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Shop assistants as instigators of innovation: analysis of 26 innovation initiatives in 17 Dutch supermarkets

Door: Tjip de Jong, Suzanne Verdonschot web 111976674546 Suzanne Verdonschot, Joseph Kessels - ; Bron: De Jong, T., Verdonschot, S.G.M., & Kessels, J.W.M. (2012). Shop assistants as instigators of innovation: analysis of 26 innovation initiatives in 17 Dutch supermarkets. Int. J. Strategic Change Management, 4 (1), pp. 32-51.   09-04-2012

Many organizations work on innovation and change processes in order to be successful in the knowledge economy. There can be recognized various assumptions underlying these change efforts. These assumptions appear not always to be effective. In this article we study these assumptions and propose alternative assumptions to change and innovation.


Method: 26 innovation initiatives in 17 supermarkets

We investigated 17 supermarkets in the Netherlands and in each supermarket we did a one- day field study in which we traced innovations. This article presents a study of 26 innovation initiatives in the context of a Dutch supermarket chain. The innovation efforts all concern places in the supermarket context where workers aim to develop new solutions that can lead to sustainable innovations. For each of the innovations it was determined who the initiator of the innovation was; what colleagues were involved; what was the primary objective of the initiator with the innovation; and the extent to which the innovation has been shared with others.



Some of the results that were found:

  • Most innovation efforts (15/26) are focused on improving the work environment of the supermarket staff. A smaller amount (11/26) is focused on the connection with customers and selling more products.
  • Shop assistants are directly involved in all but one of the innovations efforts. They appear to be the main innovators. It is clear that they take ownership and show entrepreneurship.
  • In about half of the cases it is the shop assistant who takes the initiative for an innovation. In the other half, the store manager takes the initiative. The head office manager takes initiative in no cases, and is even not involved in any of the observed innovations.
  • Out of the 26 cases, nine innovations have been implemented and observed in other supermarkets as well. However, it is not clear whether and how the learning process supporting the implementation took place. It is even doubtful whether a deliberate implementation process took place, especially when the large number of employees involved in other stores is observed.



  • In successful supermarkets shop assistants adopt innovative and entrepreneurial behaviour that leads to a variety of sustainable improvements in their work environment.
  • In the innovation initiatives we saw that uniform working procedures that are designed by the head quarters do not contribute to innovation. In some cases it even hindered the innovation initiatives.
  • Innovative behaviour requires personalized learning processes fueled by intriguing questions, the felt need for urgency to improve, and active experimenting with developing a new practice.
  • Sharing innovative initiatives across other supermarkets is not self-evident.