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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Learning Goal Orientation and Innovative Performance
  4. The Mediating Effect of Knowledge Sharing
  5. The Mediating Effect of Autonomy
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. References

This study examined the effects of learning goal orientation on individual innovative performance and the mediating mechanisms involved. Based on a survey of 248 employees and their supervisors from diverse industries in China, the results showed that learning goal orientation was positively associated with innovative performance, with knowledge sharing as a significant mediator. Unexpectedly, job autonomy was not able to mediate the relationship between learning goal orientation and innovative performance. Exploratory analysis showed that the direct effect of performance goal orientation on innovative performance was insignificant, but it had a weak indirect effect on innovative performance through perceived job autonomy. Theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed.

Goal orientation theory, originally developed in educational psychology, has been applied in organizational settings to predict job performance (e.g., Janssen & Van Yperen, 2004; VandeWalle, Brown, Cron, & Slocum, 1999). In the goal orientation literature, the dimensions of learning goal orientation (LGO) and performance goal orientation (PGO) are well accepted. Employees higher in LGO are motivated to develop their competence and acquire new skills, while those higher in PGO have a strong desire to impress others with their achievements and avoid negative evaluations (e.g., Dweck, 1986; Elliott & Dweck, 1988).

In an era when the fast development of business relies heavily on continuous accumulation and creative application of knowledge, LGO becomes especially important. Recently, the relationship between LGO and employees’ creativity or innovative performance has received a great deal of attention. Several studies have associated LGO with creative performance, which is a novel development in the goal orientation literature (Gong, Huang, & Farh, 2009; Hirst, van Knippenberg, & Zhou, 2009; Janssen & Van Yperen, 2004).

To further develop this line of inquiry, it is important to explore the mechanisms through which LGO is related to innovative performance. The present study attempts to extend past findings and probe the mediating mechanisms between LGO and employees’ innovative performance. Innovative performance here refers to the intentional generation, promotion, and realization of novel ideas in the workplace (Janssen, 2001; Scott & Bruce, 1994; West & Farr, 1989). The reason we adopt this construct, rather than creativity, is because it covers a broader scope of creativity-based performance and is easier to be observed in the workplace.

Our theoretical analysis of the mediating mechanisms between goal orientation and innovative performance is based on the componential model of creativity (Amabile, 1996). In this model, relevant knowledge and skills and intrinsic motivation are regarded as fundamental components of creativity. Accordingly, in this study, we examine the mediating effects of knowledge sharing and perceived autonomy in the relationship between LGO and innovative performance. As explained later, these two mediators capture, respectively, the knowledge- and skills-mastery processes and the intrinsic motivation associated with LGO.

Our hypotheses were examined with a survey that was conducted in China. We argue that our theorizing is not tied to any cultural processes, and we do not believe that culture will change the direction of relationships between goal orientations and performance outcomes.

To summarize, our study contributes to the literature as it sheds light on the mechanism underlying the relationship between learning goal orientation and innovative performance. Our findings are important for the development of a process model that explains the salutary effect of LGO on innovation performance.

Learning Goal Orientation and Innovative Performance

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Learning Goal Orientation and Innovative Performance
  4. The Mediating Effect of Knowledge Sharing
  5. The Mediating Effect of Autonomy
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. References

Considerable research has examined the relationship between goal orientations and academic performance, generally showing a positive association between LGO and academic performance (e.g., Button, Mathieu, & Zajac, 1996; Diener & Dweck, 1978; Dweck, 1986). Similar results have been found in the work setting. For instance, VandeWalle et al. (1999) demonstrated a positive effect of LGO on job performance. Sujan, Weitz, and Kumar (1994) found that LGO motivated salespeople to work both hard and smart. In a similar vein, Steele-Johnson, Heintz, and Miller (2008) showed that, relative to those with no LGO, people with LGO tended to perceive tasks as more challenging and showed better performance when they possessed the necessary cognitive ability. Lin and Chang (2005) found that learning-oriented employees in sales departments were more likely to receive a promotion because they accumulated experiential knowledge and demonstrated better capability and performance.

