Paying lip-service to innovation

Apr 17 2012 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Does your boss encourage and nurture innovation or kill it stone dead? According to new research, fewer than half of us think our boss is consistently open to ideas and almost one in three believe that good ideas get killed by organizational bureaucracy.

Not only do leaders squash innovation, but as new research from Development Dimensions International (DDI) highlights, they are also overconfident about their own ability to nurture it.

DDI measured how successful leaders are at promoting innovation in four major areas (inspiring curiosity, challenging current perspectives, creating freedom and driving discipline) and found a significant gap (30 to 35 per cent) between leaders' inflated perceptions of how they are doing and what employees were actually observing.

So despite what managers themselves might think, many of their employees don't believe that their managers want to challenge current perspectives or hear new ideas, less still champion these ideas to senior management.

"Leaders were far more confident in their skills across the board - but employees really felt that there really wasn't room to challenge the status quo," said Rich Wellins, Senior Vice President of DDI.

In fact, four out of 10 of the 500 employees surveyed said that innovation is either a long shot for their company or a mere "buzz word" the company would like to embrace. In contrast, fully three-quarters of their leaders claim that it is either an important priority or an absolute imperative.

"This perception gap is dangerous because the organization's attitude toward innovation is a crucial factor, and if employees aren't seeing it, there probably is an alignment issue with in the organization's strategy," Wellins said.

"When organizational commitment is rated high, both leaders and employees rate the leader behaviors as far higher, almost eliminating the gap in their views of how leaders are doing."

When asked what would generate more ideas, leaders' first choice was to urge employees to expand their understanding of business trends and emerging issues. While employees agreed, they felt that they would have more breakthrough ideas if their leaders created more opportunities to take action on their big ideas. Moreover, many employees believe their boss wants to be the person who gets all the credit for great ideas, that new ideas just aren't welcome or that their organization is stuck on how things get done.

So just how damaging is the dead hand of management when it comes to innovation? According to research carried out in 2010 by the Nielsen Company, organizations with less senior management involvement in the new product development process generate 80 per cent more new product revenue than those with heavy senior management involvement.

What's more, companies that employ this and other best innovation practices derive more than six times more revenue (on average 650 per cent) from new products compared to companies that do not.

In others words, new ideas need to be managed lightly. And as Rich Wellins adds, at the very least, leaders need to be 'idea welcomers' not 'door shutters'

"A culture of innovation will support ideas coming from any individual, any level and sometimes from unusual places in the organization."