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TMCNet:  THE MEDIATING ROLE OF INTRINSIC MOTIVATION ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DEVELOPMENTAL FEEDBACK AND EMPLOYEE JOB PERFORMANCE [Social Behavior and Personality (New Zealand)]

[July 03, 2014]

THE MEDIATING ROLE OF INTRINSIC MOTIVATION ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DEVELOPMENTAL FEEDBACK AND EMPLOYEE JOB PERFORMANCE [Social Behavior and Personality (New Zealand)]

(Social Behavior and Personality (New Zealand) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Although previous researchers have paid significant attention to the effect of feedback on employee behavioral outcomes, few have specifically examined the influence of developmental feedback on employee job performance. In this study we examined the influences of intrinsic motivation and social exchange on the relationship between developmental feedback and job performance. Participants were 202 supervisor-subordinate dyads from 12 enterprises in China. We found that developmental feedback had a significant positive effect on both intrinsic motivation and job performance. In addition, intrinsic motivation had a significant positive relationship with job performance but it also had a partial mediating effect on the relationship between developmental feedback and job performance. Managerial implications and directions for further research are discussed.


Keywords: developmental feedback, intrinsic motivation, job performance, social exchange theory, self-determination theory.

The value of feedback to direct, motivate, and reinforce behavior is well-known (London, 1995; Steelman & Rutkowski, 2004). In past decades, many researchers have confirmed the impact of specific types of feedback, such as performance feedback, on employee job performance (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996). However, traditional feedback provides only evaluative information related to the employees' past behavior or performance (Ilgen, Fisher, & Taylor, 1979). With the rapid development of society, and the profound change in individuals' values and behavior, evaluative feedback is not meeting employees' needs. In a qualitative case study, employees noted that performance evaluation feedback was problematic for improving their job motivation and performance. It was, therefore, proposed that supervisors' feedback be focused more on the future development of the employee (Longenecker & Nykodym, 1996). Anseel and Lievens (2007) also showed that evaluative feedback did not improve employee motivation and satisfaction, and that employees welcomed supportive developmental feedback. Although it would, thus, be advisable for supervisors to more effectively influence employee work attitudes and behavior by replacing the traditional performance evaluation feedback, researchers have mainly focused on this feedback. Recently, however, researchers have been concerned with developmental feedback (Joo & Park, 2010; Zhou, 2003).

Developmental feedback is defined as the extent to which supervisors provide information that enables employees to learn, develop, and improve at work (Zhou, 2003). Our aim in this study was to examine how developmental feedback affects employee job performance. Prior researchers have confirmed that supervisor developmental feedback is positively associated with positive employee work attitudes and behavior (Joo, Song, Lim, & Yoon, 2012; Li, Harris, Boswell, & Xie, 2011; Yin & Zheng, 2011). However, few researchers have examined an intermediate process through which developmental feedback influences employee work behavior. Yin and Zheng (2011) are the exception, in that they examined the mediating role of leader-member exchange (LMX) in conjunction with the impact of supervisor developmental feedback on employee creativity and organizational citizenship behavior.

In this empirical study, we investigated intrinsic motivation, or an individual's enjoyment of the work itself rather than external outcomes that may result (Deci & Ryan, 1985). To our knowledge, we are the first to examine the mediating role of intrinsic motivation in the relationship between developmental feedback and employee job performance (see Figure 1).

Literature Review and Hypotheses Development Developmental Feedback and Job Performance The focus of developmental feedback is on the future performance, improvement, and development of the employee, who is guided with helpful and useful (i.e., quality) information without pressure for a particular outcome (Zhou, 2003).

The supervisor's behaviorally relevant information will enable the employees to better understand their work role and the expectation of this role (Bauer & Green, 1998), whereby job performance will benefit from role clarity. The value of developmental feedback for employees' learning and future development (Zhou, 2003) is consequently advantageous for mastering their job skills. This improvement of work ability is necessary for employees to increase their performance level. Thus, we proposed the following hypothesis: Hypothesis 1: Developmental feedback will be positively related to job performance.