Payne, Youngcourt, and Beaubien (2007) conducted a meta-analysis and found that the effects of goal orientations on performance may vary across different task types, necessitating the differentiation of performance outcomes. Past studies have related goal orientations to educational achievement (e.g., Button et al., 1996), task performance in a laboratory setting (e.g., Seijts, Latham, Tasa, & Latham, 2004), and general job performance (e.g. Silver, Dwyer, & Alford, 2006). Some recent studies have focused on the effect of goal orientations on creativity (Gong et al. 2009; Hirst et al., 2009), which is the focus of the present study.

In a highly competitive environment, innovation is pivotal because it can boost competitiveness at the individual, group, and organization levels (Janssen, 2004). Compared with routine or general performance, innovative performance is more difficult for three major reasons. First, innovative performance involves methods and procedures not prescribed by current practices. There is no clear guideline for generating, promoting, and realizing novel ideas (Janssen, 2004). Second, innovative initiatives may draw criticism because some people may be conservative and resist change (Janssen & Van Yperen, 2004). Third, innovative performance entails considerable risk-taking because failure is common.

We posit that LGO should facilitate innovative performance because it encourages employees to exert extra effort to acquire new knowledge and experiment with various solutions. A strong desire to learn can increase people's knowledge and competence, which leads to innovation (Gong et al., 2009; Hirst et al., 2009) and, at the same time, decreases perceived threat of the possible consequences of failure (Janssen & Van Yperen, 2004; VandeWalle et al., 1999). In support of this argument, Seijts et al. (2004) found a positive relationship between LGO and performance in a complicated computer-based simulation task when participants were placed in a “do your best” condition. Payne et al. (2007) argued that LGO “would be most valuable for jobs requiring employees to embrace new learning opportunities and adapt to change” (p. 142). Gong and Fan (2006) found that learning orientation was positively related to cross-cultural academic and social adjustment. Accordingly, our reasoning is summarized in the following hypothesis:

  • Hypothesis 1. Learning goal orientation will be positively related to innovative performance.

The Mediating Effect of Knowledge Sharing

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Learning Goal Orientation and Innovative Performance
  4. The Mediating Effect of Knowledge Sharing
  5. The Mediating Effect of Autonomy
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. References

With a few exceptions (e.g., Gong et al., 2009; Porath & Bateman, 2006), researchers have rarely explored the mechanisms through which goal orientation influences individual performance. As argued previously, people with LGO aim at the mastery of knowledge and skills. Research has suggested that these individuals tend to develop learning strategies actively in order to improve their knowledge and skills, which leads to improved performance (Dweck & Elliott, 1983; Hirst et al., 2009; Kanfer, Ackerman, & Heggestad, 1996; VandeWalle et al., 1999). VandeWalle et al. argued that the sheer desire to increase performance does not necessarily lead to higher performance, but that self-regulation driven by LGO can improve performance through the enhancement of knowledge and skills necessary for task accomplishment.

In explicating the beneficial effect of LGO on innovative performance, we focus on a specific learning strategy vital for innovative performance, namely, knowledge sharing. In an era when knowledge is a major competitive advantage, knowledge management is widely regarded as an important cornerstone for organizational success (Bierly, Kessler, & Christensen, 2000). To cope with the rapid growth in knowledge and technology, traditional self-regulation strategies (e.g., goal setting, effort exertion, planning; VandeWalle et al., 1999) may not be sufficient for innovation.

Knowledge sharing is an important learning strategy in a knowledge-intensive era for updating one's knowledge and skills for high innovative performance. In fact, many studies at the organizational level have repeatedly documented the important role of intra-organizational and inter-organizational knowledge sharing in organizational innovative performance (see the meta-analysis by Damanpour, 1991). We argue that at the individual level, knowledge sharing also plays an important role in mediating the influence of LGO on innovative performance, because it contributes to the development of new ideas and learning among employees (Lin & Lee, 2006).

Despite the many benefits of knowledge sharing, people are generally reluctant to share knowledge (Ardichvili, Page, & Wentling, 2003). There are a number of reasons for this reluctance, including the extra effort needed in the codification of knowledge for sharing and the threat of losing personal competitiveness (Lu, Leung, & Koch, 2006). We argue, however, that a strong desire to learn can offset these deterrents and promote knowledge sharing. Knowledge sharing is a beneficial learning strategy because it typically goes beyond a passive, one-way transfer of knowledge from one person to another. Instead, sharing one's personal knowledge with coworkers constitutes a highly useful learning opportunity because recipients can provide feedback on the usefulness of the knowledge received.

