Cultural storm in Indian R&D space

Pradipti Jayaram | Updated on December 12, 2013


Leader behaviours and the influence mechanisms needed to manage Indian workforce can be substantially different from those developed in the West. — Vishal Gupta, Professor, IIM Ahmedabad

In this day and age, creativity, or the ability to produce novel and useful ideas, forms an important benchmark to measure an employee’s success. In trying to navigate an increasingly complex workspace and world, its value is often placed higher than conventional parameters, such as rigour, management discipline, integrity, or even vision.

The work environment and the supervisor — part of an employee’s daily experience — are likely to have an impact on the employee’s creativity. The supervisor inadvertently plays a crucial role in developing the ambience of the workspace. The supervisor directly evaluates the output of an employee, helps or blocks access to resources or information, and boosts or dampens moral.

Since research on the affects of a supervisor on an employee’s creative performance has been sparse and inconclusive, Vishal Gupta, Professor at IIM Ahmedabad,hopes to fill this lacuna. Gupta has conducted a study titled Leadership and creativity in the Indian R&D laboratories: Examining the role of autonomous motivation, psychological capital and justice perceptions.

Creativity in employees is a game-changer, more so in the research and development (R&D) spaces, such as hi-tech and consumer goods firms. There’s not only a need to constantly reinvent products to cope with technological advancements occurring at lightning speed in this space, but there are also the demands of a whimsical and well-informed customer base.

In conversation with the Business Line, Gupta tells us how and which leadership behaviours promote creativity in employees of the R&D sector.

What is your focus, and why is the R&D sector your chosen space for research?

The study focuses on and identifies leader behaviours that are important for promoting creativity in R&D professionals.

The characteristics of R&D professionals (more educated, and having distinct goal orientations) and the nature of their work (high risks of failures, uncertain processes) make R&D a unique and interesting context to study.

Could you briefly elaborate the research’s methodology?

The study is based on a combination of in-depth interviews (of about 50 scientists) and a questionnaire-based survey of scientists (of around 600) in Indian publicly-owned R&D laboratories.

What results did your study yield?

The study found that the important R&D leader behaviours are empowering, leading-by-example, team-building, recognising, inspiring through lofty visions, clarifying roles and responsibilities, planning and buffering unnecessary politics. Next, the study shows that leaders who exhibit these behaviours positively influence employee engagement and creative performance in three ways: a) by promoting perceptions of workplace fairness and justice; b) by promoting positive psychological capacities like self-confidence, hope, optimism about future and building resilience in employees; and c) by generating and sustaining employee’s intrinsic (not dependent of external factors like rewards or punishment) interest in his/her work (autonomous motivation).

What are the problems with organisational measures in use at present?

There are difficult questions before researchers that need an answer. For example, ‘are there cultural differences in managing creativity?’, and ‘would the approaches that work in Western countries, such as the US, work as well in Eastern countries?’

A major problem with scales developed to measure organisational behaviour is that majority of the studies on the topic of R&D leadership and creativity have been conducted in the US or other Western nations.

What is the need for context specific measures?

India is culturally unique. We have traditionally been a culture that is high on power distance and collectivism. We are status-conscious, and have a strong distinction between “insiders” and “outsiders” and as a result prefer loyalty and dependability over efficiency and independence. We are more accustomed to thinking in terms of narrow identities like our own selves, castes, communities, regional and linguistic groups, which are constantly being reinforced by the Government’s actions, such as reservations.

These differences suggest that the leader behaviours and the influence mechanisms needed to manage Indian workforce can be substantially different from those developed in the West.

Would you say there is a way forward, in terms of replication of results; could one draw inferences on other organisational set-ups based on these results?

The results of this study, aside from R&D firms, are applicable to industries and organisations that have characteristics similar to it, such as information technology and IT-enabled services companies, academic and research institutes, such as IITs, IIMs, and others.

The results need to be validated and tested for other organisational contexts, such as manufacturing and process driven organisations. Overall, having been conducted in the Indian cultural context, the present study contributes to the body of knowledge that exists on Indian employees, their needs and perceptions.

Published on December 12, 2013

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