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Changing Management Culture to Improve Employee Creativity

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More and more of the literature that is out there (at least what I’m reading) is about innovation.  Business thinkers are clearly over the fact that R&D, engineering and production is moving offshore.  They realize that those tasks can go away, so long as we keep our edge where it counts – thinking up new ideas and being creative and innovative.

Here’s the problem.  Employees are most reticent not to talk about problems with work, but about creative ideas for improving performance.  They have an untested belief that managers react negatively and feel “shown up” by their subordinates.  ((Detert, James R. and Edmonson, Amy C.  May 2007.  “Why Employees Are Afraid To Speak.”  HBR May 2007, Pgs 23, 24.))

What needs to happen is deep rooted cultural change.  It appears that both managers and employees contribute equally to the perception.  Urban myths around employees who said something “wrong” and then were suddenly gone are pervasive and cross all organizations.   The changes that are needed are really cultural in nature.  Making employees feel like they can safely speak must be rooted in an understanding that leadership acknowledges the incredible benefits that are available when employees innovate openly.

Another possible tactic is to counteract these untested employee assumptions with tangible rewards.  Rewarding employees for successful innovations has long been a part of great R&D companies, and the same tactics can be used in any organization.

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3 responses to “Changing Management Culture to Improve Employee Creativity”

  1. Jay Young Avatar

    This is a good post. Innovation and change management should be correlated in a way that makes both happen efficiently. Symbolic actions like allowing anonymous responses to questions, enforcing an open door policy, and rewarding employees for initiative are all positive things to do. Nothing can kill the spirit of innovation like bad or negligent management. Often it is not what is said, but what isn’t that makes the difference. I address several of these factors in my book “Are You Ineffective?” (AuthorHouse 2007).

  2. Rob Robson Avatar

    Innovation requires a certain state of mind. You need to be open, curious and prepared to take risks (be ‘playful’), as well and challenge conventional thinking (be ‘rebellious’).

    If the consequences of challenging are that you are shot down or humiliated, then all this does is shut down access to the ‘playful’ state described above. Any rebelliousness is then more likely to be displayed as anger, and the humiliation can turn into resentment. So the implications aren’t simply a loss of innovation, but potentially important sources of ‘engagement’ too.

    Incidentally, innovation and creativity are not synonymous, although they are closely related.

  3. systematicHR Avatar

    I have 2 characteristics critical for innovation myself. The first is the state of mind you mention. Either I am so clueless that I can’t remember the “best practices” or I just ignore them. Second, the ability to take rejection is critical. I spent the first 3 years of my work life selling life insurance. Talk about rejection!!!

    Innovators abound among us. All those people who can argue both sides of anything show the potential to be innovative thinkers. However, only those who are unafraid to speak up will become innovators.