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In the beginning, corporate innovation belonged to R&D. It was viewed as a top-down affair to which only the upper echelons of the company were privy, and you were lucky if you received an invite to the secret club.
Fast forward to today, innovation is now perceived as a culture and mindset; companies – from the long established to new startups – are seeking to instill it at all levels.

HR, given its role in the organization, is in a unique position to be a major enabler for establishing mechanisms so that a culture of creativity and entre/intra-preneurship will flourish.
Here are four ways HR can shape, frame, and facilitate a company-wide conversation about innovation:
1. Everyone is an innovator
“Accounting is a department. Marketing isn’t. Marketing is something everyone in your company is doing 24/7/365.” Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, Rework
Similar to marketing, companies have traditionally dedicated departments for innovation . Now, the expectation is for innovation to stem from anyone in any department. We, at SIT, define innovation as “thinking and acting differently in a useful way”. In this light, innovation is viewed as a valued improvement to a situational status quo; it is a way to perform your job better. It’s not tied solely to a company’s products and services, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to its productivity, operations, and processes. Adopting this outlook HR can help to ensure that its organization’s innovation agenda will promote an inclusive and empowering work culture.

2. Innovation Roles
Growing up, I loved pondering over the book “Cool Careers for Dummies”. The WEF states that by 2022, 75 million jobs will disappear while 133 million new ones will be created.
While we just established that ‘everyone is an innovator’, it is still necessary to have official innovation roles in place who are responsible for aggregating all the activities and outcomes.
We’re talking about Innovation Managers, Innovation Architects, Innovation Coaches, etc. Some of these may be full-time positions in their own right, while many companies prefer to assign these responsibilities to strong talent in the company, in addition to their current roles. HR can assist in determining and characterizing the roles needed, identifying individuals to assume official innovation positions, and defining the criteria to be assessed during the interview process.

3. Personal Innovation Goals:
Declaring a culture of innovation and actually having people participate in it are two different things. There needs to be a system in place for monitoring innovation KPIs that cultivates a working environment where responsible risk-taking is encouraged. Including innovation activities in people’s yearly goals and then assessing them during performance reviews keeps the checks and balances in place to make innovation a reality.

4. Opportunities for Innovation: Gaining Skills and Putting Into Practice
HR and learning departments offer many opportunities for training, programs, and events that people can join. Many used to believe that creativity is a talent – you either have it or you don’t. And since creativity is an important element of innovation, the majority of people were never invited to the party. Today, we know better. Systematic creativity tools exist and people can be taught to innovate. More and more companies are promoting approaches like Lean Start-Up, Intrapreneurship, Hackathons, The “Google 20%”. Running training programs and then keeping employees accountable for using their new tools during these activities reinforces what has been learnt, proves to the individual that they really can use these tools in a useful way, and legitimizes participation in these activities – even if their direct manager doesn’t see its immediate relevance.

HR has the mandate to nurture the culture of innovation by providing both the tools and the outlets in which innovation will serve the individual’s growth goals and the company’s business goals. It’s no secret that people want their ideas to be heard (and acted on!), and to feel they are constantly being challenged and moving ahead in the workplace. By HR adding an “innovation tab” to its activities, it will not only assist in drilling an agile mindset within the company, but help with employee retention and workplace satisfaction as well.

Robyn Taragin

Innovation Strategist at SIT Systematic Inventive Thinking

Robyn works with companies to design and deploy opportunities for innovation in a way that fits each one's unique needs. Having joined SIT in 2006, Robyn holds over 10 years of experience in strategic planning, facilitation, coaching, and knowledge management. Her clients range in size from Fortune 500 companies to SMEs and social organizations.

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