In the race to success, innovation reigns supreme. Yet a recent survey of employees across the world found that most organizations aren't structured for true innovation. Despite leadership heralding the power of innovation and new ideas, many employees said they feel it's all empty talk.

David Sturt and Jordan Rogers from the O.C. Tanner Institute surveyed 3,500 employees from companies in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Germany and India. In their results, they found that non-managerial employees felt they were being held back from bringing their innovative A-game to work. Sturt and Jordan shared their findings in a blog post for Harvard Business Review.

While nine out of 10 non-managers felt like they should be involved in innovating for their company, only six in 10 felt they actually were. These employees said they lack the support of their managers to innovate and are rarely given the opportunity to do so.

Executives, vice presidents, directors and managers felt empowered and supported to innovate. But individual contributors did not. They said they lacked three things: encouragement to think about new ways of doing things, time to process improvements and access to adequate resources to innovate.

One employee surveyed said, "My supervisors do not seem receptive to new ideas and implementation." The researchers heard similar sentiments from other survey subjects.

If across-the-board innovation is a priority for your organization, then Sturt and Jordan say it's time to halt the downward spiral. Here's the advice they gave to CEOs and leadership who want to empower employees of all levels to do their best work.

1. Make your priorities known.

You already have the status quo working against you. Your non-manager employees might not actually believe you want them to think creatively about their work. So make it known that your culture of innovation is inclusive to everyone, no matter what their level. And make sure to call out employees who participate.

"For example, in town halls or company meetings, give credit to employees who have done some recent innovative work, and underscore how important that type of work is to the whole organization," Sturt and Rogers said.

2. Get face time.

You should be spending just as much time with your lower level employees as you do with your management team. Sturt and Rogers recommends one-on-ones with all employees to learn their perspective on your company. It's likely that your employees have plenty of game-changing ideas and innovative solutions that would benefit your company, but the right audience (you) hasn't heard them yet.

3. Provide resources.

In the employees surveyed, lack of resources held many back. You don't necessarily need to pay for all your employees to attend a costly offsite retreat to find their inner innovative voice, but you can provide them support and space to build out new ideas within the regular workday.


Granting company time to work on new ideas can lead to great success, as evidenced by Google's 80/20 rule. You might also consider building a formal mentorship program within your organization to guide the growth and ideas of your employees.