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Knowledge work in successful supermarkets: shop assistants as innovators

By: Tjip de Jong, Suzanne Verdonschot web 111976674546 Suzanne Verdonschot, Joseph Kessels - ; Source: Paper for the ninth international conference on HRD research and practice across Europe, 21-23 May, 2008, Lille   05-23-2008

Managers constantly seek for innovative ideas to improve their organisations. Their staff, sometimes supported by external consultants should then develop these ideas further and implement the results in the organisation. This does not always work out the way intended. In this paper we examined this process of change in the case of a supermarket chain in the Netherlands. The aim was to learn from successful supermarkets how the employees in these shops contribute to the change of their work environment. We also looked for interventions that stimulate the knowledge worker’s contribution to this process. Our research in 17 supermarkets revealed that it is necessary to allow for diversity; that ownership and entrepreneurship contribute more to change than discipline and obedience; and that the specific role and capability of the manager seems to be crucial. Staff needs to develop competencies that match their own ability and interests in order to successfully innovate in the supermarket. In order to become innovative shop employees should be granted the authority to engage in knowledge work. In the supermarkets that we visited during the research, we found various interventions that could support the development of ownership and entrepreneurship of the supermarket staff.