Dissertation Title: "Crowdsourcing and Engaging Employees in Innovation: Three Field Studies"This dissertation examines how crowdsourcing ideas, which opens up the opportunity to innovate, can engage employees to solve organizational problems. Across three field studies, I investigate: employees’ responses to being invited to participate in idea generation and selection when such activities are not part of the day-to-day job, the impact of broadening the locus of innovation on existing organizational relationships and practices, and whether employees innovate more when crowdsourcing mechanisms are introduced.
In Study/Chapter 1, I posit that organization-wide innovation contests, a vehicle to crowdsource ideas, enable individual learning to become organizational learning. Contests allow employees to share knowledge and ideas for organizational improvement and to evaluate shared ideas through crowd voting. I find that a culture of learning plays a key role in facilitating employee participation in contests. In a cardiac center of an academic hospital (n=1,400) employees who perceived openness to new ideas and psychological safety were more likely to participate in ideation as well as voting. Innovation contests’ potential to decentralize innovation and facilitate organizational learning may be greater under a stronger learning orientation.
In Study/Chapter 2, I partnered with NASA for a qualitative study (n=53) and a field experiment (n=7,455) to understand employees’ motivations to engage with a crowdsourcing platform and study the effectiveness of different recognition incentives. Qualitative findings show that the perceived incongruence between crowdsourcing and organizational hierarchy disincentivized employees by creating concerns about the legitimacy of peer-based innovation. Experimental findings show that managerial recognition, the incentive that was congruent with the established hierarchy, significantly increased engagement, possibly by alleviating legitimacy concerns. These findings demonstrate the potential of recognition incentives—when they are aligned with prevalent organizational structure and culture—to assuage employees’ negative attitudes towards a new practice.
In Study/Chapter 3, I examine whether and how innovation contests could increase employees’ general engagement in innovation. In this multi-method study, I first conducted a field experiment with 53 community health centers (CHCs). Half of the randomly treated CHCs crowdsourced all employees for ideas to improve patient care. After the experiment, I interviewed 175 people spanning roles and levels from the same field sites to explore how and under what conditions this intervention works. My experimental findings evince that the intervention increased employees’ engagement in innovation by more than 35 percent, two months following the intervention. My qualitative findings suggest that the intervention (1) exposed managers to the usefulness of soliciting employee ideas, prompting them to keep soliciting ideas and (2) spurred employees to prioritize innovating on top of their day-to-day work. The intervention was particularly effective in organizations where employee ideas were not proactively sought prior to the intervention. This study illustrates that a crowdsourcing intervention that introduces an open and structured approach to innovation can motivate manager-employee communication in new ways.