other correlates. However, the results are non-cumulative, because of the “instability” (Downs & Mohr, 1976) in the findings. Certain details about this “instability” are discussed later. The studies may not be strictly classified as normative and descriptive, as possible overlap may exist in some, if not in all cases.
The studies on innovation can be broadly classified under (i) Innovation adoption (ii) Innovation characteristics (iii) Characteristics of Innovative organizations (iv) Correlates/determinants of innovation (v) Innovation sources (vi) Innovation process and (vii) Innovation typology.
Innovation Adoption. Research in innovation adoption/diffusion gained much recognition with the seminal work of Rogers (1962). Nevertheless, adoption/diffusion research has rich traditions in various fields such as, sociology, anthropology, geography, economics, advertising and market research, and communication studies. Studies on adoption are abundant. Over thirty-nine years of diffusion research in various fields have produced more than 3,000 publications on the diffusions of innovations (Rogers & Kim, 1984). Further, theoretical works on the nature of innovation and its relation to the adoption of new products have also been reported (Midgley & Dowling, 1978; Hirschman, 1980; Mudd, 1990).
A number of theoretical and empirical analyses treat adoption as a process, where the probability of diffusion is determined by the characteristics of innovation and the communication opportunities. Thus, diffusion channels through which information and data would flow efficiently to the adopters were identified. However, the studies on adoption predominantly focused on the rate and process of diffusion. The characteristics of individual adopters and adopting organizations, and the role of the opinion leaders in innovation diffusion were also the foci of the previous studies. Further research can identify the differences between the content of the actual innovation and the innovation adopted, examine the transmission errors, and draw comparisons across different industry settings.
Innovation Characteristics. Innovation characteristics research describes the relationship between the attributes of an innovation and the adoption or implementation of that innovation (Tornatzky & Klein, 1982). Variables like compatibility, relative advantage, complexity, trialability were identified as some of the characteristics of an innovation, enabling the adopter to be decisive (Wilson, 1966; Myers & Marquis, 1969; Rogers & Shoemaker, 1971; Zaltman, Duncan & Holbek, 1973). Investigations into the innovation characteristics pertained to mostly individual and organizational levels. Based on adoptions and the rate of adoption, individuals and organizations were labeled on a continuum along the temporal dimension as early adopters, through laggards. As a result, consumer researchers and marketing specialists identified the individual’s characteristics that facilitate and inhibit the buying behavior (Midgley & Dowling, 1978; Hirschman, 1980). These studies attempted to identify the attributes of innovation that are largely accepted by individuals and organizations.
Characteristics of Innovative Organizations. Innovative organizations are characterized by `organic’ (Burns & Stalker, 1961) structural properties when they operate in a dynamic, complex environment. While their operating environment is less dynamic and less complex, they are characterized by `mechanistic’ structure. Previous research has also substantially investigated how certain cultural and climatic dimensions such as risk-taking, entrepreneurial style, top management support, autonomy, reward system, to name a few, foster creation of innovations. Following are some of the variables that are considered as the necessary constituents and key ingredients of an innovative organization:
Sensitivity: The ability of an organization to search, predict, anticipate problems and opportunities and formulate strategic responses to adapt to the environmental changes (Aguilar, 1967; Mirvis & Berg, 1977; Miller & Friesen, 1984; Singh, House & Tucker, 1986).
Learning: The faculty that enables an organization to assimilate significant knowledge from its environment, experience and history to facilitate change (Cyert & March, 1963; March & Olsen, 1975; Argyris & Schon, 1978, Shrivastava, 1983; Cohen & Levinthal, 1990).
Problem-solving Skills: The capacity to produce adaptive responses which are apt but unusual and the degree of difference that a proposal exhibits from comparable responses to the problem for the furtherance of organizational goals (Pelz, 1983; Utterback, 1971; Roberts & Fusfeld, 1987; Cohen & Levinthal, 1990).
Experimentation: This refers to the extent to which new potential ideas are tested in the organization (Quinn, 1979; Malidique, 1980; Peters & Waterman, 1982; Burgelman, 1984; Pinchot, 1985; Kanter 1989; Roberts, 1989).
Communication: The ability of the organization to collect, and disseminate the collected and experimented information to the relevant organizational units (e.g., Utterback, 1971; Keegan, 1974; Goldhar, Bragaw & Schwartz, 1976; Tushman, 1977; Gobeli & Rudelius, 1987).
Risk-readiness: The willingness of an organization to invest in new products/ processes under conditions of uncertainty, not because of compulsions of survival, but on account of its pursuit of excellence (Drucker, 1985; Khan & Manopichetwattana, 1989; Gobeli & Rudelius, 1987).
Absorption: The ability of the organization to contain disruptions, caused out of experimentation, change and innovation (e.g., Kanter, 1983; Rogers & Kim, 1984; Amburgey, Kelly & Barnett, 1990).
Slack: The pool of resources in an organization that is in excess of the minimum necessary to produce a given level of organizational output (e.g., Cyert & March, 1963; Zaltman, et al., 1973; March, 1981; Nohria & Gulati, 1996).
Cosmopolitanism: The stream of research relating cosmopolitanism and innovativeness usually find a positive relationship between them (Rogers, 1962), and this is mostly so with the medical social system concerning adoption of innovations (e.g., Kimberly, 1978; Kimberly & Evansiko, 1981; Robertson & Wind, 1983).
A measure constructed on these variables could be a diagnostic tool to assess the degree of innovativeness of an organization. In employing this measure, organizations can be rated on a continuum of innovativeness, low through high, and organizational typologies could be arrived at. Specific actions leading to the achievement of high innovativeness could also be devised. Thus, an organization could be evaluated and rated as highly innovative or moderately innovative or less or non-innovative, not on the basis of the number/rate of innovations or adoptions, as was done earlier, but wholesomely on its abilities and attributes, albeit the fact that innovative organizations also adopt innovations. Research on the aforesaid variables and practice utilizing this method can produce a theory of innovativeness, different from innovation and adoption, since, not all innovative organizations create innovations and not all organizations creating innovations are innovative. Innovativeness, like effectiveness, is the ability and the characteristic nature of organizations.
Sources. Previous studies on innovation identified sources of innovation as both internal and external to the firm (Utterback 1971; Drucker, 1985; Von Hippel, 1988). In this, new knowledge, process needs, users, industry and market structure, were identified as some of the sources for innovation. Identification of sources validated the process models of innovation creation — “technology-push” and “market-pull” (Rothwell, 1977).
