5 ways managers kill innovation – and what to do instead


Innovation is a popular topic in practically every industry these days, with workers in pretty much all fields generally expected to be creative and “think outside the box." This is actually one area where Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) believe their teams need improvement. Ironically it’s often the managers in many companies who stifle the creativity that they crave. Could you be one of those managers? Here are five signs that you might be snuffing out your team’s innovation at work without realising it.

1. You do things the way they’ve always been done

If your main goal is to preserve the status quo and not rock the boat, chances are your employees will quickly learn not to express new ideas for fear of being shot down on principle. If that sounds like you, it’s time to start opening up a bit

2. You rely on the HiPPO

Relying on the HiPPO - or “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion” - means the people with the biggest salaries make all the final decisions. It can be easy to assume they know the most because they’re paid the most. But it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes the most innovative ideas are left to whither on the vine because they didn’t come from the HiPPOs. This can be a particularly difficult trap for managers to recognise, much less avoid, as they may be part of the issue. To avoid falling into this scenario, actively ask for, and adopt, ideas from every member of your team on a regular basis.

3. You overload and overstress your team

Faced with tight project schedules and semi-regular crises to handle, any team can get overwhelmed from time to time. But if you consistently give your staff more work than they can handle, keep them hopping to address every emergency, and don’t allow the downtime they need to recover, they’ll barely have the energy to keep up with their regular tasks, let alone be innovative. If this sounds familiar, consider exploring, with your team’s input, different ways to work more efficiently and effectively. Also respect your employees’ work-life balance, and allow them to leave work at work. Sometimes the best new ideas pop up during our leisure time.

4. You don’t see your industry as innovative

This is often a fault of tradition. It can be all too easy to view industries such as accounting and finance as sufficiently standardised, following rules and regulations rather than being truly innovative. However this view is wrong. Consider, for example, the accountant who finds an innovative way to close the books more efficiently on each accounting cycle, or the analyst who sees a whole new way to interpret company data that ends up pinpointing unforeseen revenue opportunities. If you’re facing this issue, have a conversation with your teams about how they view their roles in the company. Discuss what company problems they — and you — could solve together using innovative thinking.

5. You have too much red tape

Sometimes the problem isn’t a lack of good ideas but rather your organisation’s bureaucracy - and its tendency to stifle ideas before they even see the light of day. If your business takes forever to approve and implement new ideas, you not only lose the opportunity to innovate, but you also risk disillusioning the employees who put their time and energy into developing them. If this is the case in your company, consider taking steps toward reducing the red tape that blocks the path between creative ideas and their implementation. Your goal is an innovation-friendly environment.

This article originally appeared as 5 ways managers stifle innovation on the Robert Half Management Resources blog.

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