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Jamie Lawrence

Wagestream

Insights Director

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Contextualising innovation in HR: what do we mean?

georgijevic

Keeping pace with social, cultural and technological progression has always been key for business but these three areas now advance so fast that the task has become harder.

Businesses used to keep pace by fortifying: making things stronger so they could better resist change. That’s fine when change is a series of smaller waves, but harder when it’s a tsunami.

Innovation – finding ways to do things better – is the tsunami-defying replacement for fortifying.

Some people treat innovation as a 21st century solution. But organisations have always tried to do this: what supply chain manager would be worth their salt if they weren’t looking for ways to optimise?

Some people treat innovation as a 21st century solution.

What’s changed is we’re starting to talk about innovation in HR which means talking about innovation with people practice, and this is something that hasn’t happened since Taylorism.

This has happened because human beings have become the biggest variable in whether an organisation succeeds. Fortifying doesn’t work any more. And nor does innovation, with regard to process, procedure and workflow.

Josh Bersin calls innovation in HR design-thinking, or user-centric design, whereby we “design solutions that fit into their [employee’s] work-lives, versus designing “processes” or “programs” that have to be “rolled out.”

This is not a trend but a re-prioritisation of HR’s focus away from processes and programs, which have benefitted from innovation-thinking for decades, to humans. It’s now an organisational priority to understand the nature of human experience.

Human beings have become the biggest variable in whether an organisation succeeds.

What does this innovation look like in practice?

Wellbeing is key. Unhappy people cannot their use minds effectively and because work is increasingly defined by how efficiently we expend mental effort, this is important to organisations.

There’s also a skills element. In the past new machinery was more important than new skills (providing the employee was sufficiently trained) but in a digital world it’s how we manipulate data that becomes the main differentiator.

Innovation – finding ways to do things better – is the tsunami-defying replacement for fortifying.

A recent survey from BMC Software found that 40% of employees responding feared they couldn’t keep up with the rate of change required by digital business, while 77% of workers said disruption and increased competition will require more people with digital skills in order to compete globally.

There are other areas too, like task-oriented work versus time-oriented work. Creating structures for individualised work-life balance. Individualised learning and development. The list goes on.

Ultimately, what we mean when we talk of innovative cultures in HR and organisation is one that develops structures and processes that prioritise the creation of cognitive and relational energy and distributes this in the most meaningful and efficient ways.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence
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