Utterback (1971) found that sources outside the laboratory were most useful in generating new ideas and sources inside the laboratory were most helpful in providing problem-solving and implementation assistance. Thus, the studies pertaining to innovation sources also tacitly focused on the innovation process. However, the research on communication, which emphasized the potential need for extra-organizational (Keegan, 1974; Baldridge & Burnham, 1975), intra-organizational (Becker & Stafford, 1967; Lawrence & Lorsch, 1967) and intra-laboratory communication (Goldhar et al., 1976; Tushman, 1977; Gobeli & Rudelius, 1987), contributed to the knowledge of the sources of innovation.
Process. One of the major works reported on innovation process, is the study conducted by Van De Ven et al., (1989). This study included a wide variety of innovations (concerning technology, product, process and administration), from different perspectives (individual, group, organizational, industrial and national), and in different settings (private and public sector and non-profit organizations). The study is useful in understanding how and why innovations develop over time from concept to implemented realities, which process leads to successful and unsuccessful outcomes, and to what extent can knowledge about innovation processes be generalized from one situation to another.
Earlier studies on the process of innovation adoption focused on two levels — individual and organizational. In this, there are more similarities than differences between the stages of adoption process at the individual and organizational levels: both the individual and organization undergo various stages: awareness, evaluation, trial, adoption. However, the type of innovation is likely to differentiate between the adoptions at individual and organizational levels. Researchers focusing on innovation processes (Normann, 1971; Utterback, 1971), examined the competitive strategies of the firms across stages (Utterback & Abernathy, 1975), and the factors affecting innovation time-period (Gee, 1978). In studying innovation, researchers have also emphasized the need for different types of organizational climate at different stages of the innovation process (Evan & Black, 1967; Rowe & Boise, 1974).
Typology. Researchers have also extended studies by focusing on innovation typology (Knight, 1967; Daft & Becker, 1978; Damanpour & Evan, 1984; Dewar & Dutton, 1986). Innovations were broadly classified as technical (new technologies, products and services) and administrative (new procedures, policies and organizational forms). However, Van de Ven et al., (1989), borrowing Leavitt’s (1964) idea that most innovations involve new technical and administrative components, assert that such a distinction could result in a fragmented classification of the innovation process. While this assumption is true, the direction of implication varies. More discussion concerning the typology is dealt with later in the paper.
Correlates/Determinants. Studies on the relationship between various organizational factors and innovation (e.g., Becker & Stafford, 1967; Sapolsky, 1967; Hage & Aiken, 1967; Paolillo & Brown, 1978), investigated how these factors aid or inhibit organizational innovation. Organizational size, measured in terms of the organization’s manpower, is seen as one of the determinants of organizational innovation. However, innovation researchers till date, examining the relationship between organizational size and innovation have yielded contradictory results. Some studies found that smaller firms are more innovative (e.g., Paolillo & Brown, 1978; Rothwell, 1976), while others (e.g., Baldridge & Burnham, 1975; Moch & Morse, 1977; Kimberly & Evansiko, 1981) deduced the opposite. There are also a few other studies which indicate a possible relationship between organizational innovation and size (Mansfield, 1966; Myers & Marquis, 1969). Similarly, there has been a lack of agreement among researchers on the relationship between the age of the organization and innovation. For example, while the findings of Khan & Manopichetwattana (1989), indicate that innovative firms were younger, Kim’s (1980), study did not find any concrete relationship between the age and organizational innovation. In this regard, Van De Ven et al., (1989), based on past literature, discuss the `liabilities of newness and smallness’ (Stinchcombe, 1965) where new and small firms find it difficult to enter into a new domain, with the problems of raising capital and competing with larger organizations. However, Van De Ven et al., (1989: 223), also discusses the issue of why small firms are more innovative than large ones. The typical answer is, small firms are more flexible and quick to adapt to changing environmental opportunities and threats, than larger organizations which experience inertia due to their `liabilities of aging and bigness’ (Stinchcombe, 1965). These contradictory and non-cumulative findings indicate the need to concentrate less on such contextual factors and instead focus more on internal mechanisms and external factors influencing creation and adoption of innovations.
Methods In Research on Organizational Innovation
Methods of organizational innovation can be viewed at least under two different criteria like any other organizational phenomenon. They are one, levels of analysis, which includes the individual, the group and the organization as three different levels, and two, measurement.
Levels of Analysis
Individual Level. In studies analyzing at the individual level, the objective was to investigate the relationship between innovation and some characteristics creativity (Pelz & Andrews, 1966; Ginn, 1986; Amabile, 1988), personality characteristics like, innovative orientation, clarity (Keller & Holland, 1978), value, self interest (Hage & Aiken, 1967), demographic variables like age (Stahl & Steger, 1977; Keller & Holland, 1978) and education (Stahl & Steger, 1977). Kirton (1976), developed a measure based on a theory which identifies two different personalities of individuals- innovators and adapters. Much work has been done on the characteristics of individuals such as, willingness, commitment and enterprise to produce innovations (e.g., Kanter, 1989; Janowiak, 1976; Burgelman, 1984; Karlsson, 1986; Peters & Waterman, 1982). Studies of this nature enabled the organizations to utilize proven sophisticated methods of recruiting and effective management and utilization of human resources.
One of the major studies that attempted to quantify and classify the individual characteristics in relation to successful and unsuccessful innovations is “Project SAPPHO” (Rothwell et al., 1974). The study identified the role of key managers and technologists and addressed them as “technical innovators”, “business innovators”, “product champions”, and “chief executive” on the basis of their functions. The roles of the enterprising individuals addressed as “entrepreneurs” (Quinn, 1979; Malidique, 1980; Lehr, 1988; Roberts, 1989) and “intrapreneurs” (Pinchot, 1985; Duncan, Ginter, Rucks & Jacob, 1989; Twiss & Goodridge, 1989), in the creation of innovation were analyzed in detail.
Group Level. Studies centered at the group level investigated certain aspects like problem solving (e.g., Osborn, 1957; Maier & Hoffman, 1960; Pelz & Andrews, 1966; Hoffman, 1965, 1979), communication, learning and group cohesion (Cohen, Whitmyre & Funk, 1960) in relation to innovation. Meadows’ (1980) study investigated organizational structure and its association with the innovativeness of the group’s task. Operationalizing Burns and Stalker’s (1961) concept of organicity, Meadows suggested its usefulness to small work groups. The studies at the group level demonstrated how groups can collectively achieve better results compared to individuals working alone in an organizational setting, and provided prescriptions for conducting small group activities (Butler, 1981).
