Employees who are on secondments often choose more innovative ideas and influence permanent staff to do the same, according to an academic study.
ESMT Berlin business school in looked at how seconded employees, who are individuals temporarily assigned to a different role in another organisation or department, shared ideas and collaborated with their new teams, and the impact on the team itself.
Linus Dahlander, professor of strategy and Lufthansa Group Chair in Innovation at ESMT Berlin worked with researchers from Aarhus University, Warwick Business School, and Bocconi University on the research, which was published in Strategic Management Journal.
The analysed information on seconded employees serving at the National Science Foundation between 2000 and 2012, and the grants that were awarded to the foundation over that period.
The NSF allocates research funds; programme directors send proposals for external review and then assemble and lead expert panels before making funding recommendations or decisions. The NSF also runs a secondment scheme in which permanent and seconded employees act as programme directors.
The team conducted 37 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with former seconded employees, permanent employees, as well as former panel members.
They looked at whether a grant awarded was similar to previous ones, and those that were more different were branded as novel.
Through the interviews and analysis, they found that seconded employees tended to choose more novel ideas and influence their permanent colleagues to do the same.
The conclusion they drew was that organisations could better leverage the insights of seconded employees, particularly in the realms of science and innovation. This could foster “a more innovative and adaptive organisational culture”, the research found.
“We have uncovered that these employees do not just bring fresh ideas to the table; they promote learning spillovers within an organisation, influencing permanent employees to select more novel ideas,” said Dahlander.
“Cultivating an environment that encourages these learning spillovers can thus result in lasting effects after the seconded employee leaves.”
The researchers added that the impact of secondments could vary, depending on the level of understanding of those on secondment and the breadth of their external networks – key factors for managers to consider when deciding who to second to a role.