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Do HR Best Practices Stifle Innovation?

Posted By Sharon Lewis, Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Updated: Thursday, July 20, 2017

Comments following the NYHRPS Forum, July 26, 2016

NYHR|People & Strategy was thrilled to welcome back Eric Hieger, Psy.D, Senior Director, Change Leadership and Global Business Transformation at ADP, to facilitate an Executive Forum for our members on the subject of Innovation.

Why is innovation important in today’s corporate agenda?

Today’s business leaders cite innovation as one of their top three global challenges and link it to the probability for future growth[1]. Not surprisingly, the ability to create the transformational innovations desired by today’s investors is not just a function of the R &D budget or the technological capabilities. Transformational innovation is taking place in those work cultures where the expression of curiosity and the acceptance of honest, smart, fast failures are encouraged; where innovation is the responsibility of every single person on the payroll.

Where does HR fit into the goal of innovation?

If the role of HR is to ensure consistent policies and practices, recruit people with similar backgrounds, align the culture to the business model, and ensure consistent treatment, where does HR fit into the goal of innovation?

  • Can HR drive innovation for business results and leadership?
  • Can HR be innovative in delivering on its’ acknowledged mandates

stifle innovation

Transformational innovation is a game-changer and it starts with cultural changes

Referencing the Forum pre-reads, Eric acknowledged that the word innovation is somewhat overused today, coming to represent activities far different than those originally intended by the creators of Disruption Theory. While innovation may be true genesis by which a product or service is delivered, it is important to evaluate change and transformation in the context of the business environment.

  • For example, waves of change, which eventually prove to fundamentally alter the business processes, might not meet the strict traditional criteria of an innovation or a significant business disruption. Despite this, they are indeed worthy of praise nonetheless. Care should be given in how we define expectations and success within the context of the applicable environment.

Does size inhibit risk tolerance? Should company size even matter?

More than once during the session, the group queried whether the size of the company impacted the tolerance for change and innovation – specifically how organizational size might impact the delivery of pilots, first stage launches, or other smaller scale models. Two notable, summarized comments from our dialogue:

  • Many established companies are creating Innovation Labs within which to identify new approaches to the business, existing processes, and organizational design. These Labs often work in parallel or independently of many business-as-usual initiatives.
  • Reality Check: with the mindset of the people in the room, regardless of company size or cultural style: “If you want to change the culture of a company, start with the very people that are in the room with you now.” Change always begins with one small step, one person at a time, before the one becomes many. A few people around a table can begin to clear the path to change.

Culture is King

This last reflection – the reality check – in particular, brought us all back to the definition and expectations that we put around the word: innovation. An ‘a-ha’ moment for the group appeared when the following sports analogy was made: instead of asking your team to make home runs, focus on strengthening and improving the fundamentals of running, hitting, and catching. The better these skills, the better your chances of scoring multiple base hits and scoring runs the metric that matters. This is step one.

Do this in a culture that sees (1) innovation as everyone’s responsibility and (2) which both encourages and rewards honest failures as positive learning……and you create an environment where transformational innovation can take place.

With this in mind,

YES. HR can drive the culture to support innovation for business results and leadership.

YES. HR can be innovative in delivering on its acknowledged mandates.

[1]HR as a Driver for Organizational Innovation” KPMG HR Transformation (2013)

NYHRPS Break-Through Innovation Series of Forums provides a platform to discuss emerging issues among thought leaders, peers and HR decision makers in intimate settings limited to 15 participants and 2-3 experts.

Sharon Lewis is an independent consultant specializing in branding and communications strategies. Sharon sits on the Marketing Committee of NYHRPS and has an appointment on the Executive Council of AARPNY. Follow her @sharonlewisnyc.

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