Organizational Level. Research at the organizational level mostly produced normative findings. This offered directions for the design of structure, which would facilitate creation and incorporation of innovations and adoptions, which in turn fit appropriately with the external environment. Similarly, several process mechanisms matching the structure, and conducive to innovation creation and adoption were suggested. However, practitioners, due to inadequate directions, experience a great deal of problems in redesigning the structure and process mechanisms alternatively, to innovate and adopt. Research at the organizational level, also produced several technology strategies contingent upon the contextual factors and the operating industry. Research also led to the identification of firm typologies and the variables that discriminate the clusters.
In studying innovation, researchers employed a wide variety of methods, as studies on innovation are not restricted to one single discipline. As seen from Table 1 innovation researchers designed a wide variety of questionnaires (Kirton, 1976; Siegel & Kaemmerer, 1978; Khandwalla, 1985; Van De Ven et al., 1989 etc.), focusing on various aspects and concentrating on different units and levels of analyses.
Researchers used both structured and unstructured interviews to uncover information about innovation, innovation process and characteristics of the organization. Interviews have also been used as a corroborative technique, along with questionnaires (Lawrence & Lorsch, 1967; Daft & Becker, 1978; Kim & Kim, 1985). Studies have also employed case-study methods to examine innovation process/stages (Normann, 1971), and for cross-country comparisons (Quinn, 1985), concerning innovation. Longitudinal assessment of innovation and its processes also utilized case studies (Van De Ven et al., 1989). Innovation researchers have also used archival records, to obtain data about innovation (Kimberly, 1981; Ettlie, 1983; Damanpour & Evan, 1984), new product/process developments, technologies (Cusumano, 1988; Baba, 1989), and related aspects like, R&D intensity, market share etc.
Scholars have used a number of publications (Stahl & Steger, 1977), expert’s/ stakeholders opinion (Quinn, 1985), professional’s ratings (Paolillo & Brown, 1978), peer nominations/sociometry choice (Keller & Holland, 1978), number of suggestions submitted and number of suggestions adopted within a period of time (Pizam, 1974), innovation index (Kanter, 1988), patent data and the economic value of innovations (Thompson, 1965) as a measure of innovation. Others have counted the number of innovations (Hage & Aiken, 1970; Miller, 1971) as a measure of organizational innovation. Thompson (1965), suggests organizational properties as a surrogate measure of organizational innovation.
Thus, while the methods of innovation discussed evince the opulence and diversity of innovation, the complexities embedded in the innovation are implied as well.
CONCEPTUALIZING AND MEASURING ORGANIZATIONAL INNOVATION
The avowal by Downs & Mohr (1976), that the findings of innovation research are “non-cumulative”, “unstable” and “variant” was however, based on the central theme of the studies, that is, adoption. Further attempts by Damanpour (1991,1992), to test and refute their theory, albeit it contributed towards general theory development in certain ways, fell into the same trap. Consequently, the theory failed to advance conceptualization and thereby a measure.
The major problem that concerns organizational innovation is validity and generalizability. This is due to the non-availability of a single accepted method through which innovations could be conceived. Although, past researchers concentrated on the characteristics, processes, determinants, sources and types of innovations, theoretical advancements to resolve the complexities of innovation have not been fully achieved. Most innovation research conducted so far pertains predominantly to the context of adoption. This notion is well stated by Schoonhoven, Eisenhardt & Lyman (1990: 179), “Although innovation has been widely studied in the past fifteen years … much of the research is about innovation adoption and diffusion”. This has defeated to arrive at a generalized definition and measurement that would have set a precedent for further research and add to the rich stream of studies. For example, as early as 1965, Thompson defined innovation as “the generation, acceptance and implementation of new ideas, processes, products and services”. While this definition rightly explicates the “creation” and “utilization” aspects — the very essence of innovation, it is unfortunate that researchers, with some exceptions, failed to enhance this view, and bounded themselves within the adoption perspective. Inspite of the clear differences between the two terms “innovation” and “adoption” it is surprising to find how researchers equated these two terms and measured innovation as the number or the rate of adoption. For instance, the differences in the process of innovation and adoption exist, differences in the cost are evident and differences in the management of adoption and innovation are conspicuous. The most cited work in innovation theory, Downs & Mohr (1976), does not seem to have any departure from the conventional approach, in that they equated organizational adoption to innovation and offered guidelines for developing innovation theory in the context of adoption. The authors state, “We will be employing the rather broad, conventional (emphasis added) definition of innovation as the adoption of means or ends that are new to the adopting unit” (p. 701). This conventional definition, which has been misconceptualized by several past researchers added to the confusion and, inhibited the development of a theory of innovation different from adoption.
Most studies on innovation (e.g., Mohr, 1969; Baldridge & Burnham, 1975; Daft, 1978; Damanpour & Evan, 1984), though, appear to focus on innovation, in content they pertain to adoptions only. For example, Mohr (1969) conceived innovativeness as the number of adoptions that a health department had incorporated. Rogers & Kim (1984), construed innovation `as the degree to which an individual or the adopting unit is early to use an innovation’. Quoting earlier studies, Scott and Bruce (1994: 581) state, “innovation has to do with the production or adoption (emphasis added) of useful ideas and idea implementation”. Damanpour (1992), in performing a meta analysis, concerning organizational size and innovation, identified conceptual and methodological factors as the cause for the inconsistencies in the findings between these two variables. Ironically, Damanpour (1992: 397), also equated adoption with innovation, and defined innovation as, “the adoption of an idea or behavior, whether a system, policy, program, device, process, product or service, that is new to the adopting organization” (Daft, 1982; Damanpour & Evan, 1984). Damanpour (1992: 397), also stated that “organizational innovativeness is normally (emphasis added) measured by the rate of adoption of innovations. The rate of adoption is often measured by the number of innovations adopted within a period” (Daft & Becker, 1978; Ettlie et al., 1984), or occasionally by the percent of innovations adopted (Baldrige & Burnham, 1975). This raises a fundamental question: if the number of adoptions are considered as a measure of the organization’s innovation, how are the innovations created by the organization differentiated? In other words, if organizations are classified as innovative and non-innovative, on the basis of the rate of adoptions, how to categorize organization on the basis of the innovations created?
Innovation research is further complicated by the availability of a wide variety of definitions. These definitions appear narrow, relevant only to the context of particular studies. The usage of the term `change’ in defining innovation (Wilson, 1966; Knight, 1967; Sapolsky, 1967) led to issues followed by resolutions that all innovations imply change and that the converse is however, not true (Zaltman et al., 1973). Another problem laden with the definition is “newness”. The earlier definition by Barnett (1953) and the subsequent adoption and adaptation of this definition by later researchers (Knight, 1967; Shephard, 1967; Mohr, 1969; Walker, 1969; Hage & Aiken, 1970; Rogers & Shoemaker, 1971; Zaltman et al., 1973), either implicitly or explicitly added to the confusion in determining whether an innovation should be new to the adopting unit or to the world in general. Nevertheless, the “newness” aspect, in a different perspective, enabled one to measure the degree of the departure of the innovation from its antecedent.
