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Jason Fowler


HR Director UK&I

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How HR leaders can ensure the best talent drives innovation

Innovation requires an investment in skills and talent.

Technology has had an undeniable impact on both our professional and personal lives – and never more so than right now. Social distancing measures and the subsequent shift to remote working, socialising and collaborating led to businesses and families alike embracing technology as they never had done before.

Everybody wants to reap the rewards of successful innovation, but it takes resilience and long-term commitment to bear the cost and disappointment of failures along the way.

For businesses, however, the future of technology does not rely solely on creating new and groundbreaking tools, but in thinking about how employing the right talent can make the best use of them. The next test for HR teams will be to make a success of their business’ inevitable digital transformation plans by ensuring they have access to the skills needed to bring them to fruition.

It’s no secret that we’re already well on our way. Earlier this year, Tech Nation revealed that the UK technology sector won out against both the US and China when it came to its global growth in 2019 and, in order to retain that accolade, now is the time for organisations – and specifically HR departments – to drive positive digital innovation and secure fresh talent to do so.  

Create the right environment

So, how do we drive innovation? Well, organisations must first address the dissonance often found between talking broadly about a need for change, disruption and innovation, and then practising the opposite. In most cases, a business’ efforts are too focused on improving the (often outdated) legacy technology they already have, rather than investing in something new that will save them money in the long term.

To address this challenge, businesses need to sharpen focus, take a step back and look at what areas the organisation would benefit from innovation. It’s essential for businesses to consider if they are declining in innovation, under attack from competitors or have too broad a scope, e.g. an ‘innovate everywhere’ approach that is immensely difficult to put into practice without creating chaos and frustration amongst employees.

The organisations’ leaders must have clarity of what exactly is needed to encourage a creative space for innovation to thrive, and this is where HR leaders can help. Everybody wants to reap the rewards of successful innovation, but it takes resilience and long-term commitment to bear the cost and disappointment of failures along the way.

Sustain innovation

HR departments are undoubtedly the best placed to spot talent. Sustained innovation is only possible, however, when employees have the support to develop that talent into something greater, which not only leads to a more skilled staff, but it fosters the sense that creativity is welcomed in that organisation, thus leading to inventive solutions and innovation.

Developing a labour market equipped with not only skills, but also the capabilities to develop, evolve and innovate should be a common interest across industries, government and education. In fact, the UK government has offered its own support by providing additional R&D funding. With the pace of technological change as it is, individual skills that are rare and in high demand today will be obsolete tomorrow, so it is the business’ role to be thinking more carefully about the competencies, capabilities and mindset that they need to help them evolve and stay competitive.

Moreover, with the clarity, focus and a talent pool recognised for innovation in the first place, identifying and attracting new talent to your organisation to add to this is easier and will reduce the risk of unsuccessful talent acquisition. When you have the talent in place, this does not stop you from providing meaningful opportunities for creativity, and providing a platform for employees to contribute to organisational change is essential.

Give employees a voice

In the new working ‘norm’ (often including both hybrid and agile working traits), HR needs to ensure the right communication between teams is in place in order for employees to collaborate effectively. Organisations need to be able to review work and plan with remote teams, so that they can bypass any unnecessary obstacles, such as a difficult administrative process.

Giving all employees a voice allows teams to be more responsive to changes, thus prompting innovation, which is especially important in an increasingly unpredictable economy. Meeting regularly and having a person dedicated to communicating with employees allows for the team to respond quickly to unexpected developments or to changes in scope of work for a specific project. It helps inoculate against mistakes, and therefore avoids lack of innovation, as the team can quickly identify any errors or challenges and innovate to mitigate against them in future.

Collaborative innovation

All of this is only possible through effective collaboration. Businesses must establish, and then lead on this by providing improved clarity on what good collaboration at work should look like and HR leaders have a responsibility to push this conversation to the boardroom.

This then provides a basis for working with government and education bodies to create pathways for talent that allow businesses to thrive and keep the UK at the forefront of the global digital economy while providing valuable and rewarding careers for its employees.

After all, innovation has the potential to be truly transformative, empowering businesses and enabling them to thrive in a digital world. All must come together and ensure the country is properly prepared and equipped with the right knowledge and skills to emerge from lockdown unscathed in the coming months. First, however, HR must ignite the right conversations and initiatives that lead to the best talent driving UK innovation.  

Interested in this topic? Read How to create an innovative culture as we head into a recession.

Author Profile Picture
Jason Fowler

HR Director UK&I

Read more from Jason Fowler

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