In today’s fast-moving business landscape, organizations constantly need to innovate in order to succeed. In addition to relying on the innovative input of business leaders, consultants, and analysts, companies are increasingly paying more attention to innovative ideas and contributions of their employees. But what can companies do to help their teams generate innovative ideas, for example for updating and upgrading managerial practices and processes? Professor Felipe Guzman from IÉSEG recently co-authored a paper* looking at this topic and how ‘voice behavior” can impact on management innovation in companies. We spoke to him about the findings of his research and the potential applications for companies and organizations.
Most of the academic work on innovation has generally examined innovation from a more technical standpoint (i.e., innovative products, changes in production, etc.). But when you talk to managers from non-manufacturing companies, the main challenge they face is related with improving the way they conduct their managerial work. This made us realize that we do not know much about how companies implement changes into their managerial processes, practices, or structures. This is where the role of “voice” comes in. Voice behavior refers to employees’ expression of ideas, opinions, or suggestions aimed at improving the overall functioning of their team or the organization. Voice is not just about coming up with novel ideas but about communicating them to the people (or group of people) that have the authority to do something with them. Our goal with this paper was to study how innovative ideas that team members communicate can be transformed into a concrete new managerial process, practice, or structure.
For this project we collected data in Chile and the USA and we found very consistent results from both samples. We found that teams with members that are consistently proposing new ideas and who also have access to company resources to implement these ideas, are motivated to discuss, select, and ultimately implement the ideas that made most sense for their team.
However, teams that have access to resources but lack ideas, or that have ideas but not the resources needed, are generally not motivated to implement changes (probably because they perceive that any effort would be futile).
Our research suggests that listening to the suggestions of employees for the sake of listening is not enough. The innovative managerial input of employees has value when companies endorse their ideas and provide employees with resources to implement them. When team members have clear ideas on how to improve their work and they perceive to have the resources needed to implement such ideas is when they get motivated to put the time, energy, and effort to make change happen.
*Introducing changes at work: How voice behavior relates to management innovation; Journal of Organizational Behavior (2019). A paper co-authored with Alvaro Espejo from Universidad De los Andes, Santiago, Chile.