Table of Contents
2. Conceptual Background and Hypotheses
2.1 Innovative Work Behaviour
2.2 Informal Learning as an Antecedent of IWB
2.4 Learning Climate as an Antecedent of Informal Learning and IWB
3.1 Sample and Data Collection
4.1 Descriptive Statistics
4.2 Informal Learning as an Antecedent of IWB
4.3 Learning Climate as an Antecedent of Informal Learning
4.4 Informal Learning as a Mediator
5. Discussion and Conclusion
5.2 Limitations and Future Research
5.3 Practical Implications
The aim of this study was to examine informal learning and learning climate as antecedents of employees’ innovative work behaviour. This study used a quantitative research approach with data from 111 teachers from higher educational colleges in the Netherlands. Results demonstrated that information seeking, a facet of informal learning, influences three of the four dimensions of individuals’ innovative work behaviour positively and significantly. Further, we found that information seeking mediates the relationship between learning climate and innovative work behaviour. The findings indicate the importance of a supportive climate for information seeking activities in order to enhance employees’ innovativeness at work.
Keywords: Innovative work behaviour, informal learning, learning climate
List of Figures
Figure 1 Research Model
List of Tables
Table 1 Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations
Table 2 Hierarchical Multiple Regression Analyses Predicting Innovative Work Behaviour
Table 3 Hierarchical Multiple Regression Analyses Predicting Informal Learning
Table 4 Mediational Analyses
In knowledge-intensive and fast-moving societies innovation is regarded as crucial for organizations’ sustainability and success (Amabile, 1988; Kontoghiorghes, Awbre, & Feurig, 2005; West, 2002). Not only organizations in highly competitive markets need to innovate, so do non-profit organizations, such as educational institutes (Messmann & Mulder, 2011). Innovations are new and useful products or processes that address problems and challenges of a certain work context and that maintain or improve the current state of this context (West & Farr, 1989). Thus, innovative opportunities appear not only in break-through product creations, but also in continuous problem solving.
In this regard, organizations increasingly need and expect all employees to contribute to the development of innovations (Messmann, 2012). Employees’ contribution to the development of innovation is referred to as innovative work behaviour (IWB) (Janssen, 2000; Scott & Bruce, 1994). In order to address problems or improve the organizational status quo individuals have to accomplish a set of innovation tasks (Kanter, 1988; Scott & Bruce, 1994). These tasks capture the exploration of opportunities to innovate as well as the generation, promotion, and realization of innovative ideas (De Jong & Den Hartog, 2010; Janssen, 2000).
Due to the high significance of employees’ contribution to innovation development at work, the question arises which factors drive employees’ IWB. Antecedents of IWB have been examined at three levels of analysis: the individual, work group, and organizational (N. Anderson, De Dreu, & Nijstad, 2004). At the individual level, personality, motivation, cognitive abilities, and job characteristics have been identified as important influencing factors of IWB. Further, specific work group characteristics have been examined, capturing team structure, members, and processes. Finally, at the organizational level, structure, strategy, size, resources, culture, and climate were found to affect employees’ IWB (for major reviews see: Amabile, 1988; N. Anderson et al., 2004; King & Anderson, 2002; West & Farr, 1989). A striking aspect of this body of research is the central contribution that organizational, social, and cognitive psychologists have made (N. Anderson et al., 2004). From a psychological point of view, highly innovative individuals can be identified by particular sets of personality traits, cognitive abilities, styles of thinking, and motivational states (Hunter, Cushenbery, & Friedrich, 2012; Schweizer, 2006). In addition, specific social environmental factors determine whether individuals make use of their creative potential or not (Hunter et al., 2012).
The present study follows a different approach by taking a learning perspective on employees’ IWB. Since all workplace-related learning is to some extent innovative as it introduces change (Marsick & Watkins, 2003), this approach equally refers to all employees, instead of focussing on a specific selection of those. Although past research indicates the importance of learning as a driver for individuals’ innovativeness (Hurley & Hult, 1998; Keskin, 2006; Messmann & Mulder, 2012), until now little is known about how particular learning activities affect the specified innovation tasks. In this respect, the investigation of informal learning as an antecedent of employees’ IWB contributes to our understanding. In contrast to formal learning (i.e. schooling, trainings), informal learning mainly builds on learning from and with others in a spontaneous way (Coombs 1985). It means, for instance, information, help, and feedback seeking from colleagues and supervisors (Bamberger, 2009). Since previous studies showed that the accomplishment of the innovation tasks strongly benefits from social interaction (Messmann & Mulder, 2011; Scott & Bruce, 1994), we consider informal learning as a valuable driver for employees’ IWB.
