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Differing Views on Innovation

Are the leaders within your company champions of innovation, frequently and enthusiastically encouraging employees to bring their most inspired and original business ideas to the table?

Of course they are — just ask them. Put that question to your employees, however, and you may hear a different story.

Such are the findings of a recent study from Development Dimensions International, a Bridgeville, Pa.-based HR consulting firm. The study, which polled 513 leaders and 514 employees at U.S. companies, found 78 percent of leaders reporting they “demonstrate unwavering openness and appreciation for unique ideas and opinions.”

Just 43 percent of the rank-and-file participants agreed with that assessment, though. Indeed, disparity was a recurring theme throughout the study report.

For example, 77 percent of leaders said they “urge employees to continually expand their understanding of business trends and emerging issues.” Only 51 percent of employees said they felt the same way.

When asked if they “guide employees who fail or make mistakes to reframe the experience as learning opportunities,” 77 percent of leaders said yes, while less than half (47 percent) of employees responded in the affirmative.

In addition, 42 percent of employees said they don’t feel their leaders “champion the merits of employee-initiated ideas to senior management,” in contrast to 75 percent of leaders who said they see themselves as advocates for employee ideas.

So, it seems employees and managers aren’t seeing their organizations’ efforts to innovate through the same lens. But why such drastically different views?

The discrepancy stems partly from a lack of time and money devoted to fostering an environment that encourages innovative ideas, says Elisa O’Donnell, vice president of innovation solutions at Imaginatik, a Boston-based innovation management consultancy and software provider.

“People at the senior level will say the organization is committed. But the reality in some cases is they either don’t fund innovation or give people the necessary time [to cultivate ideas],” says O’Donnell. “They don’t accept that part of the process around innovating is to take risks and fail.”

“I’ve witnessed an interesting dynamic,” she continues. “Leaders want to be in decision-making mode, as opposed to recognizing that ideas are fragile things. Teams are going to have an array of ideas, good and bad. The leader’s role is to help employees navigate through the process and develop those ideas. What I think happens is, leaders say ‘show me what you’ve done,’ and that squelches employees’ appetite to be innovative because they don’t see their ideas being received well.”

Jan. 16, 2013

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