October 9

The HR side of Innovation

What does your HR department do? If the first answers that spring to mind are managing holidays, staff contracts or appraisals then either you are missing out on a vast store of knowledge and experience or your HR department needs an overhaul. For whilst the popular perception of HR is that of a remote, rule bound, unapproachable entity, true HR professionals are extremely skilled at, and knowledgeable about, dealing with people. In fact, whilst speaking at a CIPD conference several years ago I coined the phrase, ‘Business experts with a specialism in people’ to describe how HR should view themselves and be viewed.

And it is those self-same people skills, which could make the difference between success and failure when a CEO and senior team look to transform an organisations culture; most particularly when looking towards a culture of innovation. Any move towards a change of culture can prove difficult for employees to assimilate. Man is by nature a lover of stability and whenever we ask people to adopt new values, new beliefs, new attitudes and new behaviours there will always be an element of resistance. Interestingly, even if we are asking employees to change from a toxic bullying culture towards one, which is more caring and open, there are still barriers to overcome as old habits prove hard to break and the professed new culture is initially viewed with suspicion.

So if even small cultural changes can be hard to instil, how much resistance and inertia will leaders have to overcome when they look to build a culture of innovation? When we look to sweep away job demarcation, silos, fixed processes and strict hierarchy and replace them with flatter structures, open collaboration and a fresh outlook on every process. It’s at times like this that the 10 key killers of innovation come up to bite us and the dreams of even the most enthusiastic leader can fall by the wayside.

As a strategic advisor on innovation I’ve seen all too many instances of leaders failing to instil the required culture change, either because they don’t plan their innovation adoption strategy in the right way or because they have failed to secure the support of others within the leadership team. In this latter instance, having an effective HR department, which brings their talents into play, can make all the difference. In fact, according to a crf research paper in 2013, ‘HR’s Contribution to Creativity and Innovation’, when instilling an innovation culture HR can take a leading role in:

  • Bringing a specific innovation focus to talent planning, selection, development and promotional activities
  • Helping leaders develop the skills to support creativity and innovation
  • Making certain pay is competitive for those involved in innovation efforts
  • Supporting the development of a culture to foster innovation and support risk taking
  • Helping people collaborate on innovation efforts across departments

The paper also lists a number of behind the scenes activities including sharing learning and feedback, linking goals to innovation and providing ongoing support. Summarising HR’s contribution the paper says that,

“To add value to discussions of innovation processes, HR professionals need to bring what they know about people and human systems to the conversation, a perspective which those in charge of research or innovation may be lacking.”

I’ll be examining the way in which HR support is vital for successfully instilling an innovation culture in a forthcoming white paper. In the meantime you may wish to have a look at a recent article which I wrote for HR Zone ‘The HR side of innovation’ or if you want to find out more about how HR can help drive the transformation innovation often requires, perhaps it’s time you got in touch. Feel free to email Cris at cris@thefutureshapers.com for more information on how Cris and his team help some of the world’s smartest companies succeed through innovation.


Change, Culture, Culture Change, Employee Engagement, Engagement, HR, Innovation, Innovation Culture

You may also like