How to Encourage Employees to Engage in Innovative Behavior

Do you know what factors influence employees’ decisions about whether or not to voluntarily introduce or apply new ideas, products, processes, and procedures to their jobs or work units? If not, you may be interested in a recent study that examined key variables that help explain why employees engage – or choose not to engage – in innovative behavior.

The study¹ examined how employees decided whether to voluntarily engage in innovative behavior, which was defined as both generating or introducing new ideas as well as implementing them. The researchers found that individuals’ innovativeness was affected by their expectations that the behavior would have a positive impact on performance outcomes (e.g., increased productivity, decreased error rates, increased ability to achieve goals) and/or on their image within the organization. Specifically, employees in the study were more likely to engage in innovative behavior when they expected it would benefit their work than when they did not expect such an outcome. Similarly, they avoided engaging in innovative behavior when they feared doing so would cause others to view them negatively.

The researchers identified five factors that influenced employees’ expectations that they could achieve these two outcomes: (1) perceived organizational support for innovation; (2) perceived supervisory support; (3) whether innovation was a specific job requirement; (4) whether the individuals were viewed as innovators; and (5) dissatisfaction with the organization’s performance.

For employers interested in encouraging their staff to engage in innovative behavior, the good news is that most of the above factors are controllable by management. Based on the study’s findings, here are seven practical suggestions for encouraging employees to engage in innovative behavior:

  1. Identify what employees perceive as “positive performance outcomes.”
  2. Ensure that the organization’s infrastructure is aligned with an innovative culture – e.g., the compensation and performance management systems recognize and reward those who engage in innovative behavior.
  3. Ensure that all leaders demonstrate the desired behaviors.
  4. Make innovation a specific requirement for every job in the organization.
  5. Articulate high expectations about individuals’ performance and their ability to engage in innovative behaviors.
  6. Make it “safe” to present and try new ideas, make suggestions, question assumptions, and challenge the status quo.
  7. Make quality employee-supervisor relationships a priority.

¹ Yuan, F. & Woodman, R.W. (2010). Innovative behavior in the workplace: The role of performance and image outcome expectations. Academy of Management Journal.

Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. Pat can show you how to apply relevant research findings in practical ways to create immediate results in your organization. Contact us today to see how we can help you make a difference!

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