Most will agree that the people in the organization are the most important component to sustained business results. Weighing the accuracy of this statement, it follows that HR is your organizations most critical sector, affecting the people in, and thus the success of, your organization at all points from hiring to policies and programs, performance management, and succession planning. I realized that HR can also form the basis for innovation. It is well recognized that business value is generated and regenerated through innovation and your people strategy department (HR) can be the key channel to increasing innovation through people in the workplace.
But to be a key driver of innovation, HR must be innovative!
Imagine an organization with a head of HR that focuses on measuring their department against best practices, plays it safe, and ensures every initiative has a quantifiable ROI. Sound familiar? HR is supposed to drive and support an innovative workforce but all too frequently caution and risk aversion is their main priority. These organizations that hold fast to traditional approaches to HR and discourage experimentation, risk operating machine-like enterprises, following, but incapable of rising above, industry norms.
The mindset and culture of your HR team has an exponential impact on the entire organization: everyone is influenced by HR. Therefore, changing your organization and becoming more successful and innovative begins by teasing apart your beliefs on this role.
Who is in a better position to campaign for and express the culture and needs of your organization at all touch points (hiring, policies and programs, new employee on-boarding, succession planning, performance management, etc.) than HR? Who promotes and embodies everything your organization stands for?
HR leaders translate your organization’s business strategies into cohesive and efficient people strategies. They are the link between the leaders and the business enablers – your people. Strategic HR management plays a critical role in the organization but if your organization’s prevailing mindset is conservative, your HR will fall prey to this strategy.
So, how do you push your HR team into a more innovative mindset?
It starts when you stop following herd. Innovation at Google does not come from their HR team and employees measuring themselves against best practices. Similarly, Zappos did not become a billion dollar industry in less than 10 years selling shoes online by following industry norms in HR – they innovated. Imagine an HR policy that offers all new employees a $2,000 incentive to quit. This is what Zappos does, and though it goes against the grain, it is perhaps one of the most cost effective means of ensuring everyone in the organization is happy and satisfied with their jobs.
Ask yourself this question: How many experiments in HR policies have you allowed in the past twelve months? How about making everyone’s salary public knowledge. That’s what Ricardo Semler did as part of the radical changes at his company, SEMCO in Brazil. Companies, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple, offer many examples of innovations in HR policies leading to large success.
Innovation is never a sure thing. In fact, it is almost always a gamble. Any venture capitalist will tell you that while they are always looking for greater than 10 times return on their investments, they also expect a pile of failures along the way. This contradicts an HR mainstay: ROI. Organizations with HR departments that avoid risk-taking for fear of not justifying every new policy through a black and white ROI stifle business growth and potential.
Perhaps it all starts in the beginning: do you even expect HR to be innovative? If not, ask yourself who cares about the bottom line. To increase innovation in the organization, leaders must work together with HR towards the edification of innovative business and people strategies.
This article was co-authored with my friend Diane Boulet, Former Senior Director of Corporate Development, Brother Canada.