The effect of customers’ innovation expectations on employees’ innovation behavior: a moderated mediation investigation

WANG Xiaoyan1 GAO Liangmou1

(1.School of Business Administration, Dongbei University of Finance and Economics, Dalian, Liaoning, China 116025)

【Abstract】Organizational innovation requires a wide variety of behavior on the part of their employees. How to motivate employees’ innovation behavior provokes continuing interest among practitioners and scholars alike. Individual factors, different aspects of contexts and their interactive effects have been explored in innovation at the individual level. Most existing theorizing and research related to social contexts for employee innovation is confined within organizational boundaries. With only a few exceptions, little research attention has been paid to how individuals outside of the organization, especially customers, influence employees’ innovation behavior. The considerable power held by customers makes them a distinctive source of social influence. There have been calls to investigate this outside-in impact regarding why and how employees engage in innovation behavior. Base on Pygmalion theory, the current study developed a moderated mediation model to illustrate how customers’ innovation expectations exerted influences on employees’ innovation behavior directly and indirectly through employees’ creative role identity and the moderating effect of their personal identification with customers in that process within the Chinese context. Analyses using PROCESS were conducted to analyze the proposed relationships on survey data collected from 452 employees from the outsourcing industry. The results revealed that customers’ innovation expectations positively impacted employees’ innovation behavior and employees’ creative role identity partially mediated the linkage from customers’ innovation expectations to innovation behavior. The results further illustrated that employees’ personal identification with the customers moderated the linkage from customers’ innovation expectations to employees’ creative role identity and the entire mediational process for customers’ innovation expectations was more pronounced among those who identified with their customers. The theoretical model and findings contribute to the scholarly literature from several aspects. By focusing on customers outside organizational boundaries, the current research enriched the understandings of the social contexts for employees’ innovation and filled a formerly acknowledged void in the research field of innovation regarding how customers can exert an impact on employees’ innovation behavior. At the same time, the current research provided an opportunity to fully understand the underlying mechanism of customers’ innovation expectations-employees’ innovation behavior relationship and offered theoretical implications to make use of customers’ expectations to motivate employees’ innovation behavior. Moreover, the findings enriched the understandings of Pygmalion effect from the perspective of role identity theory. Prior research indicated that individuals were not passive recipients of others’ expectations but active agents who were able to determine whether they would accept and internalize the expectations on them. The mediating role of employees’ creative role identity provided the exact evidence for such assertion. Further, the moderating effect of employees’ personal identification with the customers suggested that employees’ similar react to their customers’ innovation expectations should not be assumed. The findings also provided practical suggestions for organizations to make use of customers’ expectations to motivate employees’ innovation behavior. Managers should be fully aware that employees are influenced by external customers. Understanding that customers can enhance employees’ creative role identify and motivate them to innovate by raising their positive innovation expectations will help managers drive innovation in the organization. Hence, organizations should encourage their customers to express such expectations. Moreover, managers should be aware of their employees’ personal identification with customers that might augment or abate the positive effects of customers’ innovation expectations on employees’ innovation behavior. Accordingly, they can create favorable conditions for employees to personally identify with their customers.

【Keywords】 customers’ innovation expectations; innovation behavior; creative role identity; personal identification;


【Funds】 The National Social Science Fund of China (11&ZD153)

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(Translated by S.G.)


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This Article


CN: 11-1047/F

Vol 42, No. 01, Pages 93-108

January 2020


Article Outline



  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Theoretical framework and hypotheses
  • 3 Research methods
  • 4 Data analysis and results
  • 5 Conclusions and implications
  • References