A discretionary social network in a firm is where individual employees voluntarily share new, innovative knowledge – activities in this network are essential to firm innovation. These activities are far from simple, and often end in failure due to managerial misunderstanding. This failure may have to do with the fact that ideation is largely a discretionary, voluntary activity. A discetionary activity overmanaged and over monitired with subsequent employee disengagement as a consequence. But then how to get traction for ideation as management while not overmanaging at the same time?
Our study identifies that, contrary to expectation, those employees whose task it is to professionally share valuable, new knowledge attributed the input for future innovation – ideators – fall short in leveraging a favorable position in a firm’s discretionary, informal social network.
Targeted intervention by management in the form of simple taskforce based temporal intervention, however, can change the networked interactions related to ideation within a firm for the better. Involvement in the discretionary social network being largely voluntary, the evolution of this network is likely to differ from that of the formal, workflow network. Yet, many employees in our case study have changed their behaviors, voluntarily increasing both the number of ties in the discretionary social network as well as offering increased value-of-input, without the guarantee of a return. Value-of-input and the number of alters an individual is connected to can ultimately meet with decreasing and possibly negative returns, but such reduced effects may not set in soon. There thus is substantial room to improve ideation activity in the very short term with little investment by management. Tapping into the ideation potential available in a firm as a whole, beyond the group of ideators, may, however, only be possible if a core group of ideators is present to begin with. Based on these insights we submit that both the network position as well as the formal role of an individual both needs to be taken into account to understand the antecedents to the voluntary exchange of valuable inputs within an organization.
For a more detailed read of the undergirding empirics, please see:
Aalbers and Dolfsma (2017) Improving the value-of-input for ideation by management intervention: An intra-organizational network study, Journal of Engineering and Technology Management.