Does your HR department stifle Innovation?

This is not directed at anyone in particular so there will be some readers within HR who take exception. I hope that these people realise that I am not suggesting that everyone who works in an HR department is a problem, just that the HR function more often than not can be a hindrance.

So what does your HR department do? I mean what does it REALLY do as opposed to the wise words on the intranet or in the employee handbook? Many HR departments have become less interested in people and more interested in compliance with employment law. This is not their fault but it still makes them part of the problem. So if I am a senior manager I know that my back is covered regarding the law, but what help will I get with changing culture, recruiting the right people, creating time and space for creative activities, and more importantly demonstrating how they affect the profitability of the business?

If you are really unlucky your HR department will be one step ahead of you and will have been renamed something like People and Organisational Development (or POD for short). POD are even worse as there is very little emphasis on people, the organisation or development. Still just payroll, employment law and Investors In People tick boxes. It is easy to kick these people when they are down but how can they really help, or if they cannot help, what help do you need to look out for? Here is a short list that might help:

Team Work – are people working as individuals or in teams, how effective are they, and are they multi/single function. Another important factor is the degree of autonomy and whether bottom up communication is effective.

Hands-on Management – how much interference is there by managers in every-day working and how prescriptive are managers?  What  actions are taken when problems occur. Do managers take immediate control or do they trust the people working for them to resolve problems?

Desire To Succeed – does everyone have a desire to succeed? Even though there may be insufficient resources to carry out a project or implement a plan there should be a ‘yes and ..’ culture rather than ‘yes but…’. Good ideas can be kept for future use, not dismissed out of hand for lack of finances, time etc. There should also be evidence of doing everything that can be done to secure even the smallest advantage such as protecting Intellectual Property and seeking external help. Ideas should be welcomed from all sources and winning organisations are likely to be less risk averse.

Knowing How To Succeed – Organisations that know how to win will have a thorough understanding of their marketplace and all of the factors that affect it such as the economy and relevant legislation. They are willing to exploit these factors and be first movers or early adopters.

Environmental Scanning – To be successful, organisations must be able to scan their environments and be aware of new competition, changes and spot rends and patterns. This information will then be used to determine key success factors within the marketplace and drive the building of strategic capabilities.

External Relationships – In order to maximise potential, it is necessary to nurture external relationships with both customers and suppliers. Is this being carried out regularly and effectively? Do organisations rely on single points of contact or do they interact at multiple levels, cementing ties? How well is information disseminated and vision, branding etc communicated to stakeholders?

Growing The Right Culture – A truly innovative culture relies heavily on intrinsic motivation. Employees must have a clear idea of what they are expected to achieve and of the amount of support that they have. Transparency on the part of senior management and ‘leading by example’ will build trust and encourage buy-in to strategic objectives. Motivation and morale should generally be high with little or no evidence of stress present.

Stretching To Achieve – When stretching individuals we must ensure that the right culture exists. Such a culture includes, but is not necessarily restricted to such things as opportunities to develop skills, freedom to act on own initiative, work environment, acknowledgement of input, learning environment. This component is more concerned with the right environment for growth rather than what is actually done to/for employees.

Getting The Best From People – When maximising potential it is often necessary to take employees out of their ‘comfort zone’. To do this successfully there must be an effective framework for delivering the necessary training and development. Individuals should be encouraged to use their own initiative (subject to any safety or legal constraints), be responsible for their actions and learn from their mistakes. There also needs to be appropriate reward systems.

By the time you get to this point you might be thinking ‘what has this got to do with me?’ The thing is, if you are a professional who works with, and wants to get the best out of people then it is your problem. If the big cheese and the rest of the board are taking strategic decisions and middle managers are busy managing, then as an HR professional you are in exactly the right place to create a blueprint for an innovative organisation. The question is, are you the right person, or have you got the right people?

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Avoid These Innovation Pitfalls To Ensure Success

In many organisations there can be tension between those promoting creativity, design and user centred approaches to Innovation and those who are bound entirely by procedures, plans and spreadsheets. I have often remarked that many people think of Innovation as a machine where you turn a handle after feeding in your ingredients, and a nice new Innovation will pop out. This is not the case! We should be focusing on the process of innovating (the people) rather than the end product. But what could be going wrong? Well here is a short list of things to beware of:

  1. Being unrealistic Innovation takes time, often more than we allocate for it. The results can also not be what we are expecting. Unrealistic (or irrelevant) objectives and timescales will kill . Try to think of the impact of your Innovation project rather than listing the results in a table. You should be explicit though!
  2. Protecting ego If you’re scared to be wrong, you won’t be able to lead innovation or lead the innovation process. Since Innovation is all about discussing new ideas you have to be prepared to be wrong or immerse yourself in completely alien concepts. If you are not doing this you are just reworking old stuff, not innovating.
  3. Believing process will save you Innovation processes are not what Innovation is about. They provide a framework within which leaders and facilitators work their magic. They also provide a sort of ‘incubator’ within which anything can happen and which is allowed to flourish when it does. Beware of allowing everything to happen though! You are in business to make money.
  4. Varied backgrounds and experience are not the same as cross functional teams In a bid to be innovative, many companies have put together cross functional teams. Such teams are a good idea since your project teams are liberated from the silos (departments) that may make up your business. However, what you are really looking for are different perspectives and experiences. It’s the people you must mix, not the functions.
  5. Believing that we know everything We often do know most things about our markets and customers BUT what we do not seem to be able to do is get started. We believe that we have all of the motivation and inspiration that we need. We sit at our desks and pore over emails but very few answers arrive that way. Go outside for inspiration, take your camera (or mobile phone) and see what is going on in the world. Drop in on an old lady for a cup of tea and ask her opinion. Do anything but sit on your chair all day!
  6. Talking rather than doing We often like to rubbish the ideas of others and try to make sure we have a complete solution before trying anything. Get prototyping (or playing) early on and get feedback and gather more ideas. We cannot learn by doing nothing, and hence we cannot innovate either.
  7. Converging (executing) rather than diverging (exploring) ‘Cycle often and close late’ is one of the main precepts of creativity in business. Too often we wish to nail everything down. The CEO wishes to know who is doing what and what the timescales are before we have finished exploring all of the possibilities. Senior managers must learn to live with a little ambiguity.
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