For decades, business innovation was a compartmentalized process; a few individuals in a single department bore the brunt of the responsibility for generating and developing new business ideas. More recently, businesses have begun to realize that the process of innovation is much more successful when it is a company-wide endeavor. However, many of them still overlook one important fact—that innovation truly begins in the HR department.
No, it doesn’t begin with product development or IT or even sales. It begins with Human Resources, and here’s why.
Innovation Is Part of a Company’s Culture
As mentioned in the introduction, modern businesses have begun to make innovation a part of a company-wide culture, rather than something that an individual department does. But developing a culture is a lengthy and complex process that requires consistency, strategic decisions, and ongoing efforts at engaging employees. As stated in a research series published by the CIPD, “HR helps to support the human, social and organizational capital that fuels innovation and transformation.”
It is HR that supports the growth of a company’s culture, and therefore, it is HR that steers the company’s overall innovation efforts. HR shoulders the responsibility of (1) finding innovative individuals that will fit into the culture and contribute to innovation, (2) developing innovation programs that encourage employee participation, and (3) keeping employees engaged in the company so that they are motivated to help the business improve.
By helping to build a business’s culture around the innovation process, the Human Resources department provides the strong foundation needed for a successful innovation management program.
Innovation Isn’t All about Products
Another reason that HR is vital to the innovation process is because innovation isn’t all about developing new products or improving existing ones. While such innovations are usually the ones to make the biggest waves in the business, small improvements and innovations in fulfillment processes, organizational strategies, and other in-office strategies can still have an enormous impact on your company. And these types of innovation generally fall on HR for implementation.
HR is often responsible for overseeing training in new fulfillment processes and software programs that your employees might use. They also may assist with implementing changes in how an individual department functions. These innovations within existing organizational systems provide “the infrastructure that enables the organization to create value for customers…. The building blocks of the organization, its processes and systems, are all opportunities to improve.”
Improvements to existing processes may not have all the glamour that comes from a groundbreaking new product, but they can still enormously impact your bottom line by improving productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement.
Innovation Relies on Organization
While compartmentalizing innovation to a single department has been deemed ineffective, it did have one thing going for it: It was a lot easier to oversee the development of new ideas when it was all coming from a single team. When you have ideas being submitted from employees across all departments (and may even accept ideas from your customers), it becomes much more difficult to receive, review, and track every idea submitted—not to mention actually overseeing the development of viable ideas.
Modern innovation requires effective organization to ensure that every idea receives the attention it deserves, and nothing falls through the cracks. And as anyone in HR knows, organizational responsibilities generally fall on you. So, it is often HR’s responsibility to develop an innovation management program and ensure that there is a process in place for developing new ideas. Without such organizational tools, innovation can grind to a standstill.
When you examine the way, modern businesses are performing their innovation efforts, it becomes abundantly clear that the HR department is the cornerstone for any successful innovation management program.
Lynda Arbon is a management thinker and change authority in a constant quest of supporting SME organizations. Her expertise lies in combining commercial and organization insights to support transformational change and sustainable business performance.
She typically works as part of the C-level team, leading, coaching, facilitating and mentoring at a high profile organization in Queensland, Australia. She is sought after for thought leadership in management, change and the field of Organisation Development.