Group-level and individual-level mediators of the relationship between soldier satisfaction with social support and performance motivation
Weiner, H. R. (1990). Group-level and individual-level mediators of the relationship between soldier satisfaction with social support and performance motivation. Military Psychology, 2(1), 21-32.
This research examined a model predicting soldier motivation. Line soldiers (N = 1,550) who had been members of personnel-stabilized battalions for at least 6 months responded to a questionnaire assessing perceptions of support received from peers and from leaders, identification with the work unit (company or battery), job-related self-esteem, personal adjustment, and performance motivation. Perceived leader support was a stronger predictor of performance motivation than was peer support, although both predictors demonstrated significant effects. In both cases, group-level mediation of the relationship between support and motivation was stronger than individual-level mediation. Findings indicate a need for increased emphasis on identifying leaders and training them in behaviors that will be seen as supportive of subordinates.
During the past decade, the U.S. Army allocated considerable resources toward enhancing social support available to combat arms soldiers. Most of these initiatives have been directed at one or more of the following areas: (a) stabilizing first-term soldiers in combat arms companies or battalions (Marlowe, 1985), (b) instructing leaders on the importance of providing both emotional and instrumental support to their soldiers (Malone, 1983; U.S. Army, 1983), and (c) building into the life cycle of stabilized units opportunities for soldiers to work toward achievement of challenging personal and group goals (U.S. Army Chief of Staff, 1984). There is little doubt that such programs, when properly implemented, can increase the availability of social support to group members. In turn, there is ample evidence indicating that the perceived availability of social support is related to levels of personal adjustment and to positive feelings about the group and its leadership (Kessler & McLeod, 1985; Wethington & Kessler, 1986). How these positive feelings are translated into motivation to direct energy toward performance of organizationally relevant tasks is an issue that remains largely unexplored.
This study delves into some of the mechanisms by which satisfaction with social support received from peers and unit leaders is related to the willingness of soldiers to perform organizationally relevant tasks. Clarification of these mechanisms will be helpful from a theoretical and a practical standpoint. The approach borrows from a variety of perspectives, including the small-group dynamics, leadership, job satisfaction, and community psychology literatures. In a practical vein, the results of this research can suggest to policymakers the types of personnel initiatives that are likely to contribute to the satisfaction of troops and to high levels of performance motivation.
Two complementary sets of mediators of the relationship between satisfaction with social support and performance motivation are examined. The first aspect of the model proposes that individual-level factors mediate this relationship. It assumes that satisfaction with social support increases the likelihood that a soldier will want to do a job well, due to the positive impact of perceived support on psychological adjustment and perceived capability to perform the job. The second aspect of the model proposes that identification with the group (in this case, the soldier's company or battery) is a primary mediator of the relationship between satisfaction with social support and performance motivation. The precise roles of these mediators are explicated in the following discussion.
Most of the literature on the effects of social support assumes that a person's level of adjustment is ultimately the outcome of interest. Studies examining the effects of such support on “normal” individuals suggests that dependable sources of social support not only enhance a person's ability to cope with stressful situations but also contribute to general levels of adjustment (Kessler & McLeod, 1985; Wethington & Kessler, 1986). In work settings, individuals with a supportive supervisor (Kirmeyer & Lin, 1987; Repetti, 1985) or who have a high-intimacy relationship with at least one co-worker (Henderson & Argyle, 1985; Repetti, 1985) tend to report lower levels of job-related stress and/or psychological symptoms than those lacking such support. Similarly, the presence of a mentor can indirectly affect personal adjustment by easing the passage of an individual across “inclusionary” and “technical” boundaries in organizations (Kozlowski & Ostroff, 1987; Van Maanen & Schein, 1979).
Research specifically addressing the military situation has pointed to the importance of leader and peer supports in preserving individual well-being and, in turn, sustaining the will of the soldier to fight (Henderson, 1985; Marlowe, 1985). In one of the first systematic studies of American combat soldier performance (Stouffer, Devinney, Star, & Williams, 1949), units in which soldiers had positive attitudes toward their leaders and toward other unit members suffered lower rates of nonwound casualties (a large proportion of which were psychiatric) than units in which such attitudes were negative, after controlling for the number and intensity of battles in which the units were engaged. More recent research focusing on the quantity and quality of social contacts for soldiers and veterans corroborates the negative relationship between social support availability and immediate or delayed combat stress reactions found by Stouffer et al. (Belenky, Tyner, & Sodetz, 1983; Kadushin, 1982; Solomon, Mikulincer, & Hobfoll, 1986).
Although a direct relationship between general levels of personal adjustment and motivation to act toward the accomplishment of organizational goals is not likely, positive self-perceptions are apt to enhance task-specific self-esteem (Korman, 1968, 1971). In turn, someone who possesses a sense of self-efficacy in relation to a task has a greater probability of attempting that task than someone who is uncertain of his or her capabilities (Bandura, 1971). Instrumental support in the form of skills training by leaders and performance cues gained from peers are expected to contribute directly to job-related self-esteem.
