Right out of the gate, here’s a serious question: Are you ready to become a change lover?

We here at TruEdge are thrilled to introduce you to Leadership’s Edge, our very first leadership and change blog. In the coming months we look forward to sharing and discussing a variety of valuable information, tips, and suggestions about how to build personal and organizational change capacity and thrive in chaos. Change is the one sure thing – our goal is to make you a change lover, ready and eager for your next encounter!

To begin this series, Dr. Mike Valentine, former VP for HR at the New York Times, shares his first blog:

HR, where innovation goes to die? Really?

To be completely transparent, this is my first blog post anywhere, and although I’m usually willing to express my endless supply of viewpoints verbally, writing about them is new for me. That said, I have high hopes for my contribution in this medium. Through Leadership’s Edge, I hope to provoke thinking on topics that have imbedded tension. With a focus on the relationship between system transformation in organizations and Human Resources practice, I wish to invite dialog on novel, ground breaking concepts that test traditional thinking. So, strap in and enjoy the ride!

Leading Innovation: a new role for HR

For the first post, I am inspired by a recent exchange with a colleague about what drives innovation in organizations. Because we are both consultants, our animated dialog invariably led to the question of who “owns” innovation in an organization? I left the conversation with a curiosity that stuck, of all functional areas in a modern-day business, which is best suited to encourage and guide the innovative process? Taking it a step further, can Human Resources own innovation?

Now, if you subscribe to the notion that HR is the place where ideas go to die, then this question isn’t worth exploring. One might argue that HR’s traditional turf doesn’t even align with innovation. But, if you suspend disbelief momentarily, you might actually see a rational argument emerge that HR is in fact best suited to guide organizational innovation. In that regard, I’ll make two key points for consideration: 1. HR’s influential reach into organizational dynamics, 2. HR’s impressive arsenal of culture change levers.

The first point recognizes what I call HR’s diversity of practice. This relates to the numerous places in the organization where HR is expected to have influence. For example, using one model from the prominent writer and thought leader for HR practice, David Ulrich, there are four key areas of HR influence in an organization: employee engagement, leading change, strategic support, and administrative expertise[1]. Imbedded in each of these areas are numerous associated practices and processes that can enable innovative effort. No other function in a typical organization has the breadth of presence in as many areas or as many potential entry points of influence on innovation as HR.

The second point acknowledges the relationship between an organization’s culture and innovation. An organization’s desire to shift towards more innovation usually requires some level of realignment of the existing culture to promote increased innovation. I argue that shaping culture is clearly in the domain of and should be centered in the expertise of HR. This point is not a stretch, two significant culture forming levers already lie within HR’s traditional sphere of responsibility, leadership development and talent acquisition. Both of these key functions can have significant influence on how an organization behaves. Imagine if HR could align its practices and process in these two areas in service of supporting organizational innovation. Consider for a moment, what focused recruiting practices – that sourced and selected talent with the right creative mindset and targeted leader development – that focused on nurturing those behaviors conducive to an innovative culture could do. Couple that with the proper messaging, alignment of reward systems, and performance measures, all within HR’s sphere of impact, and a key influencing capacity emerges.

Admittedly, the shift I am proposing will take a bit of imagination and a transformation in current thinking by the business and its HR partners. However, considering how many organizations that aspire to more innovation fall short of their targets and the obvious alignment of practice areas HR already possess,the argument can easily move from fantasy to persuasive. Let me know your thoughts.

[1] Ulrich, D. “Human Resource Champions” 1997 Harvard Business Press

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