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Are women better at supporting innovation?

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Are women better at supporting innovation?

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The major hypothesis of my 8 Step Guide to a Social Workplace  was that you need the systems in your workplace to align themselves behind a behaviour for that behaviour to become commonplace.  If you want creativity, but your pay, decision making, measurements and so on all act as though you want conservatism, then it’s pretty clear which one will win out.

It’s perhaps not surprising therefore that a new study reveals the excellent job many managers do of squashing creativity.  The researchers explored eight managerial behaviours that are widely believed to promote innovation in the workplace.  They then measured whether the relative competence in each of these areas corresponded with the innovation efforts of employees in their teams.  The study pulled in over 1,300 people from 19 countries, with participants covering a range of experience, education and demographic areas.

The eight areas they were looking for in managers were:

1. Challenge their subordinates by giving them difficult or impossible problems to solve, ambitious goals to attain, and the support needed to manage stress.

2. Encourage broadening, which means providing employees with training in subjects or topics well outside their comfort zones.

3. Encourage capturing, that is, urging people to preserve their breakthrough ideas and giving them the tools (whether sophisticated computer programs or pocket-sized recorders) to do so.

4. Manage teams appropriately by assembling diverse groups that use brainstorming and other techniques to maximize their creative output.

5. Model the core competencies of creative expression by walking the walk; for example, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd had his assistants accompany him from meeting to meeting so they could record each new idea on a large chart.

6. Provide adequate and appropriate resources to enable creative functioning.

7. Provide a diverse and changing physical and social work environment that keeps employees on their toes.

8. Provide positive feedback and recognition to people who contribute new and important ideas.

The research sadly showed that many managers lacked skills in six of the eight key areas.  The highest of the eight, almost across the board, were for giving feedback and encouraging broadening.  Interestingly however, these were two areas where the managers themselves believed had little impact on the innovative capabilities of their staff.

The areas believed to be most effective however, that of providing resources and managing the environment to ensure a diverse and ever changing workplace, were both areas where managers scored particularly badly.  All of which paints a not particularly positive picture.

What was equally interesting however is that female managers out performed their male counterparts in every single one of the eight areas.  The researchers suggest this might be due to certain characteristics that appear more common in women than men, such as being supportive.  They also suggest that women might be better at looking at innovation in a holistic sense and realising that it is an output of a wide range of organizational factors.

The report concluded by highlighting the importance of training for managers in supporting innovation.  The researchers revealed that when training was offered, it resulted in substantially higher scores, even if the training didn’t focus specifically on any of the eight areas.  What’s more, the more training that was received, the better the results were.

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