In addition to the indirect relationship expected between leader support and performance motivation, supportive leaders will affect responsiveness of their subordinates directly through their capacity to meet the needs of subordinates (House, 1971). These leaders are also likely to enhance performance motivation by increasing both the expectancy and instrumentality of subordinate behaviors (Vroom, 1964).
On the basis of the literature reviewed, it is expected that leaders who are perceived as supportive will have direct and indirect impacts on the performance motivation of individual soldiers. The direct effect of perceived leader support will stem from responses to a leader who anticipates and meets the needs of soldiers (House, 1971). Indirectly, perceived leader support will increase performance motivation by enhancing the individual's job-related self-esteem through supportive performance feedback. Emotional support provided by leaders will enhance the general psychological adjustment of soldiers, which, in turn, is positively related to job-related self-esteem and performance motivation. Peer support will affect performance motivation indirectly by increasing individual adjustment and job-related self-esteem.
Generally speaking, groups in which people receive social support are more cohesive than groups in which members do not feel supported. One characteristic of cohesive groups is that they develop strongly enforced norms or expectations for the behavior of members (Hackman, 1976; Katz & Kahn, 1978; Shaw, 1981). Groups that place emphasis on maintaining pleasant relationships over task performance often adopt a norm for restricting productivity so that no one in the group looks bad (Griffith & Chopper, 1985; Schachter, Ellertson, McBride, & Gregory, 1951; Tajfel, 1969). Cohesive groups may also restrict productivity because of particular reward-performance contingencies (Lawler, 1976).
Just as cohesive groups can establish norms that restrict productivity, there are circumstances when norms for high levels of performance are established (Hackman, 1976; Locke, Shaw, Saari, & Latham, 1981). This occurs when the basis for cohesion is commitment to task performance (Hackman, 1976; Janis, 1972). Depending on the nature of the work, interference with task group cohesion can have a deleterious effect on performance, even when new methods appear to be more efficient from an engineering standpoint (Rice, 1958; Trist & Bamforth, 1951).
Given the expectation of continued interaction with members of the unit over an extended period, cohesion among junior enlisted soldiers in stabilized units during peacetime is likely to be based primarily on ensuring pleasant interpersonal interactions, with task accomplishment only a secondary consideration. Consequently, it is incumbent on the unit leaders to increase the salience of task performance as a norm for the group. This is done more effectively if leaders establish themselves as important members of the informal structure of the unit, rather than depend solely on the power provided them by their role within the formal organization. Soldiers will be more likely to do things for a leader who possesses influence over and above the legitimate power to apply rewards and sanctions (French & Raven, 1959). In addition, a leader who demonstrates influence by supporting the needs of subordinates is likely to have a positive impact on their attitudes toward the organization as a whole, because the leader is a representative of the larger institution.
The preceding analysis implies that the motivation of a junior enlisted soldier to perform the job well will depend directly on the extent to which the soldier identifies with the organization and its goals as well as the extent to which leaders are seen in a positive light. Thus, perceived leader support is expected to affect performance motivation both directly and indirectly. Satisfaction with support provided by peers is expected to affect motivation to perform only indirectly through its impact on identification with organizational goals.
The total pool of respondents consisted of 2,383 junior enlisted U.S. Army soldiers in the four lowest ranks. Usable questionnaires were obtained from 1,550, a response rate of 65%. The sample represented all stabilized U.S. Army combat arms companies and batteries located in the continental U.S. in the early part of 1986 and included soldiers in armor, field artillery, mechanized infantry, airborne infantry, and light infantry units. Only those soldiers who had been with their units for 6 months or more were included in the sample, because a pilot study indicated that some of the scales used in the motivational model (specifically, Job-Related Self-Esteem and perceptions of Leader Support) have unacceptably low internal consistencies for less experienced soldiers. [ 1 ] In addition, missing responses on some of the scales reduced the sample size for some of the analyses, making the smallest effective sample size 1,441 soldiers.
The subscales of interest in this study were derived from responses to a questionnaire that has been used extensively by the staff at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research to assess the perceptions of first-term soldiers toward their unit, their fellow soldiers, company-level leadership, and their own competence to perform their jobs. Also included in the questionnaire are a measure of general well-being (Dupuy, 1978), which is used to give a rough indication of personal adjustment, and a series of biographical items. [ 2 ]
Table 1 contains psychometric information and sample items from the measures used in examining the proposed model. Scales of Leader Support, Peer Support, Job-Related Self-Esteem, and Company Identification were developed as part of a factor analytic study of job satisfaction in the Army (Weiner & Vaitkus, 1987). The remaining scale, Responsivity to Leadership, is used to assess soldier motivation. It consists of four items that indicate the degree to which the respondent believes soldiers in the company are willing to do things for and cooperate with their officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs). All measures used demonstrate moderate to high levels of internal consistency. In support of validity of these scales (at least in the area of convergent validity), interview and observational data collected independently of the surveys in combat arms units that were not part of this study tended to corroborate one another (Marlowe, 1987).
