Blog: An exotic cocktail for HR innovation

Strategic HR

An exotic cocktail for HR innovation

How cross functional innovation teams will change the way HR functions today
An exotic cocktail for HR innovation

People often ask me about what metrics I would use to evaluate an HR organization’s level of innovation. Depending on how well I know that person, I sometimes flippantly respond with a question or two the first one being the more important one. Has the organization recently created an Innovation Center? This is usually a big red flag that there is no innovation culture that is present in the organization so the company creates an “innovation organization” and hires “innovation experts” to help the company “ideate” and “innovate”. The end result is more process, less innovation.

What percent of your HR teams individual contributors’ day is spent in meetings? When people who should be interacting with internal customers and other stakeholders, researching things, designing next practices, evaluating structures are instead stuck in pointless meetings, then the organization has an execution problem that will come back to haunt them later. Their time would probably be better spent on solving problems and implementing solutions.

By one definition, innovation is an important new product or process, deployed on a large scale and having a significant impact on society the organization and the economy, which can do a job “better, or cheaper, or both.” Regrettably, we now use the term to describe almost anything. While you we need subject matter experts “HR experts” keenly familiar with the problem or process at hand, don’t omit players from up and downstream processes. In fact, it may be best to include some that are far outside the process to ask the “obvious” questions that those too close to it may overlook this enables On-the-Box Thinking (re-christened Out-of-the-Box Thinking).

Here is an example: V Ramakrishnan is an Indian-born American and British structural biologist, who shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry; you may say “ha a structural biologist getting the Nobel prize for Chemistry” then here’s some more interesting information he has a PhD in Physics. Dr. Ramakrishnan attributes his achievement to his cross functional knowledge of the three distinct streams of science. He is originally a Physics graduate who earned a PhD degree in physics he thereafter transitioned from theoretical physics to biology and implemented the practices of theoretical physics in studies of the structure and function of the ribosome and eventually winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Walla!! There’s great idea for Innovation in HR.

And therefore, ideally we should hire people in HR who have studied commerce and finance in graduate school with initial years of work experience in back and front office operations of the business continue their education with an MBA in marketing and sales, handle and manage large teams and be successful at that and then move on to Human Resource management as a career choice (so that they don’t feel left out) with a small stint somewhere in information technology. Wow if that was possible the world would be a duller place!

Now should HR professionals have multitudes of exposures outside of HR? Yes, they should! But in reality only the rare achieve this. I call them the “versatalist” who are specialist in their domain and also have general management and domain exposure of other functions; they are the most valuable resource to an organization and especially to an HR organization, which adds value to the most subjective element of people practice in the organization.

Now that I have made my case for such cross functional knowledge and its importance let me share how such a cross functional team can be created to bring about innovation in the HR organization. I strongly believe in two important old adages to begin with, one “if it isn’t measured it won’t be done” and the other “There has to be skin in the game for all stakeholder” So getting very different people to open up and collaborate requires more than a conversation around a conference room table — especially if the subject is a “woolly an mushy” as people practices.

A good way to speed engagement is? Get moving! Take your cross functional team and have them physically walk the process, observe and ask questions. This provides an opportunity for communication and feedback between individuals who based on their varied backgrounds are bound to see the different things in the scene unfolding before them.

Process more virtual than physical? Have the team collaboratively build the value stream map of how the process works today. The physical act of standing at a wall (Drawing bora) together helps take the focus away from “us” and “them” “old” and “new” staff and instead zeroes in on why things work how they work. Always eye-opening, don’t be surprised if you hear a lot of comments like “I didn’t know HR did this,”, or “if only we knew this,” or even “That we have special respect for this work now.” With these gaps revealed, then you have some meaty issues to work on solving together.

Drop the folks who are not contributing on the way add new folks to the team especially new recruits who have no baggage and show keenness to make a mark on the organization. Give them additional brownie points for their contribution put appropriate matrix for the success measurement of the innovation. Have stakeholders review the teams ideas and as HR Leaders incubate and nurture the “wild” and “explosive ideas” from the cross functional team. Cross functional teams should also be supplemented with “layering” for me layering in cross functional team is employees from all layers of the organization from an executive to a head of the department. Ensure you sprinkle people from layers and functions of the organization to give the HR cross functional teams it breadth and depth.

Empower your HR cross-functional team to work cohesively to develop new solutions, give organizational resources time and budget to do proof of concepts, Process testing, and take risks to get an innovative culture going. This takes true leadership and effective change management and someone to champion the cause?

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Topics: Strategic HR

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