Motivation in Ebay's Innovation Program

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This paper examines SPARK, eBay’s current innovation program, as a platform to collect and develop innovative ideas generated by current employees. Some employees at eBay expressed that they found it difficult to track and implement their ideas through SPARK. We feel the current SPARK program does not fully offer eBay the innovative advantage for the future. In our research, we employed two primary methodologies: (1) in-depth interviews with relevant employees and (2) quantitative surveys. Data was then analyzed using the STAR typology and Expectancy theory as frameworks. While at first we sought to propose a whole new innovation program for eBay, our research has proven that there is more value in the current program than we had realized and it has completely changed our point of view about the role of an innovation program in an organization.

Statement of the Concepts
There are two primary management concepts that we utilized in this study: the STAR typology and Expectancy theory. Each concept provides a framework that will support our analysis. The STAR typology is a sorting tool that can be effectively used as a guide to organizational analysis. The STAR typology recognizes an organization as a system with five different but interrelated areas: People – the individual or group aspects within the organization, Infrastructure/Systems – the policies and procedures in place, Technology – the methods and tools used to do the work, Structure – the chain of command that forms the organization, and Context – the environmental aspects that affect the organization’s strategy and economic outlook. Given the complexity of organizations, change in one area requires adjustments in others and changes cannot happen all at once1. Expectancy theory is a theory of human motivation. The theory seeks to explain the cognitive process of how a person selects one behavior over another behavior(s). Expectancy theory was developed by Victor Vroom in 1964 through his study of the motivations behind decision making. As such, it can be understood as a decision theory. It provides a framework to analyze and explain the processes that an individual employs to make decisions. At the core of the theory is motivation, which is defined as a product of three conditions or motivational elements: the expectations of the probability that the individual’s effort will result in a specific outcome (Expectancy), the standard of measurement or recognition for performance to achieve certain results (Instrumentality), and the personal utility or satisfaction derived from achieving the outcome (Valence). Thus, according to Expectancy theory, an individual will choose the behavior with greatest motivation on the basis of (1) the valance he/she perceives to be associated with the outcomes, (2) the recognition for achieving the outcomes, and (3) the probability that this behavior will result in the outcomes. In this paper, we use the STAR typology to analyze the interrelations of the five primary areas at eBay with the goal to identify issues or conflicts that might hinder innovation. We apply Expectancy theory to analyze eBay’s current innovation program and propose improvements that will maximize employees’ motivation to participate in the program.

Meg Whitman, former CEO, eBay, Inc. once said, “Innovation is in the DNA. We build new products with innovation from the inside-out.” Although these words are inspiring and proved true many times over the years, the reality is that within large organizations such as eBay, managing ideas can be difficult. An interesting solution to this issue is seen through eBay’s SPARK portal. SPARK manages all innovation ideas and programs within eBay and all eBay subsidiaries. There are two major phases of SPARK that are designed to motivate employees to submit innovation projects.4 The first phase is iGnite, a page within the SPARK portal open to all eBay employees for voting, submitting, commenting,...
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