Psychometric and Descriptive Information on Scales
Soldiers were brought together as companies or batteries in order to respond to the questionnaires. Surveys were administered by civilian contractors and were completed on a voluntary basis. Participants were told that the purpose of the study was to find out more about how soldiers feel about themselves, their peers, and their leaders. It was explained that they were not likely to see immediate benefits from their participation, but that what we learned from them was likely to affect future policy on the treatment and training of new soldiers and their leaders. The confidentiality of results was strongly emphasized. Most soldiers completed the survey in under 1 hr.
Figure 1 contains the results of a path analysis performed to examine the viability of the hypothesized model. The model was supported in the sense that all paths were significantly different from 0, p < .05, and were in the hypothesized direction.
Estimated path coefficients for the hypothesized model.
Overall goodness of fit of these models was assessed using Specht's (1975) Q statistic. Conceptually, this statistic forms a ratio between the unexplained variance in the just-identified model (i.e., all possible paths exist between endogenous variables and their respective predictors) and the unexplained variance in the hypothesized model (in which some of the possible paths between endogenous and exogenous variables have been deleted for theoretical reasons). Q may take on values between 0 and 1, with higher values indicative of better fit. In this case, the value of Q was either .74 or .80, [ 3 ] indicating a reasonably good fit. [ 4 ]
Contained in Table 2 are empirical estimates of effect coefficients based on the hypothesized model. These were derived through decomposition of the correlations based on relationships specified in the model (Pedhazur, 1982). Direct effects are equivalent to the path coefficients. Effect coefficients for individual indirect paths consist of the product of constituent path coefficients. [ 5 ] The total effect of a given exogenous variable on an endogenous variable is the sum of direct and indirect paths between the two variables. In all cases, the total effect of one variable on another can be no larger than their correlation.
Estimated Effect Coefficients
As shown in Table 2, the overall effects of satisfaction with Leader Support on Performance Motivation are stronger than similar effects of satisfaction with Peer Support (total effect = .5673 and .1308, respectively). Comparison of the indirect effects of either Peer Support or Leader Support on Performance Motivation reveal that those involving group-level mediation (i.e., Company Identification) are substantially stronger than those involving individual-level mediating factors (General Well-Being and Job-Related Self-Esteem), with the latter coefficients approaching 0. The implications of these results are discussed in the next section.
As the results outlined in the previous section indicate, the availability of supportive leadership appears to be a key determinant of task motivation for junior enlisted soldiers belonging to stabilized units. Perceptions of support from peers also have an effect on performance motivation, albeit a much weaker one than that derived from supportive leadership. Identification with the combat unit is a strong mediator of both of these relationships. However, the indirect effects of perceived leader support on performance motivation through unit identification are particularly strong and warrant close attention.
The importance of leaders in defining unit culture and in affecting performance motivation of soldiers has implications for the way in which leaders are trained and how they are selected for assignments. Rather than viewing the opportunity to command troops as a rite of passage that all junior officers and NCOs must go through, an ideal selection procedure would exclude those who view troop leadership only as an opportunity for their personal career enhancement, and it would include those who are motivated to perform well for the organization. Once selected, these potential leaders should be provided with a solid background in group process and group dynamics before they are placed in leadership roles. Prospective leaders should be given the opportunity to learn about and actively practice newly acquired leadership skills in a setting in which they can obtain constructive feedback concerning the potential impact of their actions (Goldstein & Sorcher, 1974), a process that parallels how they learn about and actively practice the more mechanical combat skills.Goldstein & Sorcher, 1974
Turning to issues of theoretical concern, the close fit of the proposed model is encouraging. This finding confirms the viability of using traditional models of group dynamics and personal adjustment to explain some of the behavior (or, at the very least, behavioral intentions) of groups of soldiers in the combat arms professions.
The model presented is by no means complete. One area that needs to be explored to a greater extent involves determining what components of leader support (e.g., instrumental, emotional, etc.) contribute most to the development of productivity norms in cohesive peer groups. In addition, some of the situational constraints under which the model is applied need to be explored. For example, it is important to know whether the model applies equally well to soldiers in nonstabilized units or to more experienced soldiers than the ones who participated in this study. Also to be investigated is whether or not key roles that affect identification with the company exist, and whether or not it is the perception that leaders in general are supportive that is important in predicting soldier motivation. Future efforts will be directed toward the refining of this model.