Chapter: "Transforming Supervisors Into Innovative
Team Leaders," by Darlene Russ-Eft and Kathleen Hurson
A Consortium of Companies
One Way to Get Bottom-Line Results From Training
American corporations face a new world order in terms of economic,
social, and environmental circumstances. That order requires new
organizations with new responses. Past activities and responses,
such as downsizing, reengineering, and cost-cutting, have limited
usefulness. Because market competition rewards the superior
product, service, or process, organizations are now seeking ways to
promote innovative thinking among their employees. Indeed, Kanter
(The Change Masters: Innovation for Productivity in the
American Corporation, 1983) indicated that companies must
identify and use effective methods for involving the entire
workforce in innovative problem solving.
Later, Van de Ven ("Central Problems in the Management of
Innovation," Management Science, 1986) reported that
repeated meetings with chief executive officers of public and
private organizations revealed managing innovation to be their
central concern because it can lead to increased productivity and
improved quality. Specifically, the attitude toward innovation can
make or break success. Indeed, Walton ("A Vision-Led Approach to
Management Restructuring," Organizational Dynamics, 1986)
described the vision-led approach to management restructuring that
emphasized increased effectiveness rather than greater efficiency.
One of the factors leading to increased effectiveness valued
outcomes, such as flexibility and innovation.
One approach to investigating innovation involves examining
structural and cultural factors. For example, Drazin and
Schoonhoven ("Community, Population, and Organizational Effects on
Innovation: A Multilevel Perspective," Academy of Management
Journal, 1996) reviewed and introduced a series of research
articles examining community, population, and organization effects
on innovation. Hemmasi, Graf, and Kellogg ("Industry Structure
Structure, Competitive Rivalry, and Firm Profitability,"
Journal of Behavioral Economics, 1990) identified
characteristics of industry structure, such as industry growth,
that are related to executives, perceptions of competitors, rates
of process innovation. Both structural characteristics and
perceptions of competitors were, in turn, related to profitability.
Feldman ("How Organizational Culture Can Affect Innovation,"
Organizational Dynamics, 1988) also examined
organizational culture and broader social and historical processes
that affected attitudes toward and the capacity for innovation.
A second approach to research on innovation and creativity focuses
on the great idea generators like Thomas Edison and Albert
Einstein. Indeed, Max Wertheimer's classic book Productive
Thinking discusses Gauss, Galileo, and Einstein. Such case
studies of geniuses have been written to help identify the key
components of innovative thinking.
Current research recognizes that ordinary individuals can make
important contributions. Though not as earthshaking in their
consequences as those of the geniuses, their "ordinary"
contributions improve societal and organizational life. In
addition, many such contributions come from groups of people,
rather than individuals working in isolation. So, recognizing the
contributions of ordinary groups of people, we will adopt Van de
Ben's ("Central Problems in the Management of Innovation,"
Management Science, 1986) definition of innovation as "the
development and implementation of new ideas by people who over time
engage in transactions with others within an institutional
context." This definition appears compatible with those proposed by
Thompson ("Bureaucracy and Innovation," Administrative Science
Quarterly, 1965) and Kanter (The Change Masters:
Innovation for Productivity, 1983).
For example, Kanter (The Change Masters: Innovation for
Productivity, 1983) depicted "corporate entrepreneurs," who
work through participative teams to produce change. With such
environments, she suggested that three new sets of skills are
required. First, "power skills" are needed to persuade others to
invest needed resources. Second, "team skills" are needed given the
increased use of teams and employee participation. Finally, "change
management skills" prove essential, including an understanding of
how small changes undertaken by teams contribute to strategic
Such a definition of innovation enables us to apply the word to an
organizational setting and to specific groups within those
settings. We know, for example, that many innovative ideas come
from first-line supervisors and their employees. These ideas, when
articulated, developed, and implemented, lead organizations to
success. Unfortunately, few studies identify the skills needed by
first-line supervisors and their employees to make these
The purpose of this study was to investigate the accomplishment of
innovation in the workplace. We wanted to test a training process
for helping first-line supervisors undertake innovative projects.
We asked three major questions. First, what kinds of projects will
these supervisors undertake? Second, what will be the results of
these projects? Such results can be measured both in terms of
project completion and in terms of dollar benefits to the
organization. Finally, what factors affect the success of the