Inspiring Employees to Innovate Requires Removing Barriers

Attend any leadership conference, and the buzzword will be innovation. The focus on artificial intelligence has made it inevitable. To be truly innovative requires employees who embrace the ability to question processes and policies. It is also essential for employees to feel confident their organization’s culture provides a haven for inquiry and discovery.

Some of the top research organizations have concluded that the need for innovation will require adaptability to focus on skills needed to compete. The McKinsey Global Institute conducted a study of more than 3000 c-level executives in seven countries in 2018, and they found executives believe there will be a need for more advanced technological and cognitive skills; there will be an increase in emphasis on team-based work; nearly 20% of companies believe their executives lack the knowledge to adopt artificial intelligence; and competition for skilled workers will increase, with firms who are early-adopters of automation likely to snag the best talent.

To remain competitive, will require a mind shift and a change in culture which would include focusing on life-long learning. Employees’ abilities like creativity, empathy, social and emotional skills will be critical to the success or the organization. It is critical to allow individuals to be curious and ask questions.

Some business schools have been proactive to the need to focus on creativity and innovation, including Arizona State University, who was awarded the Alexa Innovation Fellowship for 2018-19 to inspire students to develop technology and create new ventures.

However, many organizations have employees who have not been afforded those opportunities in the pursuit of their education. For employees to be creative and innovative, requires they feel comfortable questioning processes and proposing new ideas. That is where it can get tricky if employees fear ramifications.

It is not unusual for employees to hesitate to share ideas. Business Leadership Professors James R. Detert and Amy C. Edmondson interviewed nearly 200 individuals within an organization and found employees were reluctant to share creative ideas. This reluctance is a significant problem for organizations because of the impact on their productivity.

Sharing knowledge within an organization can be a significant competitive advantage. Some organizations have invested in new technologies including blogs and wikis to communicate more effectively. However, if employees fear ramifications, their ability to share pertinent information could be impacted.

If organizations ask for input and then ignore it, that can be just as damaging. When employees feel their suggestions do not matter, it can have a devastating impact on employee engagement. Gallup estimated companies lose up to $605 billion each year due to poor engagement impacting productivity. To improve employee engagement in organizations, leaders must provide feedback and share how individuals’ goals help meet the overall organization’s goals.

Allowing employees to feel safe asking questions and presenting ideas is the first step toward building an innovative, competitive culture, which requires introspection on the part of leaders. Culture cascades from the top. For the genuinely enlightened leader to ensure his or her organization embraces curiosity, creativity, and innovation, it is essential to determine if employees feel confident their ideas and questions will be respected.


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