Past researchers examining innovation, did so, as a process (Carroll, 1967; Evan & Black, 1967; Shephard, 1967). Contrastingly, some other viewed it as a discrete product or program (Hage & Aiken, 1967; Aiken & Hage, 1968; Rogers & Shoemaker, 1971). These variant perspectives have furthered the complexity of the `concept’, thereby reducing the richness and producing non-cumulative findings. This state was aptly summed up by Downs & Mohr (1984: 26), “Social scientists have allowed `innovation’ to take on too many different meanings and have allowed its meaning to be ambiguous in too many significant respects”. Thus, the former researchers failed to provide a universally accepted definition to extend and refine towards the unending search for a valid definition and consequently, a theory.
An analysis of the various definitions of innovation shows that `innovation’ was used just as a cover term for `adoption’. These different definitions either candidly or tacitly refer to innovation as the earliness to use an innovation by an adopting organization or unit or agent. These definitions are evidently inadequate tools to measure and develop a theory on `original’ innovations instead of the ones created elsewhere. Thus, studying adoptions in the name of innovations will result in `content fallacy’ and `contextual’ fallacy.
CONTENT FALLACY AND CONTEXTUAL FALLACY
Organizational innovation can be constructed as “the actualization of the creation of a new product, process, method or service by an organization, through concerted and committed efforts of its members, and by other resources, exhibiting a perceptual departure from its antecedent and demonstrating one or more utility values”. This definition reveals the content of the innovation, that is, the inherent characteristics of an innovation, which include newness — not seen or known before, uncertainty, innovation typology, the substance of innovation (extent of the departure of innovation) and finally the value of innovation embedded in itself. On the other hand, the contextual characteristics of an innovation, that is, the constitutional properties of the (innovating) organization is apparent through the properties: integration of various departments, and the management’s support in the form of resources and a conducive climate.
Adoption can be conceptualized as, “an innovation, created earlier, elsewhere, which had manifested a noticeable advancement from its precedent, with one or more utility values, bought/borrowed by an organization”. This definition implies the content of the adoption which includes familiarity, low uncertainty due to a priori demonstration of its substance and usability; and the contextual characteristics of the (adopting) organization, such as, the top management’s decision and the adaptive strategy of the firm.
Innovation is actually bringing into a form of an idea out of either nothing or a set precedent. On the other hand, adoption is the absorption of an acquired technology, or product or process. Thus, whilst innovations are creations, adoptions are absorptions. Further, the time lapsed between the innovation created elsewhere and adopted elsewhere indicates that the adopting organization undergoes only organizational change and not innovation (Becker & Whisler, 1967). The general theoretical issues concerning innovation are: one, what makes an organization create innovations or what makes an organization responsible for changes in the environment, and two, how an organization should structure its system and processes in order to nurse the skills and abilities to develop innovations. In contrast, the theoretical questions that arise from the adoption perspective are: one, what makes an organization responsive to changes in the environment, and two, what are the systems and practices to be harnessed first to adopt and then to utilize the adoption effectively, towards enhancing organizational responsiveness.
Succintly, the content of innovation includes newness and uncertainty, while adoption includes familiarity and predictability. Further, while the context for innovation ascertains the members’ ability, skills, commitment, co-ordination and top management’s support, the context for adoption mostly indicates, the unilateral decision of the top management, succeeded by the consent of the users in the organization. Briefly, the differences between innovation and adoption are:
Legend for Chart:
A – Innovation
B – Adoption
Realization of the Realization of the
underlying ability purchasing power
Relatively high Relatively predictable
Top management’s support Top management’s decision
Committed, Concerted efforts Not necessarily
(due to creation) Not necessarily
The content features and contextual features associated with innovation indicate how earlier researchers were blinded by their inappropriately assigning the pride of place to adoption.
Organizational properties are substantially different for innovation creation and innovation adoption, and demand quite opposing attributes. This could be seen at the levels of 1) organization, which includes culture, absorption and the level of integration, and 2) individual, which consists of the members’ learning and motivation.
Organizational culture is a powerful social control system, which provides a grounding for either innovation or adoption and not simultaneously for both. This assumption is quite true for specialist organizations, but not so much for generalist organizations. Wilson (1966), argues that greater the diversity within an organization, greater the probability that participants will conceive of and propose major innovations, and smaller the probability that such proposals will be adopted — due to the difficulties in obtaining a decision in an organization characterized by diversity. This assumption indicates that the properties required to induce innovative behavior may prohibit implementation of innovation. Innovation creation is mostly under conditions of organized anarchy. In this, the ambiguity of choice present in decision-making is so high that there is a heavy inflow and outflow of problems, solutions and data like a garbage can (Cohen, March, & Olsen, 1972). Designing a formal control system to ensure innovation is therefore, difficult. Essentially, the norms for innovation creation include a support system for risk-taking and change, reward system, autonomy, tolerance for failures, appreciation, constructive criticism, continued emphasis for unlearning and learning, free flow of information, involving of the concerned members in decision-making and the management’s sensitivity to shifting interests and involvement of participants.
Adoption becomes a reasonable decision-making strategy when uncertainties about means-ends relationships prevent actors from calculating optimal arrangements (Di Maggio & Powell, 1983). Hence, the organization designs a formal control system to ensure the implementation of innovation. The observed norm is emphasis or selling of the top management’s decision, a sense of speed and urgency to be responsive and be in accordance with the environmental changes. This is because, adoption is especially likely in the wake of a crisis or dramatic failure (Inkenberry, 1989). The culture for adoption while not risk-ready would not tolerate failures because of the adopted innovation’s demonstrated success beforehand. The flow of information within the organization is also relatively less than innovation creation, albeit adopters look for data and information externally, concerning the implementation and the extent of the success of the innovations, acting more as interpretation systems. Nonetheless, future research can explore the differences in the quantum of influx and outflow of information during innovation creation and adoption. Briefly, whilst the innovation involves creation and implementation, adoption includes only implementation with or without modification. Thus,
H1: The culture for innovation creation will significantly differ from the culture for innovation adoption.
