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Workers struggling to be creative and 'think on their feet'

Many feel the ability to improvise would improve their performance at work but don't think their employer's culture supports creativity

A lack of opportunities to be creative and improvise could be harming staff performance, according to research from RADA Business.

Most employees (91%) said they regularly experience situations where colleagues have failed to apply a flexible way of communicating and common sense as a result of not being able to think ‘in the moment’, its Thinking on your feet report found.

The research surveyed 1,000 UK employees of all ages, levels and experiences to identify the effects of not being able to think creatively. It noted that the vast majority (93%) of employees also felt that being able to improvise would significantly improve their performance at work.

The most common area people believe improvisation improves their performance at work is decision-making, the report found. Many mentioned that it would help them to think more quickly (42%), adapt better (31%), be more creative (19%) or be more flexible (16%).

Respondents said that it would improve how they felt, by giving them greater confidence (41%), making them happier (31%), or helping them to avoid losing their temper (20%).

Those working as professionals in the healthcare sector were revealed to have the strongest ability to improvise and work well under pressure (40%), followed by counter staff in banks (23%) and admin staff in the NHS (23%). At the other end of the spectrum, the research found that those working as estate agents (9%), at utility companies (10%), or on public transport (15%) struggled to think quickly and improvise effectively.

The vast majority of employees said that the actions of their managers and leaders don’t support a culture of improvisation and creative thinking. More than a third (36%) said they actually make it harder, while 37% said they have no impact. Just 27% said they have leaders and managers who successfully foster people’s ability to improvise.

The biggest barrier cited was leadership behaviour – specifically leaders who put workers on the spot in meetings (53%), and ask them to give presentations to a group (48%) and during performance reviews when staff are insufficiently prepared (44%).

The biggest contribution leaders and managers can make to promote effective improvisation was found to be trusting their teams. Workers said that they were more likely to relax and think creatively when they were empowered to make decisions (38%), or when trusted to manage in their leader’s absence (34%).

Kate Walker Miles, tutor and client manager at RADA Business, said that employers should provide training for workers to help with communication: “There are simple training techniques available to support workers who struggle to think quickly and react to situations in a flexible way, tapping into the power of improvisation, which can empower everyone in your workforce to make imaginative yet informed decisions.”

She added that businesses must consider how poor communication can damage their business prospects. “Customers appreciate being heard and react positively towards workers who go the extra mile, but robotic service and a diminishing ability to improvise can leave customers feeling frustrated,” she said.

“By viewing the organisation from the perspective of your customer you can understand clearly how the business is being perceived and encourage a positive culture of improvisation."