Moreover, following the learning perspective on employees’ IWB, this study aims to explore the role of organizations’ learning climate. Learning climate contains individuals’ perception to which extent learning (i.e. creation, usage, and sharing of knowledge) is supported and expected by the organization or organization’s members (Marsick & Watkins, 2003; Scott & Bruce, 1994). According to Garvin, Edmondson, and Gino (2008) a supportive learning environment builds on psychological safety, appreciation of differences, openness to new ideas, and time for reflection. Previous studies have found a direct relationship between organizations’ supportive climate for innovation, which is strongly in line with our conceptualization of learning climate, and employees’ IWB (Bunce & West, 1995; De Jong & Kemp, 2003; Scott & Bruce, 1994). However, unlike past research, the current study examines the mediating effect of informal learning. As learning climate facilitates the sharing of experiences, ideas, and feedback (Bauer & Mulder, 2013; Sveiby & Simons, 2002), we suggest that organizations’ learning climate will positively affect employees’ informal learning activities, which in turn increase their IWB.
In sum, the following research question can be derived: Does organization’s learning climate foster employees’ IWB in terms of opportunity exploration, idea generation, idea promotion, and idea realization through increased informal learning by means of information, help, and feedback seeking?
In order to answer this research question, we first develop hypotheses based on theory and previous research. Next, the method section sheds light on the used sample, measures, and analyses, followed by the results of the analyses. Ultimately, we end with the discussion and conclusion of the outcomes, as well as implications for future research and practice.
2. Conceptual Background and Hypotheses
Firstly, the dependent variable, IWB, will be introduced. In a second step, informal learning as an antecedent of IWB will be discussed (H1). Thirdly, the relationship between learning climate and informal learning will be examined (H2), followed by the mediating effect of informal learning between learning climate and IWB (H3). Figure 1 presents the hypothesized model.
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Figure 1 Research Model
2.1 Innovative Work Behaviour
IWB is a descriptive construct for individuals’ contribution to innovation development at the workplace (Messmann & Mulder, 2012). Commonly used definitions of IWB among scholars can be summarized as employees’ intentional creation, introduction and application of new ideas in order to improve the individual, group or organizational status quo (De Jong & Den Hartog, 2010; Janssen, 2000).
The conceptualization of IWB mainly derives from theories of creativity and innovation (Amabile, 1988; West & Farr, 1989). Creativity refers to the generation of novel and useful ideas and is often defined as doing something for the first time or creating new knowledge (Woodman, Sawyer, & Griffin, 1993). Innovation goes beyond the generation of new ideas. It also encompasses the implementation of new ideas and the adaption of products and processes from outside the organization (Van de Ven, 1986). Hence, individuals’ innovation development covers both, the incurrence of a potentially useful idea, either new or adopted, and the transformation into a practically relevant outcome (King, 1992).
According to previous studies on creative and innovative work behaviour (Amabile, 1988; De Jong & Den Hartog, 2010; Janssen, 2000; Kanter, 1988; Scott & Bruce, 1994; West & Farr, 1989), individuals need to accomplish four behavioural tasks in order to innovate: opportunity exploration, idea generation, idea promotion, and idea realization. Opportunity exploration refers to the recognition of problems and needs in one’s work context that generates an opportunity for improvement. Idea generation encompasses the creation and suggestion of ideas for products or processes that are new, applicable, and useful for tackling the identified opportunities. Idea promotion involves convincing the social environment of the envisioned idea and building a coalition of colleagues that undertake responsibility and provide crucial information, resources, and support. Finally, idea realization contains experimenting with one’s innovative idea, investigating and improving its adequacy, and planning its integration into organizational practice (Janssen, 2000; Messmann, 2012; Scott & Bruce, 1994).
These tasks do not necessarily follow a linear sequence. Individuals may be engaged in the accomplishment of different tasks simultaneously and repeatedly (Scott & Bruce, 1994). For instance, the promotion of ideas could lead to new opportunities, or the realization process may lead to further ideas. In addition, the particular work context has to be taken into account. Contextual factors such as routines, needs, and expectations of many organizational members give meaning to the innovativeness of ideas (Messmann & Mulder, 2011). This means, for example, that individuals can display IWB, but only the judgement by others may label the results from this behaviour as innovative. It is a long-standing idea in the psychological literature that the judgement of knowledgeable others such as experts, colleagues or supervisors are key in assessing the value of an individual’s contribution (MacKinnon, 1962).