Developmental Feedback and Intrinsic Motivation Intrinsic motivation is marked by the interest, curiosity, continued learning, and a spirit of challenge experienced by an employee when stimulated by the work itself rather than external outcomes, such as rewards or the absence of punishment (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Developmental feedback may promote the improvement of an employee's intrinsic motivation by providing employee feedback that is considered essential for maintaining and improving employee motivation (Lam, Yik, & Schaubroeck 2002), and helping the enhancement of future employee job performance, which is beneficial for fulfilling the employees' developmental needs. According to self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000), intrinsic motivation will increase when an employee's demands are met. Furthermore, practical information provided to employees regarding their behavior or performance is likely to facilitate intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 1980, 1985; Zhou, 2003). In addition, Sansone (1986) indicated that feedback used to help individuals obtain information about future task solutions has a positive link to employees' interest in their work. We, therefore, proposed the following hypothesis: Hypothesis 2: Developmental feedback will be positively related to intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation and Job Performance Researchers have shown that intrinsic motivation has a positive effect on employees in relation to creativity (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Sun, Zhang, & Chen, 2012), job satisfaction and well-being (Ilardi, Leone, Kasser, & Ryan, 1993; Shirom, Westman, & Melamed, 1999), organizational citizenship behavior (Bolino, 1999), and affective commitment (Eby, Freeman, Rush, & Lance, 1999; Thatcher, Liu, & Stepina, 2002). However, few researchers have linked intrinsic motivation to employee job performance. This link can be explained in two ways: First, an intrinsically motivated employee's persistence when encountering obstacles and challenges (Utman, 1997), and devotion of more time and attention to the work task (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Hackman & Oldham, 1980), should enhance his or her job skills. Second, supervisor developmental feedback is aimed at facilitating an employee's learning and future development whereby the employee perceives support and concern for his or her future at the organization. According to social exchange theory (Masterson, Lewis, Goldman, & Taylor, 2000), employees regard developmental feedback as supportive behavior (Wang & Hong, 2010). They reciprocate by investing greater time and effort to improve their job performance (Reis, 2002). Thus, we proposed the following hypotheses: Hypothesis 3: Intrinsic motivation will be positively related to job performance.

Hypothesis 4: Intrinsic motivation will have a mediating effect on the relationship between developmental feedback and job performance.

Method Participants Participants were sourced from 12 enterprises in China. We contacted them personally to request their collaboration with the survey. To avoid common method bias, we collected data from both the employees and their supervisors. The employees filled in the survey form, which included measures of developmental feedback and intrinsic motivation, and the supervisors reported on the employees' job performance. The purpose of this survey was explained in each survey form and strict confidentiality was assured.

In total, 202 usable subordinate-supervisor dyad responses were obtained for an overall response rate of 80.8%. There were 113 male employees (55.94%) and 29 male managers (54.72%), and the average age of the employee and his or her supervisor was 27.51 years and 38.69 years, respectively. The average job tenure of the employee and his or her supervisor was 5.01 years and 5.57 years, respectively. Most employees had earned a bachelor's degree or higher (55.71%) and 71.69% of managers had earned a bachelor's degree or higher.

Measures The measurement scales were adopted from those used in prior empirical research and items were rated on a 7-point Likert-type scale (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree). All materials were translated into Chinese from English following standard translation and backtranslation procedures (Brislin, 1980), and presented to participants in Chinese.

Developmental feedback. Developmental feedback was measured with Zhou's (2003) three-item scale. A sample item is "My supervisor provides me with useful information on how to improve my job performance." Cronbach's alpha was .722.

Intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation was assessed with a briefer, 9-item version of the 15-item intrinsic motivation scale from the Work Preference Inventory developed by Amabile, Hill, Hennessey, and Tighe (1994). A sample item is "Curiosity is the driving force behind much of what I do." Cronbach's alpha was .826.

Job performance. Job performance was measured with a four-item scale from Farh and Cheng (1997). A sample item is "Performance always meets the expectations of the supervisor." Cronbach's alpha was .834.

Control variables included employee gender, age, education, and tenure in the present firm. These variables may influence employee reaction to supervisor developmental feedback (Ilgen et al., 1979).

Results Confirmatory Factor Analyses We first conducted confirmatory factor analyses (CFA) to assess the discriminant validity of the measures, using AMOS version 17.0. We contrasted a three-factor model with two alternative models. The baseline three-factor model was the best fit to the data compared with the alternative models as assessed by goodness-of- fit index (GFI), incremental fit index (IFI), comparative fit index (CFI), and root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) as follows: (c2/df = 1.971, GFI = .891, IFI = .925, CFI = .924, RMSEA = .070; see Table 1). All indices are in accordance with the standard (c2/df < 3; GFI = .900; IFI = .900, CFI = .900, 0 < RMSEA < 1) suggested by Medsker, Williams, and Holahan (1994), indicating that the constructs are distinct.

Descriptive Statistics The means, standard deviations, and correlations for all variables are presented in Table 2. Developmental feedback was positively and significantly correlated with both intrinsic motivation (r = .231, p < .01) and job performance (r = .236, p < .01). Intrinsic motivation was positively correlated with job performance (r = .205, p < .01).

Hypotheses Tests We used SPSS version 17.0 to test the hypotheses by performing a series of linear regression analyses in which the control variables were entered into the first block (see Table 3).

