Dear HR Pro: Please Don’t Kill Innovation. Thank You.

Andy Porter Andy Porter, Good HR, Organizational Development

Thought that title would get your attention! Believe it or not, this isn’t going to be an HR-bashing post. The lifeblood of an organization is going to lie in its ability to continually innovate and adapt to a rapidly changing environment, and I happen to think HR plays a key rule in making this happen. Innovation requires smart, motivated people, which any company who makes a living in the knowledge economy will have, or at least claim to have!  So, why are some companies able to continually innovate while others fall by the wayside? Smart, motivated people + $h!++y environment = no real innovation.  This is where we as HR pros come in—it’s all about the organizational system you build around those smart, motivated people, which, in my opinion, is what we really get paid to do.  With that in mind, here are 3 things you can do as an HR pro to support innovation in your organization:

  • Build Multi-Disciplinary Teams.  Solving complex problems require a diverse group of people—education, training, experience, gender, race/ethnicity—all bringing their knowledge and expertise to the tableThis is critical, since in most knowledge-based industries people are assembled to tackle complex problems with no obvious “right” answer.  The problem is, most organizations still organize themselves as if they were still in the era of assembly lines. They build department structures with a narrow scope of responsibilities, fairly homogenous training and experience, and are inflexible and slow to adapt to change.  If you really want to help drive innovation, think about how and where you can rely on multi-disciplinary teams that aren’t just on loan from a department as their home base.
  • Eliminate Formal Job Descriptions.  In my opinion, job descriptions are only marginally helpful when you’re recruiting someone to join your organization. As soon as they join, you should immediately burn it!  Innovation requires people to think and act across boundaries.  It requires people to take chances and apply their know-how in different parts of your organization. In my opinion, job descriptions are reductionist—they narrow your scope to a discreet set of responsibilities which is not likely to spark an innovative idea. In their place, you should consider asking people to define their purpose.  Purpose is much more broad and describes what you are here to achieve in an organization while giving you permission to think beyond your area (for more on this idea you should read Joan Bragar’s book Leading for Results).
  • Don’t Confuse Getting Results with Performance Management.  I get really frustrated when I hear HR pros talk about how they’re going to drive performance. Sorry to burst your bubble, but you aren’t driving anything! Driving performance is the responsibility of managers. When HR pros start thinking that performance-management systems (with ratings, competencies, etc.) drive performance, you’re in trouble. In my experience, these systems become too cumbersome to do anything other than get in the way of achieving results. What we need to do instead is ditch these systems and our obsessive focus on ratings, and focus instead on helping managers do a better job of coaching their people to achieve what matters—results (see KD’s most recent post on this topic over at the HR Capitalist).

Bottom line—HR pros can play a critical role in supporting innovation. Just avoid these common traps!