Innovativeness contested – discrepancies between managerial ideals and employee identities

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School of Business | Doctoral thesis (article-based)
Degree programme
73 + app. 81
Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL DISSERTATIONS, 39/2019
In the contemporary discourse of innovation, every organizational member is constructed as a potential innovator who is expected to contribute creative outputs for the benefit of the organization. This drives organizations to introduce structures and procedures through which the creative potential of employees can be most efficiently utilized. Earlier research has studied extensively organizational antecedents for innovativeness, however, studies discussing employee responses concerning managerial efforts to increase innovativeness have been less explored. This study complements earlier work on innovation by exploring the ways in which managers seek to enhance innovativeness and justify these methods, as well as how employees respond to these efforts. This micro-level investigation of the processes through which innovativeness is constructed unveils its controversial nature in organizations. Drawing on empirical data from managerial efforts to increase innovativeness in six large Finnish organizations, the study unveils the subtle forms of resistance resulting from identity struggles and the plurality of meanings concerning innovativeness held by organizational actors. The thesis is comprised of four empirical sub-studies that illuminate this phenomenon from different perspectives. The empirical material is comprised of altogether 112 interviews with managers and employees, and 49 hours of non-participant observation in company premises. The analysis of the study focuses on the discursive construction of organizational efforts to increase innovativeness and particularly the ways in which the innovative subjectivity is constructed in the managerial discourse. In addition, the study explores how employees respond to the managerial efforts to increase employee innovativeness. The study illuminates the discrepancies between the managerial ideals of innovative subjectivity and the ways in which employees identify themselves with innovativeness. The results show, how the managerial efforts to increase innovativeness are contested by employees and may have counter-productive influence on employee identification with organizational innovation pursuits. Managerial efforts driven by abstract notions such as creative freedom, encounters, collaboration, proactivity and future orientation resulted in alienation from the organizational innovation pursuits by employees. Moreover, the study illustrates how the fluidity and ambiguous nature of the concept of innovativeness enables organizational actors to position themselves within the discourse in a multiplicity of ways in different organizational contexts.
Supervising professor
Schildt, Henri, Prof., Aalto University, Department of Management Studies, Finland
Thesis advisor
Lempiälä, Tea, Asst. Prof., University of California, Merced, USA
innovativeness, resistance, subjectivity, identity, discourse
Other note
  • [Publication 1]: Lempiälä, T., Vanharanta, O. Rethinking the Control–Freedom Paradox in Innovation: Toward a Multifaceted Understanding of Creative Freedom. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 2018, 54(1), 62-87.
    DOI: 10.1177/0021886317727458 View at publisher
  • [Publication 2]: Vanharanta, O. Whose responsibility is it anyway? Competing narratives of suggestion system change. Creativity & Innovation Management, 2018, 27(3), 244-254.
    DOI: 10.1111/caim.12286 View at publisher
  • [Publication 3]: Näsänen, J., Vanharanta, O. Managers’ and employees’ contradictory argumentations of spatial change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 2017, 30(6), 844-857.
    DOI: 10.1108/JOCM-01-2017-0021 View at publisher
  • [Publication 4]: Näsänen, J., Vanharanta, O. Program group's discursive construction of context: A means to legitimize buck-passing. International Journal of Project Management, 2016, 34(8), 1672-1686.
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ijproman.2016.09.008 View at publisher