Friday, October 3, 2014

How Can Innovation Program Leadership Benefit From Partnering with HR?

I am very much looking forward to the upcoming Back End of Innovation conference in Las Vegas (October 6-8). I have been attending a lot of these events in the past (check out a recent article that I prepared around this) and I have noted an increasing number of HR professionals participating in these sessions. About bloody time I say.

In my experience, every company that I work with ranks their HR group as performing poorly (sorry guys, but it’s true). Unfortunately, they are the insurance salesmen of the corporate world. Perceived as being unloved, inflexible, inefficient but undeniably necessary. So when I talk with innovation program leadership about looking for opportunities to partner with HR groups, I often don’t get a very unfavorable response, but I have to explain to them that there is a whole bunch of reasons to pursue this.

As organizations build ever more sophisticated innovation-based ecosystems of activity, their influence and impact is spreading across the organization. Business leaders are making investments in innovation in order to respond not only to shorter-term marketplace trends, but more broadly to secure the long-term prosperity of the organization.

The reality is that HR leaders have traditionally had a lot of influence within an organization, especially in service businesses. As a result, they can be valued allies to newer innovation leads, who may be looking to secure their position in the corporate hierarchy. In addition, there are many parallels between Innovation and HR groups, such as:

·         Both groups generally seek to provide influence across an organization, without directly having direct resource control
·         They are both seeking alignment with value creation within an organization
·         They are both viewed as “softer” areas within a business
·         More and more, they share goals and aspirations for the organization

At the least, HR and Innovation leaders should be partnering to support existing innovation programs within their organization. At best, they should be jointly creating and owning innovation activities, that drive towards a more strategic cultural enhancement. Unfortunately I only occasionally see active partnership between these groups and rarely do I see ownership and direction of innovation programs coming from HR teams.

This lack of partnership between leadership represents a significant missed opportunity for both groups of professionals, as they seek to add business value and shake the often held perception of a disconnection from the direction of the businesses. The headlong drive towards innovation goals expressed by corporate leadership represents a significant opportunity for both groups to align more effectively in the development of real business value and shared perception improvements. In short, this is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

Below I have listed an overview of activities where Innovation and HR leaders can easily partner. As with any list I produce, this is in no way exhaustive and I welcome your input and thoughts:

Innovation Awards and Incentives – HR and innovation programs can actively partner in establishing and supporting awards and incentives programs directed at individuals or groups of employees, in order to encourage their innovative behaviors and activities. Managing these efforts can get a little tricky in global organizations, but it is important to focus on what types of incentives will likely drive new behavior and create a positive overall impression.

Run an Innovation Challenge – Everyone is impacted by HR issues within an organization, so why not run an employee innovation challenge/campaign focused on a single HR related issue. It is a great way to show that HR is open to input from the broader organization and a public endorsement of partnership. Keep in mind though, that you do need to implement the winning idea from this effort.

Innovation Training – Increasingly companies are training their employees around the skills of innovation, in order to expand the capacity to execute ideas and create a base of employees connected with innovative thinking. In the past this training focused on leadership needs, but there is renewed activity in training mid-junior level employees on elements of the innovation process, such as business plan development, ideation techniques, development planning, etc.

Employee Innovation Network Development – HR and innovation teams can actively partner to build and support networks of employees who share a common interest around driving innovation. It is easy to forget how hard it can be to push against the status quo, especially in large, process driven organizations and these networks provide a supporting environment and an opportunity to further develop ideas. Both groups can partner to develop a strategic framework to guide these efforts, as well as provide tools (such as libraries of articles, templates, videos and policy guidance) to support the ongoing management.

Innovation Competencies within Goal Setting and Review Process – By including innovation activity as part of the annual goal setting and review process, HR can play an active role in emphasizing the leadership priority down into the organization. The message is that this is an important opportunity for career development, and is owned by employees at all levels within the organization.

Innovation Activity as a Path to Leadership Development Efforts – There are various points of entry or assessment for employees to participate in leadership development programs. By including an individual’s participation in innovation related activities as a point of entry for these programs, HR sends an encouraging message and introduces new thinking and profiles within these efforts.

Employee Credits and Movement – Innovation programs often require mobility of resources to help develop new ideas. HR and innovation professionals can help develop programs and efforts to support this kind of movement across the organization in order to speed the flow of executed ideas.

Employee Engagement and Organizational Perceptions – By including innovation as a metric and reference point within employee engagement surveys and assessments, HR can track results and changes over time, as well as emphasis its importance to employees.

Develop Innovation Cultural Framework – Given that leadership is talking about innovation as a business imperative, HR leaders can develop a framework that encourages a culture of innovation over a sustained period of time. To enact this, companies are often undertaking innovation maturity assessment exercises.

As mentioned, this is not an exhaustive list, but it does provide some examples where both innovation and HR professionals can partner to drive towards a culture of innovation within their organization, and align with leadership’s goals. Let me know if you can come up with any specific examples of activities that you have seen in the marketplace.

About the Author: Anthony Ferrier is the CEO of Culturevate (, an organization that empowers a company’s employees to execute ideas and inspire a culture of innovation, through employee networks, a resource portal and training programs (developed in association with Professor Chris Labash from Carnegie Mellon University). Anthony is a widely read author (, speaker and advisor to industry leaders at organizations such as Pfizer, U.S. Postal Service, Johnson & Johnson, ADP and Fidelity. He previously led The BNY Mellon innovation program and has a Masters of Commerce (University of Sydney) and Bachelor of Economics (University of Newcastle).

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