If recipients are able to apply the knowledge effectively, the validity of the knowledge is confirmed. Recipients may also raise questions about the knowledge received or provide critical feedback, which may help the knowledge donor to develop better understanding of issues not well understood before, or gain new insight about old issues. Furthermore, an important reason for knowledge sharing is to establish reciprocity (Kankanhalli, Tan, & Wei, 2005). In seeking skills and knowledge development, people with a learning goal can develop a reciprocal relationship with others through knowledge sharing, which provides them an efficient way to gain knowledge and valuable feedback (Hirst et al., 2009; Lin & Lee, 2006; VandeWalle & Cummings, 1997). Given all the benefits of knowledge sharing perceived by people with LGO, the concern for losing their personal competitiveness or the extra effort involved as a result of knowledge sharing should be relatively less salient.

In summary, we argue that knowledge sharing is able to mediate the positive effect of LGO on innovative performance. Past studies have suggested other possible mediators between goal orientations and performance (e.g., Gong & Fan, 2006; Phillips & Gully, 1997). Therefore, we expect a partial mediating effect.

  • Hypothesis 2. Knowledge sharing will partially mediate the relationship between learning goal orientation and innovative performance.

The Mediating Effect of Autonomy

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Learning Goal Orientation and Innovative Performance
  4. The Mediating Effect of Knowledge Sharing
  5. The Mediating Effect of Autonomy
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. References

Following the intrinsic motivation argument about LGO, we further posit perceived autonomy as another mediator in the relationship between LGO and innovative performance. Perceived autonomy, which is defined as the perceived freedom one has in terms of when and how to do one's work (Hackman & Oldham, 1975), is an important construct that reflects how much control people have in the work context. Button et al. (1996) compared goal orientation theory with the construct of locus of control and concluded that goal orientation is related to people's perception of control. They observed a high correlation between LGO and work locus of control (r = .90, p < .001) and, therefore, argued that people with high LGO believe that they can cope with work demands with their knowledge and skills. Subsequently, researchers have argued that LGO can motivate people to engage in challenging and demanding tasks with high intrinsic motivation (Hirst et al., 2009), and the belief that they can master job-related knowledge and skills gives them a sense of efficacy and control over such tasks. Following this logic, we posit that LGO is related to higher perceived autonomy.

Prior research has provided evidence for a positive relationship between autonomy and innovative performance (e.g., Chen & Aryee, 2007; Garcia & Pintrich, 1996; Parker, Wall, & Cordery, 2001). For example, in the academic setting, perceived autonomy of college students is related to their intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy, which can increase their academic performance (Garcia & Pintrich, 1996). In the work context, a flexibly defined job scope facilitates employees’ perceived autonomy, which, in turn, stimulates creativity (Parker et al., 2001). Similarly, when supervisors do not require employees to get approval on decisions, employees report the generation and implementation of more creative ideas (Chen & Aryee, 2007). Spreitzer, De Janasz, and Quinn (1999) reported that supervisors who rated themselves as more empowered were perceived by their employees as more innovative in their work. Recently, Coelho and Augusto (2010) argued that task autonomy plays a pivotal role in promoting creativity as it provides the freedom for people to try new ideas and learn from the consequences. Indeed, they found a positive relationship between perceived autonomy and creativity based on a survey among service employees.

The previous analysis suggests that perceived autonomy is a mediator for the relationship between LGO and innovative performance. Again, because of multiple mediating mechanisms, we expect the mediating effect to be partial.

  • Hypothesis 3. Perceived autonomy will partially mediate the positive relationship between learning goal orientation and innovative performance.

Although the focus of our study is on LGO, it is instructive to explore the role of performance goal orientation in innovative performance. Unlike LGO, the relationship between PGO and innovative performance is complex. PGO has typically been assumed to be negatively associated with innovative performance, because people high in PGO tend to hide or avoid their disadvantages (e.g., Janssen & Van Yperen, 2004). This tendency may discourage them from trying out new ideas and work procedures because of the worry of failure. However, Janssen and Van Yperen failed to find a significant negative relationship between PGO and innovative performance. More recently, Hirst et al. (2009) reported the positive influence of PGO on innovative performance under certain situations. Given these complex empirical results, we do not provide hypotheses concerning PGO, and we regard this aspect of the study as exploratory.

