Employee-driven Innovation tainted by bureaucracy and gimmicks

By Ebony Stansfield  Monday, 2 December 2019  @Business School

Associate Dean of Research, Professor Frederik Anseel spoke about the misconceptions of employee-driven innovation.

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Innovation is essential in every successful business, but certain employer-actions can make it hard to implement in the workplace.

At the UNSW Business Schools' Future of The Sydney Innovation Ecosystem conference, Associate Dean of Research, Professor Frederik Anseel spoke about the misconceptions of employee-driven innovation.

Anseel gave the audience advice on how to use innovation to their advantage and warned them about certain gimmicks that employers should avoid.

Innovation isn't all fun

Anseel said one of the greatest myths of employee-driven innovation is that it's fun to implement.

"The typical thing we do is we send out emails, and we encourage people to participate and everybody can come up with ideas," he said.

"It would say, 'It'll be great, let's do a brainstorm, let's do team building … Come give all your ideas to us'".

However, the Associate Dean emphasised innovation can sometimes take years to get to market; if it ever gets past the drawing board.

"It is a very difficult process, because… up to 95% of new ideas (and) innovation gets rejected … and that is extremely frustrating and disappointing for people," Anseel said.

Gimmicks and hypes

The UNSW professor said attention towards innovation often comes through what he calls "gimmicks and hypes".

"We all know about pitching contests, accelerators, the talks, brainstorming sessions," he stated.

"Everyone leaves the room with a lot of energy, however, then they all go back to work in their normal day jobs, and they don't hear anything for the next six months until they get a new invitation for a big event with a new speaker," he said.

"That's not how innovation works."

Anseel warned that while these events are designed to inspire people, a lack of communication with employees can often have the opposite effect.

Innovation units

The UNSW Associate Dean of Research identified another red flag for employers, highlighting businesses opting to focus their innovation solely around their creative staff.

By doing this, companies risk alienating staff and stifling productivity.

"The innovation was so far removed from the daily job, that they don't see it as useable. That's sort of an ivory tower innovation."

Culture shift

Another point of vulnerability for businesses can occur during a changing of the guard. While it's common for many new CEO's to want to reshape office culture when they take the helm, Anseel warned against this potentially damaging practice. 

"They will come up with new values that we need to be entrepreneurial, innovative … they will have nice posters …  they will spend lots of money," he said.

"Culture is not changed by writing a mission statement … Culture follows behaviour."

Creative idea killers

Most ideas are killed when employees expect instant push-back by their managers from risky ideas.

"All the bureaucracy, the administration that we have is all orientated against creativity," Anseel said.

The Associate Dean of Research suggested companies needed to create a unit within the organisation to protect new ideas, products or services throughout to market.

Focus on teams

While businesses cherish individuals for innovation, Anseel said focus should be redirected on building stronger teams.

 "We put individuals on stage to talk about innovation, we give individual awards to innovation, we … cherish the geniuses that come up with innovations."

The UNSW professor's speech culminated on that point, emphasising that unless employers divert their focus to team building, businesses will miss potential opportunities to integrate new ideas organically into workplaces; stagnating further innovation.

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