Princeton, N.J. — Feb. 15
Fostering innovation among technical professionals is regarded by those who manage them as a major organizational challenge, but according to a new study by global consultants BlessingWhite, these same leaders are slow to cultivate risk-taking and innovation within their own teams.
BlessingWhite surveyed 898 executives who lead expert employees in industries such as financial services, pharmaceuticals, high technology and manufacturing, and it found half the respondents think “encouraging innovation that meets customer and market needs” is extremely or very challenging.
“Fostering creativity is certainly on the minds of managers today, and it’s never more present than in organizations where research and development play such a crucial role,” said Christopher Rice, BlessingWhite CEO. “But since new ideas are at the very core of their company’s mission, we hardly expected to see respondents rank risk-taking and innovation last on a list of actions essential to their own effectiveness as a leader.”
Respondents were asked, “Please rate how important each of the following actions is for your success as a leader.”
The percentage of respondents who said “extremely or very important” is as follows:
- Building collaborative relationships throughout my organization: 93 percent
- Communicating effectively at all levels of my organization: 92 percent
- Building trust with my team: 90 percent
- Giving specific, relevant feedback: 88 percent
- Encouraging my employees to take initiative in solving problems: 87 percent
- Building a strong reputation for me and my team throughout the organization: 84 percent
- Coaching and developing the technical professionals who report to me: 83 percent
- Receiving feedback from others: 83 percent
- Encouraging risk-taking and innovation within my team: 69 percent
“Leaders of technical or expert employees certainly know the pivotal role played by innovation, yet they seem to shy away from the actions needed to cultivate it,” Rice said. “Do they consider the responsibility for coming up with the ‘next big idea’ someone else’s job? Or do they hesitate to release the creativity of their teams because they fear some of the inevitable failures that accompany increased risk taking?”
Rice also said the findings go to the root of the issue facing science or technology-driven organizations.
“These organizations need transformational leadership,” Rice said. “Senior management knows it has to overcome its directive leadership style, to deal with institutional inertia and even with opposition to disruptive innovation.
“At the same time, despite its commitment to innovation, senior management invariably tries to curtail ‘out of control’ R&D spending and to squeeze each function or department for a better margin and profit. This is the duality challenging organizations today.”