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  • Dr. Jeff Doolittle

Are You Developing Creative and Innovative Employees?

Innovation and creativity produce a competitive advantage. However, you may wonder if it is possible to develop employee creativity and innovation or if you must hire creative and innovative employees? The debate of nature versus nurture continues in many different areas within the social sciences. A common argument presented in support of development to these questions is that if creative employees were born, we would observe more consistency in creativity among specific individuals and little variability in invention among creative individuals. Studies have shown that creativity is influenced by cognitive skills, personality traits, work habits, and social-environmental variables.

If modern organizations are not investing in the development of their employees, they are falling behind. A study involving 325 organizations over five years revealed that training and development positively affected innovative performance through building employee's competence and commitment. Leaders need to consider the desired knowledge skills and abilities of the employee, the orientation of the workplace, and the organization's climate.

Caution Ahead: Research has discovered that if employee capability development becomes the goal, the training program does not produce the desired competitive advantage. Leaders seeking to develop innovative and creative employees should take a results-based approach versus an activity-based approach.

Defining Employee and Leader Innovation Behaviors

Employee innovation capability leads to an organizational competitive advantage and a high-performance workforce. In a study of 12 organizations across diverse sectors, empirical evidence demonstrated that self-observation, self-goal setting, self-reward, self-correcting feedback, and practice moderate employee creativity and innovation in the workplace. Enhancing an employee's self-leadership capability improves self-awareness, inspiring experimentation with new ways to solve existing challenges. In four studies using diverse populations, researchers Lukes and Stephan in 2017 created and validated the Innovative Behaviors Inventory (IBI) and the Innovation Support Inventory (ISI) consisting of the following:

Innovation Behaviors:

  • Idea generation: Including the desire to try new things, a preference for original thinking, and finding solutions for existing problems.

  • Idea search: Collaborating with others for new ideas and an interest in how things are done in other organizations.

  • Idea communication: Persuading others toward new ideas and showing others the positive sides of new ways of thinking.

  • Implementation starting activities: Developing project plans to launch new ideas, secure funding for innovation, and search for new technologies to support implementation.

  • Involving others: Seeking others in finding solutions to problems and involving decision-makers.

  • Overcoming obstacles: Not giving up on new ways of doing things and persistence.

  • Innovation outputs: Being successful with implementing new ideas and improving processes valuable to the organization

Innovation Support:

  • Motivating employees to create new ideas

  • Financially rewarding good ideas

  • Supporting innovations as soon as possible

  • Tolerance of errors during innovation implementation

Innovation, Inclusion, and Diversity

Organizations searching for efficiency tend to hire and promote employees that conform to group norms and encourage unity. According to US Department of Labor statistics from 2017, 47% of the workforce in the United States is women. Yet, only 22% are in c-suite positions. Companies have historically viewed differences as detrimental. The benefits of leveraging diversity within organizations include broad skill sets, customer intelligence, more viewpoints, new ideas, and reimagined solutions.

“A homogenous workforce limits the range of a company's innovation capabilities." Oster

5 Steps to Developing a Creative and Innovative Workforce

Current research suggests that leaders looking to develop an innovative and creative workforce should take the following five steps:

  1. Define desired results in terms of explicit business goals and behaviors

  2. Leverage data analytics and empirical testing to discover and communicate what works

  3. Reward incremental success and interesting failures

  4. Promote continuous learning focused on specific areas needing improvement

  5. Recruit and retain an inclusive and diverse workforce

We Can Help You Build a Culture of Innovation

We can partner with you to assess whether you have the right culture for your strategy, develop attributes needed to support building your organizational culture, measure progress, and sustain the change. We offer a variety of proven organizational culture and leadership solutions available both virtually and in person.


Amabile, T. M. (1983). The social psychology of creativity: A componential conceptualization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45(2), 357-376.

DeWolf, M. (2017). 12 stats about working women. U.S. Department of Labor.

Ghosh, K. (2015). Developing organizational creativity and innovation: Toward a model of self-leadership, employee creativity, creativity climate, and workplace innovative orientation. Management Research Review, 38(11), 1126-1148.

Lukes, M., & Stephan, U. (2017). Measuring employee innovation: A review of existing scales and the development of the innovative behavior and innovation support inventories across cultures. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour & Research, 23(1), 136-158.

Oster, G. W. (2011). The light prize: Perspectives on Christian innovation. Positive Signs Media.

Schaffer, R. H., & Thomson, H. A. (1992). Successful change programs begin with results. Harvard Business Review, 70(1), 80-89.

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Hi, I'm Dr. Jeff Doolittle. I'm determined to make your personal and professional goals a reality. My only question is, are you?

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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