Consequently, building on a dynamic and context-bound construct of IWB, we examine the innovation process as a set of interdependent tasks, which has to be accomplished to successfully develop innovation.
2.2 Informal Learning as an Antecedent of IWB
A main driver for innovation is learning (Hurley & Hult, 1998; Keskin, 2006; Messmann & Mulder, 2012). The generation and implementation of new ideas require the acquisition, dissemination and usage of new knowledge and skills (Calantone, Cavusgil, & Zhao, 2002). As innovation refers to the generation of something new, the necessary strategies and knowledge usually have yet to be learned (Janssen & Van Yperen, 2004; Shin & Zhou, 2003). Thus, learning fosters individuals’ innovativeness by stimulating the development of domain-relevant and creativity-relevant skills and knowledge. These skills and knowledge provide the crucial basis for creativity or innovation (Amabile, Conti, Coon, Lazenby, & Herron, 1996).
Senge (1990) distinguishes between adaptive and generative learning. Adaptive learning means coping with the current environment in new and better ways. It involves small bounded change by adjusting existing practices and structures. Generative learning, in comparison, moves beyond adaptation. It requires individuals to develop new skills and new ways of working. Generative learning drives transformational change in terms of new solutions that challenge existing practices. Although both, adaptive and generative learning potentially lead to improved processes and practices at work, literature stresses generative learning as the main source for innovation (Kim, 1998; Sadler-Smith, Spicer, & Chaston, 2001; Senge, 1992).
Many scholars have stressed that the common conceptualisations of learning, which have been developed in the school context, are not transferable to the context of workplace learning (J. S. Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Hager, 2004). For a long time, work-related learning was equalized with formal learning (Kyndt & Baert, 2013). Formal learning happens within a context that is specifically created for that reason, and an instructor usually guides the learning process. Examples for formal learning activities are trainings, seminars, and workshops, which can occur within the organization itself or at different locations (Kyndt & Baert, 2013).
However, more recent studies point out that learning at work is mostly informal in nature (Eraut, 2004; Marsick, Volpe, & Watkins, 1999). Informal learning is less planned or organized in terms of the learning context, support, time, and objective. It includes, for example, learning from failure and success, talking and sharing with others, or searching for information in external sources, such as internet or books (Lohman, 2005). Eraut (2004) distinguishes between implicit, reactive, and deliberate informal learning. Implicit learning is unconscious, and therefore the learner is not aware of his or her learning. Reactive learning is more conscious as it includes a component of reflection. Nonetheless, it is often a by-product of other activities and thus, receives only limited attention. Deliberate learning occurs in work situations where time is particularly assigned to learning (Tynjälä, 2008).
Furthermore, several authors state that informal learning can be regarded as individuals’ development through interaction with others (Eraut, 2007; Kyndt & Baert, 2013; Marsick et al., 1999). Participation in group activities, receiving feedback, and work alongside others have been identified as important factors for learning at work (Eraut, 2007). Similarly, Bamberger (2009) argues that information, help, and feedback seeking from colleagues and supervisors are essential components of work-related informal learning. Information seeking means the intentional effort to gain information and knowledge (Miller & Jablin, 1991). For instance, individuals participate in meetings or project groups to discuss work-related problems, or meet employees from other organizations by participating in conferences, workshops, and lectures (Borgatti & Cross, 2003). Help seeking presents a type of information seeking where a particular problem exists and individuals ask for active assistance (Lee, 1997). Finally, feedback seeking consists of informal methods of assessments, which include questions posed to supervisors and colleagues about one’s performance (Ashford, Blatt, & Walle, 2003). Thereby, feedback does not only include an evaluative component (Ashford & Cummings, 1983), it also fosters learning processes and results (Shute, 2008). Ultimately, informal learning in terms of information, help and feedback seeking is based on social activities performed proactively to expand one’s resources (Lee, 1997).
Acknowledging the social nature of informal learning, the accomplishment of the innovation tasks should benefit from employees’ information, help, and feedback seeking. While individuals can complete some tasks of an innovation process solitarily, social activities such as information sharing, collaboration and mutual feedback are fundamental for most parts of the process (Messmann & Mulder, 2014; Scott & Bruce, 1994).
