Human resource managers are on the front line of business development, leveraging their keen insight and human capital expertise to find the right employees for the right jobs, with the mission of helping position the organization to succeed. Integral to this goal: communicating the ways in which innovation is critical to business performance. All employees need to be aware of the value new ideas provide, be given the chance to participate, and be appraised accordingly. In our 2015 Global Perspectives study, only 58 percent of employees stated that their organization provides opportunities to feed suggestions and ideas upward, highlighting what a missed opportunity this is in many organizations.
As innovation has become a business essential, the role of HR has shifted. Today, HR managers are more than overseers of personnel.
They are innovation evangelists.
HR needs to be a significant part of the organization’s innovation framework, acting as a conduit between employees and managers to ensure that the business goals and priorities — including the need for innovation in the workplace — are shared and understood by every employee who walks in the door. Their responsibility as innovation evangelists also involves ensuring managers understand it is expected that employees are given the space and opportunity to innovate.
With 42 percent of those employees surveyed saying that don’t see a way to funnel their ideas to management, HR managers are instrumental in boosting this percentage and can do so by providing a road map for managers to prioritize and recognize the creation and communication of new ideas.
Here are six ways that HR can promote an innovative workplace:
• Drive It from the Top — HR needs to ensure the leadership team encourages innovation and actually demonstrates that an innovative view can unleash the potential that already exists in the organization. Leadership can accomplish this by sharing stories, metrics, and business wins to provide inspiration and motivation.
• Encourage Open Two-Way Dialogue — HR managers should facilitate a culture in which employees feel confident talking to their managers about their ideas, and in turn, managers listen and provide feedback. Organizing formal “innovation days” or “Dragons Den” type activities can be a good way to kick-start a more regular dialogue about workplace innovations.
• Create an Innovative Work Area/Environment — Inspiration rooms allow employees to brainstorm and debate ideas in a relaxed environment. HR managers should work with managers to promote these spaces and make sure they are regularly used. A key barrier that is often cited is finding the time to innovate. While we can’t all create an environment like Google, where employees are expected to dedicate 20 percent of their time to innovation, managers can plan ahead to allow for one-day-per-month innovation activities.
In our Global Perspectives study, only 54 percent of respondents said that their organization inspires them to come up with new or better ways of doing things, signaling the need for improvement. We know that employee productivity is enhanced when employees have the time and space to switch off from the grind and think. It is also vital that they have the opportunity to share ideas and seek feedback or input from colleagues without being made to feel they are not being productive.
• Encourage Ideas and Improvement — When we asked Global Perspectives survey respondents whether their manager encouraged them to come up with new and better ways to do things, 57 percent responded yes. The gap leaves ample opportunity for the HR department to train mangers to prioritize new ideas and listen to employee suggestions for improvement. We can take a lesson from the hotel chain Ritz-Carlton. Every morning, the front-line staff gathers to talk about the good and bad situations that arose the previous day, providing an opportunity to share and learn. Many organizations operate successful suggestion schemes. These work best when there is a straightforward and transparent system for assessing ideas and communicating feedback.
• Mix Up Employees and Encourage Collaboration — Findings from our study revealed that 58 percent of respondents think their organization provides opportunities for different teams and departments to work together. Because we know that creativity thrives on connections, changed perspectives, and synchronicity, simply mixing up teams can foster innovation. HR managers can assist line managers with creating team mix-ups or designating “job swap days” so that people experience each other’s role and responsibilities and, in the process, become more aware of others’ challenges and perspectives. Even changing up the seating can encourage better cross-team collaboration.
• Recognize Creativity and Demonstrate That the Company Values It — HR managers can work with leadership to give awards for innovative ideas or new developments that have made a difference to the organization.
Hearing the Employee Voice
HR managers have an important role in fostering a collaborative culture. They need to ensure that there is consistency and provide support mechanisms throughout the organization so that employees can be heard, receive feedback, and either know that an improvement has been made or be aware of the reason the suggestion wasn’t acted upon. Social media tools have recently come into the fore as a convenient, far-reaching, inexpensive collaborative tool. We see many organizations use Yammer, a private community that has drawn comparisons to an internal Facebook site. Yammer allows employees to have a place to post ideas and thoughts and communicate with one another. We find these online tools to be an effective way for managers to quickly and efficiently cast a wide communications net. For example, a manager can post about an upcoming event, share news, or recognize an employee. Another way organizations can foster collaboration is through digital hives, which are online hubs that encourage activities around problem-solving and organizational change.
These various internal online communities also provide an effective way for employees to provide feedback to managers (and other employees) in a freeing and efficient manner and offer a useful platform for dialogue.
There is an important link between giving employees the opportunity to get involved and providing the tools and techniques for harnessing their feedback. The role that HR plays is tenuous. HR managers want to be a part of the organization, and they are facilitators of innovative change. It is their job to advocate, frame, and reinforce messages and ensure that innovation is linked to recognition and reward.
Ensuring that new ideas are welcomed, prioritized, reviewed, and rewarded can help increase employee engagement and overall business results. HR managers are in the best position to complete this mission and demonstrate the value of being innovation evangelists.
Read our full Global Perspectives report>
About Global Perspectives
In its annual Global Perspectives Report, ORC International examines the employee perspective of current HR challenges. The global survey of 7,295 employees across 20 countries gathers perceptions of the employee experience in a range of workplaces. Measuring employee engagement levels and key drivers, ORC International explores and identifies differences in the perceptions between key demographic groups and compared the views of leaders with the front line. The report provides a comprehensive narrative of the findings, including insight into strategies for addressing the pertinent issues and viewpoints from our specialist thought leaders.