Project

Frontline Employee Innovation

Goal: Understand how frontline manufacturing and service employees contribute to product and process innovation. This encompasses idea generation, idea selection, as well as implementation and learning.

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Project log

Fabian J. Sting
added 2 research items
How do employees perceive strategic technology initiatives? Understanding this is crucial for attaining employees’ acceptance, and so for successful initiative implementation. Drawing on timely cases of digitalization-induced change initiatives triggered by Industry 4.0, the digital networking of the manufacturing industry, we investigate manufacturing employees’ thoughts and feelings with regard to this proclaimed fourth industrial revolution. We employ the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET), a semi-structured, in-depth interview format to unearth individuals’ deep-seated beliefs and values, and thereby identify five distinct frames (utilitarian, functional, anthropocentric, traditional, and playful), which drive employees’ attitudes towards Industry 4.0. Based on this inductive approach and our further analysis of frame adoption patterns, we make a first step towards a cognitive theory on the perception of digitalization-induced change that foregrounds employees’ perspectives and helps us understand why and when certain employees accept digitalization-induced change, while others do not. Our findings inform managerial practice on (i) how to promote far-reaching digitalization initiatives across employees and (ii) how to address the individual employee via frame-contingent communication in order to increase the likelihood of successful implementation. Furthermore, our study adds to theory on cognitive frames, ambivalent attitudes towards change, and framing effectiveness. Finally, our study makes a methodological contribution by adapting ZMET, a market research technique (geared towards customers), to the manufacturing shop floor (geared towards employees).
Organizations engage in search when they innovate. Search is typically performed by multiple group members who are knowledgeable about parts of the search problem, but rarely understand all decision variables. Search theory has shown that team members therefore need to coordinate their work. However, previous work has not examined joint problem solving, that is, common responsibility for search variables. Incorporating joint problem solving as a mechanism into the canonical NK model framework, this study elucidates first how and why joint problem solving adds performance to mere coordination in complex search problems: Joint problem solving increases performance by expanding the search space, hence unlocking organizational creativity. Second, the study identifies the organizational context (knowledge distribution and hierarchical structure) in which joint problem solving is most beneficial.
Fabian J. Sting
added a research item
Shop-floor employees play a key role in manufacturing innovation. In some companies, up to 75% of all productivity gains are the result of bottom-up employee ideas. In this paper, we examine how employee interplant assignments—short problem-solving jobs at other manufacturing plants within the same firm—influence employee-driven manufacturing innovation. Using unique idea-level data from a large European car parts manufacturer, we show that interplant assignments significantly increase the value of employees’ improvement ideas due to the short-term transfer of production knowledge and long-term employee learning. Both effects are amplified by assignments to plants that have high functional overlap (i.e., plants producing similar products using similar processes and machinery). One implication is that, for the purpose of employee-driven manufacturing innovation, assignments between peripheral plants with high functional overlap can be more effective than assignments to and from central plants. These findings are robust to several econometric tests. Our study provides novel and detailed empirical evidence of manufacturing innovation, and goes beyond previous research on the learning curve (learning by doing) by investigating how interplant assignments affect the value of employees’ improvement ideas (learning by moving). This paper was accepted by Charles J. Corbett, operations management.
Fabian J. Sting
added 15 research items
Search theory describes how organizations address problems that are too complex to be solved through optimization. Because most high-level strategic initiatives fall into this category, search is at the heart of strategic processes in most organizations. Search theory has examined how aspects of the organizational context (such as cognition, modularity, organizational structures, and decentralization of decision making) influence search performance. In examining organizational processes, search theory has focused on coordination - making separate parallel decision domains mutually compatible. The theory has not incorporated a typical element of search in real organizations: collaboration, or several actors combining their problem solving activities to develop a solution for a common problem. This paper builds a theory of collaborative search. We identify the organizational settings for which collaboration is beneficial, provide guidance on when collaboration does not improve performance, and identify methods for making collaboration effective when it is appropriate.
Mit einer simplen Idee hat der Dachfensterhersteller Roto die Arbeit seiner Entwicklungsabteilung verbessert. Dem Hilferuf eines einzelnen Ingenieurs folgt die prompte Problemlösung durch die Gruppe. Die positiven Folgen: Weniger Verzögerungen, höhere Motivation und bessere Zusammenarbeit mit anderen Abteilungen, Zulieferern und Kunden.
The article focuses on how the German car manufacturer, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG or BMW, is managing the effects of population aging on the industry. The redesign of BMW's factories to accommodate older workers and increase productivity is mentioned. Research on a pilot production line, which is based on a mix of employees who have an average age of 47 in the year 2017, is discussed. The roles of Peter Jürschick, Helmut Mauermann, Günther Stadler, and Kurt Dickert in the development of the pilot project are mentioned. The costs associated with an aging population are noted.
Fabian J. Sting
added a project goal
Understand how frontline manufacturing and service employees contribute to product and process innovation. This encompasses idea generation, idea selection, as well as implementation and learning.