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Are more traditional employees less innovative? Colleagues' and leaders' influences matter.

Innovative behaviors, defined as actions related to the generation, promotion, and realization of new ideas, products, and processes in the workplace, have emerged as a popular area of research in organizational science (Hammond, Neff, Farr, Schwall, & Zhao, 2011). Owing to the great significance of innovative behaviors in organizational effectiveness and survival (Scott & Bruce, 1994), one important issue for researchers and practitioners to focus on is the identification of employees who have the potential to be innovative. To this end, previous researchers have specified a series of predictors of innovation at the individual level, which range from various personality traits to different demographic variables (e.g., Chen, Farh, Campbell-Bush, Wu, & Wu, 2013; Pieterse, van Knippenberg, Schippers, & Stam, 2010).

However, despite prior researchers' efforts, much about the relationship between employees' cultural values and their innovative behaviors remains unknown. As humans are born and raised within broad social systems, societal-level cultural values are inevitably internalized into one's core values to shape worldviews and generalized beliefs, which are then externally exhibited as actions (Gudykunst et al., 1996). In this paper, we proposed that traditionality--a cultural value characterized by submission to authority, conservatism, endurance, fatalism, defensiveness, and male dominance (Yang, Yu, & Yeh, 1989)--would be negatively linked to innovative behaviors. Following the person-situation fit approach (Diener, Larsen, & Emmons, 1984), we argued that this negative relationship may be further regulated by two contextual factors: group traditionality, which reflects the average level of traditionality values upheld by all group colleagues, and transformational leadership, which reflects the extent to which the group leader advocates change and new ways of thinking (Spreitzer, Perttula, & Xin, 2005). Moreover, as they are part of an employee's immediate environment, the traditionality of colleagues, the leadership style used by the group leader, and the employee's own tendency toward traditionality may constitute a three-way interaction on individual innovation.

Theory and Hypotheses

Traditionality and Innovative Behavior

Traditionality emphasizes submission to authority and maintenance of the status quo; thus, we posited that, compared to traditionalists, nontraditionalists would be more independent and open to new concepts, meaning that they would be more likely to "think outside the box," be innovative (Hui, Wong, & Tjosvold, 2007), and generate and implement novel ideas. Dollinger, Burke, and Gump (2007) and Kasof, Chen, Himsel, and Greenberger (2007) provided empirical evidence that conformity and traditional values are negatively related to idea generation, which is one aspect of innovation, during various tasks. Thus, we formed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1: Traditionality will be negatively related to employees' innovative behaviors.

Group Traditionality and Transformational Leadership

On the basis of person-situation fit theory, positive responses, such as high performance, positive emotion, and high job satisfaction, may occur when individuals' characteristics, including their values and personalities, closely match the requirements of a situation (O'Reilly, Chatman, & Caldwell, 1991). Group traditionality is one situational factor that could regulate the effects of individual traditionality on innovative behaviors. We believed that this was because having a sense of similarity with others can make people feel legitimized and confirmed; thus, they would feel more secure and comfortable to pursue their innovative ideas. Specifically, when group traditionality is low, which means that group colleagues discourage conformity and conservatism and instead promote independence and willingness to change (Gibson & Saxton, 2005), nontraditionalists, with their strong potential for innovation, would be more likely to achieve good person-situation fit and perform innovative behaviors. In contrast, when group traditionality is high, nontraditionalists would be more likely to experience a mismatch between person and situation, and their innovative potential may be greatly downplayed. Thus, we formed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 2: Group traditionality will moderate the negative relationship between traditionality and innovative behaviors, such that it will be stronger when group traditionality is low rather than high.

Following the same logic, transformational leadership could play a similar moderating role on the relationship between traditionality and innovative behaviors (Chen et al., 2013). Transformational leadership is a change-oriented leadership style, whereby followers are encouraged to rethink basic assumptions and challenge the status quo (Gilmore, Hu, Wei, Tetrick, & Zaccaro, 2013; Zhu & Akhtar, 2014). Consequently, when a group leader is characterized as highly transformational, nontraditional employees who do not like being restricted by existing frameworks are more likely to achieve congruence with their leader and, thus, to generate more innovative behaviors. In contrast, when transformational leadership is low, the group leader may not appreciate nontraditionalists' innovative endeavors, reducing the likelihood of innovation occurring. Therefore, we formed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 3: Transformational leadership will moderate the negative relationship between traditionality and innovative behaviors, such that it will be stronger when transformational leadership is high rather than low.