Organizing a successful innovation requires the firm to match the technical capabilities with the market needs. Research, for long, has emphasized the need for a close integration of the functional departments, such as, marketing, R&D and production, to produce innovations by diluting uncertainty through different inputs. Close collaboration between the members of such functional departments generates a diverse set of creative ideas, which are cross-fertilized to match the R&D capability and the manufacturing processes with the market needs. Thus, the degrees to which the data, knowledge and skills are shared between the technological and market functions contribute to the commercial success of products. For example, earlier studies demonstrated how the product and technological innovations come as a response to market needs (Myers & Marquis, 1969). The Japanese firms, acknowledged as the most innovative firms, employ highly flexible role schemes (Mac Dowall, 1984), which help to achieve a firm collaboration between R&D, production and marketing to promote innovations. However, Moenart, Souder, Meyer & Deschoolmeester (1994), state that the level of integration needed between R&D and marketing will be less once the product specifications have been formulated and resources have been allocated. Hence, the marketing’s role in supporting a firm’s efforts to develop pioneering and incremental innovations can be quite different (Ali, 1994). Since, innovations are mostly breakthroughs, firms have difficulty in judging the rate at which the market will develop, where product specifications are likely to shift anywhere, marginally through fundamentally. Thus, the necessity to achieve a tight coupling between marketing, R&D and production is always high for creation of innovations. In the case of adoptions, since the firm undergoes only a change (Becker & Whisler, 1967), or almost to the extent of an incremental innovation, a firm coupling between the departments of R&D, production and manufacturing is not required. For example, Moenart et al (1994) based on their research state that the information that flows from manufacturing to marketing is less of an input to marketing activities and is more in the nature of information. This is because, for adoptions, the market has already been discovered, and firms look forward to either establishing their products or gaining considerable market share. The firm’s focus shifts externally, at the market, and internally, at the manufacturing, to achieve scale of economies. Thus, the integration that innovations demand may not be the same for adoptions.
H2: The coupling between the functional departments is tight for innovation creation and loose for innovation adoption.
Hostile environments characterized by precarious industry settings, intense competition, harsh, overwhelming business climates, and the relative lack of exploitable opportunities (Covin & Slevin, 1989), generally demand fast reactions by the organization (Mintzberg, 1979). The reactions include innovation creation and/or adoption coupled with efficiency. Consequently, firms are faced with the challenges of dualism (Katz, 1997).
The decision to innovate or adopt a product or a process or a technology should fit appropriately with the firm’s ongoing system. This includes technology policy, skills/abilities, operating procedures, resources and other management systems. Innovations involve change, a disruption of existing activities, a redirection of organizational energies that may result in new strategies, product, market opportunities, work methods, technical processes or structures (Kanter, 1983: 212). A new product line or manufacturing process introduced may necessitate departures from existing practices. For example, a large number of constraints have been cited concerning change in organizations. This includes internal limitations as the organization’s investment in capital equipment and trained personnel, constraints on the transfer and processing of information, the costs of upsetting the internal political equilibrium, and the conservative forces of history and tradition (Hannan & Freeman, 1977: 931-932). These departures constitute the disruptions, and the ability to absorb can be considered as the internalist counterpart of the organization’s adaptability. Further, while it is difficult for large and established firms to compete and succeed (Hall, 1980), the small firms are more adversely affected by the hostility of the environment due to limited resource bases and relative inabilities to survive the consequences of poor managerial decisions (Covin & Slevin, 1989). The inability to localize disruptions caused due to innovations and adoptions will result in organizational indigestion. Hostile environment causing inimical consequences to the firm’s performance is likened to the individual’s creative performance getting stifled under stress and anxiety situations. Hence, the likelihood that not all firms would be able to operate at a maximum or optimum level under hostile conditions. Nonetheless, successful firms will inevitably possess the ability of absorption, as they would compete aggressively resulting in proactive, innovative and risk-taking efforts (Khandwalla, 1977; Miller, 1983; Covin & Slevin, 1989).
Adoptions create a sudden burst of activity since they are interference into the existing system and they will have more potential to disrupt it. However, while adoption of incremental innovations may not cause many disruptions, the adoption of a radical innovation is more likely to disrupt the system, because of the demands that arise to unlearn and learn, accept new operating procedures and systems of management. In toto, the entire organization requires alteration because the adoption of a radical innovation is more likely to tilt the equilibrium of the organization. Thus, the content of the innovation adopted will more likely covary with the organizational disruption. Innovation creation is a well conceived process and there is preparedness among the members of the organization to willingly accept the outcomes. In the innovative organization, the conception of the idea, the conversion of the idea into a product, and the commercialization of the products are well organized and significant trials and discussions are held at each stage, such that members consciously and unconsciously nurture the absorptive capacity, preventing organizational indigestion.
H3: Successful firms operating in hostile environments will possess high absorptive capacity.
An innovative organization consists of members whose technical skills, abilities and dominant motivation needs not only match the demands, but also go well beyond the needs of the job. An innovative organization is sensitive to the cues that the members provide concerning their motivational needs and understand what is fulfilling in different jobs. Every job has different technical aspects as well as human aspects. The ability of the organization lies in arriving at a fit between these two aspects for achieving effectiveness. Based on their research, Tyre & Orlikowski (1997: 398), state that the introduction of a new technology is an episodic activity, which triggers an initial burst of adaptive activity, as users explore the new technology and resolve unexpected problems. However, this activity is short lived, with efforts and attention declining dramatically after the first few months of use, and members focus their attention back to the regular production tasks. Later on, users refocus their attention on unresolved problems or new challenges, making additional spurts of adaptive activity. While this is true for introduction or adoption of innovations, the motivation to innovate sustains right from the conception of the idea through realization, because of the unpredictable outcomes at each stage of innovation creation, demanding the most involvement. Augmenting the motivation is the harmonious efforts on the part of all relevant members of the organization, eventually creating a sense of value, ownership and pride. Adoption, however, normally would not involve, though desirable, such a collaborative effort. Adoptions are innovations created elsewhere, bringing with them inherently a sense of alienation, albeit they create some or more degree of familiarity and predictability as opposed to innovations which are new and original, that trigger curiosity to explore and experiment enthusiastically. This is akin to the development of a baby. Realizing a baby through creation involves togetherness of the couple, longing expectation, and subsequent care and attention to the mother and the child by the spouse and other family members. Innovating, like child creation, is a long build-up activity, indicating the preparedness to accept and nurture the child. Such preparedness may not exist, in the case of adoption and may bring with it a sense of detachment to the users in the organization.