Method

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Learning Goal Orientation and Innovative Performance
  4. The Mediating Effect of Knowledge Sharing
  5. The Mediating Effect of Autonomy
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. References
Participants and Procedure

Two questionnaires were prepared: one for supervisors, and the other for subordinates. Respondents taking the subordinate questionnaire responded to questions about goal orientations, knowledge sharing, and perceived autonomy. Respondents in the supervisor role evaluated their subordinates’ innovative performance.

A total of 310 working adults who were enrolled in a part-time MBA program in a university in Shanghai, China participated voluntarily in the study for a small monetary reward. We gave each participant a pair of numbered white envelopes and a big brown envelope. Each participant was asked to complete either the subordinate or the supervisor questionnaire, and to invite either the immediate supervisor or an immediate subordinate to complete the other questionnaire. We asked the subordinate and the supervisor to put their completed questionnaires in their respective white envelopes and seal them before placing them in the brown envelope. Finally, we checked the accuracy of the pairing based on the pre-assigned numbers on the envelopes. A total of 261 sets of questionnaires were collected, representing a return rate of 84%. The questionnaires were screened, and 13 sets were deleted because of problematic responses (e.g., identical responses for a large number of items). The final sample included 248 supervisor–subordinate dyads.

The demographic profile of the subordinates was as follows: 52% female; 94% with university education or above; 45% in the age range from 20 to 29 years, 35% from 30 to 39 years, and 11% from 40 to 49 years. A range of tenure with their present employers was noted (14%, < 1 year; 29%, 1–3 years; 22%, 4–6 years; 7%, 7–8 years; 10%, 9–10 years; and 18%, > 10 years). The participants were from a variety of industries, with the majority in manufacturing (20%), trading (12%), the public sector (12%), service (11%), finance (10%), and IT (10%). Most of the organizations for which they worked (42%) had a history of more than 10 years; 30% had a history from 5 to 10 years; 15% had a history from 3 to 5 years; and 10% had a history of less than 3 years. With regard to firm ownership, 42% were state owned, 27% were international joint ventures, 15% were foreign owned, and 14% were privately owned. The firms that respondents worked for tended to be large: 25% had fewer than 100 employees; 34% had 100 to 500 employees; 13% had 500 to 1,000 employees; and 23% had more than 1,000 employees.

Measures
Goal orientation

We measured the construct of goal orientation with a scale developed by Button et al. (1996), consisting of eight items for LGO and eight items for PGO. Sample items for LGO include “The opportunity to do challenging work is important to me,” and “I prefer to work on tasks that force me to learn new things.” Sample items for PGO include “I prefer to do things that I can do well, rather than things that I do poorly,” and “I'm happiest at work when I perform tasks on which I know that I won't make any errors.” Participants rated the items on a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) to indicate the extent to which they agreed with the items.

Cronbach's alpha of the learning goal scale was good (.91), and the reliability of the performance goal scale was lower but acceptable (.69). An inspection of item-total correlations indicates that the item “I like to be fairly confident that I can successfully perform a task before I attempt it” showed a zero item-total correlation. After deleting this item, the reliability of the performance goal scale became higher (α = .74). Thus, in the subsequent analyses, we used only seven items for PGO.

Knowledge sharing

We used five items adopted from Bock, Zmud, Kim, and Lee (2005) to measure how frequently employees engage in knowledge sharing. The items include explicit knowledge sharing (e.g., “I share my work reports and official documents with members of my organization”) and tacit knowledge sharing (e.g., “I share my experience or knowhow from work with other organizational members.”). The items were rated on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (very rarely) to 5 (very frequently). Cronbach's alpha of the scale was.82.

Perceived autonomy

We used four items adopted from Bacharach and Aiken (1976) to measure perceived autonomy. Sample items include “A person can make his/her own decisions without consulting anyone else,” and “How things are done here is left pretty much up to the person doing the work.” The subordinate respondents were asked to respond on a 4-point scale ranging from 1 (definitely false) to 4 (definitely true). High scores indicate that individuals feel a high degree of autonomy at work. Cronbach's alpha of the scale was.71.

Innovative performance

Employees’ innovative performance was evaluated by their supervisors using Janssen's (2001) nine-item scale, which covers three stages of innovation: idea generation, idea promotion, and idea realization. Supervisors rated employees’ frequency of innovative behaviors, such as “creating new ideas for difficult issues,” “mobilizing support for innovative ideas,” and “transforming innovative ideas into useful applications” on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (never) to 7 (frequent). Cronbach's alpha of the scale was.93.

