The Role of Frontline Employees in the Innovation Process
Sammanfattning: Innovation enablement is of growing importance in order to stay competitive in the financial services sector. Although frontline employees are considered to be valuable innovators, the research about their involvement in the innovation process is still in its infancy. The existing literature acknowledges that the overall participation of these employees in the innovations is limited, without further elaboration how they are involved in each stage of the innovation process. The purpose of this study is to generate a comprehensive understanding of the frontline employees’ role during every phase of the innovation process and suggest how it changes accordingly. To investigate the role, a qualitative research approach is adopted through a single case study on Swedbank and the primary data is acquired by conducting fifteen interviews with customer advisors, branch managers and a business development unit. The empirical findings suggest that two innovation processes exist in the organisation and impact the role of the frontline employees. While the employees’ role in the central innovation process can only be idea generators and idea implementers, the local innovation process offers them opportunities to contribute to the idea development as well. The idea selector role is not adopted by the frontline employees in any of the processes, mainly due to high amount of policies and regulations within the industry. The study further explores that the frontline employees should have a more important role in the innovation process, which can be enabled by greater opportunities from the central unit and encouragement from the managers, mainly through recognition and feedback. This would also increase the frontline employees’ motivation to innovate. By recognising the role of the frontline employees in the innovation process from a holistic perspective, this study covers the identified literature gaps and provides bank branches with knowledge on how fruitful involvement of the human resources in the innovation process may be facilitated.
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