How can human resources contribute to innovation? How can we turn new ideas into reality, break old paradigms, and step outside of the box with new solutions to old problems? Innovation may begin with creativity, but it is more than an idea — it takes place when great ideas come to fruition and make their mark in the world. In the past, most businesses focused on continuous improvement of their products and services to maintain a competitive edge. But in today’s economy, that’s not always enough.
As Human Resource professionals, we are fortunate to be responsible for many areas of an organization that directly impact and contribute to innovation, including recruitment, performance management, recognition, rewards, training, and employee engagement. Human Resources can also play a key role in creating an organizational structure and overall culture that fosters and supports innovation.
Recruiting can focus on hiring for innovation by identifying people who can “think outside the box” or have skills and capabilities that lend toward innovation. Performance management can serve as a valuable tool in the creation of a sustainable culture of innovation. Performance measures can give consideration as to whether or not employees are given the time and resources to experiment, generate and explore ideas, and make presentations to management. Rewards can be used to reinforce the importance of innovation and recognition can be used to encourage and inspire employees to innovate and share ideas. HR’s role in organizational design provides huge potential for enabling innovation. For example, organizational design can be used to facilitate easier exchange of employees’ ideas across boundaries and functions.
An example of a human resource driven innovation that used an out-of-the-box idea to improve the recruiting process is La Cantera Resort in San Antonio, Texas, a Destination Hotel, they have incorporated an idea made popular by Disney, the Fast PASS. In Disney’s version, guests can avoid the line and use a Fast PASS to get a ticket to ride an attraction at a specified time with limited to no waiting. This helps improve the guest experience, improves wait times, improves communication, and enhances the ability to meet the expectation of guests. At Destination Hotels, they have incorporated this concept into their recruitment practices. Special “FAST PASS” cards are given to managers who can spot people in their daily interactions (at grocery stores, restaurants, bars, the mall, etc…) providing exceptional customer service and invite them to consider an employment opening/opportunity with Destination Hotels. They can call a specific number and get a “prioritized/guaranteed” in-person interview as opposed to filling out an application during certain hours and hoping a chance to be considered. Like Disney, the approach at Destination Hotels improves the experience for the candidate and the HR function/hiring managers. It speeds up the ability to source the most qualified talent and create a match to open position needs at the resort. Destination Hotels compete on innovation.
While HR can have a significant impact on many of the key drivers of innovation, it is a collaborative process and requires many areas to come together in order to succeed. Executive leaders hold the key to the level and success of innovation in their organization. They control the strategic direction, influence the culture, and directly and indirectly control all organizational practices. Managers must know how to lead innovative teams, and individuals must know how to apply innovative thinking. Every department or function must be part of the process. For example, Information Technology has become an enabler of innovative ideas, but it is also often the starting point for innovative products or services and Finance has a unique opportunity, through the budget development, to add innovation either as a line in the overall budget or as a percentage of every departmental budget.
Organizations need to develop practices that make it easier to innovate. For example, at the core of an organization’s culture should be an acceptance of the need to experiment and understand that this comes with the risk of failure and that failure needs to be seen as a learning experience and an important step in the process. Culture is key to sustainable innovation. The mindset and culture of the HR team have an exponential impact and influence on the entire organization. HR leaders can help enable their organizations to differentiate themselves by understanding the critical importance of innovation today and how their role can contribute by attracting and keeping the most innovative people, constantly improving their skills and creating and enabling a culture of innovation.
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