Implementing process innovations: the benefits of combining delegative-participative with consultative-advisory leadership.

Author:Krause, Diana E.

Previous research leaves open which facets of leadership foster the implementation of process innovations. In this study, the authors analyze the effects of delegative-participative and consultative-advisory leadership, respectively, on the implementation success of process innovations. They argue that each of these leadership behaviors entails specific advantages and risks and that therefore the two patterns complement each other. The sample consisted of managers from different organizations. Although the posited main effects of both delegative-participative and consultative-advisory leadership are confirmed, the significant interaction between these two leadership styles has a different direction than the authors hypothesized.

Keywords: innovation; implementation; leadership; delegation; participation; consultation


Contemporary organizations need to be innovative to maintain a competitive advantage. Thus, organizations increase their efforts to generate and implement new products or processes in their work units. Although the generation of ideas has been addressed extensively in the literature (Amabile, Conti, Coon, Lazenby, & Herron, 1996), there are very few studies that analyze the implementation of innovations (e.g., Axtell et al., 2000) despite the fact that it is often the implementation phase that poses the greatest challenge for organizations. Moreover, the extant literature primarily focuses on product innovations and not process innovations. Against the backdrop of these shortcomings of the current literature on innovation, our study focuses on the implementation of process innovations in organizations. Our main question is: What facet of leadership behavior increases the chances of successfully implementing a process innovation, and by what mechanisms does this success come about? We focus on process innovations--namely, novel solutions in generating goods and services--such as the introduction of a new software, e-commerce application, project management approach, personnel evaluation system (e.g., 360[degrees] feedback), or goal-setting instrument (e.g., balanced score card).

Leadership has frequently been investigated as a determinant of innovativeness (Burpitt & Bigoness, 1997; Manz, Bastien, Hostager, & Shapiro, 1989; Oldham & Cummings, 1996; Scott & Bruce, 1998; Tierney, Farmer, & Graen, 1999). The results reported in this literature are markedly heterogeneous (West, 2002). In part, this may be due to the conceptualizations of leadership in the literature, many of which have been unsatisfactory for predicting leadership success (Yukl, 2006). As a step forward, we suggest the analysis of the effects of two important aspects of leadership on innovation: first, delegative-participative leadership and second, consultative-advisory leadership.


Implementation Success of Process Innovations as a Function of Delegative-Participative Leadership and of Consultative-Advisory Leadership

The main argument made here is that the implementation success of process innovations is a function of both delegative-participative leadership and consultative-advisory leadership (see Figure 1). We define the implementation success of a process innovation by the degree to which the work unit is perceived as being both more effective and efficient after the innovation's implementation.


In theory, leadership is conducive to the implementation of innovations to the degree that it prompts the subordinates to put novel and fruitful ideas into action as intended (Lewis & Seibold, 1993). Ideally, this will improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the work unit. The first facet of leadership we study here, delegative-participative leadership, refers to the degree to which the subordinates (who may in turn also be leaders with respect to others) are given the chance to influence the way in which an innovation is implemented and how the respective process innovation is put into action in their field of responsibility. Delegative-participative leadership grants subordinates a say (participation) and discretionary authority (delegation) with respect to the implementation. There is widespread agreement that a delegative-participative leadership fosters creative, innovative performance (Anderson & King, 1993; Axtell et al., 2000; Manz et al., 1989; Mumford, Scott, Gaddis, & Strange, 2002). Delegative-participative leadership raises the degree of subordinates' perceived situational control (Krause, 2004). Increases in perceived situational control--namely, the subordinates' appraisal that the work setting is indeed susceptible to change--attenuates the degree to which the changes induced by the process innovation are perceived as threatening (Lazarus, 1991). Granting opportunities to wield influence is likely to lead subordinates to interpret the leadership process as being fair, thus procedurally raising the acceptance of process innovations (cf. Brockner & Siegel, 1996). Moreover, these processes enhance intrinsic motivation for implementation. Increasing the degree of situational control fosters the subordinates' motivation to initiate initiatives and assume responsibility with respect to filling in the details of how a more broadly defined process innovation should be implemented (Frese & Zapf, 1994). This facilitates the adaptation of a process innovation to a specific context and, hence, its functionality. This reasoning leads to:

Hypothesis 1: Delegative-participative leadership is positively associated with the implementation success of process innovations.

Furthermore, we assume that the implementation of process innovations is enhanced by a second leadership facet, consultative-advisory leadership. We define consultative-advisory leadership as the degree to which the leader influences the follower by providing advice, professional guidance, and background information about the process innovation. By thus explicating the objectives of and the prerequisites for the successful implementation of a process innovation, consultative-advisory leadership enables a fine-tuning of the subordinate's cognitive task model. Sharing background information is one way of expressing appreciation for a subordinate (Bauer & Green, 1996; Tyler, Degoey, & Smith, 1996), and it facilitates the discussion of implementation-related issues. Moreover, offering advice, professional guidance, and advisory background information furthers a deeper understanding of the process innovation on the part of the subordinate, in turn reducing the tasks' ambiguity. By thus providing a sense of orientation and reducing ambiguity, it becomes more likely that a follower will accept the innovation. Promoting acceptance in turn increases the likelihood that a subordinate will actively support the process innovation and contribute to the success of its implementation. Finally, leadership that provides advice and orientation fosters the cognitive adaptation of a process innovation to different contexts in other work units. Thus,

Hypothesis 2: Consultative-advisory leadership is positively associated with the implementation success of a process innovation.

Risks of Delegative-Participative Leadership and of Consultative-Advisory Leadership and the Complementarity of the Approaches

Delegative-participative leadership is not just connected with the aforementioned advantages but also with specific risks (Sheremata, 2000). Subordinates may misinterpret the freedoms they have been granted. In his or her work, a person may implement the process innovations in ways that harm colleagues or the work unit as a whole. Subsequently, such idiosyncratic reinterpretations can give rise to relationship conflicts (Jehn, 1995). Moreover, it can be assumed that delegative-participative leadership entails a higher need for coordination. Freedoms must be clearly defined; they require restrictions. Whereas delegative-participative leadership increases the risk of misinterpretations concerning a process innovation, consultative-advisory leadership can compensate the thus spawned negative effects by providing information regarding the objective and purpose of the process innovation.

Conversely, consultative-advisory leadership also has its risks. For example, a subordinate may construe the leader's behavior as patronizing, which in turn may lead to relationship conflicts (Jehn, 1995) and to reactance (Brehm, 1966)...

To continue reading