The main objective of this research was to examine how and why key players support or hinder the implementation of a technological innovation and what influence the interaction between explorative and exploitative key players has in the context of High Reliability Organizations (HROs).
To cover these objectives, qualitative in-depth research in the form of a case study was conducted at two companies belonging to the aviation industry in order to investigate interrelated causal links and interactions that would have been too complex to be analyzed with a quantitative approach. To obtain reliable results, method triangulation was applied in the form of interviews, focus groups, and some direct observation and gathering of artifacts. Data triangulation was also used based on evidence from innovation-related internal documents, transcribed statements and discussions, and third party articles.
The empirical results showed that there are certain key players and different forms of interactions that support or hinder the implementation of technological innovation. The supporting key players identified here are: knowledge sharing exploitative players, innovation supporting informal leaders, and the so-called side changers, that is, key players who were once located on the exploitative or explorative side and later changed sides when taking over new functions. Key players with a strongly inhibitory impact are: innovation opposing informal leaders, non-cooperative exploitative players, and fanatic explorative players. With regard to formal and informal interactions, it was verified that informal interactions have a tremendous influence, both at the top and bottom of the hierarchy, on the successful implementation of an innovation.
The main conclusions and implications drawn from the research are that the election of the program leader for the implementation of an innovation as well as the election and involvement of other key players are crucial. Formal and, especially, informal channels should also be managed as closely as possible in such undertaking. Interaction processes between exploitative and explorative players should be iteratively intensified and managed closely, and trust should be considered a source of traction when implementing an innovation. Therefore, the successful implementation of an innovation depends on several parameters within the broader organizational context, but most notably on strong leadership, deliberate listening to and engagement with the exploitative players, the management of informal channels, and transparency in communication.