Brain power

Seconded employees can boost innovation

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

Workers who switch to different jobs, teams, or companies—called seconded employees—can boost innovation, according to new research1 from ESMT Berlin. Even though people and organizations want to pick new ideas, they often reject them because they’re tricky, risky, and hard to predict.

The study looked at seconded employees at the National Science Foundation (NSF) from 2000 to 2012. The NSF gives out research money, and some employees work there temporarily. The researchers checked grants given from 1998 to 2012. The NSF has a program where both regular and seconded employees act as program directors.

Novel ideas

To see how new an idea was, the researchers looked at how similar a grant was to previous ones in the same NSF program. They also did 37 interviews with past seconded employees, regular employees, and panel members.

The study found that seconded employees tend to pick more new ideas and influence regular staff to do the same. This suggests that using seconded employees more often can make organizations more open to innovative ideas. This info can help managers work better with seconded employees, creating a workplace that’s more innovative and adaptable.

“We have uncovered that these employees do not just bring fresh ideas to the table; they promote learning spillovers within an organization, influencing permanent employees to select more novel ideas,” the researchers explain. “Cultivating an environment that encourages these learning spillovers can thus result in lasting effects after the seconded employee leaves.”

How well seconded employees pick new ideas depends a lot on how well they grasp innovative knowledge and how extensive their outside connections are. This shows that managers should think about these factors when choosing who to bring into their team.

Article source: Seconded Employees Can Boost Innovation.

Header image source: Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash.


  1. Lampraki, A., Kolympiris, C., Grohsjean, T., & Dahlander, L. (2024). The new needs friends: Simmelian strangers and the selection of novelty. Strategic Management Journal, 45(4), 716-744.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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