Human Resources is sometimes overlooked as a source of innovation. Yet, in many ways, it’s the wellspring of innovation; HR departments recruit, hire, train, and support the individual employees of an organization who will make up the innovative teams that drive your company forward. So how can your HR department help build a culture of innovation?
It starts with the policies and approaches of which employees can take advantage. For example, an HR department might institute a life-long learning policy. This is a bit different from tuition remission, although this is also an excellent policy for encouraging innovation. A company might, for example, strike a deal with the local community college that allows their employees to take any course that interests them at a reduced rate or might offer to reimburse employees for online courses.
Another approach is to encourage “explanatory” sessions. Employees of one department should learn what employees of the others do. This not only gets employees socializing and fosters better communication, but it can also make them aware of resources and approaches they might not have realized they have.
Build An Innovative Culture
Innovation needs support. An employee can have a brilliant idea, but if the boss won’t listen, or if they’re told it’s too risky and not to rock the boat, that idea withers. At the same time, though, there’s only so much time in the day and so much to do.
Innovative capacity should be part of choosing candidates.
HR can help by encouraging innovation in various forms. This can be as simple as Google’s famous “20% rule,” where their employees spend 20% of their time exploring topics about which they’re passionate, but it can also make collecting ideas and encouraging more of them as part of the review process, or asking the entire company to weigh in on a specific problem. Similarly, encourage managers to hold each other accountable, pushing back on the ethos of “this is the way we’ve always done it” or “this is the way that always works.”
Finally, have a mechanism, albeit a committee or an ongoing process in which everyone engages, to refine, adapt and work with ideas. No idea comes to us perfect and fully formed; it often needs many hands to polish it.
Look At Innovation In Hiring
Much of “hiring for innovation” is really “hiring for people skills.” People who choose one viewpoint and stick to their guns no matter what, people who shoot down new ideas, and people who never ask a question and just offer rote answers are generally not positive hires for most organizations for reasons well beyond their lack of innovation. Similarly, hiring has a number of factors that HR teams have to consider.
So when hiring, ask hiring managers and interviewers to look for the possibility of and capacity for innovation. Who asks the most interesting questions? Who does their research? Who has thoughtful replies when asked about the future of the industry or a specific product? Who tweaked their resume and their cover letter to highlight your needs?
Finally, remember that innovative capacity is part of encouraging growth. As employees get more comfortable and develop a deeper understanding of your company, they’ll begin to have ideas. If they know from the start those ideas are welcome, you’ll see more innovation.