Companies stay on top when employees work together, researcher says

Dirk De Clercq

Dirk De Clercq is an expert in the study of entrepreneurship.

It’s an elusive question that has plagued companies for years: how do you get a work force that is innovative enough to create the next big thing, while being motivated to come to work and do it?

Dirk De Clercq thinks he has the answer.

De Clercq, a professor of Management in Brock’s Faculty of Business, studies entrepreneurship at the individual, company and macro levels. His most recent research studies what keeps employees creative and motivated so they will not only come up with new ideas, but be happy to contribute to the success of their company.

The key, De Clercq said, is to create an environment where managers from different areas – whether it be technology, marketing, finance or other – work well together and trust one another. Scientists have to be able to work with people with business backgrounds. Research and development has to be able to work with marketers.

Also key is having an environment where employees are satisfied working for the organization and feel they will be rewarded – not necessarily with money – for what they contribute.

These findings stem from a recent study De Clercq did with Prof. Tek Thongpapanl of Brock’s Faculty of Business and Prof. Dimo Dimov of Newcastle University in the UK.

The team surveyed more than 200 companies to arrive at its findings, which have been published in two current and two forthcoming journal articles.

Encouraging collaboration for the good of the company can be done in several ways, De Clercq said. It can be done in formal ways, such as decentralizing a company’s decision making, to informal ways such as social and team-building events that build trust between employees. Individual rewards based on how well the company is doing as a whole will also build a sense of working toward a greater good.

It’s also important to understand the difference between good and bad conflict, and encourage the former while avoiding the latter, he said.

Good conflict can mean creative differences during brain storming sessions, or discussing different ways to solve a problem. Bad conflict involves personality differences, or “disagreeing with one another for the wrong reasons,” he said.

Knowing what keeps companies innovative will help Canadian entrepreneurs, especially in cut-throat industries like technology and pharmaceuticals, De Clercq said. It is also work that could benefit Niagara.

“If you’re working in a very competitive environment where the life cycle of products is short, you want to be able to update the products you have on the market,” he said. “If your company is innovative, you’re better able to deal with those external pressures.”

De Clercq’s recent work also deals with entrepreneurship at the individual and worldwide level.  His ongoing study of university students could determine what factors make them more likely to start businesses. Factors could include social connections, educational background, work experience and exposure to entrepreneurial role models. He is also undertaking an international study that investigates which countries are most encouraging to entrepreneurship.

A native of Belgium, De Clercq has been at Brock since 2005. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering from Ghent University in Belgium, a Master in General Management from Ghent University and a PhD in Business Administration from the University of Minnesota. He was drawn to Brock, he said, because of the professional opportunities the university offers.

De Clercq was named a Chancellor’s Chair for Research Excellence in 2007, and has received four Social Sciences and Humanities Research Grants, two as principal investigator (including the innovation project). He is also associate editor of the Journal of Small Business Management and a consulting editor of International Small Business Journal, and a fellow of Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute.

Past “researcher of the month” profiles

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