If your employees are not putting forth new ideas despite directives to be innovative, it might be fear that stops them.
After surveying hundreds of employees ranging from managers to stock clerks, Feirong Yuan of the University of Kansas and Richard W. Woodman of Texas A&M found that worries about “image risks” (unfavorable social impressions) significantly diminish workers’ innovativeness. People whose roles don’t explicitly call for innovation believe that coworkers will think negatively of them if they try to come up with better ways of doing things. In some cases, they’re even afraid they’ll “provoke anger among others who are comfortable with the status quo,” Yuan says.
Leaders can reduce fear by creating the right environment. The key is to create a sense of psychological safety: Provide an environment in which differences are tolerated and people feel free to approach problems in new ways. Source: Harvard Business Review; Apr 2010, Vol. 88 Issue 4,
Tips for mitigating fear
As a creativity consultant I deal with fear in the workplace all the time. It is part of human nature to protect the status quo.
My first rule is to ban sarcasm, during creative thinking sessions. It takes courage to present a novel idea, and nothing kills confidence like sarcasm.
One of the biggest fears employees face when presenting ideas, is saying something stupid, so I break that barrier by asking people to think up stupid ideas. It breaks the ice, gets people laughing, and provides a springboard for generating fresh ideas that often lead to breakthroughs.