Article: HR as an innovation incubator 

Strategic HR

HR as an innovation incubator 

With innovations becoming a crucial factor for companies to develop within their workforce, we take a look at what it takes to build a truly innovative work culture
HR as an innovation incubator 

An employee’s tenure within an organization is marked with phases where they have new ideas that stand to improve business function significantly. Across levels and organizational hierarchies employees innovate to create easier pathways to function more easily.  With the motivation ranging from the employee being highly curious and driven to achieve results to them being simply lazy, most employees usually come with ideas that if implemented would make their work easier while contributing to business productivity.  Most candidates coming into companies today have an entrepreneurial approach to problem solve. But unfortunately most such ideas remain unexpressed and thus even after generations of workforce performing the same work, this routine work remains the same.  Many face the dilemmas of who to tell and what use would it be to the organization in general. This inherent cultural gap becomes a barrier many employees to contribute much more than they usually do. It acts as a barrier to create synergies.  It is also easy shrug off responsibility by saying that innovation is a collective responsibility. 

Parallel to this phenomenon, HR professionals and organization leaders are often faced with the dilemma of translating employee ideas into sustainable practices that can ensure employee engagement and increase employee’s contribution to business productivity. HR is increasingly being held responsible to make the workforce more innovative so that the company can perform better and in our efficient manner.  But what is the kind of innovation that the company needs at the moment? This becomes and important question for HR professionals to answer today before they attempt at creating an initiative that supports organization wide innovation.  Is innovation then just the refinement of existing processes using new ideas to make the function more efficient?   Well according to one model of understanding innovation, that just qualifies as one ‘kind’ of innovation—incremental innovation that is. Here are the four kinds of innovations: 


Incremental Innovation is the most common form of innovation. It utilizes the company’s existing technology and modifies processes to increase the value to the customer within the company’s existing market.


Most technological innovation falls into this category.  It involves applying a newer technology within the same market in which the company operates. Such innovations are usually the result of the company’s conscious choice of developing a newer technology that makes it easier for its customers.  This newer technology is often more expensive, has fewer features, is harder to use, and is not as aesthetically pleasing. It is only after a few iterations that the newer tech surpasses the old and disrupts all existing companies.  New age companies like Uber and Airbnb have been able to disruptively innovate in this sense.   


When companies use their existing technologies, skills, and lessons and apply the same in a new market, it falls under the category of architectural innovation.  It usually has high chances of being impactful while having a low-risk factor, given that company derives economies of scale by expanding its market space. But the viability of such innovations depends on their ability to tweak its existing framework to match the needs of the new market space.  


Radical innovations are the holy grail of innovations. It is when a company creates an entirely new market by using new technologies. This type of innovation leads to the creation of industries and its subsequent effect usually, results in the creation of a revolutionary technology.

So when one talks about innovations being the bedrock of the company’s growth in the coming years, it is necessary for HR leaders to identify and quantify the kind and type of innovation journey that the organizations need to chart. Such quantification process also helps HR professionals align people management practices around driving innovation with the business goals of their respective company. Instead of shooting in the dark companies can facilitate and incubate innovations within companies depending on the business goals.  Only then can the next step of plugging in cultural enablers can yield the proper result.  Post this the next step in the journey then becomes to create and environment within the company that supports and incubates people’s ability to innovate within the company.   

The challenge today that HR professionals face in incubating innovations is to determine the right mix that makes a successful and entrepreneurial candidate and develop assessment criteria that accurately determines the type and cultural fit of a candidate required. By utilizing nuanced hiring and assessment methodologies HR professionals can proactively bring in the right talent that helps them accelerate the culture of innovations within their companies.  By assessing their culture fit, these candidates can be embedded strategically into business processes. 

It is also crucial for HR professionals to adapt hiring and people management practices that foster team building and allows a culture where the free flow of information is allowed. Business cultures where candidates are allowed to speak their minds and discuss ways to improve business functions have a higher chance of innovating and creating more efficient practices.

Thirdly, employees that actively contribute by providing creative and innovative solutions to problems need to be incentivized to perform in an outcomes based manner. Assessment criteria measuring performance need to adapt to measure the business impact of employees and HR professionals cannot just depend on the run of the mill KPIs to identify their business impact. 

Making cultural shifts incubate innovations within the company is a long journey where HR professionals have to keep a close eye on different components that support the same. 

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Topics: Strategic HR, #Innovation

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