As famous sports coach Lou Holtz once said: “Nothing on earth is standing still – it’s either growing or dying”.
This is entirely true in a business context too, where the rapid rate of change means your organisation is either moving forward with the times or falling behind with inevitable consequences. We live in the age of disruption, with countless examples of companies such as Netflix, Airbnb and Uber that have turned established industries on their heads.
It’s why, in 2019, a culture of continuous innovation is just about the most important thing an organisation can create.
Of course, every business wants its people to think creatively, but few go the extra mile in actively building a workforce of ‘difference-makers’. Specific programmes that create cultures of creativity remain few and far between, with many organisations relying solely on technology to drive the business in new directions.
While embracing technology is undeniably critical for innovation – original, ground-breaking ideas can only come from your people.
And, as the conductor of the human workforce, it’s therefore up to HR to foster a culture where these thoughts can be heard, shaped and developed. After all, the future of your organisation may depend on it…
How HR can help develop a culture of innovation
In order for innovation to take hold across your business, your first challenge is to create a working environment that allows your workforce to collaborate and communicate as freely as possible.
This doesn’t just mean moving a few chairs around in the office – it means flattening organisational structures to help ‘de-shackle’ your employees from restrictive roles, and eliminating the silo mentality that often exists within businesses.
By adopting a less hierarchical structure, you not only encourage a greater mix of ideas across your project teams but also empower more junior members of the team to contribute on topics they may previously have considered ‘above their station’.
Developing an innovation programme
Empowering and encouraging employees to express their views is fundamental for a business focused on innovation. Whenever new ideas are floated, they should, therefore, be received with thanks – regardless of how workable the concept might turn out to be.
HR and senior teams should respond promptly and positively to any new ideas, and where there’s potential to take things further, help set in motion the steps required to follow the idea through.
To this end, HR teams may wish to develop a dedicated innovation programme, outlining a set process for managing new ideas, testing them (while managing any associated risks) and ultimately bringing them to fruition.
Central to this innovation programme should be the concept that no idea is a bad idea, and, should a new project fail once implemented, the failure must be viewed only as an opportunity to learn.
Recruiting the right minds
Of course, recruitment also has a huge role to play in building an innovative workforce.
Bringing naturally inquisitive, creative minds on board goes hand-in-hand with the development of an open and collaborative working environment. So, revisit your recruitment methods to ensure these traits are being recognised.
It’s also vital to work towards removing any remaining barriers to equality in your organisation.
An increasingly diverse workforce is just one of the ways the working world is changing – and embracing different views, cultures and ways of working could be the true catalyst for innovation in your business.
Why HR itself must up the ante on innovation
For HR to create a business-wide environment of innovation, the department should be prepared to lead by example – providing an HR service, which in itself could be described as ‘creative’ at the very least.
Leveraging today’s HR technology to automate processes and deliver self-service will prove a smart step in this regard, showcasing HR’s own commitment to improvement while also helping employees find more time to dedicate to innovation.
Likewise, by harnessing advanced analytical tools to increase HR’s strategic input at boardroom level, you can champion the concept of adding value beyond your own department.
Engaging in new ways
Alongside your new technology, you’ll also want to find other creative and interesting ways to engage and motivate the workforce.
The development of innovative wellbeing and reward programmes can be important in this pursuit, again encouraging invention in the workplace at the same time as displaying it from within.
Design an incentive scheme that specifically recognises and rewards new ideas, and staff will naturally be more inclined to share their initiatives.
It’s worth revisiting your general benefits packages too. Are you being innovative enough in the perks you provide for staff? Or still relying on the promise of a ‘competitive salary’?
Bear in mind that according to a recent Glassdoor survey, over “80% of employees would choose engaging benefits (including flexible working, benefits schemes and access to discounts) over a pay rise”.
In today’s rapidly evolving business environment, innovation has become a core capability for any successful organisation. The good news is, there’s every chance that innovators already exist within your business.
It’s therefore up to HR to encourage and empower these creative thinkers to be heard, creating a work environment that acts as a breeding ground for ideas.
And HR can lead by example, through pioneering HR services.