Although executives in a variety of industries pay lip service to the idea that innovation is the responsibility of everyone their companies, employees below the management level are not getting the encouragement, funding or other support they need a new study finds.

O.C. Tanner, a global firm helping organizations inspire and appreciate great work, published research in the Harvard Business Review on what employees at all levels believe when it comes to innovative, creative, “above-and-beyond work” that makes a difference people love.

“We found two important ideas from our research,” explains David Sturt, co-author of the HBR article, “A Global Survey Explains Why Your Employees Don’t Innovate” and executive vice president at the O.C. Tanner Institute. “First, there is a gap in expectations of who should and who does perform great work, and second, there is a lack of support for employees.”

O.C. Tanner surveyed nearly 3,500 people from companies in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Germany and India. Although the firm does not reveal the industries involved, the HBR article authors, Durst and O.C. Tanner Senior Analyst Jordan Rogers, say the disconnect between leaders and lower-level employees exists for large companies and small and for all age groups (Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials.) Overall, while “nearly nine out of 10 non-managers believe they ought to be involved in innovation, far fewer (roughly six in 10) say they actually are,” the HBR article says.

Summarizing the study results in a media statement in which they refer to innovation efforts as “having responsibility for great work,” O.C. Tanner offers three findings to illustrate a “discernable divide between those expected to approach work creatively and those who actually do so.”

  • Sixty-two percent of executives believe everyone has responsibility for great work, while 86 percent of individual contributors believe the same.
  • While a small majority of CEOs believes great work is everybody’s responsibility, even less (53 percent) say that everyone engages in great work. When looking at how individual contributors answer the same question, they claim 63 percent of employees engage in great work.
  • The gap of “who should vs. who does” widens the further down you move into an organization. There were 9 percentage points of difference between the “who should” and “who does” answers at the executive level, and a 23-percentage point gap for non-managers.

The data show that most executives aren’t aware of the innovation divide, but employees see a clear contradiction in what they feel they should be doing and what they actually are doing, the Tanner statement says.

In addition, while executive and management ranks clearly have the right tools for innovation at their disposal—encouragement, time and resources—individual employees seldom feel they do, the Tanner researchers said.

  • Only 43 percent of those in the lower ranks who have the chance to think through an idea believe they have access to the money, staff or support to execute those ideas.
  • There is a 14-percentage point difference in potential output between employees who believe no one expects great work and so they do not produce innovative effort, and those who feel challenged to be creative and do so.

Supporting survey numbers, they offer representative comments from survey participants, such as, “My supervisors do not seem receptive to new ideas and implementation.” Another said, “No matter what you do, [my boss] says it’s got to be her way.”

The bottom line: Leaders need to trust their workers to bring fresh ideas and give them opportunities to do so, the Tanner statement says. “When leaders walk the talk by expecting and supporting great work, employees respond positively.”

“There are a few simple steps leaders can take to inspire innovation and underscore its importance,” advises Sturt. “Recognize the great work of your employees and share their accomplishments. Visit with employees to see what great ideas they are sitting on. Provide resources and time to help innovation occur.”

About the Study

The O.C. Tanner Institute surveyed 3,488 adults from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and India. Respondents included part-time and full-time workers across all company sizes and every major industry. Fieldwork was undertaken in September 2015 and the survey was carried out via online panel. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all aggregate adult (aged 18+) populations of the combined sample population.

About O.C. Tanner

O.C. Tanner, number 40 on the 2015 FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For list, helps organizations create great work environments by inspiring and appreciating great work. Clients globally use the company’s cloud-based technology, tools, awards and education services to engage talent, increase performance, and drive goals

Source: O.C. Tanner

Topics InsurTech Leadership