We further argue that the moderating roles of group traditionality and transformational leadership are interdependent, such that a three-way interaction could exist to predict innovative behaviors. We posited that when group traditionality is low and transformational leadership is high, but not when it is low, nontraditionalists would be more innovative, because both group members and the leader could constitute a broader "matched" situation for nontraditionalists to pursue change. On the other hand, when group traditionality is high, transformational leadership may lose its moderating effect on the individual traditionality-innovative behaviors relationship. Regardless of the group leader's level of transformational leadership, traditional group members are against change; thus, a fit effect cannot be achieved between nontraditionalists and the broader environment. Therefore, we formed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 4: Group traditionality will moderate the relationships among traditionality, transformational leadership, and innovative behavior, such that the interactive effect between traditionality and transformational leadership will be more pronounced when group traditionality is low rather than high.


Participants and Procedure

We tested the hypotheses using data collected from information technology groups working for three subsidiaries of a large telecommunication corporation in China. We obtained informed consent from the participants and their group leaders before beginning the data collection, and the study was supervised by the ethics committee in the Department of Management at Jinan University. First, we emailed links to the online questionnaire to 445 employees nested in 54 groups. The questionnaires included items to assess participants' demographics, traditionality, and their direct supervisors' transformational leadership. About 3 weeks later, a second wave of data collection was conducted using a similar procedure. At this time, employees reported their intrinsic motivation, and group leaders reported their employees' innovative behaviors.

Matching the participants across the two time points gave us a sample of 306 employees supervised by 52 group leaders. After deleting eight outliers and 16 one leader-one employee dyads, the final sample used for data analysis consisted of 282 employees and their 36 group leaders (men = 81%, women = 19%). Among the employees, 69% were men, 90% had a bachelor's degree or higher level of education, and the average organizational tenure and tenure with the group leader were 3.67 years (SD = 3.94) and 2.7 years (SD = 1.03), respectively.


Traditionality. We used the Chinese Individual Traditionality Scale (Yang et al., 1989), adapted by Farh, Earley, and Lin (1997), to measure employee traditionality. Participants respond to five items on a 6-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree, 6 = strongly agree). A sample item is "When people are in dispute, they should ask the most senior person to decide who is right" ([alpha] = .74, for the whole scale).

Group traditionality. Individual traditionality scores were averaged by group to reflect group traditionality.

Transformational leadership. We used a 23-item transformational leadership scale that was adopted from Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Moorman, and Fetter (1990), which comprises six dimensions: vision articulation, role modeling, goal acceptance, high performance expectation, individualized support, and intellectual stimulation. The scale was translated by two doctoral students from the first author's department and then back translated by the first author. A sample item is "The group leader has a clear understanding of where we are going." Employees report their perceptions of the group leader on a 7-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree, 1 = strongly agree). In this study, the scale's Cronbach's a was .96. The within-group variance and intraclass coefficient (1 and 2) values for this scale were .96, .07, and .53, respectively. Analysis of variance results showed that there was sufficient between-group variance, F(35, 246) = 2.14, p < .001; consequently, we determined that it was appropriate for us to aggregate these scores to the group level.

Innovative behavior. We used the six-item scale developed by Scott and Bruce (1994) to capture employees' innovative behaviors in the organization. A translation and back-translation procedure was used as described above. Leaders rate these behaviors on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = never, 5 = always). A sample item is "This employee generates creative ideas" ([alpha] = .92, for the whole scale).

Control variables. Following Chen et al. (2013), we controlled for four demographic variables: gender (1 = female, 0 = male), level of education (1 = vocational school or less, 2 = bachelor's degree, 3 = master's degree or higher), organizational tenure (in years), and tenure with the group leader (in years). We also controlled for the motivational variable of intrinsic motivation, which was measured with Grant's (2008) four-item scale on a 7-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree, 1 = strongly agree). One sample item is "I am motivated at work because I enjoy the work itself' ([alpha] = .95, for the whole scale).

Data Analysis

First, we utilized SPSS version 19.0 and LISREL version 8.51 to examine the efficacy of our proposed model. Then, as transformational leadership and group traditionality were conceptualized at the group level whereas the other constructs were measured at the individual level, we employed hierarchical linear modeling (Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002) to test our hypotheses.


Confirmatory Factor Analyses

A series of confirmatory factor analyses demonstrated the distinctive validity of our key variables. Fit indices showed that the baseline model fitted the data well, [chi square](183) = 386.28, p < .01, root mean square error of approximation = .06, nonnormed fit index = .94, comparative fit index = .95, and confirmed that this model was significantly better than any of the alternative models, [DELTA][chi square](3) = 267.15, p < .01; [DELTA][chi square](3) = 1158.66, p < .01; [DELTA][chi square](5) = 1429.69, p < .01.

