Utilizing the ideas of employees to enhance technological innovation

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Despite the increased attention in the literature and number of firms adopting procedures to inspire employees to contribute to innovation, research on employee-driven innovation (EDI) still lacks evidence on how non-R&D employees within manufacturing firms can contribute to technological innovation. Therefore, this study seeks to clarify to what extent and how an EDI-approach increases technological innovation within Dutch manufacturing firms and to what extent the success of an EDI-approach is dependent upon firms’ additional investments in generating and accessing new knowledge. A mixed-methods study is used to provide statistical evidence and in-depth insights on how EDI enhances technological innovation. Quantitative analyses based on the European Manufacturing Survey 2015 (N=175) and five interviews with managers and non-R&D employees from Dutch manufacturing firms expose valuable outcomes. First, EDI significantly influences the number of technological process innovations within manufacturing firms which can be strengthened by additional investments in external cooperation. EDI does not significantly influence the probability of firms to introduce incremental and radical product innovation compared to firms without product innovation. Nevertheless, the qualitative outcomes show that EDI mainly stimulates non-R&D employees to contribute to minor process and product improvements. Within manufacturing firms, an EDI-approach may complement an R&D-approach to technological innovation as EDI primarily focuses on improving processes and adequately implementing new products, while R&D focuses on the development of significantly improved or new products. Herewith, this study proves that the success of an EDI-approach is not dependent upon manufacturing firms’ additional investments in generating and accessing new knowledge. Additional investments in external cooperation and R&D can, however, strengthen the influence of an EDI-approach on technological innovation if the goal is clear and the generated knowledge is shared appropriately within the firm to assimilate it and apply it to commercial ends. Key words: Employee-driven innovation; technological innovation; product innovation; process innovation; non-R&D innovation; R&D innovation; knowledge sharing; external cooperation; intrapreneurship; production employees; manufacturing firms
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