Control variables

As control variables, we included several subordinate demographic variables (gender, age, educational level, tenure, and rank). These variables may influence innovative performance (Madjar & Oldham, 2006; Shin & Zhou, 2003).

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Learning Goal Orientation and Innovative Performance
  4. The Mediating Effect of Knowledge Sharing
  5. The Mediating Effect of Autonomy
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. References

Means, standard deviations, and correlations among the focal variables are presented in Table 1. The results show that LGO was positively associated with innovative performance and knowledge sharing, but not with perceived autonomy. Knowledge sharing and perceived autonomy were both positively associated with innovative performance. PGO was negatively related to perceived autonomy, but not to innovative performance and knowledge sharing.

Table 1. Means and Correlations Among Study Variables
VariableMSD12345678910
  1. Note. N = 248. Coefficient alphas appear in parentheses on the diagonal.

  2. *p < .05. **p < .01.

 1. Gender         
 2. Age.07        
 3. Educational level−.22**−.23**       
 4. Tenure.13*.61**−.20**      
 5. Rank−.09.22**.19**.23**     
 6. Learning goal orientation5.780.77−.15*−.14*.19**−.25**.03(.91)    
 7. Performance goal orientation4.640.84.05.19**−.13*.10−.19**−.15*(.74)   
 8. Knowledge sharing3.410.66−.12−.07.28**−.07.12.29**−.05(.82)  
 9. Perceived autonomy2.310.66.00.11.04.06.26**−.08−.13*.07(.71) 
10. Innovative performance3.731.17−.08−.20**.22**−.09.19*.24**−.09.25**.13*(.93)

We first tested the measurement model with AMOS 6, which involved 26 items and 4 scales: LGO, knowledge sharing, perceived autonomy, and innovative performance. A four-factor model showed a satisfactory fit, χ2(288) = 497.40, p < .001 (comparative fit index [CFI] = .95; incremental fit index [IFI] = .95; root mean square error of approximation [RMSEA] = .05). We then tested the hypotheses with structural equation modeling (SEM) with the procedure recommended by James, Mulaik, and Brett (2006). We first tested the baseline model (M0), without the paths for the hypothesized relationships. It only included the paths from the control variables to the mediators (knowledge sharing and perceived autonomy) and the outcome variable (innovative performance), and the model fit was acceptable, χ2(410) = 702.17, p < .001 (CFI = .93; IFI = .93; RMSEA = .05).

We then tested M1, which added to M0 the path from LGO to innovative performance. The results indicate that M1 had a significantly better model fit, relative to the baseline model: M1, χ2(409) = 692.12, p < .001 (CFI = .93; IFI = .93; RMSEA = .05); comparison with M0, Δχ2(1) = 10.05, p < .01. The effect of LGO on innovative performance was significant (β = .44, p < .001). In M2, the indirect effect of LGO through knowledge sharing was added. The model fit was good and better than those of M0 and M1: M2, χ2(407) = 671.48, p < .001 (CFI = .94; IFI = .94; RMSEA=.05); comparison with M0, Δχ2(3) = 30.69, p < .001; comparison with M1, Δχ2(2) = 20.64, p < .001. M3 added to M2 the indirect effect of LGO through perceived autonomy, and yielded a good fit, but it was not better than M2: M3, χ2(405) = 667.32, p < .001 (CFI = .94; IFI = .94; RMSEA = .05); comparison with M2, Δχ2(2) = 4.16, ns, indicating that the indirect effect of LGO on innovative behavior through perceived autonomy was not significant.

The path coefficients of M3 are shown in Figure 1. The path from LGO to innovative performance was smaller than that in M1, but was significant (β =.33, p < .05). LGO positively predicted knowledge sharing (β = .30, p < .001), which, in turn, positively predicted innovative performance (β = .33, p < .05). According to James et al. (2006), when the two coefficients for the indirect effect and the coefficient for the direct effect (β = .33, p < .05) are all significant, a partial mediation model is confirmed. In addition, the Sobel test (z = 1.96, p < .05) also supports Hypothesis 2 about the mediating role of knowledge sharing. In contrast, the path from LGO to perceived autonomy was not significant (β = .10, ns), and the relationship between perceived autonomy and innovative performance was only marginally significant (β = .20, p < .10). The Sobel test did not support the mediating role of perceived autonomy (z = 1.00, p > .10). Taken as a whole, these results provide no support for Hypothesis 3.

figure

Figure 1. Results for the proposed model. +p < .10. *p < .05. ***p < .001.

