Are We Innovative? Increasing Perceptions of Nonprofit Innovation Through Leadership, Inclusion, and Commitment

Date01 March 2021
AuthorKim C. Brimhall
Published date01 March 2021
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17Cw1h2eH4n7Ao/input 857455ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X19857455Review of Public Personnel AdministrationBrimhall
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2021, Vol. 41(1) 3 –24
Are We Innovative?
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
Increasing Perceptions of
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X19857455
Nonprofit Innovation
Through Leadership,
Inclusion, and Commitment
Kim C. Brimhall1
Innovation is particularly important for the sustainability, functioning, and improvement
of public and nonprofit organizations. Researchers have called for the examination
of how leaders can foster innovation in the nonprofit context. This study examined
whether climate for inclusion and affective commitment were key mechanisms by
which transformational leadership increased perceptions of innovation in a diverse
nonprofit health care organization. Data were collected at three points in 6-month
intervals from a U.S. nonprofit hospital. Longitudinal multilevel path analysis revealed
transformational leaders increase perceptions of nonprofit innovation through
helping every organizational member feel valued as an important member of the
group and appreciated for their unique personal characteristics (fostering a climate
for inclusion). Inclusion increases organizational members’ emotional attachment to
the organization (affective commitment), which then enhances favorable perceptions
of innovation wherein members feel comfortable sharing their ideas and perspectives
with one another (critical to workplace innovation).
transformational leadership, climate for inclusion, affective commitment, innovation,
nonprofit organizations
1Binghamton University–State University of New York, NY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Kim C. Brimhall, Department of Social Work, College of Community and Public Affairs, Binghamton
University–State University of New York, 67 Washington St., Binghamton, NY 13902, USA.

Review of Public Personnel Administration 41(1)
Workplace innovation is critical to increasing organizational growth and improving
service delivery and performance in nonprofit, public-, and private sector organiza-
tions (Jung & Lee, 2016; King, Chermont, West, Dawson, & Hebl, 2010; Miao,
Newman, Schwarz, & Cooper, 2018). Innovation refers to changing an organization
through generating new ideas and applying novel and useful work-related processes
and procedures (Somech & Drach-Zahavy, 2013; West & Farr, 1990). Perceptions of
innovation are employee perspectives on the extent to which the organization fosters
new ideas, processes, and procedures, or products that benefit the workplace or larger
society (Anderson & West, 1998; Somech & Drach-Zahavy, 2013). Although a variety
of organizations pursue innovation as a means of adapting to external pressures and
environmental changes (Miao et al., 2018), nonprofit, public, and private sectors differ
in the institutional challenges they encounter when fostering innovation (Jung & Lee,
2016). The growing number of nonprofit organizations, intensified sector competition,
changing demands of service users, and reduced or eliminated financial support have
challenged public and nonprofit organizations to become innovative to survive (Choi,
2014; Miao et al., 2018; Salamon, 2007; Wynen, Boon, Kleizen, & Verhoest, 2019).
Although innovation is key for the survival of nonprofit and public organizations,
more research is needed on how leaders can create work environments where employ-
ees are encouraged to share ideas and feel comfortable voicing diverse perspectives
that would lead to nonprofit innovation (Glisson, 2015; Jung & Lee, 2016; Miao et al.,
2018). In other words, more research is needed on how nonprofit leaders create human
resource and management systems that leverage employee human capital (unique tal-
ents and perspectives) for innovation.
Leadership and organizational climates (i.e., the shared employee perceptions of
what the work environment is like; Reichers & Schneider, 1990) have been key factors
for achieving innovation in nonprofit human service organizations (Aarons &
Sommerfeld, 2012; Damanpour & Schneider, 2009; Glisson, 2015; Rank, Nelson,
Allen, & Xu, 2009), yet more research is needed on which leadership approaches and
organizational climates are important for fostering innovation (Glisson, 2015; Miao
et al., 2018). More specifically, this study examined whether a climate for inclusion,
that is, work environments where every organizational member feels valued for their
unique perspectives and appreciated as important members of the group (Shore et al.,
2011), and affective commitment, that is, an employees’ emotional attachment and
commitment to the organization (Meyer & Allen, 1991), are key organizational factors
that help public and nonprofit leaders encourage employees to share ideas with one
another. Being able to take interpersonal risks and sharing diverse perspectives with
others is critical to fostering nonprofit innovation (Anderson & West, 1998) and may
be key to creating high-performance work systems. Human resource and management
practices that enhance employee commitment and productivity, such as fostering inno-
vation, are critical to the performance of public and nonprofit organizations (Posthuma,
Campion, Masimova, & Campion, 2013; Selden & Sowa, 2015).
Using transformational leadership (TFL) theory (Bass & Bass, 2008) to explain
how leaders may create inclusive work environments, and optimal distinctiveness
theory (Brewer, 1991) to explain how inclusion may engender affective commitment