People in the organizations develop negative attitude towards repetitive tasks and report experiencing fatigue and boredom (Basadur, 1997). However, providing the employees with opportunities to find and solve challenging problems, and implement solutions is intrinsically rewarding, with their need for achievement eventually gratified. A job involving creativity, challenge and a sense of achievement due to realizable contribution will enhance the motivation level of the employees. Thus, a powerful motivational mechanism is a meaningful work, and creativity is a means for motivating personnel. For instance, Berlyne (1967) states, people have the desire to master their environment. Such mastering is intrinsically pleasurable and independent of outside rewards. This need for competence is aroused when people are faced with new challenging situations and dissipates after repeated mastery of the task. Thus, when the motivation level of the members is high, their contribution in terms of finding creative solutions, new way of doing things and meaningful work performance increases, which eventually satiates their achievement needs. As a consequence, the content of the innovation created in the organization will more likely depart radically from its earlier version. For instance, it was observed that R&D scientists, working on a project concerning super conductivity, which continues to be an attractive domain of research, expressed elation and appeared intrinsically more motivated than a team of scientists working on projects given by their manufacturing unit.
H4: The content of the innovation being created will more likely covary with the motivation level of the organization members.
In the literature on innovation, learning is considered as a primary agent promoting efficient innovation creation. Learning is a process through which members assimilate knowledge concerning products/processes/technologies/services, over a period of time, which helps the organization to build innovations, and enable to transfer the learning across similar or dissimilar innovations in the future. The members in the organization are likely to learn more during innovation creation, since, innovation is a multi-phased process, including origin of an idea through problem solving through experimentation through incorporation/commercialization, at each stage of innovation creation a lot many problems are encountered and resolved by members of various disciplines and departments. These members with high growth need strength (GNS) will seize any such opportunity to acquire information. The creation of an innovation, especially a radical one involves a lot more learning and effort, because the development of radical innovation is far more experimental than analytical. Rather than analyzing the market and selecting the best alternative, the radical innovation develops through successive approximations–introduce the early version of the product to an initial market, modify the product, and approach the market based on their learning and try again with better information and lower uncertainty (Lynn, Morore & Paulson, 1997). On the other hand, the volume of learning is relatively less in adoption, which provides a learning opportunity only during implementation. In this, learning and experimentation are restricted to a limited number of people/units such as design and manufacturing.
Research also shows that firms conducting their own R&D are better able to use externally available information (Allen, 1977), indicating the firm’s learning from innovating, by performing R&D. Thus, while the creation of innovation provides a source to “learning from advances in science and technology”, “learning by interacting” (Adler, 1990) and “learning by doing” (Arrow, 1962); adoption of innovation provides a narrow learning opportunity occurring mostly through ‘learning by using’ (Rosenberg, 1976) and searching for information concerning effective implementation and utilization.
H5: Members of the organization learn more during innovation creation than they do during innovation adoption.
A METRIC FOR INNOVATION
Measuring innovation should be a four fold activity: the major criteria to determine the innovation should be, one, the typology, two, the degree of departure from its preceding product, process or service, three, the extent of usefulness as perceived and measured by the users, and four, the volume of profits generated.
In measuring innovation, researchers should account for the innovation typology and keep aside the debate on such distinction causing fragmentary classification. For example, consider the high definition television (HDTV), a technical innovation, causing technological shifts, product shifts and shifts in services. This technical innovation involves administrative innovations such as new operating procedures, policies etc. In this case, while the technical component is likely to be perceived the same by the TV manufacturer and the program broadcaster, the administrative component could differ largely from the TV manufacturer to the program broadcaster. This indicates that the same content of innovation will produce varying outcomes, depending upon the type of the user.
An example of administrative innovation, created and adopted by several organizations, is the method of customer satisfaction evaluation. In this, while the index/ formula could be the technical innovation, the accompanying operating procedures, work redefinitions, and organizational processes such as new patterns of communication would involve the administrative innovation. A comparative aspect that appears relevant here is the line and staff organizational structure. In this, line department like production while it includes staff function such as advisory roles for production policy, material purchase, plant layout etc., a staff department like human resources, would include line functions such as recruitment and training of organization members, and in the staff development the staff function includes providing knowledge about the availability of new recruits at different universities etc. Thus, each of the innovations, technical and administrative, would be a necessary accompaniment of the other in a single innovation; equating the two would, however, constitute a category error. Moreover, each type of innovation varies due to the differences that are attached to each of the innovation in terms of content, process and consequently, the management and outcomes.
The process of innovation, i.e., temporal sequence of activities in developing and implementing new ideas, though fundamental to the management of innovation, should be conceived so, only when the final product is realized in terms of implementation and/or commercialization. An innovation, which is not useful for implementation or commercialization, cannot be conceived as an innovation, irrespective of the degree of departure it has taken from its preceding product, process, method or service. For example, Roberts (1989) defined innovation as the summation of invention and exploitation. Thus, an invention does not become an innovation unless it is implemented or utilized. The success of innovation is defined as the level to which it gains good currency (Van de Ven, 1986).
Innovation is an objective phenomenon that could be easily counted and exemplified in the history of organizations. However, it has inherent complexities, more so, for the researcher vis-a-vis actual creators, adopters and users. The creators of the innovation are likely to be biased in estimating the exact quantum of improvement in the innovation, due to ownership values. While the adopters or the end-users could evaluate the extent of advancement of the innovation to its earlier form, without prejudice, the actual technical progress of the innovation, is likely to be masked in the process of perceptual assessment because of individual’s experience, learning and maturity. Further, first time users may not have the expertise to assess the innovation, for which repeated users should be selected for valid judgement. In this, identifying the repeated users per se, is a major activity for the researcher. Innovation researchers, not all of them possessing technical background and expertise have difficulties in apprising the advancement of the innovation vis-a-vis its preceding version, resort to industry experts (Dewar & Dutton, 1986). Though this method is not ridden with complexities, due to identification and availability of the experts, and the inter-rater response reliability, it appears superior to the researcher himself evaluating the content of the innovation.
In conclusion, the researcher himself even without technical/engineering background could identify the type of innovation. But to evaluate the content of the innovation that departed from its earlier version, and the perceived usefulness of the innovation, the researchers could employ the repeated users. Otherwise, the researcher can better utilize the knowledge of a group of experts. Subjective responses elicited through a rating scale can yield accurate data if the experts are sought directly. Examining the usefulness of the innovation in the organizational context depends much upon the type of innovation. For example, the success of the product innovation could be assessed in terms of the profits it has generated. However, most often, utilizing the actual profits to evaluate the product usefulness could be problematic when comparisons are made across industries or products. Hence, the perceived success appears to be a better device, and therefore, subjective responses could be sought from the dominant coalitions. In the case of process innovation, while savings could be an indicator, availability of information due to estimation and problems of record keeping could cause difficulties. Alternatively, perceptual judgements appear to be the choice. Similarly, for administrative innovations, the usefulness could be assessed through the attitudinal responses of the members of the organization. However, the substance of administrative innovation could be evaluated, either by the researcher himself, or a group of management experts.
