Who wants to be a manager?: Applying the attraction-selection-attrition framework to public relations education
- Christopher Wilson, Brigham Young University
Wilson, C. (2016). Who wants to be a manager? Applying the attraction-selection-attrition framework to public relations education, Journal of Public Relations Education 2(1), 47-55.
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An underexplored area in the literature on public relations education concerns the preconceptions that attract undergraduate students to study public relations. A few qualitative and descriptive studies have found that beginning public relations students hold a number of media-influenced misperceptions about the profession (Bowen, 2003, 2009; Brunner & Fitch-Hauser, 2009). While this research has raised important questions about why students choose to study public relations and the potential consequences of not attracting “the right” students, it has not developed or applied a theoretical framework to understand the individual-level factors that contribute to student attraction. This study seeks to identify individual personality traits that play a role in attracting undergraduate students to study public relations by adopting the attraction-selection-attrition (ASA) framework from the personnel psychology literature (Schneider, Goldstein, & Smith, 1995). This framework has been applied primarily to job seekers after graduation. However, it also has been applied to the sorting process that occurs as students seek an academic major prior to entering the job market (Boone, van Olffen, & Roijakkers, 2004).
Public Relations Management and Education
Because the public relations function needs a seat at the management table to implement effective public relations programs (Dozier, Grunig, & Grunig, 1995), scholars have stressed the need for education in public relations management in the academy (e.g., Kinnick & Cameron, 1994). Nevertheless, research suggests that many beginning public relations students are not aware of the management emphasis of the curriculum. Instead, these students are attracted to public relations because of perceptions formed through exposure to stereotypical depictions in the news and entertainment media (Bowen, 2003, 2009). While there is concern that some students may rely on these faulty assumptions to evaluate public relations as a potential major and future career path, examples of public relations becoming an integral part of organizational management are on the rise. Therefore, it is likely that a motivated student seeking information about the discipline could form preconceptions of public relations as a management function in the process of investigating the major.
One way to understand the role that preconceptions play in attracting students to study public relations is to examine the issue through the lens of the attraction-selection-attrition (ASA) framework (Schneider, Goldstein, & Smith, 1995). According to the ASA framework, job seekers are attracted to particular organizations because they see a fit between their individual personalities and an organizationís culture. Conversely, organizations typically hire, or select, applicants with personalities that resonate with their goals and culture. Finally, the framework suggests that employees who are not “a fit” for the organization choose to leave through attrition. Experimental research has supported the relationship between personality type and organizational attraction (e.g., Cable & Judge, 1996).
Boone, van Olffen, and Roijakkers (2004) used the ASA framework to investigate whether a similar process applies to the selection of majors by university undergraduates. They reasoned that students experience a similar process as they select a major. Namely, some students may be attracted to a field of study that will lead to a career path that suits their personality. However, other students will make an initial decision about a major only to find that the resulting career path is not a good fit, causing them to change majors. Their research found support for the attraction phase of the ASA cycle by examining the relationship between student personality type and the relevance of information used to decide on a major.
Need for Achievement and Need for Power
The individual personality traits selected for the current study were need for achievement and need for power. These personality traits come from research about the influence of individual needs on motivation and behavior (McClelland, 1985). These personality traits have been used consistently in organizational behavior research on leadership and managerial effectiveness (e.g., Stahl, 1983). Research has found that these traits are not mutually exclusive (Taormina, 2009) and are present in similar levels for both male and female managers (Chusmir, 1985).
Individuals with a high need for achievement have a strong desire to meet standards of excellence set by themselves or others (McClelland, 1961). Their focus is on doing something well. These individuals tend to engage in challenging activities that involve skill, effort, planning, and goal setting. Additionally, they seek out activities that require personal responsibility and feedback about their performance. Therefore, students with a high need for achievement may be attracted to study public relations if they have management-related preconceptions of the function, such as goal-setting, strategic planning, and evaluation.
Individuals who exhibit a high need for power are motivated to exert emotional and behavioral influence over others and receive recognition for their actions (Winter, 1973). Their focus is on making an impact. From an organizational perspective, a high need for power motivates and enables managers to influence subordinates to achieve organizational goals (McClelland & Boyatzis, 1982). Students with a high need for power may be drawn to study public relations if they have preconceptions that they can have an impact on the organization through the public relations function, such as counseling senior management or participating in organizational decision making.
