I’m pleased to share the research results following my literature review: What Does Employee Engagement Mean and Can Transformational Leadership Positively Impact It?
Context of Study
This study was conducted within a public sector organization. Factors that influence this environment include a culture of politics, an aversion to risk taking, and geography where operational business areas are located across the province. Front line operational staff are represented by a union.
The respondents for this study were selected from three segments of the organizational population of 1,600 staff: executive leadership, middle management, and front line operational staff. The executive leadership consists of six executive directors who are expected to be transformational leaders. Middle management is made up of senior managers and managers who, mostly, practice transactional leadership to front line operational staff. Front line operational staff provide service to the public.
The ideal sampling technique for this proposal would have been quota sampling. This technique would have been designed to reflect the diversity of the organization’s population through a matrix representing the numerous categories of staff which include corporate staff, operational staff, urban and rural locations, and large and small geographical areas. These categories would have included age, gender and position within the organization.
For this pilot study, convenience sampling, a non-probability sampling technique, was used to recruit the sample. The proposed participants were available to the researcher and provided representation from the executive leadership team, middle management and front line staff. A total of five participants were selected to participate in a qualitative interview.
Method of Data Collection
A survey was used to collect data for this proposal. A questionnaire was administered to the group of respondents at one sitting. This reduced the time to collect research and eliminated the challenges around distribution, collection and monitoring the returns.
Staff being interviewed were advised that their participation was voluntary and this notification was, particularly, important for staff who have a classification level equal to or below that of the researcher.
This research project guaranteed confidentiality to the survey participants. It was recognized that the researcher would be able to identify a given person’s responses but a promise not to do so publicly was part of information provided to the survey participants.
Five staff were invited to a focus group session to participate in the completion of the survey questionnaire. The participants included:
- An executive director;
- A senior manager;
- A manager;
- A team lead; and
- A front-line employee.
The participants were provided with the questionnaire three days in advance of the session along with the invitation. The session was scheduled for a three hour time slot and all data were collected within the three hours. The researcher facilitated the completion of the questionnaire and answered questions posed by the participants as they, individually, completed the questionnaire.
The purpose of the session was to gather data on the leadership variables used by transformational leaders to create a culture of employee engagement. The four themes from the MLQ: idealized influence, individual consideration, inspiration motivation, and intellectual stimulation were used to analyze the questionnaire responses. The data provided a clear picture into the perceptions held by the participants of the transformational leaders they have worked with. The data, also, provided a snapshot of desired transformational leadership behaviours.
Idealized influence. Highly transformational leaders were described as being great communicators who focused on building relationships by talking about their values and beliefs. These leaders had high expectations for themselves and others. One participant noted a leader who “did not hesitate to ask another employee to act as an alternate on high profile committees when she was unable to attend.” Another person noted how motivated he was by a leader who modeled transparency even when “it exposed a gap in the leader’s plan.”
A lower level transformational leader was described as not always “walking the talk” when it comes to values and beliefs. The participant noted that this behaviour reduced her willingness to trust the leader and felt less motivated to become engaged in the goals of the organization.
Individual consideration. Highly transformational leaders were seen as leaders who looked for opportunities to teach and coach through invitations to participate with leader in ministry wide committees. They wanted to build internal leadership capacity. One participant was really motivated during one committee meeting he attended as an observer when the leader asked during the meeting, “I’m probably not the best person to comment. Ed, you have expertise in this area. What do you think?”
Another participant noted a leader who was not really interested in building internal leadership capacity and noted how disengaged she became when the leader suggested, “We are too busy around here to coach. We need to get things done.”
Inspirational motivation. Four participants had difficulty describing examples of this behaviour. They noted that most managers they have worked with mostly focused on what “we can’t do.” They often talked about budget constraints, lack of organizational support, and their history of failed or suspended change initiatives. With this type of behaviour, one participant noted, “Why should I be optimistic if my manager isn’t? It’s a waste of time.”
One participant did note a leader who displayed a “we can do” attitude. This leader looked for opportunities to question what we are doing and being open to suggestions to try something different. This participant talked about how engaged he and other co-workers were when this manager launched a “challenge the process” initiative and how excited and engaged staff became to participate.
Intellectual stimulation. The participants noted that this behaviour was displayed when leaders looked for opportunities to engage many others to solve problems. The perception was that these leaders were genuinely interested in what others could contribute to the discussion. The front line staff participant noted surprise when the CEO during a visit to my office asked me to share my ideas on how to address a communication gap between head office and front line staff.
One example of a low transformational leader was one who seemed to “believe that he knew best and didn’t need input from others.” This participant wondered why she should bother to become more engaged instead suggesting, “I should just mind my own business and do my job.”
Culture of Employee Engagement. Three of the participants noted that their direct managers did not appear to have an understanding of what employee engagement is, nor did they appear to see any benefit to be gained. These managers were simply task oriented, in other words, they were transactional leaders. The other two participants had been exposed to a transformational leader who, in their opinion, took concrete steps to create a culture of employee engagement and who, often, shared their vision of a workplace where employees are “empowered to do great things and become great leaders”. This leader believed that “all employees are leaders and that when they see themselves as leaders, employee engagement will follow.”
The findings of this research do indicate similarities between the literature and the data. The literature emphasizes the importance of the behaviours exhibited by transformational leaders which can lead to increased employee engagement. Of particular note, was the leader who displayed transformational leadership with their vision of an employee engagement culture as one where all employees are considered to be leaders. Transformational leadership can positively impact employee engagement.
Although, this study indicates that transformational leadership can positively impact employee engagement, there are weaknesses in the design and execution of the study. This study would benefit from a mixed methods approach to combine quantitative and qualitative data. Using the quota sampling technique would more accurately reflect the diversity of the organization’s population and lead to more credible research results. Another limitation of this study is that it is very rare to find managers in the workplace who embody the characteristics of transformational leaders in their ability to inspire, influence, motivate, intellectually stimulate, and provide individual consideration to their staff. There are more examples of transformational leaders in the organization at the executive leadership level but for the majority of staff their day to day experience is with middle managers who are unlikely to exhibit transformational leadership behaviours. An initiative to increase awareness of transformational leadership behaviours for all staff and, especially, middle managers, would be beneficial prior to another study. The importance of this study cannot be overlooked as it does provide a baseline for comparison to a future study and could provide important information to inform future steps to increase awareness of transformational leadership behaviours.
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