The relationship of management level to effort level, direction of effort, and managerial performance

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  • Journal of Vocational Behavior 29, 226-239 (1986)

    The Relationship of Management Level to Effort Level, Direction of Effort, and Managerial Performance


    Temple University

    Using a sample of 100 managers at different levels, within a government agency, this study examined the relationship of management level to effort level, direction of effort, and managerial performance. Management level was found to be sig- nificantly related to effort level and several direction of effort scales. Management level was also found to moderate the relationship between direction of effort and managerial performance. Results and limitations of the study are discussed. 0 1986 Academic Press, Inc.

    Research on the determinants of an individuals performance has been an important topic for behavioral scientists for the last 25 years. According to most models (e.g., Cummings & Schwab, 1973; Porter & Lawler, 1968; Vroom, 1964), performance in organizational settings is a function of at least three variables: motivation level, role perceptions, and individual differences. Campbell and Pritchard (1976) defined motivation in terms of the direction, effort level, and persistence of behavior. Direction of behavior looks at what behaviors people choose and how often they choose these behaviors. Effort level of behavior focuses more on how hard a person initially tries to carry out a chosen behavior. Persistence seems to add a time perspective to effort, i.e., will the individual keep trying until the behavior is accomplished? Within this multidimensional view of motivation, simple self-reports of how hard or how much one worked (effort level) cannot adequately represent motivation without automatically assuming that the activities into which effort is directed are appropriate. Thus, attempts to understand the relationship between motivation and performance will be incomplete until the theoretical per- spective of motivation as a multidimensional construct is translated into multidimensional operationalization and measurement (Terborg & Miller, 1978).

    Please send correspondence, including reprint requests, to Gary J. Blau, Human Resource Administration Dept.-SBA, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122.

    226 OOOl-8791/86 $3.00 Copyright 0 1986 by Academic Press, Inc. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.


    Laboratory studies by Terborg (1976, 1977) have demonstrated the importance of measuring direction of behavior as well as effort level of behavior in operationahzing motivation, although in constrained laboratory settings only relatively simple directional choices are possible. In more recent theoretical work, Naylor, Pritchard, and Ilgen (1980) emphasized the importance of the directional component of motivation. Their model represented motivation as a process of allocating resources. Individuals have an energy reservoir that can be allocated among a variety of activities, some of which will be productive and others of which will not. Naylor et al. (1980) suggested that regardless of ones level of available energy, the allocation of energy between relevant and irrelevant activities can make the difference between success and failure. Again, there is an emphasis here on the directional component of motivation.

    Additional conceptual support for studying direction and effort level of behavior comes from the career development literature. Dalton, Thompson, and Price (1977) have developed a model of professional career stages. They note that one key to successful career development is carrying out appropriate behaviors and roles at particular stages. Their model suggests an association between direction of behavior and per- formance as a function of career stage. Underlying Halls work on psy- chological success, performance, and career development (e.g., Hall, 1971, 1976; Hall & Nougaim, 1968) is the theme that individual goal- directed behavior and effort can lead to goal attainment (performance), which leads to psychological success. Goal-directed behavior determines direction and amount of behavior, i.e., what and how much must be done to reach certain goals. Hall (1976) states that goals leading to career development are those which are challenging, relevant to the persons self-image, set by the person (individually or collaboratively), and im- plemented by the persons independent effort. Another potentially important influence on an individuals career development which Hall (1976) and others (e.g., Webber, 1976) have noted is the quality of the relationship between an individual and his/her superior. It is important for the individual to become a crucial subordinate to his/her superior so that he or she will get important job assignments.

    Studying direction of behavior is not new to the motivation literature. Role perceptions has been one construct used to represent a very gen- eralized directional component (e.g., Gavin, 1970; Porter & Lawler, 1%8). Porter and Lawler (1968) defined role perceptions as where the person believes or perceives he or she should direct his or her effort. Measures of role ambiguity (Rizzo, House, & Lirtzman, 1970) and role clarity (Lyons, 1971) have been used to operationalize this general directional component. However, studies show that the relationship between role perceptions and performance is inconsistent (Van Sell, Brief, & Schuler, 1981). For example, Brief and Aldag (1976) and Greene (1972) found a

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    significant negative correlation between role ambiguity and performance, while Sims and Szilagyi (1975) and Tosi (1971) did not.

    Perhaps partly because role perceptions operationalizes a very gen- eralized directional component, its relationship to performance has been inconsistent. Furthermore, role perceptions may not necessarily be mo- tivational. An individual can believe that a role requires a certain behavior and yet not actually perform that behavior. The directional component of motivation needs to be operationalized in terms of specific job- or role-related behaviors. Staw (1984) has noted that studying how individuals direct their energies on the job is important to advance job performance research. Using a sample of real estate agents, Katerberg and Blau (1983) found that both direction of behavior and effort level of behavior were significant predictors of real estate agent performance. Furthermore, they found that direction of behavior contributed uniquely to the prediction of agent performance, beyond the agent performance accounted for by effort level. Direction of behavior was operationalized using four behavioral scales determined to be part of the real estate agents job: social network activity, professional development activity, visibility activity, and client selectivity activity. The purpose of this study was to extend fieldwork by investigating the relationship between direction of behavior, effort level of behavior, and performance for a new sample, that is, managers.

