Does Academic Leaders influence Staffs’ Commitment to Service Quality in Malaysia?
This paper discussed the relationship between leadership style of transformational and the commitment to service quality among academic staffs in public and private Malaysian Universities. It has been argued that excellent service quality performance is one of the key factors in building niche and having competitive edge that separates one from its competitors nationally and globally. Total useable questionnaires were 387 with a response rate of 36 percent. The result revealed that there is a significant relationship between transformational leadership style and commitment to service quality among academic staff at the Malaysian universities.
This study implies to the policy makers and academic leaders at the universities that they should focus in developing their academic staff, by tapping their potentials, inspiring them, promoting collaboration, motivating and reinforcing positive attitudes towards commitment to service quality. Future study should consider alternative modes of enquires such as employing the longitudinal method of data collection design and a nationwide survey covering samples from the whole population of the higher institutions of learning in Malaysia that would be more significant in making generalizations . Keywords: Service quality, Transformational Leadership, Commitment to Service Quality, Malaysia
Existing literature on education indicates a motion towards “educational excellence” which is about world class branding, marketable academic programmes, research activities and facilities in attracting and retaining foreign and local students (Isahak, 2007), but how does one compete to be different?Governing bodies, in Malaysia such as the Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA) provide accreditation to quality programmes that fulfill certain standards.
But how do Malaysian Universities attempt to remain competitive and maintain a sustainable growth in this volatile environment where programmes seen to be globally homogeneous in nature, competitive in terms of pricing, and significant in location and branding? Hudson et al. (2004) argued that excellent service quality performance is one of the key factors in building
market niche and a competitive edge that separates one from its competitors. Sim and Idrus (2004), Jusoh et al. (2004), and Sahney et al, (2008) concurred and uphold the notion that commitment from the academic staff in the education sector to the overall organizational goal such as in the delivery of high service quality is a better strategy as in the case of customer retention and satisfaction. Unfortunately, not much attention has been given to the issue of commitment to service quality among the academic staff in the higher education sector. There is an increasing thought supporting the idea that students‟ evaluation of service quality in the Malaysian universities is to a large extent influenced by the way they are treated by the customer contact employee notably the academic staff (Hasan et al., 2008; Ismail & Abiddin, 2009).
Past researches have also suggested that some universities in Malaysia were losing students because their standard of service quality was not up to the expectation of the students (Jain et al., 2004; Firdaus, 2006; Latif et al., 2009). It was reported that the level of service quality in the Malaysian universities was just mediocre (Jusoh et al. 2004; Sim & Idrus, 2004; Hasan et al., 2008, Ismail & Abiddin, 2009). This arises concern in the way the students‟ are being treated or handled. The implication of these students‟ withdrawals may not only be costly to the students‟ potential success in their career but also to the universities‟ reputation, operational and manpower costs (Curry, 2001). But the greatest loss of all will be in terms of potential knowledge workers to the nation.
Studies on „commitment to service quality‟ are important and necessary but unfortunately there is still little progress in research in this area. Embracing commitment to service quality is mainly to bring about financial growth and an image of sustainability to service organisations. Many questions about what really motivates commitment to service quality among academic staff remains unanswered, particularly in the context of education.
Past leadership literatures have associated transformational leaders to organizational commitment, such as to service quality delivery (Jabnoun & Rasasi, 2005); building relationships with customers (Liao & Chuang, 2007); students’ engagement with schools (Leithwood & Jantzi,1999) and towards school reforms (Geijsel et al., 2003). Nevertheless, empirical research on transformational leadership and commitment of academic staff to service quality is not extensive and in most past studies, their focus was on management or based on the analysis of the customer level. Individual focus, specifically on the study of academic staff is limited in developing countries, such as Malaysia.
Therefore, the objective of this research was to examine the relationship between transformational leadership style and the academic staff‟s commitment to service quality at Malaysian Universities. Based on the findings of this research, it is hope that it would also provide some information and understanding that will assist the leaders and policy makers of the Malaysian Universities as employers to realize the contributions of their academic staff in securing profitability and wealth through the commitment of good service quality. 2. Literature Review
2.1 Commitment to Service Quality
Studies on the commitment to service quality in education literatures follow the same footpath as the general definition of affective commitment. Affective commitment is defined by Meyer and Allen (1991) as “an employee‟s emotional attachment to, identification with and involvement in the organization”. Commitment to service quality is defined and understood as “conformity to a specification” (Martin 1986; Witt & Steward, 1996; O‟Neil & Palmer, 2004) and in achieving “excellence” (Peters & Waterman, 1982). Clark et al. (2009) defined commitment to service quality as the “dedication of employees to render service quality and the willingness to go beyond what is expected of them”.
