Process Innovation in Colombia: Engaging Front-Line Employees in a High Power Distance National Culture

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While hierarchy may benefit efficiency, scholars have shown that hierarchy is not conducive to innovation. Other scholars focus on the importance of innovation in strengthening firms and national economies. Both findings correlate strongly with my extensive practitioner experience in a Central American nation that demonstrates high levels of power distance. However, even in nations with high power distance, innovative firms exist that overcome this challenge. This existence raises the question, how do firms succeed at process innovation under conditions of a national culture of high power distance? This thesis integrates three papers to investigate this problem of practice. The first study presents an integrative paper that combines learnings from the Doctorate of Business Administration program with a conceptual practitioner-scholar model to demonstrate how to pursue this investigation with academic rigor. Critical realism plays a significant role, given the complexities of culture and innovation. Next, a survey-based study explores Colombian employees’ impressions of the impact of power distance on their innovation participation levels and their firm’s ability to reach innovation objectives. This survey also investigates intentional design and communication’s role in increasing lower-level employees’ (implementers) participation in innovation design. Finally, chapter four builds on the survey findings to present a case study of five Colombian firms, all of whom have completed some innovation training yet show different systems and intentionality to incorporate implementers’ tacit knowledge in process innovation. These studies found that innovative firms’ employees see their firm as having less power distance than the typical Colombian firm. Secondly, management’s will to use systems and opportunities to encourage participation impacts implementers’ input into process innovation design more than the system or structure itself. Finally, most firms showed limited implementer involvement at the ideation stage but had extensive use of employee feedback before implementation. Some innovative firms in Colombia intentionally use their existing hierarchy to obtain feedback on ideas proposed by the mid and upper levels of the hierarchy, contrary to the western ideal of inclusion, where innovation leaders and implementers collaborate at the same level.
Innovation, Culture, Power Distance, Process Innovation, Colombia
Davidson, P. M. (2023). Process innovation in Colombia: engaging front-line employees in a high power distance national culture (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from