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    February-2013
 
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Who Kills Innovation? The Boss!

When staff members offer suggestions on improving processes or operations, often these innovations are disregarded by senior managements.

Employees are pointing fingers at their leaders for squashing new ideas, according to new research from Development Dimensions International.

Incongruously, leaders think they’re doing much better than employees do when it comes to leading innovation.

In “Creating the Conditions for Sustainable Innovation: The Leadership Imperative,” DDI surveyed 513 leaders and 514 employees (with no direct reports) from organizations in a variety of sizes and industries to understand how leaders and employees view innovation in their organization.

Among the major findings was a significant gap between how leaders see themselves—and how employees see them—as nurturers of innovation. The findings of the study include:

Think differently. Or not. Using a 20-item leadership innovation index, DDI measured leaders’ success at promoting innovation in four major challenges (inspiring curiosity, challenging current perspectives, creating freedom and driving discipline) and found that there was a gap between leaders’ inflated perceptions of how they are doing and what employees were actually observing. The greatest gap between where leaders thought they were successful and where employees agreed was 29% in challenging current perspectives.

The research also showed that leaders are lacking in behaviors including unwavering openness to and appreciation of unique ideas and opinions (35% gap), championing the merits of employee-generated ideas to senior management (33%) and guiding employees to pursue ideas autonomously (32% gap).

“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.
Is talk of innovation just lip service? When asked to locate their organization on an innovation continuum, 39% of employees said that innovation is either a long shot for their company or a mere buzzword the company would like to embrace.

However, most leaders’ perceptions (74%) were that it is either an important priority or an absolute imperative for the company.

“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.

Big ideas, no action. When asked what would generate more breakthrough ideas, leaders’ first choice was to urge employees to expand their understanding of business trends and emerging issues. While employees agreed, they also reported that they would have more breakthrough ideas if their leaders


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