The current study focuses only on the attraction phase of the ASA cycle by evaluating the relationships among studentsí individual personality traits, their preconceptions about public relations as a management function, and their perceptions of public relations career fit. The following hypotheses were proposed:
H1: Undergraduate studentsí need for achievement will be positively related to their preconceptions of public relations as a management function.
H2: Undergraduate studentsí need for power will be positively related to their preconceptions of public relations as a management function.
H3: Undergraduate studentsí preconceptions of public relations as a management function will have a positive influence on their evaluation of the potential fit of public relations as a career.
The population of interest for this study was undergraduate students enrolled in two sections of the introductory public relations course at a university where the curriculum follows the Commission on Public Relations Educationís (CPRE, 2006) guidelines. A total of 307 students were enrolled in both classes. An online survey was administered early in the second month of the fall 2012 semester. By this point, both sections of the course had discussed the definition and evolution of public relations, ethics and professionalism, and the differences between departments and firms.
An online questionnaire was developed for this study consisting of four principal sections: personality traits, management preconceptions, perceptions of career fit, and demographics. Reliability for each scale was evaluated using Cronbachís alpha. The personality traits need for achievement and need for power were measured using eight items from Steers and Braunsteinís (1976) Manifest Needs Questionnaire. Both needs were measured by separate four-item scales (need for achievement, a = .66; need for power, a = .83). Subjects were asked to agree or disagree with statements about how they typically behave in a work setting using a seven-point, Likert-type scale anchored by “strongly disagree” and “strongly agree.” In the current study, need for power (a = .82) had an acceptable alpha while the alpha for need for achievement (a = .64) was low but similar to the alpha reported for the original scale. As a result, caution should be used in interpreting analysis involving this particular scale due to substandard internal consistency.
Management preconceptions were measured using Lauzenís (1992) four-item manager role aspirations scale (a = .87). This scale was developed to measure the “managerial activities they would ideally like to do” (p. 73). Respondents were asked to report how often they would like to perform four managerial tasks in their ideal public relations job using a seven-point, Likert-type scale anchored by “never” and “always.” Cronbachís alpha for management preconceptions in the current study (a = .86) was acceptable.
Perceived career fit was assessed by modifying three items developed by Cable and Judge (1996) (a = .68). The modified items were: (1) “To what degree do you feel your personality is a ‘match’ or fit for a career in public relations?”; (2) “Do you think the values and ‘personality’ of the public relations industry reflect your own values and personality?”; and (3) “My personality matches those of current public relations practitioners.” Participants were asked to respond to the first question using a seven-point, Likert-type scale anchored by “not at all” and “completely.” They were asked to respond to the second and third questions using a seven-point, Likert-type scale anchored by “strongly disagree” and “strongly agree.” Cronbach’s alpha for career fit in the current study (a = .84) was acceptable.
Of the 307 students invited to participate in the study, 262 completed the online survey for a response rate of 85%. More than three-quarters of the participants (76%) were female and less than one-fourth (24%) were male. The majority of respondents were sophomores (39%) or juniors (39%). However, the sample also included seniors (18%) and freshmen (4%). In terms of majors, 40% of the respondents identified themselves as public relations majors. Nearly the same number (38%) identified themselves as majors from a different discipline (e.g., English, marketing, sports management, finance, political science). Students majoring in advertising (15%), telecommunications (5%), and journalism (3%) were also represented in the sample. A majority of survey respondents were in the 19 to 20 age group (66%), while nearly a quarter were in the 21 to 22 age group (23%). Additionally, 8% of respondents were in the 17 to 18 age group and 3% were in the 23 to 35 age group. Caucasians comprised 60% of the sample, followed by African Americans (21%), Hispanics (12%), Asian/Asian Americans (3%), and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander (1%).
