Do you identify and hire creative people? Do you focus on organizational processes? How do you know what will work?

“Many leaders say the economic upheaval of the past few years has encouraged innovation, resulting in business improvements,” says CCL’s Sarah Stawiski. “They are actively looking for formulas to increase innovation and solve complex problems.”

Stawiski, along with colleagues Jennifer Deal, Marian Ruderman and William Gentry, have found some clues to improve the innovation equation. Using data from 972 respondents to the World Leadership Survey (WLS) who also completed a Benchmarks 360-degree feedback assessment, they found three factors related to employee creativity. The detailed findings are documented in The Innovation Equation for Leaders: People + Context = Innovation, a paper in the CCL QuickView Leadership Series.

  1. Motivation. Two types of motivation are strongly associated with being perceived as innovative by the boss. Intrinsic motivation is whether you find joy in your work. Identified motivation is whether you are driven to achieve goals. Employees higher in those two types of motivation are perceived as being more innovative than are employees lower in those types of motivation.”Think of the struggling artist or the inventor with a passion for her work. This keeps her going, despite the fact that she may barely make ends meet or isn’t yet recognized for her ideas,” says Stawiski. “She finds joy in her work, and is driven to achieve her goals — and is likely to have to be innovative to succeed.”
  2. Negativity. Negativity is inversely related to employee creativity. In other words, the more negative, irritable, nervous or upset an employee feels, the less innovative the boss perceives that employee to be.But the opposite isn’t true. Feeling positive is not related to being perceived by the boss as being more innovative. “People who are overly agreeable, cheerful or optimistic are not considered more creative,” Stawiski notes. “Positivity by itself won’t necessarily have any impact on innovation.”
  3. Support. Employees who report feeling supported by their boss are perceived by the boss as being more creative and innovative. This support, coupled with intrinsic motivation, is a powerful innovation booster.”Perceived support from a supervisor feeds or enhances the strength of the relationship between intrinsic motivation and innovation,” Stawiski explains. “When employees feel supported by their supervisors, the people high in intrinsic motivation show a more pronounced difference in innovation ratings than those with low intrinsic motivation.”This link underscores why supervisor support is critical for employee innovation. Even the most intrinsically motivated employees are less likely to think up great innovations if they don’t feel supported.

“Innovation truly is a product of putting the right people in the right environment,” concludes Stawiski. “As employers and supervisors, you need to find employees who are intrinsically motivated and not overly negative. Then make sure they feel supported in their jobs.”

To read more about the findings and learn six strategies for investing in innovation, download the free report: The Innovation Equation for Leaders: People + Context = Innovation

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