Descriptive Statistics

The means (SDs) for the key variables were as follows: traditionality = 3.11 (0.82), group traditionality = 3.11 (0.30), transformational leadership = 4.99 (0.42), intrinsic motivation = 4.98 (1.18), and innovative behavior = 3.11 (0.73). Correlation analysis showed that traditionality was not significantly related to innovative behavior ([gamma] = .04, ns); group traditionality was significantly related to traditionality ([gamma] = .36, p < .01), transformational leadership ([gamma] = . 13, p < .05), and innovative behavior ([gamma] = .16, p < .01); and transformational leadership was significantly associated with innovative behavior ([gamma] = .22, p < .01).

Hypotheses Testing

As shown in Model 1 of Table 1, the relationship between traditionality and innovative behaviors was not significant. Hypothesis 1 was, thus, not supported.

As shown in Model 2 of Table 1 and in Figure 1, the cross-level moderating effect of group traditionality on the relationship between traditionality and innovative behaviors was significant. Results of further simple slopes tests (Bauer & Curran, 2005) showed that traditionality was only negatively related to innovative behaviors when group traditionality was low. Consequently, Hypothesis 2 was supported.

Hypothesis 3 was also supported. As shown in Model 3 of Table 1 and in Figure 2, the cross-level interaction effect of transformational leadership and traditionality on innovative behaviors was significant, and employees' traditionality was only negatively related to innovative behaviors when transformational leadership was high.

Model 5 of Table 1 shows that the three-way interaction of traditionality, group traditionality, and transformational leadership on innovative behaviors was significant. When group traditionality was low (Figure 3), the relationship between traditionality and innovative behaviors was only significant when transformational leadership was high rather than low. On the other hand, when group traditionality was high, although the effects of traditionality became stronger when transformational leadership changed from high to low, the effects of traditionality on innovative behaviors became significantly positive when transformational leadership was low. Hypothesis 4 was only partially supported.


Echoing the viewpoint that cultural values could exert a significant effect on individuals' cognition, identity, and behavior (Gudykunst et al., 1996), we developed a model to directly examine the negative influence of individuals' traditionality on their innovative behaviors. Although our results did not support a direct link between these two variables, an indirect relationship indeed existed when the group was led by a transformational leader or when the focal employee was part of a group of nontraditionalists.

Moreover, we found that the three-way interaction among traditionality, transformational leadership, and group traditionality had an influence on innovative behaviors. A result we found surprising was that when group traditionality was high, traditional employees could be innovative even when the leader did not advocate for this type of behavior. A plausible explanation for this finding is that there are many different ways of achieving innovation (West & Altink, 1996). Traditional employees emphasize expressive ties among people (Yang et al., 1989); thus, when they perceive incongruent cues from different group members in a given context, they are more likely to experience conflict and insufficient support when trying to maintain their values, such as engaging in innovative behaviors. Only when all group members are supportive can cognitive resources be made available and used for innovation. By contrast, nontraditional employees are more dynamic and open-minded (Farh et al., 1997); thus, they are less influenced by other group members' support. Only when all other group members show a lack of support is their potential for innovation fully suppressed.

Our findings have, first, extended the individual innovation literature by identifying as an antecedent one cultural value orientation: traditionality. Prior researchers in this field have mainly focused on the effects of individuals' creative and Big Five personality traits on their innovative behaviors (Hammond et al., 2011), and it has not been examined whether individuals' cultural value orientation toward authority is a valid predictor (Erez & Nouri, 2010). Thus, we have enriched the spectrum of predictors for individual innovation in work-related contexts.

Second, our findings may contribute to the existing understanding of traditionality. In prior research, traditionality was mostly used as a regulating influence instead of a direct activator of behavior (e.g., Farh et al., 1997; Li, Yu, Yang, Qi, & Fu, 2014). Existing knowledge of its behavioral implications as well as effectiveness was far from complete; thus, we have extended the literature by directly examining if and when traditionality could affect innovation.

Third, we explored for the first time the individual and combined moderating roles of transformational leadership and group traditionality, as two contextual factors, on innovation. Further, we not only specified different contextual variables that regulate the strength of the traditionality-innovation relationship, but also presented a broader picture of the influence of different group members' traditionality on this relationship.

