‘90% of leaders say people and culture are the most important factors for driving innovation.’

It’s not surprising really when you think about it. A true culture of innovation infuses every aspect and every corner of an organisation. This means that for success, every individual has to engage with and support the innovation ideal. More than that, the transformation of a business culture into one driven by innovation can often require seismic changes in working attitudes and patterns. Out goes rigid hierarchy and in comes a flatter more freewheeling structure. Out goes job demarcation and in comes collaboration. Out goes risk aversion and in comes ‘smart risk’ management.

Current surveys have highlighted that 75% of CEOs say; ‘fast-changing market conditions are forcing companies to reinvent themselves quicker than ever before’ and that means change isn’t just about reinvent your core product it’s about an organisation-wide change and building an increased ability to continue to adapt.

But, none of these changes are possible without the active involvement and support of HR, OD and engagement departments. From supporting leadership development to providing help and guidance about work and process changes, the HR team sit right in the centre of cultural change. And yet, from my work as an innovation consultant I believe that when it comes to culture change, and particularly innovation culture change, HR are significantly under-utilised and undervalued. In fact, the HR InnovAsian® Report 2014 drawn up by Alpha Catalyst Consulting revealed that just 20% of HR professionals are very involved in innovation in their organisations.

One of the reasons for this is the way in which culture change is traditionally seen as the preserve of the CEO and the leadership team. We talk about the culture change process in terms of strategy, then leadership and then culture. All too often these three steps are seen as something conceived and driven by the leadership but when it comes to successful implementation it is the entire team which is important, just as in innovation it is the whole organisation working together which creates the conditions which provide exceptional customer experiences. 

Let’s look at a few key areas in which HR can make a huge difference to culture change success or failure starting with strategic change. Inevitably this will require new working practices, departmental re-organisations or a change in individual expectations. Such changes call on the full range of HR expertise from instigating training programmes to drawing up new metrics and from contract changes to personnel management. When change occurs employees look for a lead and if the HR function is fully geared up to provide whatever support, advice or guidance is required then employee engagement in the new methodology is far more assured.

Aside from the employee aspect, HR can also play their part in helping the leadership team to embrace the personal and procedural changes, which a culture of innovation requires. Risk-averse leaders or those who are used to rigid hierarchies need to be coached in embracing failure as a learning point or in opening up to the idea of collaboration. They need to be able to engage and inspire others around innovation challenges and to communicate change. Innovation leadership is a far different thing from more ‘traditional’ methodologies and HR support is vital if leaders are to be given the tools they need to embrace an innovation-led future. And when 58% of business leaders in large UK companies admit their ‘senior teams are failing to effectively lead for innovation’, it is more than time for HR to step up and work with CEOs and senior teams to create change.

Building a culture of innovation means embracing a whole new outlook; moving from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’. At the end of the journey is a whole new world of possibilities in which collaborative design and co-creation deliver exceptional customer experiences, true differentiation and competitive advantage. With 90% of business leaders in large UK companies admitting ‘people and culture are the most important factors for driving innovation’ it shows that people are not just an adjunct to this journey, they are the heart and soul of the journey and HR has to be with them every step of the way. Let’s make a start by reinventing, no, ‘innovating’ the ‘Human Resources’ department. After all, employees are not ‘resources’ they’re people and they are the ones who’ll ultimately deliver innovation and help organisations win at the new game!

Good Luck!