Are Your Big New Ideas Killing Productivity?

BY Kathy Crosett
Featured image for “Are Your Big New Ideas Killing Productivity?”

Are you suffering from shiny new object syndrome? Are you certain that the latest management trend is just what your company needs to help you leap ahead of the competition? If this sounds familiar, you could be at risk of burning out your staff members.


Dr. Robin Sutton, Stanford University management science and engineering professor, coined the phrase “fad surfing” in his recent Wall Street Journal article. He was referring to the way employees react when company leaders keep introducing new business practices. Like many managers, your idea introductions fall short. That's because you didn’t address what your team members should do about the old initiative.

That’s also where “fad surfing” comes in. To survive, employees are “complying with the changing directives as little as possible and focusing on their core work.” Why is this happening? Your employees want you to be happy with them. They think they have to say yes.

Don't keep adding to people’s workloads without acknowledging how the latest changes connect to what you’ve announced before. Doing so hurts work effectiveness. You’re also impacting morale. The tight labor market means that your employees might leave for a better opportunity if they don’t like how they’re being managed.

Encourage Alternative Thinking

Dr. Sutton and his colleagues point out that managers should take steps to fix the situation before it gets out of hand. There’s nothing wrong with getting excited about a new initiative. But, you should make sure that a few other key individuals in your organization see the opportunity the way you do. That doesn’t mean going to the people who always support your ideas.

Instead, Sutton writes, managers should check in with the people who are brave enough to share alternative thoughts. In too many companies, managers are quick to praise the people with big ideas and enough political currency to develop bloated organizations to support them. Managers also don’t recognize the contributions of employees who call attention to wasteful and unprofitable practices.

To run a truly productive organization, engage in sanity-​checking your new ideas with employees who you know will be honest. And, to encourage more people to say what they're really thinking, start publicly acknowledging the value of ideas that reduce inefficiency and expense.