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Does Your Leadership Foster Innovation in the Workplace? Or Kill It Dead?

Does Your Leadership Foster Innovation in the Workplace? Or Kill It Dead?

Does your company foster innovation in the workplace? I know you want to nod emphatically and assure me with a big “YES.”

Click to jump straight to the podcast & transcript

But a lot of you may have scoffed instead. Because statistics show a huge disconnect here:

  • Just 54% of entry-level people say new ideas are “celebrated internally,” compared to 91% of senior executives
  • Only 26% of entry-level employees believe their company fosters a culture of innovation, compared to more than 1/2 of senior executives
  • While 90% of senior executives believe their company provides a channel through which to introduce new ideas, a mere 55% of entry-level employees agree

Clearly, something’s out of alignment here.

But it’s a quick fix! With 2 simple changes, you can turn this boat around fast.

Why Innovation Matters

Even if we’re not living it out in practice, in theory, we all want our workplace to foster innovation. Whether you’re a c-suite executive with a 3-decade tenure or an entry-level employee who just joined the team last month, you want that environment.

Why? Lots of reasons. Among them:

  • Innovations can foster employees’ pride of membership on the team, thereby boosting morale and loyalty.
  • New = noteworthy. Which means that innovation creates unparalleled opportunity for exposure, press, and “buzz.”
  • Innovation & differentiation go hand-in-hand. When you create something new, you set yourself apart from the competition.
  • Innovation often creates opportunity for expanding and deepening existing client relationships, which costs far less than creating new client relationships and therefore has a comparatively excellent ROI.
  • Innovative environments are perceived as fun and exciting places to work – an important factor in light of today’s labor shortage.

In fact, a full 69% of respondents in the above-cited survey would get up and leave their current position for a similar role at an organization that’s recognized as a leader in innovation.

In short, companies that foster innovation in the workplace are companies that win.

2 Things Top Managers Do to Kill Innovation

So why on earth are so many companies – and leaders – killing innovation before it can even take root?

I believe it’s because much of the time, they have no idea they’re doing it. They just haven’t stopped to look at the 2 simple facts we’ll discuss in today’s podcast.

The good news: this is extremely fix-able.

Here, we’ll look at

  1. 2 things top managers do to kill innovation
  2. How your leadership can change this immediately, stop squashing employees’ inherent desire to create, and begin to foster innovation in the workplace


When you listen to this podcast or read the transcript below, you’ll likely be surprised by which of these innovation-killing practices you’re engaging in right now. And how easy it is to take the exact opposite approach and begin to foster innovation TODAY. 

Once you give some of these changes a try, please get in touch or comment below to let me know what you’re learning from the experiment.

Good luck!

Podcast: 2 Quick Changes to Help Foster Innovation in the Workplace

 

Transcript

The subject today is innovation in the workplace.  

One of the most common questions I get from clients – and it’s been consistent for a long, long, long time – is, “How do I foster innovation? I need more creative people. I need more innovative people. Where are all the ideas? Where are all the innovative people?”

I tell leaders that there are 2 things top managers do – the very people that are asking me that question and lamenting the lack of innovation – there are 2 things those leaders do that kill, or seriously hinder, innovation in their organizations. And many of them don’t even know it.

Innovation Killer #1

The first 1 is that they allow fear to kill creativity. Which is why we should all make sure we understand this key leadership lesson from cavemen (à la a prior blog of mine).

Most of us can remember a manager who sounded a lot like this “Oh my gosh, we’re in trouble. We need to cut costs. We need to increase sales! We need reductions here and growth there. And we need to make smart moves. And we need to fix X, Y, and Z.”  

And the boss sounds all panicky and he’s all worried, and maybe he’s worried about his boss, and that boss is worried about the next boss.

You instill this fear, and people climb in to a foxhole.  

It’s sad how often managers run around like panicky chickens with their heads cut off. And then they wonder why their people climb in to a foxhole seeking safety, wary to develop – or even suggest – anything new.  

“Let’s just keep our heads down and wait for this to pass, because the boss is all upset.”

Innovation Killer #2

The 2nd major way that leaders themselves hinder innovation – and it’s even more sad, in my opinion – is the way that managers impede innovation by penalizing it and rewarding it’s opposite.

And here’s what that looks like:  

People take a risk and fail. Management punishes them. They get mad at them – they don’t give them a promotion, or give them a decrease, or they discipline them, or they make them a bad example in front of the organization.

Hello?!  

Meanwhile, they reward people who never take risks and stick to the safe route, keeping their hands clean, but never really doing anything new.

Well, it doesn’t take long for the organization to look around and say, “Now, let’s see if I’ve got this right. There’ve been 8 promotions around here, and 7 of them have been from people who are politically correct, following the rules all the time, and I’ve never seen them do a single new thing. Now, I’ve seen Jack, Pete, Bonnie, Harry, Sally, and Kim all do all kinds of high-risk things, and they either go nowhere, or in fact, 2 of them go demoted.”

So think about the impact of the signals that you are sending, because they mean a lot more than the words that are coming out of your mouth.

Would you want to innovate in an environment where your friend recently got fired because his big idea fell apart?

Now, I have managers tell me all the time, “Well, I didn’t fire him because of that.”

The fact is, it’s what the people conclude you did.  

Would you like to work in an environment where your colleagues who check the right boxes and fly under the radar chug safely along, collecting their yearly raises?

Innovation Fix

If you want innovation, you must start rewarding it and make change a source of excitement rather than fear.  

I would, in fact, if somebody tries something new and fails, make a great big deal out of complimenting them in front of everybody. Because – the word I would use if I were you, is “John had the courage to fail fast and forward, and that’s what we need around here.”  

Meaning you learned from it and you move on.

If you want innovation, you must start rewarding it and make change a source of excitement rather than fear.  

Just remember that in your head at all times.

But a word of warning:

If you’re in a large organization, this can be a very difficult train to turn around.

But, it’s not impossible. After all, what’s impossible?

But one of the things you will notice in very large organizations, is when they get in trouble, and then they get in worse trouble, and the years go by and they’re in worse and worse and worse trouble – when they’re finally in disaster mode, it seems it takes that to really turn them around.  

It’s sad. But some great leaders can do it while the company is still healthy.

Good luck to you in taking the fear out of innovation. And taking the reward and putting it back in.

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