Barriers to Government Innovation Include Bureaucratic Inertia, Resistance to Change and Lack of Leadership

Fostering an “Ideas Culture” Can Help Federal Government Solve Problems for Taxpayers and Retain Top Talent

Arlington, Va., June 1, 2017 – New research finds that government leaders are not fully tapping the brain power of federal employees to help address some of the federal government’s most pressing challenges. Seventy-two percent of federal employees say that their agency rarely or never seeks their ideas for improvements, and 71 percent report that government is less open to new ideas as compared to the private sector.

These findings are contained in a new report, Building an Ideas Culture in Federal Government | Employees Are Key, But New Survey Shows Their Ideas Are Not Being Tapped. The research was conducted by Eagle Hill Consulting in collaboration with Government Executive research intelligence division, Government Business Council (GBC).

Download the research report here.

“These findings are troubling because the government’s inability to bring forward, consider and implement employees’ ideas can have serious negative implications on the federal workforce, taxpayer services, and U.S. competitiveness.” says Melissa Jezior, president and chief executive officer of Eagle Hill Consulting LLC. “And given expected deep cuts to many federal agency budgets and staffing levels, it is more important than ever to tap employee ideas to find ways to innovate, do more with less resources and sustain morale,” Jezior said.

The research also revealed that 63 percent of federal workers who don’t believe their agency channels workforce creativity say they are likely to leave their job in the next year.

Jezior says that how an agency deals with ideas may directly link to employee engagement and retention, and how well the organization fulfills its mission.

She says that agencies can make big strides by creating an “ideas culture,” one where agencies actively seek, embrace, act on, and reward employee ideas to innovate and achieve its goals.

“For an ideas culture to flourish, leadership must become comfortable with taking risks and the possibility of failure. With championing from the top, accountability for supporting ideas can then flow through the organization by including related metrics in individual performance plans,” Jezior explains.

“The silver lining is that armed with this information, federal leaders can implement tried and true strategies to harness the brain power and ideas of federal employees,” said Nicholas McClusky, GBC director of research and strategic insights.

The research finds that:

  • Nearly half of respondents (48 percent) say they are likely to leave their jobs in the next year. But among employees who said that their agency “seeks their ideas to improve tools/processes” at least once a month, less than a third (31 percent) said they were likely to leave their job in the next year.
  • Nearly half (49 percent) say their agency might be open to ideas, but they are unclear of how to submit them, while nearly a quarter (24 percent) say they don’t think their agency has any mechanism in place at all for submitting ideas. This means that nearly three-fourths (73 percent) of those surveyed could see their ideas for improvement never progressing beyond the casual conversation.
  • Three of the top four perceived barriers to organizational innovation are related to agency leadership: bureaucratic inertia, leadership resistance to change, and lack of leadership.
  • Federal employees are generally satisfied with three key work environment characteristics that the General Services Administration identifies as contributing to innovative workplaces. Respondents were most satisfied with the comfort (63 percent) of their work environments, followed by their work environments’ flexibility (59 percent) and reliability (56 percent).

The research also offers four easy-to-implement ideas to create an ideas culture in an agency:

  1. From simple measures (office hours and marketing employee-led initiatives) to the more complex (feedback surveys and working groups to address ideas culture gaps), leaders can work within their scope of authority to establish an ideas culture.
  2. Innovation committees can provide a structured process for review and action on employee ideas, as well as for recognizing and rewarding people who submit ideas.
  3. Innovation competitions, both formal (at set times during the year) and more fluid (ongoing online review, input, and voting on ideas) can kick-start the solicitation and refinement process.
  4. Collaboration and social networking tools for business (such as Yammer groups) and idea management software platforms are low-cost and easy-to-implement ways to keep ideas alive and organized for input, collaboration, and application.

The online survey included 332 federal employees from a random sample of Government Executive, Nextgov, and Defense One subscribers. The survey polled respondents on federal workplace culture. The Eagle Hill Federal Ideas Culture survey was conducted by the Government Business Council on November 7, 2016.

Read here about Eagle Hill’s work in the public sector, including case studies of how Eagle Hill has helped agencies transform their business processes and employee programs.

Eagle Hill Consulting LLC Eagle Hill Consulting LLC is a woman-owned business that provides management consulting services in the areas of business strategy, organizational transformation, human capital transformation, process improvement, program management and change management. Eagle Hill works with a range of public, private and non-profit organizations across the country with offices in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and in Seattle, WA. More information is available at www.eaglehillconsulting.com.

Government Business Council is dedicated to advancing the business of government through analysis, insight and analytical independence. As an extension of Government Executive’s 40 years of exemplary editorial standards and a commitment to the highest ethical values, GBC studies influential decision-makers from across the federal government to produce intelligence-based research and analysis. More information is available at http://www.govexec.com/insights.