Human Resources, Creativity and Innovation.

About a month ago I attended the un-conference of HRevolution, which is a gathering of some of the most creative people in human resources. I am not quite sure why they let me attend, but I was happy I did. This group of people is trying to work on ways of “re-inventing” the field of human resources an exercise that certainly requires innovation and creative thinking. As I was thumbing through some articles (as much as onc can “thumb through” on your computer) I came across an article entitled 4 Steps To Spark Innovation written by Andrew Horne of InformationWeek. Mr. Horne was directing his tips to IT departments and CIOs but I thought they would apply quite well to Human Resources departments and CHROs.
The first thing that caught my attention was his statement “In many organizations, years of cost cutting, standardization, and simplification came at the expense of innovation.” HR departments have had many of the same issues over the past decade as we have reduced staff sizes, expanded job responsibilities and tried to take advantage of technology to standardize delivery of services. When you are overworked, understaffed and dealing with implementing systems there is just not a lot of time or drive to be creative or innovative.
Mr. Horne, in addressing these issues with IT departments suggests four steps to foster creativity and innovation that I shall apply to the field of HR. These include:

  1. Foster an openess to innovation. “Innovation entails creative tension and a willingness to take risks” says Mr. Horne, a statement repeated often in the HR literature and advice we often try to give our managers. But how often do we follow it ourselves? We know that innovation must be encouraged not punished. Do you have reward mechanisms in place to do so?
  2. Expand the pipeline of new ideas. Exposure to information outside the organization. This means you need to be exposed to ideas beyond the company walls. READ.. blogs, newsletters, periodicals and books. And don’t just read HR stuff. I got this information from InformationWeek.
  3. Triage the Most Promising Ideas. This was a very interesting point. Mr. Horne says that often the problem is not the number of ideas but deciding which among them is the best. He makes the point “A traditional project proposal without measurable ROI may just be a bad proposal, but an innovative idea may have no measurable ROI because it hasn’t been tested…..The idea is to determine whether an innovation warrants further exploration, not to generate a business case or estimate ROI, as too little is known about the innovation to assess the business case effectively.”
  4. Adopt a “Test and Learn” Approach. No one likes to have an idea fail. But it happens. If the person failing is then punished for that failure what are the chances you will have them stick their neck out again? So you need to test. Do some scenario planning. If you have a large enough group you can do a pilot project. If it falls flat then learn from the missteps and revise.

One of the keys that Mr. Horne mentioned for IT departments works well for HR deparments too. He said “…business-facing …staff must be able to “challenge” their business partners, not just build relationships and seek consensus.” Additionally, “To be truly effective at innovation, (leaders)  must rethink the way IT works with the rest of the business, incentivizes staff, and evaluates investments.” I think this is advice that HR leaders should heed as well.

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