At companies falling into the Stage 1: Friction group, for every three employees pulling the organization forward, two say they have just a few or no opportunities to join them. In these organizations, the inspiration needed to innovate is in shorter supply. Fewer employees feel connected to leaders or to a larger vision for the organization. In fact, in some cases, a sense of fear or trepidation can be associated with innovation.
And, while some employees are having an innovation experience, others are falling behind as they navigate organizational politics, perceptions of favoritism, or a sense of inequity when it comes to pay, profit sharing, and opportunities for advancement. As a comparison, employees at Stage 3 Accelerated organizations are 37% more likely than those at Stage 1 to report that promotions go to those who best deserve them, and 41% more likely to say they receive a fair share of the company’s profits. And while our research found that profit sharing and fair promotions are not key drivers of innovation, they did arise as key differentiators of innovative companies. When these sorts of baseline needs are met, employees have the freedom to lift their gaze— instead, focusing their valuable energy on scanning the horizon, anticipating market needs, collaborating with others, and pursuing those sparks of ingenuity when they rise.
One employee from a “Friction” environment shared, “To pick up the extra work that other departments fail to do properly, and still not be compensated properly for any of that is extremely discouraging.” The words that employees from Stage 1 Friction companies use to describe their experience at work help crystallize aspects of this environment. Commonly-occurring phrases include: “upset customer,” “critically short staffed,” “management picks favorites,” and “feel neglected.”
This lack of support that some employees feel manifests in other ways as well. Another key element of a Friction environment is a distinct lack of opportunities for growth or professional development. Our research shows that in Accelerated companies, there is a genuine desire to help employees grow and advance in ways that are meaningful for them, at every phase of their career— keeping employees motivated, engaged, and up to speed on the latest developments in the market. However, the genuine care and attention that is needed to foster employee growth in this way is less common at Stage 1 companies, leaving human potential on the table.
Imagine Olya Kenney in a Stage 1 Friction organization. Even if she’d had the inspiration to conceive of the Empathy Generator, it’s difficult to see how it ever could have come to fruition. It’s highly unlikely she would have had open lines of communication to establish the groundwork needed to move the idea forward. Even if she had, she may not have trusted others enough to share her idea.
At Kenney’s team-building stage of her innovation, given the 3:2 Innovation Velocity Ratio at Friction organizations, it would have been difficult for her to find a critical mass of employees who were ready to jump in and innovate with her. And even if she had, given lower levels of trust overall, leaders may not have allowed employees to leave their posts in pursuit of a new idea.
Creating a culture where everyone feels they can share their best ideas is no small feat. Mechanisms for hearing employees’ great ideas must be in place, naturally. But fostering a climate where people are inspired to generate those great ideas in the first place, feel able to share them with leadership, and then execute them in practice, are other questions entirely.
All of these pieces are critical to successful innovation, and all are needed to inspire, harness and implement new ideas that come from anyone in the company, at any time.
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