Past findings have also established that employees who are committed to the organization will remain loyal and are inversely related to turnover (Hartline et al., 2000; Elmadag et al., 2008). In such conditions, employees were known to spend more time and energy in assisting the organization realize its goals and they also put their own self interest aside (Porter et al., 1973; Tsai, 2008; Sohail & Shaikh, 2004; Yiing & Ahmad, 2008). O‟Neil (2000) in his study in higher education concurred on the importance of internal customer commitment to service quality as a means of gaining competitive advantage. Satisfied external customers, for example the students, were reported to spread by “word of mouth recommendations”, which is a powerful tool in marketing (Cuthbert, 1996).
2.2. Transformational Leadership
Leaderships can be of many facets and visages. They differ in effectiveness in terms of consequences of their actions towards internal and external stakeholders. Since organizations today are facing many challenges, there is a need for leaders in organizations to contribute not only in terms of knowledge or ideas but also in making right the decisions and responding to the changes (Horner, 1997; Christie, 2002). According to Bass and Avolio (1990), transformational leaders will focus on developing their followers by tapping them of their potentials, inspiring them, promoting collaboration, motivating them and by reinforcing positive behaviours. Bass (1990) argues that transformational leaders are pertinent especially during turbulent times when rapid changes and globalization takes place.
Barnett et al. (2001), Antonakis et al., (2003) and Kirkbride (2006) preferred to delineate transformational leadership based on five factors. They have adopted from Bass and Avolio‟s (1995, 1997) studies. The five components as suggested by Barnett et al. (2001), Antonakis et al. (2003) and Kirkbride (2006) are: individualized considerations, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation, idealized influence (attributes) and idealized influence (behavior). Table 1 below presents the five components.
Table 1: Five components of Transformational Leadership
Leaders who recognize their followers‟ individual differences and will treat them individually.
Leaders, who encourage problem solving abilities and risks taking. They also encourage their followers to re-examine any problem first and not making assumptions unbeneficial to the organization.
Leaders, who have the ability to inspire and stimulate followers to perform well in accordance to their ability by giving them some sense of purpose. Leaders, who display attributes of charismatic and competence. They are confident in facing and solving problems and showing their powers for positive benefits.
Idealize Leaders, who exhibit charismatic behavior that comes with a high sense of morality. They are trustworthy, honest, high integrity and are set to Influence
achieve their mission and purpose
Source: Barnett et al. (2001), Antonakis et al. (2003) and Kirkbride (2006)
In Malaysia, the study on transformational leadership styles is dominated in various business settings and in relation to diverse predictors such as job satisfaction ( Yusof & Shah, 2008) and organizational commitment (Azman, Al-Banna, Zaidi, Hamran & Hanim,2011). Yet, there is a lack of research done in exploring on the issue in relation to employee‟s commitment to service quality in education setting. In related studies by Lo, Ramayah and Min (2009) in manufacturing industry, they reported of a strong and positive relationship between transformational leadership style and employees‟ continuance organizational commitment. This view was further supported by Boon and Arumugam (2006) in their study in semiconductor setting in Malaysia.
They studied the influence of corporate culture on organizational commitment and found that in a corporate culture that placed emphasis in teamwork, communication, training and development and rewards, employees in return have indicated a significantly higher commitment to the organization goals. Past study by Kasim (2010) had attempted to explore the relationship of transformational leadership on the issue of gender among the deans, deputy deans and heads of department at the higher institutions in Malaysia. It was found that there was no significant relationship between gender and leadership style of transformational.
However, in this turbulent and ever changing environment, transformational leaders are much needed, especially when the educational leaders were experiencing threats of mergers or a total collapse and thus there in need of drastic changes in order to survive.
3. Research Model and Hypothesis
The proposed research model is depicted in Figure 3.1 below.
Figure 3.1 : Conceptual Framework
The hypothesized relationship between the dependent and independent variables is developed in the following paragraph.
