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Innovation is HR’s responsibility too

27 Jun 2019 By Mok O'Keeffe

Even everyday people processes can help unlock new ideas if leaders think laterally, says Mok O’Keeffe

We are living through uncertain times. The challenge for HR leaders is to deliver business growth, employee engagement and customer satisfaction with so much volatility in the country, a fairly flat economy, challenging levels of consumer confidence and increasing debt. 

To remain successful, stable, and drive growth in these uncertain times, the businesses that will win are those who continue to offer relevant and differentiated products, services and experiences to their employees and customers. 

Sounds easy? It’s not – but there is a clear path for the HR leader to follow.

The key to continued success is to build an innovation ecosystem which aligns strategy, leadership behaviours, HR processes and employee engagement. This will create a culture of continuous innovation, one where the voice of the customer resonates through every decision and employees are encouraged and enabled to generate new and differentiated solutions.

HR interacts with every level and every function in the organisation. The HR leader is uniquely positioned to drive and influence the creation of an innovation ecosystem in four key ways.

Shaping the business direction

The most impactful way to impact the business direction is for the HR leader to be a member of the executive team. If this is not possible, they must build alliances with an exec member who can represent the voice of the people in strategic decision making.

Ultimately, the purpose and direction of an organisation are delivered by the people who work within it. When the senior team is deciding the strategic direction, HR must ensure the employee’s point of view, capability and ideas are heard. If employees are able to see they are represented during decision making, it will lead to faster adoption of the strategic direction and better execution of the business plan.

Additionally, by being at the heart of strategic decision making, the HR leader can ensure the right capability and talent is put in place to deliver upon it.

Creating a leadership environment for innovation

HR leaders who successfully build an innovation ecosystem use their position on the executive team to coach their peers on innovation leadership behaviours. Behaviour change can be difficult for senior leaders and they can often feel exposed and vulnerable. Empowering employees to generate solutions can be a challenge, particularly as many senior leaders have traditionally created cultures where they are expected to supply all the answers themselves. Innovation requires organisations to challenge everyone to create the best solutions – and this ultimately requires a degree of letting go of control.

If the HR leader is a peer to other execs, they will be trusted and have permission to challenge and encourage leaders to role model experimentation, be comfortable with not having all the answers, reward a fail-and-learn mindset and show an obsession with the needs and pain points of the end user.

Building processes into a cultural innovation engine

Business-as-usual HR processes such as recruitment, reward and talent management will always be part of the HR toolkit. HR leaders who want to drive innovation can use these tools to encourage this culture of experimentation, customer closeness and a growth mindset. Alongside this, rethinking organisational structures to encourage cross-functional collaboration and the establishment of an innovation incubator can assist with future talent management and improved internal communication.

Enabling your people to innovate

A learning strategy that futureproofs business growth must give teams the skill to gather insight into customer needs, the tools to generate ideas to meet these needs and the ability to rapidly prototype and learn from failure. Innovation can be taught and it should be a core part of any learning strategy.

With these four elements as guiding principles, HR leaders can support the creation of an organisation with a culture of innovation to deliver business growth and ensure it thrives in uncertain times.

Mok O’Keeffe is founder of The Innovation Beehive and author of The Innovation Ecosystem

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