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Leading blue collar workers: a practice oriented research to improve leadership within a mechanistic organisation

Peters, Y.C.M. (2010) Leading blue collar workers: a practice oriented research to improve leadership within a mechanistic organisation.

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Abstract:This study examined the effect of leadership and feedback on employee commitment and departmental performance in order to give recommendations for leadership improvements. A practice oriented research was carried out among the five production departments of company X, the Netherlands. It was argued by transformational theorists that the best leaders are both relations-oriented and task-oriented. In other words, the best leaders are both transformational and transactional. However, previous research indicated that leaders need to become more transformational to be effective. This can be explained by the model of the Full Range of Leadership. The transformational leadership behaviours (i.e. Idealized Influence, Inspirational Motivation, Intellectual Stimulation and Individualized Consideration) are seen as most effective, followed by Contingent Reward (CR), Management-by-Exception Active (MBE-A), Management-by-exception Passive (MBE-P), and Laissez Faire (LF) which is the most ineffective leadership behaviour. Furthermore, the transformational leadership behaviours and CR are seen as active leadership behaviours, and MBE-P and LF are seen as passive leadership behaviours. Management-by-Exception Active belongs also to active leadership domain, but in contrast to transformational leadership and CR, MBE-A could be ineffective. Feedback is an essential part of the process of leading employees towards performance and behaviour. Theories of transformational leadership indicated that most leaders engage in transactional leadership (i.e. CR, MBE-A and MBE-P) behaviours by providing feedback contingent on performance and that exceptional leaders go beyond this and also engage in transformational leadership behaviours. Therefore, feedback was also included in this research. The effectiveness of leadership could be measured in many ways. However, in this study it had been chosen to measure the effectiveness of the supervisors by means of the key performance indicators (KPI’s) and employee commitment. Moreover, because it was suggested that besides global foci, like organisational commitment, also foci of work related commitment should be considered, three foci of commitment were included as criterion variables: job commitment, departmental commitment, and organisational commitment. Furthermore, it was argued that supervisors would have the strongest influence on affective commitment, which is the employees’ desire to remain, and that organisations benefit the most from affective committed employees. Company X was also interested in the employees’ feeling of obligation to remain, also known as the normative base of commitment. Therefore, the affective and normative bases of job commitment, departmental, and organisational commitment were included. In order to measure the effect of leadership and feedback on employee commitment, a questionnaire was developed. This questionnaire included the 32 items of the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire, 11 of the Feedback Environment Scale, and 40 items that present the six employee commitment scales. In total X employees responded, which was a response rate of 60%. Because the effects of the leadership behaviours on the criterion variables needed to be examined, it had been chosen to analyse the results on supervisor level (n=27). The leadership components are interdependent, which means that there are correlations between the components. In this research, it seemed that MBE-A was positively intercorrelated with transformational leadership and CR. Those leadership behaviours were seen as active leadership behaviours, and MBE-P and LF formed together passive leadership. Because of the interdependence between the leadership behaviours, active and passive leadership were combined into one independent variable: total leadership (i.e. active leadership and non-passive leadership). In this way, it was possible to create a more simple model and to differentiate the supervisors into three groups (i.e. high, middle, and low) based on their mean leadership score. Also the two measured feedback dimensions were combined into one independent variable, and the employee commitment dimensions were reduced into one dependent variable. II The results confirmed that leadership and feedback are closely related. Moreover, the more active a supervisor behaves, the more inclined the supervisor is to deliver consistent useful feedback. It was also expected that active leadership would be positively related to employee commitment. However, this relation was weak and it appeared that only feedback was having a direct positive effect on employee commitment. Moreover, feedback explained 20% of the total variation in employee commitment and mediates the relation between leadership and employee commitment. This means that the more active a supervisor behaves, the more inclined the supervisor is to deliver consistent useful feedback, and the more committed the employees are. It should be noticed that two supervisors behaved more passively and were less inclined to deliver consistent feedback, but their subordinates were relatively highly committed. When excluding those influential supervisors from the analysis, it seemed again that feedback was mediating the relation between leadership and employee commitment, but the total variation explained by feedback on employee commitment became 40%. In conclusion, feedback is a more important predictor of employee commitment than leadership, but leadership does matter because of the strong relation with feedback. Unfortunately, there were no relations found between leadership and feedback and the KPI’s. Nevertheless, it seemed that employee commitment was having a positive association with the overall equipment efficiency, the costs of capital expenditures and cost reductions. But it should be noticed that those associations were measured on departmental level, which means that those relations cannot be determined with certainty. In conclusion, transformational leadership, Contingent Reward and Management-by-Exception Active are effective leadership behaviours to lead blue collar workers in this mechanistic organisation. Therefore, it can be concluded that the supervisors who behave more passive and are less inclined to deliver consistent and useful feedback, need to improve their feedback skills and leadership behaviours to become more effective. However, none of the supervisors scored excellent on feedback and leadership, so there is still room for improvement for those supervisors as well. A first step is to improve the feedback skills of the supervisors because feedback is closely related to leadership and is an important predictor of employee commitment. It is important that the supervisors learn to give useful and consistent feedback in a way that subordinates accept the feedback and have a willingness to respond to the feedback. It is probable that the supervisors become more active when they improve their feedback skills, but a second step is to improve the leadership behaviours of the supervisors. The leadership behaviours of the supervisors can be gradually improved according to Full Range of Leadership model, and their leadership profiles can be used as the starting point for leadership improvements. The supervisors who behave more passively need to become more active and the more active supervisors can improve their leadership to become eventually more relations-oriented. Both feedback and leadership can be improved by on-the-job training or off-the-job training.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:85 business administration, organizational science
Programme:Business Administration MSc (60644)
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