One practical implication is that we found that traditional employees are generally superior to their less traditional counterparts in terms of innovative behaviors. To facilitate individual innovation, leaders should avoid focusing on subordinates' traditionality as a criterion for judgment and differentiation, while bearing in mind that, compared with their more traditional counterparts, nontraditional employees still show greater innovation when they are led by a supervisor with high transformational leadership and/or when they are surrounded by a group of peers with similarly low traditionality (Dollinger et al., 2007; Kasof et al., 2007; Spreitzer et al., 2005). Consequently, to better fulfill the innovative potential of these employees, we recommend that leaders focus on developing a matched situational element that could endorse nontraditional employees' ways of thinking and behaving.

On the other hand, we found that employees' traditionality could actually be beneficial to innovative behaviors when group leader shows low transformational leadership and when group traditionality is high. Thus, to capitalize on the strong obedience of highly traditional employees at work, leaders should provide a consistent supporting environment where each group member feels supported to maintain their value orientation.

In terms of limitations, first, although our time-lagged research design could well address the problem of causality, our findings are based on a single field study. Thus, future researchers could consider using different samples and other study designs to replicate our research models. Second, we only examined the effect of one cultural value orientation, traditionality. Future researchers could investigate how other types of cultural values, such as power distance orientation (e.g., Farh, Hackett, & Liang, 2007) and individualism-collectivism (e.g., Chen, Gong et al., 2015), influence individual innovation to determine if they have different effects. Third, we posited that traditionality might influence an individual's innovative behaviors via shaping his/her cognitions and ways of thinking. Specific measures to capture this intervening process were, however, not utilized. Consequently, future researchers could investigate through which mechanisms traditionality interacts with context to influence an individual's innovative behaviors.


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Qin Xu, School of Economics and Management, Southeast University; Fangjun Li, Management School, Jinan University.


Southeast University


Jinan University

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 30th Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

This research was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (71602076) and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (3214006418).

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Fangjun Li, Management School, Jinan University, 601 Huangpu Avenue West, Guangzhou 510632, People's Republic of China. Email:

Caption: Figure 1. Effect of group traditionality on the relationship between traditionality and innovative behaviors.

Caption: Figure 2. Effect of transformational leadership on the relationship between traditionality and innovative behaviors.

Caption: Figure 3. Effect of the interaction between transformational leadership and group traditionality on the relationship between traditionality and innovative performance.
Table 1. Hierarchical Linear Model of Innovative Behavior

Variables                        Model 0         Model 1

                             [beta]    SE    [beta]     SE

Main effects
  Traditionality                             -.04      .04
  Group traditionality
    leadership (TFL)
Interaction effects
  Traditionality X Group
  Traditionality X TFL
  Group traditionality X
  Traditionality X Group
    traditionality X TFL
Control variables
  Intrinsic motivation        .03      .03    .03      .03
  Employee gender            -.07 *    .03   -.08 *    .03
  Employee education          .07      .04    .07      .03
  Tenure with group leader    .15 **   .04    .14 **   .04
  Organizational tenure      -.09 *    .04   -.08 *    .04

Variables                        Model 2          Model 3

                             [beta]     SE    [beta]     SE

Main effects
  Traditionality             -.04      .04    -.04      .04
  Group traditionality        .01      .09
  Transformational                             .13      .09
    leadership (TFL)
Interaction effects
  Traditionality X Group      .10 *    .05
  Traditionality X TFL                        -.11 *    .05
  Group traditionality X
  Traditionality X Group
    traditionality X TFL
Control variables
  Intrinsic motivation        .03      .03     .03      .03
  Employee gender            -.08 *    .03    -.09 **   .03
  Employee education          .07 *    .03     .06      .03
  Tenure with group leader    .14 **   .04     .13 **   .04
  Organizational tenure      -.08 *    .04    -.08 *    .03

Variables                        Model 4          Model 5

                             [beta]     SE    [beta]    SE

Main effects
  Traditionality             -.04      .03    -.03      .03
  Group traditionality       -.01      .09    -.01      .09
  Transformational            .13      .09     .12      .10
    leadership (TFL)
Interaction effects
  Traditionality X Group      .12 **   .04     .12 **   .04
  Traditionality X TFL       -.12 **   .04    -.16 **   .04
  Group traditionality X                      -.04      .08
  Traditionality X Group                      -.13 **   .04
    traditionality X TFL
Control variables
  Intrinsic motivation        .03      .03     .02      .03
  Employee gender            -.08 *    .03    -.08 **   .03
  Employee education          .07      .03     .07 *    .0
  Tenure with group leader    .13 *    .04     .12 **   .04
  Organizational tenure      -.09 *    .04    -.08 *    .04

Note. [N.sub.1] = 36; [N.sub.2] = 282. * p < .05, ** p < .01.
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Author:Xu, Qin; Li, Fangjun
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Date:May 1, 2017
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