    Much research has investigated the nature of managerial work in terms of the impact of managerial level on general roles and activities (e.g., Hughes & Singler, 1985; Mahoney, Jerdee, & Carroll, 1965; Mintzberg, 1980; Pavett & Lau, 1982). For example, Mintzberg (1980) proposed that, partly due to level, managers would perceive that various roles differ in importance. Thus upper level managers, according to Mintzberg (1980), would focus more attention on external roles (e.g., liason, spokesperson), while lower level managers would focus more attention on internal roles (e.g., leader). Pavett and Lau (1982) found empirical support for this difference in role emphasis due to managerial level. Although managers at different levels perceive diierent roles, an interesting research question becomes, do such role perceptions translate into different specific be- haviors (i.e., direction of behavior)? Mahoney et al. (1%5) found that managers spend different amounts of time on various general work di- mensions as a function of level (e.g., higher level managers have a higher percentage of assignments that deal with planning than lower level man- agers). Other studies (e.g., Hughes 8z Singler, 1985; Strong, 1956) found that higher level managers spend more time at work than lower level managers. Based upon this literature review, the following hypotheses are proposed.

    HI: Management level will have a significant positive relationship to effort level.


    Hz: Management level will significantly influence direction of effort such that lower level managers will focus on different job behaviors than upper level managers.

    Hj: Management level will influence the relationship between direction of effort and performance, such that when different level managers focus on their appropriate job behaviors, their performance will improve.


    Sample and Procedure

    Management personnel from several divisions within a government agency were voluntary participants in this study. The regional office for the agency was located in a large eastern city. On approval of the study by the agencys personnel office, the author arranged data collection procedures with the help of agency personnel. A series of interviews with managers was conducted to aid in questionnaire development. Once developed and approved, the questionnaire was mailed to 129 managers in different divisions and office locations within the agency. Subjects were told that the purpose of the study was to learn more about the nature of their jobs. One hundred out of 129 (78%) of the surveys were completed and mailed back to the personnel office. A cover letter from top management within the agency endorsing the study undoubtedly helped the response rate. Complete confidentiality of individual responses was guaranteed and maintained.

    A demographic breakdown of the participating managerial sample showed that (1) average age was 38 years, (2) 70% were male, (3) average job tenure as a manager was 4.6 years while average organization tenure was 11.4 years, (4) 86% were married, and (5) 70% had either a bac- calaureate or masters degree. In addition, the sample was drawn from different management levels within the agency. Seventy-four percent were first-level managers, 17% were second-level managers, 5% were third-level managers, and 4% were fourth-level managers. Conversations with agency personnel indicated that first-level managers represented lower level management (e.g., section or unit chiefs). Second-level managers represented middle level management (e.g., branch chiefs), while third- and fourth-level managers represented upper level management (e.g., division chiefs or executives).


    This section describes how study variables were operationalized. All descriptive and psychometric results for these variables are given in the Results section.

    Eflort level was operationalized as the average number of hours per week the respondent said he or she invested in his or her job. This is

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    consistent with previous operationalizations of effort as time spent on a task (Katerberg & Blau, 1983; Terborg, 1977). A self-report measure of average hours worked per week was necessary because subjects have autonomous jobs and do not formally punch in and punch out from work. Katerberg and Blau (1983) used a similar measure because of the autonomous nature of jobs in their sample. The item was recorded on a 7-point response scale, where 1 = less than 40 hr, 2 = 41-45 hr, 3 = 46-50 hr, 4 = 51-55 hr, 5 = 56-60 hr, 6 = 61-65 hr, and 7 = 66 or more hr.

    Direction of e#ort was a particularly important variable to operationalize in this study. Interviews were conducted with six different managers across various levels and divisions in order to define the typical behaviors exhibited on the job. This information was content analyzed and was used to develop a set of 31 items representing different managerial be- haviors. As noted earlier, it is important to focus on specific behaviors and not general role perceptions. Subjects were instructed to indicate if they carried out a certain behavior and if so then how often. Following Tot-now and Pintos (1976) research on their Managerial Position Description Questionnaire, responses to items were made on a 6-point scale, where 0 = definitely not a part of the position (not performed), and 5 = definitely a most significant part of the position (very frequently performed). Respondents were asked to consider a behavioral items frequency of occurrence when making their response. This approach is similar to previous work operationalizing direction of behavior (Katerberg & Blau, 1983; Terborg, 1977). Prior to sample distribution, the validity of this 31-item behavioral measure was independently checked in two ways. Behavioral items were cross-checked against formal job descriptions of the interviewed managers. Also several personnel office managers, not part of the study sample but knowledgeable about the managerial jobs being studied, examined the accuracy of the 31-item behavioral measure. The personnel office managers indicated that this measure represented a comprehensive sample of managerial behaviors.

    Rather than forming scales based on a priori conceptualizations of managerial behaviors, factor analysis of the 31 items was conducted to provide an empirical basis for developing an internally consistent and meaningful set of scales. Cautious interpretation is warranted due to potential instability of a factor solution that is based on a small sample. Both orthogonal and oblique factor solutions were evaluated in terms of interpretability. Relative size of the eigenvalues and factor interpretability were the basis for using a three-factor orthogonal solution which represented 51% of the variance. These three factors were used for scale construction. This procedure is consistent with prior work by Katerberg and Blau (1983), and it resulted in 21 items with adequate loadings (2 .30) (Nunnally, 1978) on one of three factors. The remaining items were eliminated due


    to small or multiple loadings. Table 1 presents the three-factor orthogonal solution for the 21 managerial behavior items.

    The first factor was interpreted as representing managerial behaviors outside a section or unit. The 10 items loading on this factor concern making pay recommendations, writing branch or division level reports, justifying branch or division level expenses, planning for future budgets, developing long-range objectives, etc. The second factor was interpreted as representing subordinate-related behaviors. The five items loading on this factor concern counseling, evaluating, and training subordinates. The third factor was interpreted as representing managerial behaviors within u section or unit. The six items in this factor concern scheduling work, administrative work, attending section meetings, etc. Items w...


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