Feedback you receive for new ideas at work has a hierarchy

Seniority enhances the effectiveness of constructive feedback in improving idea generation quality, finds new research from Vlerick Business School.

Constructive feedback can help improve idea generation quality, whether by refining initial concepts, validating their potential, or inspiring creative improvements. But new research confirms that the effectiveness of constructive feedback increases the more senior the person giving it is in the organisation.

This research was conducted by Mathias Boënne, a PhD participant at Vlerick Business School and now Professor at Utrecht University, alongside Walter Van Dyck, Professor at Vlerick Business School, and Bart Leten, Professor at KU Leuven.

The researchers aimed to investigate how the hierarchical rank of a feedback giver influenced the quality of idea innovation in internal idea generation projects. They hypothesised that the higher the evaluator’s role in the company, the more likely their constructive feedback would be taken on board, therefore improving the quality of idea generation.

To do so, the researchers studied an internal firm idea contest, where employees were able to submit new, innovative ideas to a digital platform – in all, there were 395 ideas submitted to the contest. Then, all employees, no matter what hierarchal rank they were, were able to provide constructive feedback on each specific idea to the idea generator.

The researchers found that, not only does constructive feedback have a positive impact on idea quality, but also the quality of an idea improves depending on who is giving the feedback. When the constructive feedback is given by a senior member of staff, it is more likely to be taken on board, and also more likely to help improve the quality of the idea. The researchers also found that feedback was more likely to be used if a number of people stated it, as opposed to varied or diverse feedback points.

“To stay ahead in today’s competitive business environment, firms seek to create a constant in-flow of high-quality ideas to fuel their innovation process, and more and more they are seeking intrapreneurship as the approach to do so”, says Professor Walter Van Dyck.

“But of course, this is not an instant task and at an internal level, employees are able to bounce ideas of others in order to develop higher quality ideas. Our research shows however, that idea generators may be more likely to listen to the feedback of those are more senior than them, as opposed to their peers, when it comes to taking innovation advice”.

The researchers say that these findings clearly show that constructive feedback on idea generation internally has a positive effect on the quality of the idea, therefore when organisations are conducting intrapreneurship projects, they should place a heavy importance on ensuring that a large amount of feedback is given at all stages of idea generation.

However, the researchers do have a word of warning for intrapreneurship projects. Though listening to senior staff’s feedback does have a positive effect on the idea quality, it is important to not discount people’s feedback purely based on their rank in the company, as good advice could easily be dismissed at a detriment to the company.

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash.

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