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PhD Defence Henk Jan van Essen | Innovation Energy on Converting Employees' Innovation Properties - Into Innovative Work Behaviour

Innovation Energy on Converting Employees' Innovation Properties - Into Innovative Work Behaviour

The PhD defence of Henk Jan van Essen will take place in the Waaier building of the University of Twente and can be followed by a live stream.
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Henk Jan van Essen is a PhD student in the department Human Resource Management. (Co)Promotors are prof.dr. T. Bondarouk and dr.ir. J. de Leede from the faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Science.

Organisations seek strategies to navigate and thrive amid rapid global transitions. Over the past few decades, businesses have had to address more stringent customer demands and have experienced heightened price competition and shorter delivery times (Crossan & Apaydin, 2010). Recent challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, global environmental issues, fossil fuel shortages, and worldwide geopolitical tensions, suggest companies must address changing circumstances. The demand for innovation and articulation of ideas by employees and customers has become increasingly pressing across various businesses (Guterres, 2020; Schröder, 2020). Previous research poses that while management can foster a conducive environment for innovation, a novel idea usually stems from a talented employee (Mumford, 2000; Tang, 1998; Nijhof et al., 2002).

Employees with creativity, characterised by diverse backgrounds, experiences, and activities, can develop, execute, react to, and modify ideas within socio-political organisational processes (Van De Ven, 1986). Innovative Work Behaviour (IWB) of employees has extensively been researched since Scott and Bruce (1994) addressed its importance in innovation. Factors impacting IWB have theoretical been specified (Bass et al., 1999; Bos-Nehles et al., 2017a; De Jong & Den Hartog, 2010; De Spiegelaere, 2014; Van Den Brand et al., 2021). The variability in the impact of these factors is one uncertain aspect serving as a motivation for our research. Therefore, it is critical to address why specific individuals exhibit openness to innovation while others do not. The valid question to that end is whether this openness is consistent across individuals. The other relevant question is: Are all factors equally important for every employee demonstrating IWB?

When we began our research, we assumed that there must be the existence of an overarching personal energetic factor. This assumption is based on recognizing the often long lead time of innovations, which is characterised by highs and lows, requiring overcoming numerous obstacles.

Much of the literature on IWB accentuates the role of thoughtful managerial choices to stimulate innovation in organisations, we acknowledge and do not dispute this perspective. Nevertheless, IWB also results from the empowered, energetic employee demonstrating such behaviour with creativity. In our research, we extend the focus beyond the influence of the environment on employees with IWB to explore the impact of these individuals on their surroundings and vice versa. This aspect is deemed an underexplored theme in the literature.

Upon interpreting our study’s findings, we pose a novel concept called ‘innovation energy’ as our primary contribution to science. Schippers and Hogenes (2011, p193) reviewed and outlined the research agenda on human energy management with the following remark: ’Although energy is a concept that is implied in many motivational theories, it is hardly ever explicitly mentioned or researched’.

The construct of innovation energy with five working mechanisms which we propose as our research result, provides a deeper understanding of the IWB process from the perspective of the engaged employee demonstrating IWB. Our research substantially contributes to the body of knowledge on IWB, human innovation energy and engagement.

Our research encompassed three case studies conducted at domestic and international operating organisations: Philips Research, IT Company Topicus, and Saxion University of Applied Science, all located in the Netherlands. The research spanned seven years (2016–2023). In the dissertation, we sequentially describe this developing process. We employed two main dimensions with four stages of IWB, as Dorenbosch et al. (2005) reported in their study, to recognise employees with IWB among voluntary respondents. These dimensions comprised the development-oriented IWB with problem recognition and idea generation stages and the implementation-oriented IWB encompassing idea promotion and idea realisation stages. We posit that creativity as  innovation property which is outlined by Amabile (1988, 1998)) and psychological empowerment innovation properties of employees, as suggested by Spreitzer (1995, 2008), influence their innovation energy and IWB. Moreover, we consider transformational and transactional leadership (Bass, 1990; Bass et al., 1999) as contextual factors within the work environment influencing innovation energy and IWB. Other contextual factors include perceived room for autonomy (e.g., Bos-Nehles et al., 2017a) and possessing external contacts (e.g., De Jong & Den Hartog, 2005).

The case study method was chosen to research the IWB phenomenon within its natural environment, considering IWB and the environment as integral parts of a system (Swanborn, 2013). We adopt an abductive interpretive approach in our study, as suggested by numerous scholars (Saetre & Van De Ven A., 2021; Goldkuhl, 2012; Dubois & Gadde, 2002, 2014; Annosi et al., 2016). Our study involved interviews with 27 managers, individual interviews with 70 employees, and 17 employees participating in five focus groups across various departments in all three organisations.

Following the abductive systematic combining method (Dubois & Gadde, 2002, 2014), our sensitising theoretical framework underwent modifications based on the results of case study one. This modification yielded a sensitising conceptual model where the variables were supplemented with new, inductively coded factors stimulating IWB. These factors comprise co-creation (as a specification of having external contacts), optimism, supportive leadership (as a specification of transformational leadership), the degree of formalisation (as influencing the perceived room for autonomy), innovative teamwork and the overall factor innovation energy.

After completing case study two, modifications were made to the conceptual model, yielding the final ‘Innovation Energy and IWB’ model. The two models differ because the relations between the factors have become mutual.

After completing case study two, the ‘Innovation Energy and IWB model’ did not undergo further redirection, aligning with the expected outcome. Case study three was highly inductive providing a deeper understanding of innovation energy, its relationships with various factors and its role in the overall IWB process to finalise the conceptualisation process for this new construct.

Readers of the dissertation can track the change process because the matching, directing and redirecting steps inherent in the systematic combining method are transparently elucidated while concluding each case study chapter.

The results revealed that employees with IWB exhibited the required creativity, psychological empowerment, and optimistic innovation properties for this behaviour. Innovation energy is essential for generating new ideas and persisting through obstacles until an invention develops into a recognised innovation.  Our data interpretation suggests that this energy converts these properties into IWB mutually concerning five working mechanisms: (1) the individual mechanism where the person finds the energy in themselves leading towards IWB with or without the other factors, (2) the work design autonomy mechanism where the individual energy shapes and is shaped by the tasks with various levels of perceived autonomy, (3) the team mechanism where the person’s energy influences the collective team behaviours and vice versa, (4) the leadership mechanism where the innovation energy affects and is affected by leadership, and (5) the external mechanism where the person’s energy influences the external stakeholders and vice versa.

We suggest that the employee with IWB possesses a “second order cybernetic result driven directing function” (Heylighen and Joslyn 2003) in this complex process with five mechanisms and uses the innovation energy as a convertor.

The main result of our case studies conceptualises the ‘innovation energy’ as follows:

‘Innovation energy is a stimulus converting employees' innovation properties into IWB in a mutual dependency with the work context and the innovation properties.

We conceptualised the converting stimulus as follows:

‘The energetic power which gives result drive, flow, and stamina in the total IWB process’

In the IWB process, innovation energy is not a standalone factor; it intricately relates to the employees’ innovation properties, work contextual factors, and IWB. This energy differs from general human energy because employees driven by their nature or life experiences exhibit a passion for channelling this energy into innovation processes because they like change processes. Without innovation energy, nothing will happen; it must be present to light the innovation fire.