Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Innovators, innovation teams and the innovation process 15 – sourcing innovation from an HR and Personnel perspective

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on July 23, 2013

This is my fifteenth installment in a series on innovators and the process of innovation (see HR and Personnel, postings 154 and following for Parts 1-14.) I have been discussing both in-house developed and managed innovation, and the acquisition of innovation and insight from outside sources in this series, but switch back here and for this posting to primarily if not exclusively focus on in-house innovation sourcing. And with that topic restriction in mind, I explicitly bring Human Resource’s role in all of this into this ongoing discussion.

• Innovation, and the innovation potential that a business’ staff can offer constitute that organization’s life’s blood.
• The more fast-paced and competitive the industry and marketplace that a business operates in, the more important this is.
• I add to that point that even stable marketplaces and mature industries can become targets of the unexpected, from the sudden emergence of disruptively new and challenging innovation. And this disruptive New can arise either from within that industry itself, or from businesses outside of it that develop and offer novel alternatives that address its markets and its traditional customers’ needs and preferences better. Such innovation can even drive what were up to then at least, successful businesses into outright failure. So no business can truly consider itself long-term immune from any need for ongoing innovation, or immune to the consequences of emerging innovation that might be developed elsewhere.

Put slightly differently, if a business’ personnel constitute its greatest assets, and that is almost always true, then short-term, this value comes from meeting current and day-to-day business needs and cost-effectively and rapidly filling its customers’ orders. But long term, the real sustaining value of that same workforce is in its creative ability to keep their business competitive, and in the face of any and all outside change. That is where the ongoing narrative of this series, and I add of the lines of discussion of a range of other postings and series that I have been writing here, all land directly at the doorstep of Human Resources.

• If a business wants to succeed and even thrive long-term, and in the face of any and all outside challenges and opportunities, it has to bring in the right people,
• It has to retain them and keep them equipped with the resources that they need to keep their skills and their performance cutting-edge,
• And it has to know how to recognize, reward and advance members of its staff according to their creative and innovative potential as well as according to how well they meet their here-and-now, current business standards and goals. And meeting the sometimes competing needs and challenges of that apparent dichotomy constitutes one of the foremost challenges that any business and that any HR department within it can face.

Just consider hiring and onboarding, and for background material on those topics of discussion, see:

• My series: Hiring 101 at HR and Personnel, as postings 93 and following for Parts 1-9, and
• Onboarding New Employees 101, also at HR and Personnel, as postings 119 and following for Parts 1-13.

Hiring managers and the more senior managers who they report to, and who in many cases would authorize any headcount-increase hiring in the first place, tend to bring in new employees to address immediate here-and-now need, where gaps and/or insufficiencies are identified in the current staffing available and where a new hire would be needed to adequately address a current task management and completion requirement. This means that hiring primarily addresses here and now, short-term tactical operational needs.

Innovation, and development of the business so as to identify and enable innovative potential primarily offers long-term value and potential value. A realized and proven new innovation or invention might offer new and emergent break-through returns in the immediate here-and-now, and even open up entirely new markets and blue ocean strategic potential in the short-term. But the processes and approaches that make that possible are all long-term, and involve risk that a sought after innovation might not work out and that the resources invested towards developing it might not pay off. Rewards can be long-term, but at least some costs and risks are automatic and here and now and even if only slowly realized as low per-quarter but cumulatively significant ongoing research and development costs.

I write in this blog about how Human Resources should be viewed as a significant contributor to the overall strategic process, and not simply as an operational cost center that primarily carries out and manages rote employee records documentation.

• A business’ executive leadership: its CEO and other C level officers own overall strategy and hold overall ownership responsibility for it as a business. But they do not necessarily directly deal with the full range of their employees and are unlikely to know in detail what everyone does, and at least as importantly what everyone could do. This particularly holds for larger organizations and for businesses that are geographically dispersed across a range of office and other facility locations. They take too high-level a view of the business for that type and level of connectedness to their employees.
• Managers who work directly with hands-on employees and who directly supervise them do, or at least should know who does what and who can do what. But as close up and direct as their vision is here and certainly for their own specific teams, it is too locally constrained – and with their day to day focus they might still be unaware of employee skills potential even in their own teams, that are not already being utilized and developed through hands-on experience. And what they do know of their team members and their skills and experience sets is divided and diffused out among a perhaps large number of managers who in and of themselves to not have the tools or the time to organize and coordinate this knowledge as a business-wide sharable resource.
• Human Resources spans the entire organization, and for all in-house employees and at all levels of the table of organization – and I add for managing and tracking all consultants and contract workers who come in to work on-site too, and certainly for overseeing the company’s side of business contracts signed with them. The way that they are positioned to collect, store and organize the full range of this information makes them an invaluable strategic resource for managing long-term planning where success would hinge on detailed knowledge of human resources in place, and what is needed to bring in-house.
• And of course it is Human Resources that owns as a matter of taking overall responsibility for the basic procedural frameworks in place for hiring and onboarding, and also for performance review processes and for managing employee training. This, among other things, means it is HR that is in a best position for influencing and shaping the hiring and onboarding processes, and other basic processes as well, to encourage and support the long-term perspective that would be needed to really enable long-term innovative potential.
• That is the challenge. And a strategic goal for the senior executive suite should be to make sure that the people they have running their HR department understand and pursue long-term strategic excellence as well as working to meet ongoing here and now business needs.

I just touched upon here, one of the core responsibilities that Human Resources needs to take ownership of if it is to offer long-term value to a 21st century business, and particularly for large and complex ones with extensive and varied pools of available employees and employee skill sets. I am going follow up on that in my next series installment with at least a start to a more detailed discussion of Human Resources and its strategic role in this, and with a focus there on how senior and executive management would bring HR into the overall strategic process. I will then at least begin to discuss how HR would operationally fulfill those functional requirements and in fact help a business to be more innovative from a Personnel management and support side. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at HR and Personnel and also at Business Strategy and Operations and at its continuation pages: Business Strategy and Operations – 2 and Business Strategy and Operations – 3.

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