Download figure to PowerPoint

We also explored the effects of PGO. The direct effect of PGO and its indirect effects through knowledge sharing and perceived autonomy on innovative performance were all set free. This model yielded an acceptable fit, χ2(377) = 720.97, p < .001 (CFI = .90; IFI = .90; RMSEA = .06). The direct effect of PGO on innovative performance was not significant (β = −.04, ns). Because the relationship between PGO and knowledge sharing was not significant (β = −.02, ns), the mediating role of knowledge sharing in the effect of PGO on innovative performance was not supported. However, the relationship between PGO and perceived autonomy (β = −.08, p < .10) and that between perceived autonomy and innovative behavior (β = .22, p < .10) were both marginally significant, suggesting the possibility of a negative indirect effect of PGO on innovative behavior through perceived autonomy.

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Learning Goal Orientation and Innovative Performance
  4. The Mediating Effect of Knowledge Sharing
  5. The Mediating Effect of Autonomy
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. References
Learning Goal Orientation and Innovative Performance

As widely examined constructs in the educational setting, goal orientations hold promise for important applications in organizational settings (Button et al., 1996; Farr, Hofmann, & Ringenbach, 1993). Following the argument proposed by Payne et al. (2007) that the effects of goal orientations may vary across different tasks, we examined their effects on innovative performance. We hypothesized and confirmed that LGO would enhance innovative performance, which is consistent with some recent studies (e.g., Gong et al., 2009; Hirst et al., 2009).

An important contribution of our study is that it sheds light on the intermediate processes through which LGO influences innovative performance. We proposed two possible mediating variables—namely, knowledge sharing and job autonomy—and found support for knowledge sharing, but not for job autonomy.

Our theoretical framework is based on the componential theory of creativity (Amabile, 1996), which points to the knowledge and skills mastery process stimulated by LGO as an explanatory mechanism. Past research has suggested that learning strategies (e.g., VandeWalle et al., 1999) can mediate the relationship between goal orientation and performance. We identified knowledge sharing as a specific learning strategy that people use for learning, and argued for the mediating role of knowledge sharing in the relationship between LGO and innovative performance. The confirmation of our prediction has some important theoretical implications.

First, as mentioned before, people are reluctant to share knowledge (Ardichvili et al., 2003) because of the extra effort needed and the worry of losing personal competitiveness (Lu et al., 2006). Our findings show that people high in LGO do not shy away from knowledge sharing in their quests for knowledge (Kankanhalli et al., 2005). In the knowledge management literature, contextual factors such as the availability of incentives are the typical focus for promoting knowledge sharing. Our findings suggest a new direction: Identification and deployment of management strategies that promote LGO among employees have the beneficial effect of encouraging knowledge sharing.

Second, the relationship between knowledge sharing and innovation has been examined at the organization or team level (Damanpour, 1991). Our study examined the effects of knowledge sharing at the individual level, and highlights a positive benefit of knowledge sharing behavior; that is, higher innovative performance. It would be interesting for future studies to explore other positive, novel consequences of knowledge sharing behaviors.

Our choice of job autonomy as the other mediator is based on the intrinsic motivation spurred by LGO (Hirst et al., 2009), but this hypothesis was not supported. We speculate that individuals with high LGO are intrinsically motivated to learn, but do not necessarily perceive more job autonomy. Although LGO and locus of control were found to be closely related (Button et al., 1996), the perception of control associated with high LGO may be related more to people's perception of their competence than to their perception of job-related decentralization processes and regulations. In other words, job autonomy as operationalized in the present context captures the characteristics of the job situation more than the characteristics of the job incumbents. This speculation obviously needs to be evaluated in future research.

In summary, we examined knowledge sharing and perceived autonomy as the mediators between LGO and innovative performance. The choice is justified by arguments based on learning strategies (Payne et al., 2007) and intrinsic motivation (Amabile, 1997). Obviously, we have only examined some of the mechanisms underlying the effects of goal orientations. Previous studies have pointed to other mediators, such as self-efficacy (Gong & Fan, 2006; Phillips & Gully, 1997), feedback seeking (VandeWalle & Cummings, 1997), and goal setting (Payne et al., 2007). Future research must consider other mediators to provide a complete picture of the mechanisms underlying the effects of LGO.

