For many organizations, finding the time to innovate can be a double-edged sword. How can you create fresh ideas within a defined “brainstorm” time, but can you afford not to let the ideas and innovations flow? Should a company focus on dreaming up new products and services or focus on maintaining existing ones?

A new survey from Robert Half finds that many workplaces are so busy dealing with the required day-to-day work and problems that arise that innovation suffers. Nearly half (49 percent) of chief financial officers (CFOs) interviewed blamed being bogged down with daily tasks or putting out fires as the greatest barrier to their company being more innovative.

The survey asked more than 270 CFOs from a stratified random sample of Canadian companies “What is the greatest barrier to your company being more innovative?”

Their responses:

Being bogged down in daily tasks/putting out fires……………… 49%

Too much bureaucracy…………….. 9%

Lack of new ideas……………….. 5%

Ineffective leadership…………… 2%

Other………………………….. 6%

Don’t know/no answer…………….. 29%



“All professionals deal with solving problems and handling daily tasks, but they also need to make setting aside time for generating new ideas a priority,” said Kathryn Bolt, president of Robert Half Canada.

“Managers should regularly encourage their staff to break away from their routines and develop innovative programs that will benefit the business,” Bolt added. “To give staff time to accomplish this, managers can work with their teams to reprioritize projects and also bring in additional support during peak activity periods.”

Robert Half offers six tips for inspiring innovation among work teams:

  1. Engage the entire team. Empowered employees tend to be more innovative because they have a bigger emotional stake in the firm’s success. Cultivate a culture in which staff at all levels can easily share solutions for improving the business. Maintain an open-door policy and also encourage people to offer ideas in meetings, through an internal website or even an old-fashioned suggestion box.
  2. Remove the red tape. Examine internal processes to ensure company procedures aren’t generating unnecessary red tape. Employees become disillusioned when they put their time and energy into devising ingenious ideas only to wait forever for them to be approved and implemented.
  3. Keep it collaborative. A healthy level of competition between employees can spur innovation. But if a workplace becomes too competitive, team members may be reluctant to speak up for fear that their suggestions will either be stolen or ridiculed. Create policies that support the open exchange of information and a team-first atmosphere.
  4. Build a better brainstorm. Too many potentially great ideas are discarded prematurely in brainstorming meetings. Rein in the naysayers who relish in saying why novel proposals won’t work. Support “blue-sky thinking.”
  5. Give ’em a break. Burnout does not beget brilliance. When employees are consistently overworked, they’re likely to have more “uh-oh” than “a-ha!” moments. Implement programs that promote work-life balance, and consider bringing in temporary professionals during peak activity periods to keep your team fresh and focused.
  6. Seek inspiration. As a leader, you set the tone. You’ll have difficulty motivating staff to ignite creative sparks if you’re feeling uninspired yourself. Research shows a person in a relaxed, positive mood has more innovative thoughts. Feeling the pressure? Occasionally get away from your desk and unplug by going for a head- clearing stroll.

You might also be interested in: Insurers can profit in tough economy by focusing on growth, excellence and innovation 


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