7 Ways HR can Foster an Innovative Culture

February 15, 2017 Michele Haugh

Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Although said before the turn of the century, this definition sums up why innovation is so important for businesses seeking a competitive edge today. Businesses that continue the same monotonous processes and strategies will eventually fall behind competitors that are disrupting the marketplace with new ideas.

The best resource a business has for developing innovation comes from its own employees. After all, they are the ones engaging daily with the company’s products, business model, and policies. Some businesses offer rewards or contests to encourage employees to innovate. However, shallow solutions may fail to address the depths of company culture where certain behaviors or attitudes inhibit innovation.

Here are seven ways a business can surgically remove the deep-seated issues in its culture to foster innovation.

1. Teach Employees to Rethink Risk
One inhibitor to innovation can be fear. Employees are afraid to take risks, because of the possibility of failing. As such, they remain trapped in the same routines and processes because, in their minds, repetition creates security. Encourage employees to take risks by sharing stories of both failure and success. Tamar Elkeles, Chief Talent Executive of Atlantic Bridge Capital, shares, “Showcase risk taking and the positive impact it has on the business. Celebrate employees who take risks and challenge the status quo.”

2. Train Employees on How to Make Their Case
Something that can block an employee’s ability to present innovative ideas is a lack of know-how. Employees may keep ideas to themselves, but if they know how to present their ideas in a clear way that showcases why their idea is worthwhile, it may encourage them to open their mouths. Train your employees on how to create effective business pitches and who they should present those pitches to.

3. Have Managers Listen to Employee Feedback
Incorporating a learning environment into your company’s culture can influence innovation. If an employee feels like they are too insignificant to be heard or they feel like their thoughts will never reach the ears of decision makers, then they’ll keep their ideas to themselves. Having managers become both learners and leaders can help employees feel confident that their ideas will be heard.

4. Recognize that Innovation Takes Energy
Change is rarely easy, and because of this it may be easier to say no to an innovative idea then yes. Complacency or laziness are deep-seated issues that need to be rooted out, and there’s no universal cure for all companies. Perhaps it will take some adjusting for business leaders and employees to get comfortable with a new process or solution, but it may help to consider discomforts as “growing pains” rather than wasted energy.

5. Be a Role Model for Innovation
“Monkey see, monkey do,” it’s really not that complicated. Sometimes all it takes is someone to show an example of innovation for others to follow. If a manager takes the lead in pitching an idea at a meeting, it may inspire others to share their thoughts as well. Once an employee shares an innovative suggestion, debrief this with your team as an example of how everyone in the company can be innovative, not just decision makers.

6. Redefine Metrics
Measuring the same things over and over again is mind numbing to innovation. Business leaders should take a broad look at metrics and hone in on the specific areas that are struggling. Share metrics with the team, and allow them to suggest ways of analyzing these results differently. The result might just be a great insight on where new innovative ideas are needed most. 

7. Consistency
Once the slightest spark of an innovative idea flashes, don’t stop feeding the flames. This cultural conversion is not about quick fixes and easy answers. Business leaders are subtly changing the behaviors, attitudes, and values of their employees and that transformation doesn’t come overnight. It will take consistent communication before an innovative culture begins to take root, but the rewards for doing so will give companies an advantage that can make them leaders in their industries.


About the Author

Michele Haugh

Michele is the Director of People Operations for Zuman. She joined Zuman after serving as the Director of HR for Apothecary Products. She has held a variety of roles in HR over the past fifteen years with SuperiorHR, IMPACT People, Paychex, and Kelly Services. Michelle has a BS in Management Science and Human Resources from the State University of New York at Geneseo.

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