Whose Job is It Anyway? O.C. Tanner Uncovers Innovation Obstacle

Leaders and their employees have different ideas about who should do—and who actually does—great work, according to O.C. Tanner Institute study

SALT LAKE CITY--()--Who has—and who takes—responsibility for performing great work? Is it the top brass, the non-managerial workers or everybody? O.C. Tanner, the global leader in helping organizations inspire and appreciate great work, published research in the Harvard Business Review on what employees at all levels believe when it comes to innovative, creative, above and beyond work that makes a difference people love.

“We found two important ideas from our research,” explains David Sturt, executive vice president at the O.C. Tanner Institute and co-author of the HBR article, A Global Survey Explains Why Your Employees Don’t Innovate. “First, there is a gap in expectations of who should and who does perform great work, and second, there is a lack of support for employees. This innovation disconnect appears to be a universal problem, at small and large companies and among all age groups.”

Expectation Gap

In every company surveyed, there is a discernable divide between those expected to approach work creatively and those who actually do so:

  • 62 percent of executives believe everyone has responsibility for great work, while 86% of individual contributors believe the same.
  • While a small majority of CEOs believes great work is everybody’s responsibility, even less (53 percent) say that everyone engages in great work. When looking at how individual contributors answer the same question, they claim 63 percent of employees engage in great work.
  • The gap of “who should vs. who does” widens the deeper into an organization you go: 9 percentage points at the executive level and 23 percentage points for non-managers.

The data show most executives aren’t aware of the innovation divide, but employees see a clear contradiction in what they feel they should be doing and what they actually are doing. Leaders need to trust their workers to bring fresh ideas and give them opportunities to do so.

Support Deficit

While executive and management ranks clearly have the right tools for innovation at their disposal—encouragement, time and resources—individual employees seldom feel they do:

  • “My supervisors do not seem receptive to new ideas and implementation.”
  • “No matter what you do, [my boss] says it’s got to be her way.”
  • Only 43 percent of those in the lower ranks who have the chance to think through an idea believe they have access to the money, staff or support to execute those ideas.
  • There is a 14-percentage point difference in potential output between employees who believe no one expects great work and so they do not produce innovative effort, and those who feel challenged to be creative and do so.

When leaders walk the talk by expecting and supporting great work, employees respond positively. Taking innovation seriously has real ROI.

“There are a few simple steps leaders can take to inspire innovation and underscore its importance,” advises Sturt. “Recognize the great work of your employees and share their accomplishments. Visit with employees to see what great ideas they are sitting on. Provide resources and time to help innovation occur.”

About the Study

The O.C. Tanner Institute surveyed 3,488 adults from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and India. Respondents included part-time and full-time workers across all company sizes and every major industry. Fieldwork was undertaken in September 2015 and the survey was carried out via online panel. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all aggregate adult (aged 18+) populations of the combined sample population.

About O.C. Tanner

O.C. Tanner, number 40 on the 2015 FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For® list, helps organizations create great work environments by inspiring and appreciating great work. Thousands of clients globally use the company’s cloud-based technology, tools, awards and education services to engage talent, increase performance, drive goals and create experiences that fuel the human spirit. For more information, visit octanner.com.


O.C. Tanner
Lindsey Sine, 801-493-3055

Release Summary

The O.C. Tanner Institute says leaders and their employees have different ideas about who should do—and who actually does—great work. Research shows a gap in expectations and a lack of support.


O.C. Tanner
Lindsey Sine, 801-493-3055