Assuming that each innovation is evaluated on a five-point scale, the following formulae could be employed:
Product Innovation = S + Pp + U/(I1 + I2 + I3) 5 x 100
Process Innovation = S + Ib + U/(I1 + I2 + I3) 5 x 100
Administrative Innovation = S + Ib + U/(I1 + I2 + I3) 5 x 100
Where S = Aggregated Score of the items on the variable/criterion -Substance; Pp = Aggregated Score of the items on the variable/criterion – Profits perceived; Ib = Aggregated Score of the items on the variable/criterion – Implemented benefits; U = Aggregated Score of the items on the variable/criterion – Usefulness. I1 + I2 + I3, = Number of items on the respective variables/criteria – S, Pp/Ib, U.
In this, all the three scales should entail five-point scale — only 1 to 5 and not 0 to 4 or -2 to +2 and the like. However, if the researcher identifies that the criteria S, Pp/Ib, U are relatively not equal in terms of importance to the study objective, weights can be assigned. The weights can be distributed in per cent, such that the three weights sum up to 100%. The equation, for instance, to measure product innovation is:
S*W1 + Pp*W2 + U*W3
Assuming, the average scores obtained on a five-point scale for the variables S, Pp, U are respectively as 3, 4, 4 and the weights assigned correspondingly as 3, 4, 3, the equation is written as:
3*.3 + 4*.3 = 3.7
The output of the weighted equation is evaluated on a five-point scale, as used to measure the criteria. Thus, the score 3.7 indicates that the product is an innovation to a larger extent, on a scale ranging between to a very little extent though a very large extent. In other words, this product innovation can be interpreted as a major or a radical innovation.
This paper attempted, through an analysis of previous research, to present an agenda for further research to develop an “original innovation” theory distinct from a “derivative or adoption” theory. Although tremendous efforts have been invested in uncovering the complexities embedded in innovation and adoption, no labor was devoted consciously to construct distinct theories. Instead, innovation and adoption were equated, and employed analogously. Innovation was used as a cover term by many researchers to study adoptions, and evidently there is no appropriate definition for adoption. As a consequence, most of the definitions of innovation lack conceptual validity because there is no correspondence between the conceptual meaning of the term innovation and the operational procedure (Schwab, 1980). Continued research in this perspective can only augment content fallacy and contextual fallacy, thereby the validity of the contributions towards theory and practice are called in a question. Further research can test the proposed hypotheses and demonstrate how earlier researchers committing themselves to content fallacy and contextual fallacy misled.
One direction to further research would be to identify more new factors, which distinguish innovation from adoption. Studies of this variety can arrive at significant outcomes with implications at the individual and organizational levels. At the individual level, new learning and motivation theories could evolve differently in the contexts of innovation and adoption, for effectively managing the men at innovation and adoption. At the level of the organization, the theory concerning culture, integration and absorption could be advanced by taking cognizance of the distinction between innovation and adoption and arrive at prescriptions for organizational effectiveness. For instance, in adoptions, individual creativity is restricted because members are expected to deal adoptions in the way they were created Thus, it may be worthwhile for researchers working on motivational aspects to examine the level of motivation and job satisfaction of the members of the adopting organizations for the reason that members with high GNS (Growth Need Strength) are likely to be less satisfied in such conditions. Researchers can also examine whether organizations characterized as “high innovators” have more satisfied members vis-a-vis organizations characterized as “high adopters”. The results could be of prescriptive value to design policies for selection and hiring of employees, say, do organizations characterized as “high adopters” do not require members with high GNS? Similarly, do organizations characterized, as “high innovators” do not require members with low GNS? Testing these notions can result in critical implications for the design of structure and management systems. For instance, if an organization decides to adopt and not to innovate it can perhaps reduce the expensive technical manpower.
Research on communication can explore the variance in the quantum of inflow and outflow of information during innovation creation and adoption. In this, the differences in information processing could be investigated between innovation and adoption. This could possibly help in identifying specific information-processing methods and techniques employed for innovation creation and adoption. Organizational researchers can also examine the deviance in the content of the actual innovation and the adopted innovation, and analyze the transmission errors across industry settings. In this context, cultural differences could also be explored, which can elicit interesting findings and test the prevailing notion — People in the West feel that it is their right to have information, and that it is their obligation to share information and knowledge with others, while people in the East guard information and knowledge as a secret.
Future research might examine the interaction between the content factors (newness and uncertainty) and the contextual factors (members skills/abilities, commitment, co-ordination, and top management support) of innovation and find out how they covary across various types of innovations in different environmental contexts. Similarly, the content factors (familiarity, predictability) and the contextual factors (conformity, stability) of the adoption could also be studied. In dong this, researchers can identify more content and contextual factors of adoption and innovation and analyze how they differ from one another. Research of this kind would lead to new theories of management of innovation and adoption and prevent further researchers from committing content fallacy and contextual fallacy.
Researchers do not deter to the complexities that emerge in the conduct of research. Managers, however, do refrain if evaluation procedures prove difficult. Nevertheless, the proposed metric is simple to be employed by the managers representing R&D through manufacturing through service industry. However, further work is essential for robust validation of this metric to evaluate different types of innovations across various industry settings. In doing so, hopefully, researchers can avoid many of the pitfalls of current conception of innovation. Finally, a consequential issue faced by organizations in the 1990s is the compensation system. The traditional compensation systems that most organizations in the United States use were developed more than 50 years ago (Gomez-Mejia, Balkin, & Milkovich, 1997). Hence, the normative recommendation for subsequent researchers is, in their never-ending search, to possibly examine how this metric could be used as a tool for compensating/rewarding the key contributors.
I am grateful to Prof. D. Nagabrahmam, the Director, and the T. A. Pai Management Institute for the support to this study. I also express my gratitude to Dr. S. V. Udaykumar, Patil Balachandra and Dr. B. L. Maheshwari for their comments on an earlier version of this paper. Thanks are due to Mr. Mohammed Sattar and Ms. Madhavi Latha for their secretarial assistance.
