(Click title to see the full article_)

If there is one strong requirement emerging as a life saver for companies in the next few decades it is the ability to innovate. Leaner, meaner, or more tightly run companies may temporarily keep the ship afloat, but just as you cannot shrink a company in order to grow it, so real success in the future will lie with those who can innovate and tap into the power of creativity.

In a recession it is tempting to believe that efforts to innovate are simply not worth it.

One reason for the often low urge to innovate is that it means taking risks and there is plenty of research around to show that in the present recessionary climate many companies have become highly risk averse.

However being risk averse is also not likely to grow the company or let it take important new opportunities. Worse still, innovation is often not integral to the way the company operates. The benchmark organisation in this respect is of course Google, with its famous commitment to allow its engineers to spend a fifth of their time on activity they think will generate innovation, change and benefits to the company.

For many HR professionals, the challenge of supporting innovation has yet to become permanently part of their thinking and approach. Looking ahead, innovation is absolutely critical to corporate survival and HR practitioners are ideally placed to support the drive for innovation. HR practitioners for example, are often more right-brained than their left-brained dominant business leaders who typically cannot tell the difference between good and bad innovations.

So what exactly can the alert HR practitioner do to promote innovation? There are at least five main ways for making a real difference. In combination they can help place HR at the centre of the innovation drive, not stuck at the margins. To be a major player in the innovation stakes requires you to

1) Understand value and promote the nature of the creative process.
This means getting to grips with the way that creativity works first of all in individuals, then how it operates organisationally. It implies being willing to challenge company practices that discourage creative thinking and behaviour, such as punishing failure rather than rewarding attempts at experimenting.

2) Promote openness in the organisation in the movement of information, people and ideas. Can you spot silos and are you willing to challenge them, even when talking about ones operated by others? It means testing the extent to which networking, cross fertilisation of ideas, wide use of channels of communication and multi disciplinary working occur. Where necessary it implies taking remedial action to facilitate these.

3) Making space for people to be creative, experimental and, at its simplest level, doing things differently. This means looking around the organisation to see how far the culture really supports differences, candour, and newness, and working with line managers to encourage such a climate.

4) Invite in a steady stream of outsiders who regularly stimulate and challenge the company at various levels and in different ways. These are like agent-provocateurs who provide not only new sources of information but present new possibilities that may never have occurred to insiders.

5) Demonstrate innovation within HR itself. HR needs to walk the talk and show that it too can innovate and understands the creative process as it applies to its own practices.

What more? If you have your own thoughts or experience to share on how HR can promote innovation add them to this blog!