Daily Dose: Does Your Workplace Stifle Innovation?

In an article from the Washington Post, A Need to Upgrade Uncle Sam’s Innovation Skills, Joe Davidson highlights a new report finding that federal employees express a desire to innovate, but often the federal workplace does not encourage innovation.

“An analysis of survey data by the Partnership for Public Service and the Hay Group found that 91 percent of responding federal employees said, “I am constantly looking for ways to do my job better,” and just 39 percent said, “Creativity and innovation are rewarded.” In the middle were the 60 percent who said, “I feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things.”

The report from the Partnership for Public Service and the Hay Group found that federal workers are motivated to drive change, but need stronger leadership within their organizations to encourage creativity and innovation at the workplace.

The Hay report highlights six conditions leading to an innovative workplace:

  1. Employees are recognized for providing high-quality products and services.
  2. Employees are given real opportunities to improve their skills.
  3. Employees are involved in decisions that affect their work.
  4. Employees are given a sense of personal empowerment with respect to work processes.
  5. Employees are provided with opportunities to demonstrate their leadership skills.
  6. Leaders work to gain employees’ respect.”

Having the courage to bring forward new ideas and push change in an agency is no easy task. Strong leadership is necessary to encourage this kind of behavior, and necessary to seek solutions to challenges an agency faces. The article suggest that innovation has a lot do with culture and the management style of a leader, so:

How are you innovative? How is innovation rewarded and encouraged at work?


“Daily Dose of the Washington Post” is a blog series created by GovLoop in partnership with The Washington Post. If you see great a story in the Post and want to ask a question around it, please send it to [email protected].

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Terrence (Terry) Hill

Although individuals may be creative/innovative, organizations have a tendency to squash innovation, especially if your idea questions the status quo. Because of our beauracratic structure, only a handful of people have the power to say “yes” to a new idea, while scores have the power to say “no.” This is especially true if the idea requires any investment of resources. There is another blog post about frustrations. This has been the biggest source of frustration for me in my 32-year career.

Susan Thomas

@Terry, I agree with you. The government rarely appreciates or rewards visionaries and creative thinkers. At least the current administration has encouraged federal employees, at any level, to submit ideas for saving money. Top management needs to tune into those who do the heavy lifting.

Andrew Krzmarzick

To be honest, I’m not sure those six conditions really move the chain…at all. Don’t they sound like every other recommendation for a more productive workplace? I really wonder whether those factors are what lead to innovation?I’d love to hear from others what they think would allow for more freedom. A couple addendums to the above that I think would make a difference.

– Employees are allowed to present fresh ideas, then given authority and top cover to implement on them.

– Employees who take creative risks and attempt new things are rewarded for success.

– Employees are allowed to fail within the constraints of a well-defined, new project.

Any others?

Pat Fiorenza

They do sound like most advice for a more productive workplace. Is a more productive workplace necessarily a more innovative one? I’d say it depends on the outputs from the agency. I think essentially we agree Andy, that by meeting these 6 conditions you don’t guarantee any type of innovation. But, without them innovation would never occur. Being innovative is not just using a cool new platform or having an open culture – it’s actually moving the ideas forward and implementing. The actual implementation seems to be where a lot of agencies and corporations fall short. I think what the article and the report needs to do is actually provide strategies on how to meet those six conditions.

I would make the additions:

1. Employees and management should collectively learn from the past, celebrate wins, identify failures

2. Employees/Management are committed to a shared vision

3. For innovative ideas, there is a transparent process from development through implementation – employees are incentivize for presenting new, innovative solutions.

Andrea Schneider

I agree about Australia. They are doing some really ahead of the curve thinking. I was a finalist to join their social innovation team and was very impressed.

Public Sector innovation is a bit complicated. A colleague of mine, Christian Bason, is Director of MIndLab in Denmark, which is funded by 3 Danish MInistries. He’s written a book called “Leading Public Sector Innovation”. It’s really good, fresh and smart. I highly recommend it to everyone.

I’m frankly jealous of what they are doing in Australia, Denmark and UK. I think they are way ahead of us in many ways. Partly because of our focus on the technology side of the equation, rather than organizational change and design.