and ultimately perceptions of innovation, this study highlights new avenues by which
nonprofit leaders may foster innovative work environments. Scholars have called for
the examination of the leadership-to-innovation relationship, particularly in the public
and nonprofit context, to better understand how leaders can improve nonprofit organi-
zational functioning and sustainability (Choi, 2014; Glisson, 2015; Jung & Lee, 2016).
In addition, although research on workplace climates has historically made important
contributions to public administration and public human resource management, more
research is needed that examines specific human resource practices that foster positive
work environments that lead to beneficial outcomes (Perry, 2010). Thus, using a lon-
gitudinal multilevel path analysis, this study examined whether climate for inclusion
and affective commitment were key mechanisms by which TFL increased perceptions
of innovation in a diverse nonprofit health care organization.
Theoretical Background and Hypotheses
TFL has been defined as the leader’s ability to inspire and motivate others to follow a
particular course of action, such as creating an innovative work environment (Bass &
Bass, 2008; Northouse, 2015). To be transformational, four domains of leadership
need to be met: (a) individualized consideration, (b) intellectual stimulation, (c) inspi-
rational motivation, and (d) idealized influence (Bass, 1985, 1999). Leaders who use
the individualized consideration domain of TFL theory build unique relationships with
each organizational member, understanding that each member may have different
needs and abilities than others (Bass & Riggio, 2006; Northouse, 2015). Leaders who
recognize that organizational members are unique individuals with different talents,
abilities, and perspectives understand that these individuals have the potential to gen-
erate different and diverse perspectives when solving problems (critical to innovation;
Anderson & West, 1998).
The intellectual stimulation domain of TFL theory suggests that the leader’s ability
to help others consider problems from many different angles helps stimulate others to
think critically and creatively. The leader’s ability to motivate their employees to make
the most of their human capital can help increase innovation (Demircioglu &
Audretsch, 2017). Leaders accomplish this by reexamining critical assumptions, seek-
ing out differing perspectives when solving problems and suggesting new ways of
looking at how to complete tasks (Bass & Bass, 2008). Suggesting new ways of doing
something and finding creative ways to improve organizational processes and services
is a critical component to engendering innovation (Anderson & West, 1998).
TFL’s inspirational motivation and idealized influence domains have been consid-
ered by some researchers as one overall factor due to their shared goals of inspiring
collective efficacy, mission, vision, and purpose (Bass & Bass, 2008; van Knippenberg
& Sitkin, 2013). Inspirational motivation is the leader’s ability to communicate a
shared vision of the future; whereas idealized influence refers to the leader’s ability to
create a collective sense of the mission (Bass, 1999; Bass & Bass, 2008; Bass &

Review of Public Personnel Administration 41(1)
Riggio, 2006). Research demonstrates that public and nonprofit employee’s attach-
ment and identification with the organization’s mission and values play a significant
role in promoting employee satisfaction and engagement (W. A. Brown & Yoshioka,
2003; Kim & Lee, 2007); and although this may not override employee dissatisfaction
with low compensation or limited career advancement opportunities, mission attach-
ment remains a core factor for attracting...

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