How HR can overcome inertia and kick start innovation

Tomorrow, I am mostly going to be playing with LEGO. Not because it’s half term (no small children are involved) – but as part of a workshop designed to help teams think differently and develop new insights.

It’s the kind of activity (LEGO Serious Play, in case you are wondering) that will probably have a few people rolling their eyes and muttering about wasted time. But cynicism about these kind of creative processes is one of the key blockers to innovation in organisations, together with an unwillingness to take risks and a territorial stance when it comes to sharing information.

As Nick Holley, Director of Learning at Corporate Research Forum recently pointed out, many HR professionals are constrained by hierarchical and risk-averse cultures. If organisations really want to drive innovation, he says, they need flatter structures and cultures where taking risks is encouraged and mistakes are accepted and seen as part of the learning process. https://bit.ly/2pJBpT6

So as an HR practitioner, what can you do to overcome inertia and support innovation both within the business and in your own practice?

1. Challenge yourself to come up with new ideas

It’s very easy to get wedded to established ways of doing things. The organisation has a performance management process that works well, so why change it? No-one has complained about the induction program, so why bother with a refresh? The trouble is that in today’s fast-moving climate, organisations have to run just to keep still. With talent at a premium, HR needs to be continually looking at new ways of engaging and motivating employees. Look outside the business to keep abreast of trends, develop a forward focus and see what innovative practice is happening elsewhere that you can draw on. It’s also important not to be immediately dismissive or judgemental if colleagues or line managers suggest new ways of doing things. Actively engage with people who are frustrated by existing processes and think about how you can work with them to take elements of their seemingly out-of-the-question ideas and build on them. If HR can role model an innovative process, the rest of the business will be encouraged to follow suit.

2. Break down barriers to collaboration

If organisations are to innovate, they need to harness the diversity of thought and experience that (hopefully) exists within their walls. But often established working practices , can get in the way of this process. Reward policies, for example, may be putting people in competition with each other, rather than rewarding them for working collaboratively. The over-riding culture may be encouraging people to stay in their silos, protecting valuable intelligence, for fear they will lose status (or budget) if they open up and share what they know. HR needs to put these approaches under the microscope to make sure they are not inadvertently blocking innovation. Practitioners can also do much to break down boundaries with initiatives to facilitate internal networking. Random coffee trials, for example, encourage people to mingle with colleagues from other areas, while internal social portals can help employees make connections, share knowledge and work collaboratively on projects. These portals now come as an integral part of many HR software systems and provide the business with a valuable tool to support collaboration.

3. Give it time

In a hectic environment, it’s easy for HR to get so caught up in the here and now that they lose sight of the future. But taking time out to step back, breathe and think is vital if you are to keep your HR practice fresh and develop new and innovative ways of doing things. Get the management team out of their usual environment for the day to engage in some blue sky thinking. If budget allows, a facilitated session designed to encourage creativity and ‘letting go’ can be really helpful in developing a new perspective. Try not to focus too soon on the practicalities. Allow time to fully explore ideas – even those that may seem silly or impractical – before getting too wrapped up in strategies and action plans. As motivational speaker Paul McGee says, it is easy to grow “flabby on familiarity”; the question we need to ask ourselves is “Have our comfort blankets become straitjackets?” www.thesumoguy.com

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