Everyone wants to be “innovative,” but most organizations don’t know how to make that goal a reality. In fact, a survey by the Center for Creative Leadership found that while 94% of respondents cited innovation as critical to a company’s success, only 14% believed their organizations were truly innovative. So how can your organization pin down that elusive innovation? And how can HR help?
“In the business world we often focus on best practices,” says Greg Githens, a leadership coach who is the author of “How to Think Strategically.” “But when it comes to innovation, you can’t just focus on the old ways. You have to look ahead to emergent practices.”
Here are some ways HR can facilitate innovation and emergent practices at your organization.
Innovation doesn’t always come from the top. In fact, it often comes from employees on the ground. Your employees are a huge source of innovative potential. “Encourage leaders and employees to step outside of the box,” says Carolyn Naseer, Co-Founder of My Change Agent. “Creating a culture of innovation requires change, and change is best accepted within cultures that are continually adapting to new ideas.”
If you put the right people and processes in, you’ll get the best new ideas out. “We have to find ways in our organization to let the people that are a little bit different stand out,” Githens says.
How can HR facilitate that? Naseer has an answer: “Allocate a certain amount of time for each employee to spend on side projects that encourage innovation. Many companies use this model, and it can be incorporated into the employee’s job description.”
With the emergence of HR technology, HR’s time is freed up to take on a more strategic role. HR is positioned comfortably to see which strategic moves support company goals — and which don’t. “We’re seeing more and more instances of individual leadership by people in HR interacting with people at a more senior level and leading by asking better questions,” Githens says.
HR can spearhead innovative leadership practices across departments. Innovation often comes from employees stepping into leadership roles and facilitating the exchange of ideas between organizational levels. “HR can step up and say, ‘Let’s demonstrate leadership by asking better questions and by bringing the focus of the organization to some blind spots that it may have,’ ” Githens says.
Sometimes instead of merely tweaking a process it needs to be changed altogether. Don’t let “routine” prevent you from getting creative — and courageous. “Courage is more than simply bravery. If the opposite of bravery is cowardice, the opposite of courage is conformity,” Githens says. “Let’s look outside of the bounds of our own processes. Let’s make sure that we are giving people more of an opportunity to see what’s happening in our larger ecosystem of suppliers and customers.”
Design thinking is an ideal starting point. It prompts that total overhaul mindset that is necessary to innovation. “Design thinking is a creative, iterative process that identifies solutions that focus on people and find solutions that aren’t necessarily apparent at first glance,” Naseer says. “Because HR leaders are the voice of their employees, it provides a leading-edge method to cultivate a culture of empathy and efficiency.”
Supporting innovation begins with supporting your employees and letting them experiment and grow. Give them a voice, and you may notice strategic blindspots you didn’t know were there. Encouraging employees and leaders to speak up and supporting innovative thought processes will help you create a culture where innovation thrives.
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