To test Hypothesis 1 we used a regression model with job performance as a criterion variable. As presented in Table 3 (see Step 1), developmental feedback was significantly related to job performance (b = .245, p < .001). Thus, Hypothesis 1 was supported.

Results of regression analysis (see Step 2 in Table 3) indicated that develop- mental feedback had a significant positive effect on intrinsic motivation (b = .228, p < .001). Therefore, Hypothesis 2 was supported.

Linear regression analysis was conducted for Hypothesis 3, using the same control and criterion variables as for Hypothesis 1. The results (see Step 3 in Table 3) showed that the relationship between intrinsic motivation and job performance was significant and positive (b = .209, p < .01). Hence, Hypothesis 3 was supported.

Hypothesis 4 was examined using the procedure proposed by Baron and Kenny (1986): (a) the predictor (developmental feedback) must be related to the criterion (job performance), as supported by Hypothesis 1; (b) the predictor must be related to the mediator (intrinsic motivation), as supported by Hypothesis 2; (c) the mediator must be related to the criterion, as supported by Hypothesis 3; and (d) the effect between the predictor and the criterion must decrease when the mediator is controlled. When intrinsic motivation was entered in the regression model (see Step 4 in Table 3), the beta coefficient for developmental feedback was statistically significant and reduced from b = .245 (p < .001) to b = .209 (p < .01), and the beta coefficient for intrinsic motivation was still significant (b = .160, p < .05). Thus, intrinsic motivation partially mediated the relationship between developmental feedback and job performance, and Hypothesis 4 was supported.

Discussion Theoretical Implications Previous theoretical and empirical researchers (e.g., Hackman & Oldham, 1980; Ilgen et al., 1979; Steelman & Rutkowski, 2004) have suggested that employees benefit from feedback, such as that given in performance appraisals. However, these researchers focused primarily on evaluative feedback, and overlooked the advantages of developmental feedback. Our finding that developmental feedback is significantly related to intrinsic motivation is in line with the conclusion of prior researchers that valuable feedback leads to a positive attitude (Zhang, Reyna, & Huang, 2011). In contrast to numerous studies on feedback conducted in a Western context, in our study we have addressed recent calls for the examination of feedback in a Chinese organizational context (Li, Shi, Wang, & Shi, 2012).

Our findings extend scholarly understanding of how supervisor developmental feedback influences employee work outcomes, by confirming that intrinsic motivation mediates the relationship between developmental feedback and employee job performance. Although prior researchers (e.g., Jaworski & Kohli, 1991; Nemeroff & Cosentino, 1979) have indicated that behaviorally relevant feedback fosters employee intrinsic motivation, to our knowledge, no one has examined the linked relationship between developmental feedback and intrinsic motivation. From a social exchange perspective, we confirmed that intrinsic motivation is an explanatory mechanism that benefits developmental feedback.

Managerial Implications There are practical implications in this study. Given the importance of employee job performance for the survival and development of an organization in a fiercely competitive market environment (Morrison & Phelps, 1999), managers need to provide supportive behavior (e.g., developmental feedback) to improve employee job performance. For example, managers can provide supportive measures such as mentoring (Allen, Eby, Poteet, Lentz, & Lima, 2004) and relevant training programs (Joo & Park, 2010), to stimulate employees' intrinsic motivation, which is positively linked to employee job performance. Our results support the value of supervisor developmental feedback as a possible way to facilitate the improvement of employee job performance.

In addition, managers need to understand the potential effect of employees' intrinsic motivation on workplace behavior; for example, managers should aim to make the employee's job more meaningful by encouraging autonomy (Deci & Ryan, 1985) to stimulate the employee's intrinsic motivation.

Limitations and Directions for Future Research There are several limitations in this study. First, the generalizability of our findings may be limited because the study was conducted in China and results may be different in a Western cultural context. Future researchers could replicate our findings in a Western context. Second, common method variance may have influenced the results. Although CFA results indicated that the variables (constructs) were distinct (Medsker et al., 1994), most variables (except for the dependent variable) were measured using the same survey instrument. Thus, different information sources should be used to assess independent variables in future research. Third, a cross-sectional design limits the ability to test causal associations between variables. We cannot exclude the possibility that employees with a high level of job performance may be biased toward supervisors and the organization. To address this a longitudinal design should be considered in future research. Finally, because intrinsic motivation only partially mediated the effect of developmental feedback on job performance in this study, other mediators, such as self-efficacy (Gist, 1987), job crafting (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001), and social exchange (Masterson et al., 2000) should be considered in future research.

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This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (71232001).

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Yun Guo, Room 305, School of Management, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, 1037 Luo Yu Road, Wuhan 430074, People's Republic of China. Email: guocloud@163.com (c) 2014 Scientific Journal Publishers Ltd

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