Frontline staff are well positioned to conceive improvement opportunities based on first-hand knowledge of what works and does not work. The innovation contest may be a relevant and useful vehicle to elicit staff ideas. However, the success of the contest likely depends on perceived organizational support for learning; when staff believe that support for learning-oriented culture, practices, and leadership is low, they may be less willing or able to share ideas.
We examined how staff perception of organizational support for learning affected contest participation, which comprised ideation and evaluation of submitted ideas.
The contest held in a hospital cardiac center invited all clinicians and support staff (n ≈ 1,400) to participate. We used the 27-item Learning Organization Survey to measure staff perception of learning-oriented environment, practices and processes, and leadership.
Seventy-two frontline staff submitted 138 ideas addressing wide-ranging issues including patient experience, cost of care, workflow, utilization, and access. Two hundred forty-five participated in evaluation. Supportive learning environment predicted participation in ideation and idea evaluation. Perceptions of insufficient experimentation with new ways of working also predicted participation.
The contest enabled frontline staff to share input and assess input shared by other staff. Our findings indicate that the contest may serve as a fruitful outlet through which frontline staff can share and learn new ideas, especially for those who feel safe to speak up and believe that new ideas are not tested frequently enough.
The contest’s potential to decentralize innovation may be greater under stronger learning orientation. A highly visible intervention, like the innovation contest, has both benefits and risks. Our findings suggest benefits such as increased engagement with work and community as well as risks such as discontent that could arise if staff suggestions are not acted upon or if there is no desired change after the contest.
Olivia S. Jung, AM, is Doctoral Student, Harvard Business School, Boston, Massachusetts. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrea Blasco, PhD, is Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute of Quantitative Social Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Karim R. Lakhani, PhD, is Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Administration, Harvard Business School, Boston, Massachusetts.
Financial support was provided by MacArthur Foundation (Opening Governance Network), NASA Tournament Lab, and the Harvard Business School Division of Faculty Research and Development.
The Institutional Review Board at Harvard University approved all research methods.
An earlier version of this manuscript was presented at the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting (New Orleans, LA: June 2017) and the Academy of Management Annual Meeting (Atlanta, GA: August 2017). An abridged, previous version of this manuscript appears in the Academy of Management Proceedings (2017).
The authors have disclosed that they have no significant relationship with, or financial interest in, any commercial companies pertaining to this article.