University of Phoenix Research: Your Employees Aren’t Innovative Enough [Podcast]

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Did you know that your employees aren’t innovative or creative enough?

That’s the latest from a research study performed by University of Phoenix on workplace innovation. In an interesting mix of data, the organization asked employees to identify whether their employers were innovative or not, and hiring managers were asked to identify the level of innovation exhibited by employees. The results were intriguing, and I covered some of the key topics of the research in a recent podcast interview with Ruth Veloria, Executive Dean of the School of Business at University of Phoenix. 

For clarification, University of Phoenix has 50k+ students at the university, and Ruth heads up areas such as academic programming, employer relationships, and more. She said UoP undertook the study to help with a few things, but the key reason is to stay in tune with what hiring managers and business leaders are looking for in the candidates they hire. All too often we as HR leaders run across college graduates that don’t have the necessary skills or business acumen, and the University is trying to make sure that degree programs fit that need. Can I get an amen to that?

Here are some of the notes from our conversation. Be sure to listen in so you get the full set of responses and ideas that Ruth shares. She’s incredibly sharp.

Ben: What were the key differences in the employee- and employer-focused studies? Any similarities of note?

Ruth: The survey found that employees want to be developed, but about 1/3 of them we talked to weren't confident in the development program. On the employer side, business leaders are looking at people thinking they are missing key innovative traits, so the next question is how they can grow them.

Ben: One of the stats that I thought was interesting was more than 8 in 10 employees think they are innovative, but just 8% of hiring managers think their employees excel at innovating. I would expect there to be a gap there but that is pretty substantial. In addition, about a third of hiring managers (33%) say that innovativeness is a teachable skill, and another 46% say sometimes it is, depending on the person. How can managers look for innovative thinking in the hiring process?

Ruth: I’m a product of going through management consulting. Our key method was to give people scenarios and case studies they've never had to tackle before, because it gives you chance to see if they can solve problems. You're looking for someone with a healthy respect for rules, but also innovators.

Ben: About two in five large business hiring managers each say that they have either policies (38%) or dedicated innovation teams (38%) to help encourage innovation. The thing I always push back on with regard to this: does having a dedicated team make innovation less likely to happen on the front lines or by people that aren’t directly tasked with it?

Ruth: Given the pace of change, it needs to be a responsibility for everyone. Some people only think about innovation as products, not process and operations. If you want to compete, you have to build a culture of support for innovation throughout the organization. Front line employees sometimes deliver more innovation. Need a culture of listening and professional development access to drive it in the people.

Ben: What are the most common ways companies solicit innovative ideas from employees?

Ruth: Surveys are the number one method. They also have meetings focused on innovation. They also look at what processes are preventing success. The second key is an annual planning process. One third of companies think this is key. As we know, what gets measured gets done, so public recognition/rewards is important for driving innovation. [Note from Ben: this concept of rewards for innovation was touched on briefly in a recent post on “innovation judo.”

Ben: About a third of hiring managers say their organizations plan to create cross functional learning opportunities and offer to pay for educational opportunities to increase innovation.Talk about what these methods look like in practice.

Ruth: You can put people into projects to help them learn. UoPhoenix uses an online, self-paced approach that shows how to learn innovation skills. Users practice those skills and behaviors to become ingrained. Learning by doing is best.

Ben: A third of hiring managers say that new approaches to old ideas, creativity, and forward thinking are traits missing in current employees. How does this link back to the hiring process? Are companies hiring for these kinds of traits, or are they hoping that employees develop them later?

Ruth: We see lots of talk about soft skills. It’s easy to teach hard skills but people hope you come with a foundation of the right soft skills. We want to find those innovators on the front end but we also need some combination of how to embed innovation for these people. Some organizations, like Intuit, have a center of excellence as a hub to drive innovation throughout the organization. They want to create innovation in the raw talent.

Ben: This has been really wonderful to explore the subject of innovation with you, Ruth. If someone wants to learn more about the study I will make sure to link it in the show notes, but is there anything else you want to leave in terms of a takeaway?

Ruth: The key thing is that there is a disconnect. Employees want to be innovative and work for innovative employers. Hiring managers want employees that are innovative. Employers need to think about barriers they might be putting in place. Is there adequate time set aside for innovation, funding, or other resources in the organization like data analytics tools? Is there an environment or culture that helps employees to be more nimble? IT infrastructure slows down businesses in many cases.

Ben: Thanks again to everyone for joining us for this episode of We're Only Human. To see the show notes and listen to all of the shows in our archive, please visit Also, if you liked this episode or if you’re an innovation junkie like me, be sure to check out our recent show on 8 Ways HR can Drive Enterprise Innovation.