The latest economic report card from the OECD marked Australia’s performance on innovation as ‘could do better’. We punch above our weight in some areas of research, but we fall behind on getting a decent commercial return for our investment in innovation.
To bridge that gap Australia needs less government-led initiatives and more organisational commitment to a culture of innovation. Human resources teams are the cultural gatekeepers, and they’re in a unique position to partner with leadership and drive culture change.
Culture change takes time, and the trick is not to do everything at once. Even small changes can have a lasting effect. Ask yourself, what’s the number one thing we need to do differently as an organisation to identify as innovative? Chances are it will fall into one of the following areas.
Encourage entrepreneurs and risk taking
If you want employees to innovate, you need to be prepared for them to fail, and how you treat failure is crucial for creating a culture of innovation.
- Create discretionary spaces where employees can push the boundaries without consequences. A direct response to the innovative challenge of Fintech disruption has been the explosion of ideas labs in financial institutions
- Build a tolerance for risk taking into performance management and rewards
- But be clear on the difference between good failure - the kind that comes from logical thinking and processing - and stupid mistake.
- Identify or create roles within the organisation that are crucial to innovation, and recruit or train up those roles to champion innovation
Learn to recognise and promote the entrepreneurs in your team. These potential innovators tend to be self-starting problems solvers who are motivated by more than just money. They like to work autonomously, treat failure as part of the process, and are willing to invest personally to reach a solution.
Diversity is about more than just employing a cultural cross-section of society; diverse businesses embrace different mindsets and are flexible enough to accommodate different work patterns.
Diversity creates a friction that fosters innovation. Building diversity starts with the right kind of recruitment practices. That means, among other things, spreading the net wider for potential candidates and eliminating bias in the selection process. It’s also about making your organisation attractive to a more diverse workforce.
Support these practices with training and development for staff directly involved in the interview and selection process. Think about the reputation your business or industry has with potential candidates; how does the imagery you use to promote the values of your business reinforce that, and does it need to change?
Innovation relies on collaboration; sharing knowledge and expertise leads to more efficient solutions, the optimum use of available skills, and an environment of learning and growth.
Collaboration doesn't happen in a vacuum, and business needs to create formal and informal forums for cross-functional teams to collaborate internally and encourage them to build external networks that bridge the gap between the academic and the commercial.
Case Study: Siemens designed a culture change program called Open Circuit that included a platform for leaders to get together and collaborate more efficiently. This increased knowledge sharing and collaboration among leaders and had a trickle-down effect on employees. Three-quarters of employees now consider including people from other divisions on their projects, and there was an almost 100 percent increase in the reported strength of connections among leaders.
Invest in potential
Talent management is not just putting the right people in the right roles. It's recognising the potential for growth in existing and future employees.
If you want your team to think outside the box, you need to hire outside the box. Don’t always look for an exact fit into an existing role, learn to identify potential from skills and experience that might look unorthodox at first glance. And make sure selection tools, such as psychometric testing, don’t inhibit this.
Case Study: The Accenture HR team changed from a traditional, company needs-oriented approach to one that focuses on the candidate experience. Inspired by Accenture’s own Fjord business they tapped into service design and human-led experience to guide the redesign. By putting themselves in the position of the individual, the HR team came up with new and innovative ways to engage with candidates to improve attraction, selection and offer conversion.
Lead by example
Very few business practices get traction without a champion at the top. Senior management needs to embody the principles behind a culture of innovation and communicate their organisational commitment formally and informally. Successful culture change can take years, but failure to innovate could be terminal.
Case studies are drawn from Human Capital Magazine Innovative HR Teams 2017. Find the full list here.
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