Due to their charismatic and visionary nature, transformational leaders tend to foster strong feelings of emotional attachments to the organization, team mates and superior‟s so much so that they are willing to “transcend their own self interest” for the organization and become partners (Narimawati, 2007). Employees who were under transformational leaders were also seen to exhibit a high sense of commitment in service organization (Emery & Barker; 2007; Nguni et al.; 2006; McGuire & Kennerly, 2006; Chen, 2004).
As a result, the likelihood that transformational leadership styles would prompt high commitments especially when followers are made to realize that commitment to service quality will give their organization the competitive edge over other competitors and meet their customers‟ satisfaction. Based on this assumption, the following hypothesis is postulated:
H1a: There is a significant positive relationship between transformational leadership style and the academic staff‟s commitment to service quality
4. Methodology and Research Design
4.1 Research Design
This study was designed to investigate the relationship between independent variable of transformational leadership styles and dependent variable of commitment to service. The relevant units of analysis in this study focused on the academic staff in selected universities in Malaysia. Their perception of their immediate superiors such as the deans or heads of department or heads of schools were closely studied to identify their commitment to service quality. A quantitative cross sectional survey research was employed in this study.
The survey was conducted on both public and private universities in Malaysia. Approximately 1076 questionnaires were sent out with a total of 387 responses. Overall the response rate was 36 percent which was slightly better than what was reported generally in the Malaysian context (Othman et al., 2001). To ensure similarity in characteristics, the sample of respondent chosen was based on the following: i) a minimum academic staff‟s population of more than 150; and ii) the minimum number of ten (10) years of operation. Basically, universities were chosen due to geographical convenience for accessibility to the respondents. Past researches in the education context for examples: Arokiasamy et al. (2007), Noordin and Jusoff (2009) and Santhapparaj and Alam (2005) have also drawn most of their samples on the same basis and therefore have supported in terms of external validity of generalization of the findings (Ariffin,2006, Sakeran, 2005).
4.2 Survey Instrument
The questionnaire for the study consists of three (3) sections meant to capture the variables related to the leadership style, commitment to service quality and also the demographic section related to the academic staff. Transformational leadership was measured by using 20 items adapted from a later version of MLQ instrument commonly known as MLQ 5x-short-forms. Although the factors that measure transformational leadership styles were distinctive, in this study a single dimensional construct for transformational style was adopted.
This is in line with past empirical studies by Walumbwa et al. (2004, 2005) on transformational leadership construct. A recent modified version by Clark et al. (2009) was adapted in this study. A slight modification was made in order to complement the study context for measures for commitment to service quality items. Nine (9) items to measure the variable were selected. The items for both scale were measured on a 5-Point Likert-type scale, anchored by 1, “strongly disagree” through to 5, “strongly agree.
To assess the reliability of the measurement items of all the variables, the researcher undertook Cronbach‟s Alpha coefficient analysis to test the reliability of the instruments. The instrument was tested for internal reliability and the following Table 2 demonstrates the scales generated.
Table 2: Overall Internal Reliability
Transformational Leadership Style
Commitment to service quality
The reliability tests indicate an excellent reliability for all its components with a coefficient alpha of above 0.7 exceeding the minimum acceptable level as suggested by Nunnally and Berstein (1994). In order to ascertain that all the measurements in this study exhibits some degree of validity, content validity was conducted (Davis & Consenza, 1988) in the pre-tested stage by soliciting the expert opinions of two professors from a university. After necessary modifications, the scale was also pre-tested to a set of respondents similar to the population as suggested by Davis and Consenza (1988).
5. Findings/ Discussion.
Tables 3 below summarize the demographic profiles of the respondents. The sample also indicates that female respondents represented a slightly higher percentage of total samples (59%) when compared to the male respondents (41%). The majority of the respondents possessed Master degrees or others of similar level (71%) while 29 percent had completed their doctorate degree. Majority of the respondents were middle age of between 30 to 40 years of age (43%) followed by those between 40 to 50 years old (25%). About 18 percent of the academicians were younger of age of between 20-30 years. With reference to their experience in teaching, the sample showed a balance between those who had teaching experience of between 1 to 5 years (33%) and 5 to 10 years (28%).More than 47 percent of the respondents were from business faculty followed by faculty of information technology (12%).
Table 3: Summary of Respondents’ Profile
20 < 30 Years
50 and above