Today, the innovation arena is open to a wider range of participants than previously acknowledged. One specifically neglected group of innovators in traditional innovation studies is non-R&D and non-managerial employees, also referred to as ‘ordinary’ employees by the existing body of literature on employee-driven innovation (EDI). These employees have no formal innovation function, meaning that they work outside R&D and innovation-specific departments, but still represent significant and valuable creative assets for their employers. They are claimed to possess in-depth and context-dependent knowledge that is highly valuable in innovative work. The underlying assumption of the EDI concept is that all employees are able to contribute to innovation in spite of their level of education, background or current position in the organization. Thus, the EDI process has been highlighted in terms of a democratization of innovation as all employees are encouraged and invited to engage in innovative activities that go beyond their day-to-day tasks. However, what this democratization implies in practice when employees are expected to generate, develop, and implement ideas in a top-down management structure is less clear from a theoretical point of view.
This thesis focuses on a management-initiated employee innovation process at a global IT firm’s Swedish operations, and its purpose is to explore the interaction between employees and managers in order to contribute to an increased understanding of the consequences of that interplay. This has been done in order to theoretically extend the conceptual typology created by Høyrup (2012; Høyrup et al., 2018), which is commonly referred to in the EDI field. In this way, both employees’ and managers’ roles are included in the theorization, which contributes to a dual emphasis in contrast to existing EDI literature that tends to focus on managerial structures, tools, and implications.
By applying critical discourse analysis (CDA), this thesis demonstrates inclusiveness when it comes to the top-level management’s production and distribution of the employee innovation discourse in the initial phases of the innovation process. However, the analysis simultaneously discloses significant excluding elements in the ordinary employees’ consumption of this discourse in the latter phases of the innovation process where new roles, and expectations, of employees are enacted. Additionally, the results reveal that the production of the innovation discourse by the top-level management, which accentuates client satisfaction rather than employee engagement, restricts the employees’ utilization of the digital tool that distributes the discourse. However, middle-level managers were found to play a critical role for stimulating employee involvement since they act as co-distributors of the joint digital innovation platform that is utilized for collecting, monitoring, and evaluating employee ideas. Thus, this thesis contributes to EDI literature by exploring the interaction between top-level management’s formulation and arrangement of EDI activities and employees’ perceptions of, and response to, this structure. Hence, this thesis adds to our understanding of EDI in terms of the power relations involved in this interaction through which the democratization of the innovation process is highlighted. Thereby, this thesis sheds light on how the roles of employees and managers are discursively shaped, and how expectations of employees shift when the top-level management adopts an EDI approach.