5 Ways Managers Squash Innovation — and What to Do Instead

By Robert Half March 2, 2015 at 10:56pm

Innovation is a popular topic in practically every industry these days. Workers in all fields are generally expected to be creative and “think outside the box.”

However, most CFOs in a recent Robert Half Management Resources survey cited this as an area where their teams need improvement. Ironically, it’s often the managers in many companies who snuff out the very creativity they desire.

Are you one of them? Here are five signs you might be stifling your team’s innovation without realizing it.

1. You do things the way they’ve always been done.

If your primary goal is to preserve the status quo, your employees will quickly learn not to bring new ideas, assuming they’ll get shot down on principle. If you think this might be your issue, it’s time to start opening up a bit.

2. You rely on the HiPPO.

HiPPO, or “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion,” and reliance on it means the people with the biggest salaries makes all the final decisions. After all, they’re paid the most, so they must know the most.

But that isn’t necessarily true. Sometimes the most innovative ideas are left to die on the vine because they weren’t the HiPPO’s.

This is a particularly difficult thing for many managers to recognize, much less face, because often they may be the issue. To avoid falling into this scenario, regularly ask for, and adopt, ideas from every member of your team.

3. You overload and overstress your team.

With busy project schedules and semi-regular crises to address, any team can get overwhelmed from time to time. But if you consistently give your staff more work than they can handle, keep them hopping to address every emergency, and don’t allow them the downtime they need to recover, they’ll barely have the energy to keep up with their regular tasks, let alone be innovative.

If this sounds familiar, consider exploring, with your team’s input, ways to work more efficiently and effectively. Also, make sure to respect your employees’ work-life balance, and allow them to leave their work at work. Sometimes the best new ideas pop up during downtime.

Bring in additional support as needed, too. Four out of every 10 CFOs interviewed in the Robert Half Management Resources survey said they work with consultants to access fresh perspectives and foster innovation among employees. 

4. You don’t see finance as innovative.

Here’s another fault of tradition. It can be all too easy to view accounting and finance as sufficiently standardized, following rules and regulations rather than being truly innovative.

But this view is wrong. Consider, for example, the accountant who finds an innovative way to complete the close more quickly, or an analyst who sees a whole new way to interpret company data that ends up pinpointing unforeseen revenue opportunities.  

If you’re facing this issue, have a conversation with your finance and accounting teams about how they view their roles in the company. Discuss what company problems they — and you — could solve using innovative thinking.

5. You have too much red tape.

Sometimes the problem isn’t a lack of good ideas, but rather your company’s bureaucracy and its tendency to stifle those ideas before they can see the light of day. If your firm takes forever to approve and implement new ideas, you not only lose the opportunity to innovate, but you also risk disillusioning the employees who put their time and energy into developing them.

If this is the case in your company, consider taking steps toward reducing the procedural red tape between creative ideas and their implementation. Your goal is an innovation-friendly environment.

Have you ever found yourself stifling your team’s innovation? How did you do it — and, more important, how did you stop? Share your stories in the comments.

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