Indeed, several studies suggest that learning from and with others facilitates the development of innovations. For instance, learning networks within organizations or with employees from different organizations have been found to be positively related to innovative activities (Tynjälä, 2008). Through network meetings employees get time and space to share knowledge and experiences, and to develop new practices. In conversations employees with different kinds of expertise get new ideas, which they can develop further from their own starting points (Tynjälä, 2008). Further, Hirst, Van Knippenberg, and Zhou (2009) found that team learning behaviour moderates the relationship between employee learning orientation and employee creativity. Team learning behaviour means the processes by which team members discuss and solve problems. Teams that seek information, address differences in opinions, and question problem-solving assumptions engage in learning behaviours (Edmondson, 1999). Collectively, these processes encourage individual learning by increasing the availability of knowledge and information, which in turn positively affects creativity (Hirst et al., 2009). Likewise, research in the context of educational organizations suggests that collaboration and collegiality supported teachers in the development of innovation (Messmann & Mulder, 2011; Mohammad & Harlech-Jones, 2008; Schussler, Poole, Whitlock, & Evertson, 2007). Finally, regarding feedback seeking, Noefer, Stegmaier, Molter, and Sonntag (2009) found that feedback from colleagues increased employees’ idea generation and implementation.
In sum, since learning, especially in terms of social interaction, has been identified as crucial for individuals in order to innovate, informal learning might strongly contribute to employees’ IWB.
Working hypothesis 1: Informal learning (i.e. information, help, and feedback seeking) positively affects employees’ IWB in terms of opportunity exploration, idea generation, idea promotion, and idea realization.
2.4 Learning Climate as an Antecedent of Informal Learning and IWB
Learning climate contains individuals’ perception to which extent learning (i.e. creation, usage, and sharing of knowledge) is rewarded, supported, and expected by the organization or organization’s members (Marsick & Watkins, 2003; Scott & Bruce, 1994). According to Garvin et al. (2008) a supportive learning environment builds on psychological safety, appreciation of differences, openness to new ideas, and time for reflection. Psychological safety describes “individuals’ perception about the consequences of interpersonal risks in their work environment” (Edmondson, Kramer, & Cook, 2004, p. 243). It enables employees to ask questions, seek feedback, present minority viewpoints, or proposing new ideas (Garvin et al., 2008). Appreciation of differences refers to learning from opposing, competing, or alternative viewpoints. Recognizing the value of differences sparks fresh thinking and prevents lethargy and drift (Garvin et al., 2008). Further, learning climate consists of openness to new ideas, which encourages employees to explore the untested and unknown. Finally, time for reflection is necessary to diagnose problems and to learn from experiences. Supportive learning environments allow time for thoughtful review of organizations’ processes (Garvin et al., 2008).
Learning climate is a specific form of organizational climate. Organizational climate, in general, is a multidimensional construct that contains a wide range of individual evaluations of the work environment (James & James, 1989). These evaluations refer to general dimensions of the environment, like leadership, roles, and communication or to a specific dimension, such as learning climate (Murphy, 1996). Both, general and specific climate dimensions are formed by signals about expected behaviours, which individuals receive from their work environment. Such signals include expectations from co-workers, supervisors, as well as organizational policies, practices and culture (Abbey & Dickson, 1983; Scott & Bruce, 1994). At the individual level, climate is a cognitive interpretation of a situation that has been labelled "psychological climate" (James, James, & Ashe, 1990). Psychological climate theory argues that individuals respond mainly to cognitive representations of the environment rather than to the environments itself (James & Sells, 1981). Individuals’ perception of shared mental models, values, and expectations impacts the organizational climate in turn (Denison, 1996). Or more specifically, organizational climate can be seen as the result of aggregating individuals’ psychological climates (James & James, 1989). Consequently, the psychological climate on the individual level, and the superior organizational or learning climate are mutually dependent.
Organizational climate is a highly active field of research (Kuenzi & Schminke, 2009). Studies revealed, for instance, positive connections between climate dimensions and individual and organizational performance (S. P. Brown & Leigh, 1996; Patterson, Warr, & West, 2004), or determined climate dimensions that differentiate between best and worst-case work environments (Isaksen, Lauer, Ekvall, & Britz, 2001). However, Schneider (1990) suggests that climate dimensions differ according to the research aim and criterion of interest. General measures can easily include dimensions that are irrelevant for a specific study.