The innovation imperative

Human resources can help drive innovation, spot trends

Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl 

When most people think about innovation and trend spotting, the HR function isn’t generally top of mind. That’s a shame in many ways because informed and creative HR practitioners can do a lot to help drive innovation and creativity within their organizations. 

From developing a culture that rewards and incents risk-taking and creativity to recruiting and selecting the talent organizations need to be successful and adapt to the ever-changing business and technological climate, HR has a very important role to play in helping companies remain current and relevant. 

When HR is functioning at the most strategic levels, senior leaders from the HR function are able to provide input and suggestions that relate to the organization’s strategic goals and objectives. They are also able to determine how best to leverage and acquire the talent needed to achieve those goals and spot trends that relate to the labour market, technology, society and the broader business climate. 

With so much change and disruption happening in the business world these days, innovative talent and people management practices have never been more important. Organizations that treat HR solely as overhead and a cost centre do so at their peril and are losing out on an opportunity to have a valuable and important business partner at the table working alongside the organization’s other senior business leaders to come up with innovative and creative solutions to business challenges. 

Recent history is filled with examples of companies that failed to adapt to changing technology and market conditions – think Kodak, Polaroid, Blockbuster Video and the old General Motors. While I’m not saying those companies didn’t have innovative HR practices or HR could have singlehandedly turned things around, several of those organizations failed largely due to people and cultural issues, which are definitely within the ambit of the HR department. 

Leveraging hidden opportunities 

Last week, I attended ADP Canada’s executive event “The New Standard in People Management” in Toronto, in which bestselling author and founder of Jeremy Gutsche provided a fascinating glimpse into the worlds of innovation and trend spotting. As well as being a successful entrepreneur, speaker and former banker, he is also an author of two books, including his most recent entitled Better and Faster: The Proven Path to Unstoppable Ideas. 

As part of his session, Gutsche told several interesting stories about his upbringing in Calgary where his family would discuss products on the market and try to design and prototype new ones. His father was a serial entrepreneur starting at an incredibly young age, so a lot of that undoubtedly rubbed off on him. 

I took away a number of valuable lessons from Gutsche’s session, including the following:

Good ideas frequently come from seeing the connections in fields that don’t seem related at first.

Success is often the result of hard work combined with an overlooked opportunity.‎

The business world can be divided into what Gutsche refers to as farmers and hunters. Farmers are people who have become complacent, repetitive and protective of the status quo, which they assume will last forever, while hunters are constantly on the lookout for new opportunities.

Many organizations have failed in recent years due to their failure to adapt and spot trends.

Often it isn’t the major “macro trends” that bring the most opportunity because most people know about them. Being able to spot less major and fundamental trends can actually lead to greater opportunity.

Too many rules, bureaucracy and an overly hierarchical organizational structure stifle innovation. This is where HR can help. 

Gutsche’s session was relevant to HR professionals — particularly those at the most senior levels — because a more strategic HR function will get involved in spotting new and emerging trends, finding and leveraging hidden business opportunities and driving the cultural and organizational change needed to capitalize on those opportunities. 

The session also made me realize these types of issues are highly relevant to a company like ADP and its clients because the idea is their solutions can allow clients’ HR departments to spend less time on transactional activities and free up their time for more strategic, value-added activities like driving and nurturing innovation. Who knows, perhaps HR will be involved in helping their organizations develop the next iPhone?

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