Turn that light on

When was the last time you had a light bulb moment at work? You know the kind of thing – the random conversation with a colleague that leads to the realisation there’s a really simple solution to a niggling problem. Or the article you just happen to come across that ignites your thinking about how you could tackle an aspect of your job more efficiently?

It’s a great feeling when the fog clears and you find the answer to a persistent problem or discover new and exciting ways of doing things. But take a step back and ask yourself… are you sitting passively waiting for enlightenment to come your way or are you actively seeking out these ‘ah-ha’ experiences.

A report published earlier this year identified innovation and creativity as key competencies for HR people in 2012. The consensus among the experts was that HR needs to be in the driving seat, revolutionising working practices, finding new ways to maximise employee performance and harnessing the latest technology to support people management processes.

But that’s not always an approach that sits easily with HR folk. The profession has after all traditionally been a reactive one – where the focus has been on responding to the needs of the business and on compliance rather than creativity.

HR people are also frequently extremely hard-pressed. They are the jam in the corporate sandwich, doing the directors (frequently changing) bidding while also tending to the welfare and concerns of employees. Speak to HR people and many of them will say that quite frankly, it’s a struggle just to keep up with the day job and there’s little time left to worry about innovating.

The problem with this constant ‘fire fighting’, however, is that although short term needs are met, long term very little changes. Problems don’t go away, performance doesn’t improve and productivity stays static.

So what can HR people do to make innovation and creativity an integral part of the way they do their work rather than an occasional add-on when time permits or a great idea happens to land unbidded on their plate?

Earlier this week, I helped to facilitate a working group of HR people who were discussing how to accelerate the career progression of their talented female employees. The issues on the table were many and complex and those taking part came from very different organisations, spread across public and private sector, with very different challenges.

The discussion was frank and lively – and from my position at the top of the table I could see light bulbs popping on all over the place. What was leading to these ah ha moments? As an outsider observing the action, I could see three key factors coming into play:

Curiosity: If HR people are to really make a difference – with whatever issues they are trying to tackle – they need to adopt a mindset of curiosity. These HR folk had got out from behind their desk and were finding out how their peers were tackling common issues, digging into the detail of what was working well for others and assessing if there were any ideas they could take back into their own organisation.

A consultancy approach: The HR people round the table were acting as internal consultants to the business. They had been asking smart and sometimes difficult questions in their organisations, were making efforts to find out what people on the ground were really thinking and were working in partnership with managers to break through old and restrictive practices.

Making Time: These (very senior and busy) people had realised that light bulb moments don’t come along that often unless you put the groundwork in place. They had recognised they needed to make time to network, benchmark, keep up with the latest thinking and tap into best practice if they were going to make significant change happen.

At the end of the session, we asked the group to identify the bold steps they would take when they got back into their organisations. So let me ask you the same question: What are you going to do today to create your own light bulb moment and start making a real difference to the business?

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