ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

›› 2007, Vol. 39 ›› Issue (06): 1111-1121.

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The Mechanism of How Trust Climate Impacts on Individual Performance

Li Ning,Yan Jin   

  1. School of Management, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310058, China
  • Received:2007-02-12 Revised:1900-01-01 Published:2007-11-30 Online:2007-11-30
  • Contact: Li Ning

Abstract: This paper explored the mechanism through which trust climate influences on individual performance. From the scope of psychological dynamics, we investigated the relationship among perception of organizational climate, motivation and individual behaviors to crystallize how a trustworthy organizational environment favors superior individual performance.
The concept of trust climate is conceptualized as a kind of perception based on subjective assessment for the trustworthiness of entire organizational environment. In order to develop a solid operational definition of trust climate, we built our framework on Costigan’s work (1998). In their theorizing, three salient parties mainly responsible for individuals’ overall trust perception of organizational environment are located as: direct leader, co-workers and top management. For the purpose of both theoretical parsimony and practical feasibility, we employed these three factors as indicators of trust climate. Psychological safety, defined as a kind of feeling able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status, or career (Kahn, 1990), is considered as an important factor influencing on spontaneous innovative behaviors and knowledge sharing in workplace.
The primary aim of this paper is to examine the idea that trust climate enhances levels of psychological safety, which has two independent ways to impact on task performance. First, psychological safety diminishes apprehension about the potential negative consequences of innovative or learning behaviors (enhance the possibility of spontaneous innovation), such as failure or exposure of lack in knowledge or expertise. Second, psychological safety keeps employees from distracters (increase the ability to focus), such as organizational politics, which occupy great amount of employee’s time and energy. With more available resource that could be allocated to behaviors benefiting organization productivity, individuals are likely to have better performance. The two paths are hypothesized to be mutually complementary, and each of them accounts for different mechanisms through which trust climate facilitates superior individual performance.
Data were obtained from 203 full-time employees of three companies in the eastern China. To avoid the effect of common method bias, we collected employee’s psychological states data and their performance information separately (performance data were rated by employee’s direct leader). Considering the susceptibility of trust research to social desirability, we employed Aryee’s sampling procedure (2002) that is regarded as an effective solution to diminish negative outcome of social desirability. The statistical package of LISREL 8.45 was used to examine the hypotheses. The procedure of testing mediator proposed by Baron & Kendy (1980) was followed to scrutinize the relations between variables.
In the first stage of data analysis, we tested the hypothesis whether psychological safety mediates the relationship between trust climate and individual performance. In order to provide a stringent examination of our hypotheses, two alternative nested models were established and compared with the hypothesized model. It was revealed that effect of trust climate on task performance is mediated by psychological safety. In the second stage of data analysis, we examined the mediating role of spontaneous innovation and ability to focus in the process that psychological safety translates into performance. Following the same logic employed in the first stage, seven nested alternative models were constructed for comparisons. Results supported the mediating effect of spontaneous innovation and ability to focus, and it also indicated the existence of other potential way(s) that psychological safety impacts on performance, beyond the two paths examined in this article. Finally, the theoretical and managerial implications were discussed.

Key words: trust in organization, trust climate, psychological safety, ability to focus, spontaneous innovation, task performance

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