Dr. Linda Sands17 December 2019

Do your employees have a voice? If not, your innovation is at risk

For your organisation to grow and stay relevant, innovation is crucial. And an important requirement for innovation is creativity, as innovation is the implementation of creative ideas.

But for creativity to flourish, you need your employees to speak up, to have a voice, and to share knowledge – which may be issues or problems they notice, or to share ideas that may improve the organisation. If your employees don’t speak up, your efforts to innovate will be thwarted.

There are a range of reasons why employees don’t speak up including; a lack of encouragement, feeling fearful of the consequences of questioning authority or avoiding rocking the boat.

Here are a few suggestions to help to get your employees speaking up and having a voice:

Develop the right group norms. Employees will only speak up if they feel safe to do so. There needs to be trust. Innovation leaders need to encourage members in teams to speak up, praising the sharing of information between members, promoting extroversion and encouraging politeness and respect within the team. Research has shown that having just one consistent contributor encourages others to contribute so, ensure you have some of these people in your teams.

Design your working teams. Employees are more likely to speak up in smaller groups that are self-managed with leadership that is shared, instead of the traditional hierarchical leadership approach. The longer the team has been working together in a cohesive way, the greater the trust and the greater the voice of team members. Tenure influences the likelihood that employees will speak up, with new employees tending to speak up less than veterans. This all means, when you are next putting a team together; keep the team small, ensure its self-managed, avoid making constant changes to the team and encourage new employees to speak up.

Leaders influence others. Employees’ willingness to speak up is impacted by how they perceive their boss, but also how they perceive their boss’ boss. This can be difficult to manage as we know that there is typically less interaction between an employee and their boss’ boss and that negative stories spread more widely and endure longer than positive ones. In order to send the message that voice and knowledge sharing is important, leaders need to get out of their offices and take the time to listen and speak to employees in community spaces where employees can speak more freely to build trust. (Kremer, Villamo & Aguinis, 2019)

Dr Linda Sands is a consultant at Inventium who focuses on helping organisations to be better at innovation. She also leads Inventium’s Intrapreneur Club, a club that brings together innovation leaders from organisations across Australia to learn and grow.