Sunday, July 31, 2011

Are You Empowering Creativity in Your Organisation? Two Key Drivers for Success

Xiaomeng Zhang and Kathryn Bartol (2010) state that “given increasingly turbulent environments, heightened competition, and unpredictable technological change, more and more managers are coming to realize that they should encourage their employees to be creative (Shalley & Gilson, 2004). Considerable evidence indicates that employee creativity can fundamentally contribute to organizational innovation, effectiveness, and survival (Amabile, 1996; Shalley, Zhou, & Oldham, 2004),” (p.107).

Organisational ideas, in respect of opportunities and threats, can come from any level within an organisation and often some of the best ideas come from the most unusual sources. It’s a myth that the leader is solely responsible for ‘idea generation’ and creativity. Leaders want a culture that encourages creative ideas, which then allows the strategic leadership to assess and prioritise these ideas in respect of ROI, time frames, diversification and other key strategic drivers. To get the culture of idea generation, leaders need to empower all employees to be creative

Zhang and Bartol highlight that “creativity refers to the production of novel and useful ideas by an individual or by a group of individuals working together (Amabile, 1988; Madjar, Oldham, & Pratt, 2002; Shalley, Gilson, & Blum, 2000; Zhou & Shalley, 2003). For creativity to occur in organizations, managers need to support and promote it, as they are the individuals who are most knowledgeable about which employees work outcomes should be creative and they have considerable influence over the context within which creativity can occur (Shalley & Gilson, 2004),” (p.107).

What’s interesting is that it’s often assumed that everyone wants to be creative, (given the chance), where theoretical arguments have suggested that psychological empowerment, in turn, makes a critical contribution to employee creativity by positively affecting an employee’s intrinsic motivation (Amabile, 1996; Spreitzer, 1995), but empirical evidence of such an effect has been lacking (Shalley et al., 2004). This connection is important because, conceptually, intrinsic motivation is considered to be a well-established predictor of creativity (Amabile, 1996; Shalley et al., 2004).

Two key drivers influencing the development of an effective creative culture are firstly, the empowerment role identity, which is the extent to which an individual views him or herself as a person who wants to be empowered in a particular job. Then leader encouragement of creativity refers to the extent of a leaders emphasis on an employee being creative and actively engaging in processes that may lead to creative outcomes. (Zhang and Bartol, 2010, p.108)

Zhang and Bartol’s research found that “empowering leadership has the capacity to positively influence employee psychological empowerment, an element of importance in affecting creative outcomes. However, managers are likely to find differences in the extent to which employees wish to be empowered - that is, identify with an employee role that includes empowerment. Hence, managers may find that their empowerment efforts are more successful in engendering cognitions of psychological empowerment in those who view empowerment as part of their role identities. Indeed, evidence suggests that managers do not attempt to empower all employees to the same degree, at least at a given point in time (Forrester, 2000; Yukl & Fu, 1999), a strategy supported by our empowerment role identity findings,” (p.123).

One implication is that, when empowerment role identity is low, leaders may need to expend some time gradually increasing empowerment behaviours so as to encourage employees to begin to view empowerment as part of their role identities. Fortunately, role identity theory suggests that adding role identities is possible through such a process, particularly over time (Stryker, 1980).

Zhang and Bartol's research results suggested that “creativity gains may be boosted if an employee is willing to spend the time and effort necessary to thoroughly identify a problem, search for extensive information, and generate multiple ideas from different perspectives - that is, engage in an effective creative process. Fortunately, our findings also indicate that a leader can play an active role in encouraging such creative process engagement by elucidating to a follower the need for creative outcomes, spelling out what their organization values, and explaining the elements of an effective creative process, such as the one we have considered here. Training employees in creativity-relevant methods or processes is likely to enhance such efforts,” (p.123).

The research is interesting in that it reminds executives and management that not everyone wants to be ‘creative’ to the same degree as everyone else; and it can be dangerous to assume everyone wants to be treated in the same way. As Zhang and Bartol highlight the process involves three key drivers for success: psychological empowerment, intrinsic motivation, and creative process engagement.

The optimum solution for an effective creative culture is understanding, at the individual level, the importance of; the empowerment role identity and the leader’s encouragement of creativity. Understanding the effect of both and optimising both for each employee will give the organisation an effective creative culture.


Zhang, X and Bartol, K.M. (2010).Linking Empowering Leadership and Employee Creativity: The Influence of Psychological Empowerment, Intrinsic Motivation and Creative Process Engagement. Academy of Management Journal; Vol. 53 Issue 1, p.107-128.

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