Can HR fuel innovation?

Last week the HR Transformation Forum gathered for a network meeting in Amsterdam. Kindly sponsored by Randstad, a group of  20 senior HR professionals from international companies focused on innovation and how HR can contribute to make organisations more innovative. Michael Wade, professor of Innovation and Strategy at IMD business school, gave some valuable input to stimulate the dialogue. On the second day of the forum a group of five young entre- and intrapreneurs joined the group to add a fresh perspective to the conversation.

The subject of innovation is near to the heart of HR. For most organisations innovation is an important strategic focus and HR is expected to play a central role in creating and sustaining an innovative culture.

Some snapshots out of this rich meeting.

1. Autonomy, Rewards and Psychological safety

Michael Wade presented three core elements of an innovative culture: Autonomy, Rewards and Psychological Safety. Easier said than done. How can you create a culture where all the three elements are present? A note on reward: this is probably more recognition than just monetary reward.

2. Innovation across the value chain

Innovation is often viewed too narrowly as just product/service innovation. Many successful innovative organisations are able to innovate in different parts of the value chain, overcoming the barriers of the different functional silo’s. In the picture below (source: Deloitte) a way to represent the different areas for innovation in the value chain.

Innovation in the value chain

3. Jumping the S-curve and the DNA of HR

Jumping the S-curve

The S-curve above outlines the life cycle of products, services and organisations. Key questions at the stabilising phase: are you able to jump on the next curve? Are you able to renew the organisations or are you too caught up in your success of the past? This question also relates to HR. Is HR able to renew? What are the elements in the DNA of HR that could hinder innovation?

4. Connecting and enhancing casual collisions

Can you plan for innovation? Can you create conditions that will increase the chance of innovations? Some organisations try to increase the chance of “casual collisions” (Zappos is an example). People who would normally not meet connect, and out of this connection new ideas originate. This is of course also one of the ideas behind the HR Transformation Forum.

Interesting input in this context is also the “Strength of weak ties”: it is the people with whom we are the least connected who offer us the most opportunities, probably also for interesting new ideas (this video explains it well).

5. Go off line

Although it seems that everybody is connected 24/7 through various channels (e-mail, WhatsApp, Yammer, Snapchat etc), there is a counter trend emerging: back to the high quality conversations around the campfire, disconnected, and ample time for new thoughts and ideas.

6. Gamification

Gamification is everywhere and it can certainly make life in organisations more fun. One of the participants presented a program where senior leaders had to ‘escape’ from several escape rooms, that were designed to illustrate certain aspects of the company strategy. The program was high rated, and it seemed the key messages were better digested than after listening to a keynote of the CEO or reading a newsletter.

7. Sharing Talent

With the increased attention to analytics, also HR/people analytics, there is a shortage of data analytics capabilities. Especially people who combine digital analytical capabilities with domain knowledge are in high demand. If the capability pool is enlarged, all organisations will benefit. At the HR Transformation Forum Marelle van Beerschoten of Applified talked about the idea for organisations to start training and sharing ambitious talent to increase the data analytics talent pool. The idea was well received and there will certainly be follow up.

8. Innovate, collaborate and accelerate

Oracle uses a nice slogan to capture the essence of innovation in Oracle: “Innovate, collaborate and accelerate”.

Overall a stimulating session of the HR Transformation Forum, with much food for thought. The future of HR seems bright, as HR can certainly contribute to many areas that are key for innovation.

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