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The c(h)ase for innovation

The c(h)ase for innovationTo say that businesses around the world are facing tough challenges would be an understatement. To stay competitive, organizations are increasingly under pressure to be innovative. Interestingly, according to a Millennial Innovation survey by Deloitte Bersin Study on Millennial’s, 78% of Millennial’s believe that innovation is essential for business growth and 87% believe the success of a business should be measured by more than just financial performance.

Given that all organizations are gunning for innovation, and most of its employees want it too, it seems apparent that this should be easy to accomplish. So, where is the gap?

Rosabeth Moss Kanter articulates this gap brilliantly: “After years of telling corporate citizens to ‘Trust the System,’ many companies must relearn instead to trust their people—and encourage their people to use neglected creative capacities in order to tap the most potent economic stimulus of all: "Idea power".

Could leadership and culture have a role to play here? Can Human Resources, as a function, play a role in encouraging innovation in the organization?

Here are some things HR can do to fuel innovation in collaboration with the leadership of their organizations:

  • Create a safe environment where people feel comfortable to try, fail and try some more. Enable your employees to unleash their ideas, challenge them to think and do differently, and support and recognize them when they do so. The assumption here is you already have hired smart people. You just need to create a supportive environment for them to innovate
  • Ask tough questions where there are silos inhibiting collaboration. Be fearless in challenging the status quo due to history or cultural baggage. Consider it part of your job if that helps.
  • Create a culture where employees across groups and functions get to know one another well and are encouraged to help each other out. Logic suggests that to promote helping in your organization, you should focus on increasing your experts’ willingness to offer assistance. Here is an excerpt from the HBR article, IDEO's Culture of Helping which explains this point beautifully: Consider the story Jon Gertner shares in The Idea Factory, his history of AT&T’s Bell Labs. At one point AT&T’s patent department wanted to figure out why certain individuals in that famously inventive group were more successful than others at hatching novel ideas. They discerned just one common thread, Gertner wrote, - "Workers with the most patents often shared lunch or breakfast with a Bell Labs electrical engineer named Harry Nyquist. Nyquist was particularly skilled; it turned out, at asking good questions".
  • Invest in your employees by building knowledge and innovation skills. Here is what Mehran Mehregany, the Goodrich Professor of Engineering Innovation Endowed Chair at Case Western Reserve University and the founder of several successful companies has to say on what is instrumental in bringing about innovation: “What has proved to matter is, again, the building of knowledge and innovation skills, which are much harder and take longer to get in place and maintain. Leading-edge competency in one’s area of practice is indispensable; practice at turning ideas into reality is a must. And by the way, on some level, your people know this. Data from employee surveys consistently show that a focus on talent development is a key factor in whether a firm ranks as a 'best employer.' Talent recognizes that, while learning is hard work, and the value is not quantifiable, it is the only way to remain valuable in an economy that thrives on innovation. The more you invest in your people’s knowledge, the more innovation you can expect to reap."
  • Here is another reason to pay attention to the culture of your organization: In a Cambridge University study of 800 firms across 17 countries, company culture was the single greatest determinant of innovation success—not process, star hires, R&D spend, budget or national culture.

Become a true business partner to the leaders in your organization by helping them create a culture where innovation is encouraged and can thrive.


  1. HBR Article – IDEO's Culture of Helping – Teresa Amabile, Colin M. Fisher, and Julianna Pillemer; January-February 2014.
  2. HBR blog - If You Want Innovation, You Have to Invest in People - Mehran Mehregany - October 3, 2013.
  3. Top tips for building an innovation culture - by Nick Jankel-Elliot.
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