Direct correspondence to: Thiruvenkatam Ravichandran, Professor of Strategy and Innovation, T.A. Pal Management Institute, Manipal: 576 119, S. Karnataka, India; Tel: 91-08252-71358, 70162; Fax: 08252-70699; E-mail: [email protected] Learning
TABLE 1 Showing Details of Some Empirical Studies on Organizational
Legend for Chart:
A – Author(s) and Year Published
B – Nature of the Study
C – Focus of the Study
D – Units of Analysis and Sample Size
E – Levels of Analysis
F – Method Employed
A B C
Burns T & Stalker G, N Innovation & Environment
Electronic Orgs N = 20
Carroll J, 1967 D Innovation & Structure
Schools N = 7
Evan WM & Black G, D Innovation-typology,
1967 Characteristics & Structure
Business Orgs N = 2
Hage & Aiken, 1967 D Innovation-Characteristics
Social Welfare N = 16
Lawrence PR & N Innovation & Environment
Lorsch J, 1967
Plastics, Food & Containers
Orgs N = 6
Rosner MM, 1967 D Innovation-Determinants
Hospitals N = 24
Sapolsky HM, 1967 D Innovation & Structure
Departmental Stores N = 9
Mohr LB, 1969 D Innovation-Determinants
Public Health Orgs. N = 93
Achilladelis B, Jervis P D Innovations-Products
& Robertson A, 1971 & Process
Business Orgs N = 58
Miller RE, 1971 D Innovation & Structure
Steel Orgs N = 16
Normann R, 1971 D Innovation-Process Context,
Chakrabarti A, 1974 D Innovation-product
R&D Unit (NASA)
Pizam A, 1974 D Innovation-Correlates
Baldridge V D Innovation, Diffusion People,
& Burnham RA, 1975 Structure & Environment
School Districts N = 204
& Secondary data
Utterback JM & D Innovations & Firm’s
Abernathy JW, 1975 Characteristics
Innovations N = 567
Kirton MJ, 1976 D Innovators Adapters
Individuals N = 808
Stahl & Steger 1977 D Innovation & Correlates
R&D Org N = 154
Tushman ML, 1977 N Innovation & Communication
R&D Org N = 345
Daft RL & Becker SW, D Innovation-Adoption
1978 Process & Org Process
School Districts N = 13
Questionnaire & Interview
Gee S, 1978 D Innovation: Time-period,
sources & size
Comparative Study in 4
Keller & Holland, 1978 D Innovation, Communication,
Personality & Demography
3 R&D Orgs N = 256
Paolillo JG & D D Innovation & Correlates
Brown WB, 1978
6 R&D Orgs N = 84
Siegel SM & D Innovativeness-
Kaemmerer WF, 1978 Climate-Instrument
Schools N = 1899 subjects
Blau JR & McKinley W, D Innovation-Environment
1979 & Structure
Architectural N = 152 Orgs
Kim L, 1980 D Innovation & Structure
N = 31 Orgs
Kirton M, 1980 D Innovators-Adapters
Individuals N = 309
Meadows ISG, 1980 N Innovativeness & Structure
2 R&D Orgs 28 Groups
N = 132
Kimberly R, 1981 D Innovativeness-Creation,
School N = 1
Observation, Archival Records
Sinha AP, 1982 D Innovative Behavior-
N = 40
Field Study, Secondary
Abbey A & D Innovation Phases
Dickson, JW, 1983
N = 8
Ettlie, JE & Bridges WP D Innovation-Manpower
1982 Flows & Outcomes
Food Processing Industry
N = 56
Ettlie JE, 1983 D Innovation Performance
Environment & Typology
N = 147 Orgs
Kanter RM, 1983 N Innovation & Creation
N = 100
& Secondary data
Pelz DC, 1983 D Innovation Adoption-Process
3 Urban Innovations.
N = 18 Sites
Interviews, Archival data
Robertson T.S. and D Innovativeness,
Wind, Y, 1983 Cosmopolitanism
Hospitals N = 182
Damanpour & D Innovation: Typology &
Evan WM, 1984 Adoption
Libraries N = 85
Ebadi YM & Utterback N Innovation & Communication
Research Projects N = 117
Ettlie JE, Bridges WP & N Innovation-Adoption
O’Keefe RD, 1984 Strategy & Structure
Food processing Industry
N = 192
Interview & Questionnaire
Fennel, ML, 1984 D Innovation-Adoption
N = 173
Khandwalla PN, 1985 D Innovation Policies
All Orgs N = 75
Kim L & Kim YD, 1985 D Innovation Patterns
N = 42 Orgs
Quinn JB, 1985 D Innovation & Correlates
All Orgs N = –
Case Studies Delphi
Dewar RD & Dutton JE, D Innovation-Adoption,
1986 Typology & Structure
Leather Industry N = 40
Questionnaire & Experts
Khandwalla PN, 1987 D Innovativeness-Policy &
All Orgs N = 75
Manimala M, 1988 D Innovativeness-
All Orgs 164 Cases
Marcus A, 1988 N Innovation adoption-
Nuclear power plants,
N = 13
Interviews & Documents
Meyer AD & Goes JB, D Technological Innovation
1988 attributes, context
Hospitals N = 25
Von Hippel V, 1988 D Innovation-Sources Process
Innovation N = 21 Orgs
Interview & Secondary
Baba Y, 1989 D Innovation
Automobile & Consumer-
durable Orgs N = 8
Khan A & D Innovation & Correlates
Manufacturing Orgs N = 37
Kim Y, Kim L & Lee J, N Innovation & Strategies
PharmaceuticalOrgs N = 37
Interview Secondary Data
Van De Ven AH, N Innovation & Process
Angle HL & Poole MS,
Ettlie JE & Resa, EM, D Innovation Process-adoption,
Plants N = 39
Interviews and Documents
Ravichandran T, 1993 N Innovativeness-Innovation
Correlates & Environment
N = 43 Orgs.
Interviews & Archival
Scott SG and Bruce RA, N Innovativeness Leadership,
1994 group relations, individual
1 R&D lab N = 172
Dougherty, D & D Product Innovation-Power,
Hardy, C, 1996 Strategy, Structure of
Large mature firms,
N = 15
Hitt MA, et al., 1996 D Innovation, types and
Firms N = 250
Survey mail, secondary
Lawless MW & D Innovation-market
Anderson PC, 1996 Complexity-performance
US micro computer firms
Nohria, W & Gulati R, D Innovation-resources
Consumer electronic MNC
N = 22 subscribers
Wade J, 1996 D Innovation-density
N = 35
Secondary Sources &
(N) = Normative Models, D = Descriptive Models,
Orgs – Organizations, All Orgs – Organizations belonging
to various industries.
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By Thiruvenkatam Ravichandran, T.A. Pal Management Institute