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Are new managers killing innovation?

12.04.2013
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In organisations for which innovation is something valued, the attitude towards mistakes is critical.  For innovation to thrive, employees need to feel confident enough to try new things, which in reality means being confident that mistakes will be accepted so long as they’re well intentioned.

New research by the Universities of Kent, Cambridge and Adelaide suggest that new managers may be stifling this ability to innovate.  The study found that when people unaccustomed to power are placed into positions of power, they are more likely to react badly towards mistakes than their more experienced peers.

Mario Weick, a researcher at the University of Kent and one of the study’s co-authors, said the results provide a firm indication of the relationship between power and revenge.

“Power is not simply good or bad; it affects different people in different ways,” Weick said. “Our studies highlight some of the negative effects power can have on people who are less accustomed to being in charge.”

A range of experiments were conducted involving around 500 participants.  Across each of the experiments, participants were asked to respond to a variety of transgressions, ranging from gossiping to drunken violence, with a bit of negligence or plagiarism thrown into the mix.  A section of the group were exposed to power before the experiments began, with researchers then measuring their propensity to seek revenge against the perpetrator.

The researchers suggest that the findings may help organisations better understand the role and impact social hierarchies play in behaviour, and especially how those hierarchies form.

“Fear of retaliation could be one reason that prevents people at the bottom of hierarchies from acquiring powerful positions,” Strelan said.

All of which is particularly dangerous in an environment where knowledge and insight is being sought from throughout the organisation.

Interestingly, the findings chime with separate research published recently looking at the role of power in knowledge sharing and collaboration.  It found that when people were given positions of power, they dominated discussions, thus squashing attempts by other members of the team to give their point of view.  This urge was only generally resisted when leaders were reminded of the importance of getting input from all members of the team.

Maybe it’s time to remind managers on a regular basis of the importance role both trying new things and learning from the mistakes play in being innovative.

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