Topicus case study: The relationships between innovative personal features, the work contextual factors, innovation energy and employees showing innovative work behaviour (IWB) in their work units.

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Purpose: The purpose of this research is to develop more knowledge about the relationships between work contextual factors, innovative personal features, and innovative work behaviour (IWB) of employees. Most previous studies had a strong orientation on managerial methods for stimulating innovation. In our study the central research objective is distinguishing employees who are showing IWB, driven by their own creative and psychologically empowered nature.
Design, methodology, and approach: After a literature review and a first case study at Philips R&D a conceptual model was developed, and relevant dimensions and determinants were defined. An explorative qualitative case study was conducted at the IT company Topicus in Deventer in the Netherlands from April 2020 until December 2020. We chose this research environment for the case study because we expected to find many employees with IWB. Topicus has the reputation of a fast growing and innovative organisation. In 20 years it grew from 2 employees to 1000. At Philips we researched IWB in more radical innovative research and development circumstances. In this second case study we want to complete our research with data from an organisation with more incremental (process) innovations on an operational level. We conducted 22 interviews with employees and 15 interviews with their operational managers, which were mostly part of the team. The interviews were fully transcribed and coded using the Atlas TI software. We used a deductive approach. The variables of the conceptual model where axial coded directly, and explorative new findings were open coded and afterwards axial bundled. Some of the variables of our conceptual model were only used to recognise important case elements like the leadership style of the manager, or whether we could define a respondent as an employee with IWB. We did 4 extra in-dept interviews to compile personas of young and middle-aged employees with IWB, and one persona of an employee without IWB. The method of inter-coding reliability was applied.
Findings: Employees with IWB were recognised with our model. We found that 18 of the 22 respondents showed innovative work behaviour, and 4 of them showed all 4 stages. The 4 employees who showed all 4 stages quoted all personal features, while the employees with no IWB quoted almost none of these features. 13 out of 15 of the managers had a supportive transformational leadership style, while 2 displayed a transactional style. The supportive style was an important positive influence factor of IWB. We found that employees with IWB are optimistic, and two of the employees without IWB are pessimistic. All 4 employees without IWB did not display optimism. Topicus is an organisation with many young employees, little power distance of the management and a lot of room for autonomy for the employees. However, many managers and employees feel that time pressure, high customer satisfaction focus, and new projects lowered this autonomy space and resulted in less time for innovation. There is a low degree of formalization and the respondents feel that this is very important for their IWB. Working in self-organizing teams is one of the success factors of the organisation, but some employees quoted the side effect of wanting to share more knowledge between teams and divisions. They are also not aware of the future vision of the organisation, which could help them to focus their innovations on that vision. The co-creating way of working stimulates the IWB of the respondents. Just like in the first case study, the respondents are intrinsically motivated to show IWB, and not by salary or bonusses. The meaningfulness and impact of their innovations and working in a youthful organisation with a lot of freedom motivated them. Working in a team with colleagues with different competences and building friendships within the team stimulated them in their IWB. This was also mentioned in case study one, where the diversity was more multidisciplinary. This was quoted so many times that we placed the (multidisciplinary) innovative team as a new important IWB influencing factor in our conceptual model. In this model we placed the innovation energy central, as we observed this as a key factor of IWB which is affected by all the influencing factors of our conceptual model. Using and combining several existing definitions about innovation and energy allowed us to define innovative energy and we concluded that this definition could be a good starting point for other researchers who are interested in this phenomenon.
Research limitations: Topicus is working with many small teams. We did the research in four divisions to cover all business focusses of the organisation. It was not useful to interview the division managers and analyse the data on a division level. To collect data on the relationship between leadership and IWB we spoke to 15 operational managers and analysed the relation between their management style on the IWB of some of their employees. We drew our conclusions directly from all four divisions at once, because we saw that there was no special influence of the kind of business conducted in the division and the IWB of employees. This is a result of the very strong companywide innovative low power distance culture of Topicus. Because of the Covid19 pandemic and lock down in the Netherlands we could only have online contact and did the interviews by computer. This went very well but we did not have the opportunity because of this circumstances to do some observations on the working spot.
Reflection: The PhD research provides empirical data based on two cases of highly innovative circumstances. Further quantitative research in more sectors and countries is needed to increase the external validity.
Value: There is a need for innovation in a world with fast, global and sometimes disruptive transitions. There is also a growing awareness that sustainability is becoming an important business factor for survival and that it is necessary to stop polluting our environment. The scientific contribution of this case study is linking several existing theories of IWB, innovative personal features, and work contextual factors into one holistic conceptual model, and supplementing this with new explorative findings. This knowledge can be helpful to identify, understand, and facilitate employees with IWB. We formulated some practical HRM recommendations using the outcomes of our research. Personal characteristics of an employee with IWB combined with the characteristics of supportive leadership should be used during recruitment, selection, and coaching to identify in job profiles in which specific innovative qualities are desired. Offering room for autonomy, stimulating external contacts including co-creation and being cautious with a bonus system in relation to innovation are additional important factors to focus on intrinsic innovation stimuli. Working in (multidisciplinary) innovative teams can stimulate IWB, but also requires a system for knowledge sharing and connecting with the overall vision and strategic course of the organisation. The personas we comprised can be used to recognize (aspirant) employees with IWB.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationEnschede
PublisherUniversity of Twente
Number of pages101
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2016


  • IWB, innovative work behaviour
  • Work contextual factors
  • Innovation energy
  • Innovative personal features
  • Supporting leadership
  • Case study
  • Qualitative

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