How bad managers stifle innovation

Leaders need to be mindful of how they respond to suggestions

How bad managers stifle innovation

Managers who shoot down ideas from their staff may be harming their organization’s ability to innovate.

According to research published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, rejecting an employee’s suggestion – without regard for the person’s feelings and without any explanation of the critique – may end up silencing those willing to pitch ideas.

“If you want to continue to have people bring innovative ideas or help you detect errors, you do have to care about how you respond to those outcomes,” said Danielle King of Rice University, who led the research.

Even when managers have to turn down an idea, they need to be sensitive about how they deliver the message, King said based on the findings of two separate studies.

READ MORE: Innovation nation: how to inspire innovators in the office

Managers who lack sensitivity when criticising or rejecting a proposal will find their staff mum about strategies and processes. In contrast, managers who are considerate with their staff will be more likely to hear employees speaking up and sharing their insights.

“Across both studies, it was only the sensitivity of the message that actually affected whether or not people felt safe,” King said. “That safety directly affected future intentions.”

How can workers build up their confidence when pitching ideas? King said leaders should proactively seek suggestions from their team and foster a culture where everyone contributes. 

Of course, not all ideas will take flight. But managers will need to provide some context over why a proposal would be turned down. Otherwise, they risk losing the interest of employees who are willing to generate new solutions to problems.

“It may be valuable to help employees understand that extenuating circumstances sometimes prevent implementation of potentially good ideas,” King said.

“It also would be useful to provide justification for why complete explanations cannot be revealed for strategic or confidentiality reasons.”

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