Continuously Improving in Tough Times: Overcoming Resource Constraints With Positive Psychological Resources
Chadwick, Ingrid C.
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Individuals and organizations must continuously improve to succeed in today’s competitive economic climate, yet a major dilemma in tough economic conditions is that the resources needed to support such proactive improvement behaviors are limited. Existing theories on organizational resources, stressors, and continuous improvement are relevant yet insufficient for answering the important question of how individuals remain motivated to pursue continuous improvement activities despite minimal organizational resources to support them. Therefore, the goal of this dissertation was to build and test theory on this phenomenon. Inspired by full-cycle research, I began this program of research with a phenomenological study of employees in a manufacturing environment to better understand their appraisals regarding continuous improvement under resource-constrained conditions. The results highlighted the ways in which employees interpret constraints as either a threat or a challenge, and how positive psychological capital (PsyCap) guides these interpretations and subsequent continuous improvement. Informed by this rich data, I proposed a synthesized theoretical model which was tested in two separate contexts. First, I conducted a time-lagged survey study in another resource-constrained environment that demands continuous improvement, namely entrepreneurs launching a new business. To exert more control and to enhance the generalizability of this research, I then conducted an online experiment with participants from various industries and backgrounds. The results of these studies largely supported the theoretical model, documenting in particular the importance of individuals’ challenge appraisals for their ensuing continuous improvement behaviors. The benefits of individuals’ positive psychological resources as a way to enhance the perceived learning opportunities from resource constraints (i.e., challenge appraisal) were also illustrated. Threat appraisals did not produce the expected effects in this context of continuous improvement, and as such, the theoretical model was refined further. Collectively, this research provides answers to the important question of how individuals can find ways to proactively improve in the face of resource constraints, which is a timely and relevant topic across contemporary organizational contexts today.