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Where HR and Innovation Meet

Originally posted: October 4, 2013 on TrishMcFarlane.com

I recently read Elements of Successful Organizations, a compilation of articles from many of today’s thought leaders in the human resources and leadership space.  The book, put together by Kronos, was one I offered to review because when I saw the list of authors I knew I would find some valuable ideas to put into play at work.  Authors like Sue Meisinger, SPHR, JD, and former President adn CEO of the Society of Human Resource Management; Ruth N. Bramson, CEO of Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts; and Karen Brennan-Holton, Senior Executive at Accenture HR Transformation and Talent Management.

The chapter that stood out to me the most was written by Sue Meisinger, SPHR, JD.  Her ideas about HR and innovation are worth sharing and I’m thrilled that Kronos is allowing me to share that chapter with you today.  Please enjoy the guest post below from Sue and be sure to click through the link at the end to download her chapter from the book.


With the economy beginning its rebound, more companies are refocusing their efforts.  For the first time in years, they’re able to shift their attention from doing whatever they could to just survive towards new growth opportunities.    And for many, growth will require innovation.
It’s a great opportunity for HR professionals to add value to the business.

But the results of a survey last year by HRExecutive Online suggest that HR professionals may not be ready.  More than two thirds didn’t use screening tools designed to bring in creative candidates, and half didn’t tie performance management systems to driving innovation.   Truly surprising was that more than a third said that HR leaders in their organization didn’t participate in brainstorming sessions related to business and product development.    It is probably no surprise, then, that a large majority also reported that the performance evaluation for HR leaders wasn’t based, in any way, on the ability to foster innovation.  In other words, HR doesn’t want to hold itself accountable for helping to drive innovation.

There’s a lot that HR can be doing.  There are the obvious human resource management tools of sourcing creative talent and using rewards and recognitions to reward and highlight innovation.  But in addition to these HR tools, HR should help to design an organization where information flows easily across the organization, allowing for a greater cross-pollination of ideas.
Lynda Gratton, of the London School of Economics, found in her research that three factors promote the creation of “hot spots,” or places where people came together and created new, innovative advances.  These factors were:

  1. A cooperative mindset –creating a culture where the emphasis is on “we” and not “I”;
  2. The ability for information to be shared across boundaries – outside of the typical silos that exist in all organizations; and
  3. A pressing business need or challenge, or “igniting purpose.”

Rather than wait for a “hot spot” to occur randomly, HR professionals should look for opportunities – through a focus on the culture, how work is designed, how work groups and teams are formed, and how the flow of information is designed, to create “hot spots.”   This will enable people with different ideas, backgrounds, and areas of expertise to interact with each other, increasing the likelihood of innovative advances.

This doesn’t necessarily mean coming up with a new org chart with more dotted lines.   It means paying attention to how information is shared – or not shared – across the organization, and looking for ways to encourage a culture of easy information sharing.  Look for information hoarders – each organization has at least one—where the individual believes hoarding information gives them greater power in the organization.  Undertake an intervention to focus their attention on the fact that hoarding actually reduces their power because it reduces employee engagement, thereby reducing productivity.

HR has much to offer to help drive innovation within organizations.  But it requires HR to focus on the end objective – a more innovative culture – while leveraging the tools of talent management and organizational design.

For more on HR’s role in driving innovation, see “Where HR and Innovation Meet; Embracing Invention, Continuous Improvement, and Business Objective” in Elements of Successful Organizations, published by Kronos Incorporated.

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