KU News Release

April 27, 2010
Contact: Brendan M. Lynch, University Relations, (785) 864-8855

KU researcher exposes psychology of workplace innovation

More Information

LAWRENCE — Most companies want workers to show the creative resourcefulness that often is dubbed “innovation.” But how can a business best push employees to innovate without concern of risk to their images inside the organization?

Feirong Yuan, assistant professor of business at the University of Kansas, has sought to better grasp the psychology behind workplace innovation by surveying hundreds of employees and managers at companies in diverse economic sectors.

“We looked at employee innovation in terms of the behavior,” said Yuan. “It’s about introducing something new and implementing it at your organization.”

Her research, co-authored with Richard Woodman of Texas A&M University, will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Academy of Management Journal.

Yuan said that fostering fresh ideas and putting them into action is a vital function of a successful company.

“There has been consensus developing that employee innovation is really critical,” said the KU researcher. “The business world of today is very dynamic, changing every day. Customer demands change, the market changes and so companies need to keep up. One of the best ways to do that is to have employees constantly searching for how to do things better, do their jobs better and introduce new technology or product ideas into the company so that company is more flexible in having a competitive advantage.”

The researchers found that “image risks” — employees’ fear of receiving negative social evaluations from other people within their company — are a considerable factor in determining if those employees innovate.

“We tap into the hidden psychological considerations of the employee,” said Yuan.

The researchers asked employees and their bosses for their views of organizational support for innovation, the quality of supervisor relationships, job requirements for innovation, employee reputations for innovativeness and individual workers’ dissatisfaction with the status quo.

“We found two factors that will help to reduce image risk associated with innovation,” said Yuan. “One is if the employee perceives the company culture and values as supportive of innovation. In other words, the leader respects innovation. And it’s fine for me to do some experimentation. I’m allowed to fail — allowed to take some risk. And the second factor is if I perceive innovation to be part of my job.”

The study by Yuan and Woodman was supported by the KU General Research Fund and the Mays Business School at Texas A&M.

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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