Tuesday 20 May 2014

With HR Magazine and Thomas Wedell on Innovation

I’m taking a short break from my focus on gamification at a session organised by HR Magazine with some of its HR Excellence Awards judges, HR in the Boardroom alumni and a few others.

We’re being challenged and entertained by Thomas Wedell on innovation (so maybe it's not just a big break from gamification after all.)

Innovation shouldn’t just be out there, not just limited to innovation department, but must be business as usual through the business.

We talked about why it’s not:
  • Enabling business ownership so not just ‘their job’
  • Bringing groups together eg a day where teams work together rather than being siloed (innovation happens when you bring different insights together)
  • Managing nervousness eg if come out with a great idea being asked for more to do.

What works is a very pragmatic approach, not necessarily very creative looking, and which can be integrated into reality where people have other jobs to do.  It’s not about a trip to brainstorm island.  Sustainability, top-down - limiting buy-in, not focused on a particular area.

We also need to focus on the implementation side - it’s not just about getting the good ideas.  This just leads to the Monday Morning approach - getting all the ideas on post-it notes but then nothing ever changes.

Consider leaders as innovation architects.  It’s not about a mindset, about inspiration etc.  Not that this is untrue but it’s very hard to make it happen.

Focus relentlessly on changing behaviour - understand what this looks like.  Ask what is stopping people from being more innovative?

Thomas suggested:
  • Insufficient resources
  • No formal / articulated strategy for innovation
  • Lack of clear gols and priorities - focus beats freedom - where are the important problems?

Also don’t motivate by fear - find the opportunities.

I think I also heard Thomas say 'risk is bad' - what???

We also had some of the same debates that we'd had at the gamification summit eg:
  • Celebrating failure - yes, but nobody wants to win the award!  We suggested focusing on the greatest learning from mistakes rather than the mistakes themselves though I still prefer the idea about most likely to succeed next time from last week.
  • Not use the word innovation but the language that people understand eg 'making life easier' (like don't use the word gamification.)  I'm not too sold on this - I think if you can't talk about innovation it's going to significantly limit your opportunity to innovate.

Other suggestions included hackathons - make it easy for people - we can’t give them spare time - they don’t have the time just to focus on being innovative.

Most organisations look for innovation in new technology and future trends.  And these can be fertile grounds but it’s not the only and sometimes even the best source.  We get trapped in the future rather than focusing on what we should have developed three years ago using existing technology.  And we spend too much time creating solutions rather than identifying problems.  What do our employees do, where do they spend their time?

Thomas’ model focuses on 5+1 behaviours:
  • Focus the search
  • Connect people
  • Tweak the process (begin with interactive steps)
  • Select systematically
  • Stealth storm (let people operate under the radar and break the rules - at least at the start of a project)
  • Persist in the pursuit.

Thomas finished by asking where he’s got this wrong.  For me, it all makes sense, but I still think creating an innovative culture / environment is critical because it makes all the things above that much easier, simpler and organic.  It may be harder but it has a much bigger impact.  Thomas suggests culture is used as parking lot rather than to do anything serious - I agree with this, but if you talk about organisational capability instead then you've solved than problem fairly easily (a nice easy incremental innovation to make).

I talk about both of these sides of the challenge on my open workshops with Symposium Events: HR and Innovation (where we talk about HR helping organisations become more innovative, but also creating more innovation within HR.)

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