New Survey Looks at Greatest Barriers to Innovation

The biggest roadblocks to organizational breakthroughs are a shortage of fresh thinking and too much red tape, according to executives interviewed for a recent Robert Half survey. More than a third (35 percent) of CFOs said a lack of new ideas is the greatest barrier to their company being more innovative. Approximately a quarter (24 percent) of respondents cited excessive bureaucracy as the top creativity killer, while 20 percent blamed being bogged down with daily tasks or putting out fires.
 
The survey was developed by specialized staffing firm of Robert Half International. It was conducted by an independent research firm and is based on interviews with more than 1,400 CFOs from a stratified random sample of US companies with twenty or more employees.
 
CFOs were asked, "What is the greatest barrier to your company being more innovative?" Their responses:         
  • Lack of new ideas – 35 percent
  • Too much bureaucracy – 24 percent
  • Being bogged down in daily tasks/putting out fires – 20 percent
  • Ineffective leadership – 9 percent     
  • Other – 1 percent
  • Don't know/no answer – 11 percent
Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half International and author of Human Resources Kit for Dummies, advises, "Build in time for brainstorming sessions and other activities that help employees step outside their comfort zones and daily routines."
"Innovation is the driving force behind every successful business," said Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half International and author of Human Resources Kit for Dummies. "Managers should do their best to stretch and challenge their teams to combat complacency."
 
Messmer added, "Build in time for brainstorming sessions and other activities that help employees step outside their comfort zones and daily routines."
 
Half offers six tips for inspiring innovation among work teams:
 
Engage the entire team. Empowered employees tend to be more innovative because they have a bigger emotional stake in the firm's success. Cultivate a culture in which staff at all levels can easily share solutions for improving the business. Maintain an open-door policy and also encourage people to offer ideas in meetings, through an internal website, or even an old-fashioned suggestion box.
 
Remove the red tape. Examine internal processes to ensure company procedures aren't generating unnecessary red tape. Employees become disillusioned when they put their time and energy into devising ingenious ideas only to wait forever for them to be approved and implemented.
 
Keep it collaborative. A healthy level of competition between employees can spur innovation. But if a workplace becomes too competitive, team members may be reluctant to speak up for fear that their suggestions will either be stolen or ridiculed. Create policies that support the open exchange of information and a team-first atmosphere.
 
Build a better brainstorm. Too many potentially great ideas are discarded prematurely in brainstorming meetings. Rein in the naysayers who relish in saying why novel proposals won't work. Support "blue-sky thinking."
 
Give 'em a break. Burnout does not beget brilliance. When employees are consistently overworked, they're likely to have more "uh-oh" than "a-ha!" moments. Implement programs that promote work-life balance, and consider bringing in temporary professionals during peak activity periods to keep your team fresh and focused. 
 
Seek inspiration. As a leader, you set the tone. You'll have difficulty motivating staff to ignite creative sparks if you're feeling uninspired yourself. Research shows a person in a relaxed, positive mood has more innovative thoughts. Feeling the pressure? Occasionally get away from your desk and unplug by going for a head-clearing stroll.
 
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