Effects of Personal Goal Orientation

The findings regarding PGO and performance in the literature are not entirely consistent, but a general observation is that PGO motivates people to work hard (Steele-Johnson et al., 2008; Sujan et al., 1994), but may not necessarily lead to higher performance (Janssen & Van Yperen, 2004). Our study supports this observation in that PGO showed no significant relationship with innovative performance.

Interestingly, we found a marginally significant indirect effect of PGO on innovative performance through perceived autonomy, suggesting that PGO may be related to low innovative performance through low perceived job autonomy. We speculate that PGO suppresses job autonomy because the focus on performance goals may give rise to perceiving such goals as controlling and, hence, a reduced sense of freedom in goal attainment. We further speculate that PGO may show indirect, negative effects on performance outcomes through mediators. This possibility is, of course, highly speculative, but may help account for the null findings concerning the effects of PGO. This deserves attention in future research.

Practical Implications

Our results provide several important practical implications. In a knowledge-intensive era, the survival and competitiveness of firms require constant innovation. Our findings emphasize the important role of learning goals in enhancing people's skills and knowledge, as well as their innovative performance. Firms aspiring to be innovative must find ways to promote the learning orientation of their employees. Managers of such firms also need to be proactive in selecting and promoting personnel with strong learning goal orientation.

Our results also extend past findings by highlighting the important roles of knowledge sharing for transmitting the effects of learning goal orientation. Managers who want to cultivate innovation within the organization should pay attention to effective ways to promote knowledge sharing. Our results suggest that learning goals are related to knowledge sharing behaviors, but other strategies can also be implemented. Our findings also suggest tentatively that a strong focus on performance goals is not necessarily beneficial to innovative performance. In fact, it may have the opposite effect of lowering innovative performance by reducing perceived job autonomy.

Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research

Several limitations of the present study are discussed in the context of identifying important issues for future research. First, our respondents had diverse functional affiliations and industrial backgrounds. The strength of the sample is that our results are highly generalizable, but a major limitation is that we do not know if our findings are more applicable to certain types of job functions or certain industries. Future research must examine the effects of job characteristics (e.g., job complexity, functional affiliation, industry) more systematically.

Second, we employed a cross-sectional design in our study, so we were unable to assess the causal effects of goal orientations on performance. A longitudinal design or the experimental manipulation of goal orientation can provide a more rigorous assessment of the hypothesized causal processes.

Third, knowledge sharing was measured by a self-reported scale because knowledge sharing involves diverse targets and channels, which makes it difficult to be measured by peers. However, there is the need to develop alternative methods to measure knowledge sharing in future research. In addition, we measured knowledge sharing as the willingness to share knowledge with others, and it is possible to measure learning from others as a part of knowledge sharing.

Fourth, we explored the effects of performance goal orientation as a single dimension, but some researchers have split this goal orientation into two subcomponents: performance-approach and performance-avoidance goal orientation (Elliot & Church, 1997). Future research should evaluate the indirect effect of performance goal orientation that we found with these two subdimensions of performance goal orientation.

Finally, the survey was conducted in China in a time characterized by rapid economic growth and continuous opening up to other nations. We believe that our results are not tied to any specific cultural context. Consistent with this view, in China, Lee, Hui, Tinsley, and Niu (2006) found a positive relationship between LGO and employee performance, and no effect of PGO on performance, leading them to conclude that their findings were consistent with Western findings. Nonetheless, it is possible that the current social and economic conditions in China may influence the dynamics underlying the relationships between goal orientations and performance. Future research must examine our findings in other cultural contexts. It is also important to examine how societal factors may shape the influence of goal orientations.

The present study examined the effects of LGO on innovative performance and the underlying mediating mechanisms. Our results suggest that LGO is positively related to knowledge sharing, which, in turn, is positively related to innovative performance. Like most past studies, there was no significant direct effect of PGO on innovative performance. Instead, there was a marginally significant, indirect negative relationship between PGO and innovation through reduced autonomy. These findings shed new light on the role of goal orientations in the organizational context, and point to some interesting and novel research directions.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Learning Goal Orientation and Innovative Performance
  4. The Mediating Effect of Knowledge Sharing
  5. The Mediating Effect of Autonomy
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. References
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