Studentsí mean scores for both need for achievement (M = 5.3; SD = 0.75) and need for power (M = 5.1; SD = 0.93) were above the midpoint of the seven-point measurement scale. Similar mean scores also were obtained for studentsí management preconceptions (M = 5.2; SD = 1.1) and perceived career fit (M = 5.2; SD = 1.1).
Personality Traits and Management Preconceptions
Pearson correlations were calculated to test H1 and H2. Management preconceptions had significant positive relationships with both need for achievement (r = .44, p < .001) and need for power (r = .34, p < .001). Need for achievement and need for power were positively correlated (r = .62, p < .001). In addition, stepwise regression was used to test H1 and H2 while controlling for studentsí declared major and gender. The results of the stepwise regression are presented in Table 1. The analysis found that need for achievement (ﬂ = .35, p < .001) and being a declared public relations major (ﬂ = .13, p = .02) were positively related to management preconceptions. Results indicated that the complete regression model accounted for 20.3% of the variance in management preconceptions and was a good fit for the data (R2 = .22, F (4, 257) = 17.08, p < .001). Additionally, the full model explained significantly more variance than the model that only included the control variables (R2change = .18, F (2, 257) = 29.31, p < .001). Multicolliniarity was not an issue as the variance inflation factor (VIF) was less than 10 (VIF < 1.65). Therefore, based on the results, H1 was supported, but H2 was not.
Personality Traits, Management Preconceptions, and Career Fit
A correlation analysis was used to test H3. It found that career fit had significant positive relationships with need for achievement (r = .35, p < .001), need for power (r = .38, p < .001), and management preconceptions (r = .42, p < .001). As a result, stepwise regression was used to analyze the relationship between management preconceptions and perceptions of career fit while controlling for the effects of the two personality traits, declared major, and gender. The results of the stepwise regression are presented in Table 2. The analysis found that management preconceptions (ﬂ = .28, t = 4.68, p < .001), declared public relations major (ﬂ = .22, t = 3.89, p < .001), and need for power (ﬂ = .21, t = 3.13, p = .002) had significant positive relationships with perceived career fit. The complete model was a good fit for the data, explaining 27.7% of the variance in perceived career fit (R2= .28, F (5, 256) = 17.90, p < .001). In addition, the full model explained more of the variance in perceived career fit than the model containing only the control variables (R2change = .06, F (1, 256) = 21.90, p < .001). Multicolliniarity was not an issue as the variance inflation factor (VIF) was less than 10 (VIF < 1.80). Therefore, based on these results, H3 was supported.
This study found that students need for achievement and being a declared public relations major were positively related to preconceptions of public relations as a management function. These results indicate that the higher a studentís need for achievement the more he or she thinks about public relations in terms of management. The results also suggest that students who have already declared public relations as their major are more likely to think of public relations as a management function than students from other disciplines who choose to study it. This finding provides some empirical support for the proposition that students with a high need for achievement are attracted to study public relations because of their preconceptions of public relations as a management function that involves skill, effort, planning, and goal setting.
Interestingly, the results also show that need for power is not related to management preconceptions. This is likely because undergraduate students with a high need for power do not see an opportunity in the public relations manager role, as described by the four items adopted in this study, to influence subordinates and reach top-levels of management.
This study also demonstrates that management preconceptions have a significant positive relationship with perceived career fit. Specifically, the results indicate that the more a student considers public relations to be a management function, the greater the studentís perceptions of career fit. In addition, the results demonstrate that students who possess a high need for power or who have already declared their major to be public relations are likely to have perceptions of high career fit. One explanation of why students high in need for power see public relations as a career fit independent of management preconceptions could be that these students hold a misperception about the actual power and influence of public relations in organizations. It is possible that they hold preconceptions of public relations as a powerful organizational function that will enable them to influence the behavior of others within the organization.
Students with a high need for achievement likely are attracted to the major because they have developed preconceptions of public relations as a management function. This view of public relations needs to be fostered with these students so they will develop a greater sense of career fit. In addition, educators need to explain how public relations gains power and influence in organizations so students with high need for power will have an accurate evaluation of career fit. Because students with a high power motivation have the potential to become high-level executives, public relations programs need to hold on to these students by fostering their interest in the field. Moreover, this study provides a foundation for future research investigating the ASA model in public relations education.
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