Work force practices can drive innovation

HR managers know that an employer can achieve greater innovation with the right work force practices in place.

However, many employers fail to look at the human capital side for attaining this, says Cliff Stevenson, senior human capital researcher for the Institute for Corporate Productivity.

Most employers believe innovation only comes from hiring the most creative employees, but a recent i4cp study shows that this is not the case. Employers can develop innovative thinking as a skill among employees, and the most high-performing organizations have embraced this practice.

To start, an employer should incorporate innovation into its mission and vision, Stevenson says.

Publicly supporting innovation signals to employees that they can take on projects that might succeed or turn into a disaster. Innovation requires a degree of trial and error, but research reveals that high-performing organizations are twice as likely to include innovation into their corporate missions and visions.

“When employees see innovation is stated and promoted throughout the company, they feel a little safer in risk taking, which is what you need in terms of innovation,” Stevenson says. “You need to try out some ideas and know it’s OK to take those risks and occasionally fail. That’s what innovation requires.”

Traditionally, intrinsic rewards, such as personal satisfaction, have been considered most effective at encouraging innovation, but financial perks are becoming more widely used, Stevenson says. Now, this doesn’t mean companies are expecting to simply pay for creative ideas, which doesn’t work, but they are instead using pay as a way to show employees that their thoughts are valued and encourage employees to speak up.

“In the right amount and given the right way so that it’s visible, paying for innovation is more about sending the message that your organization is serious about innovation and committed to it,” Stevenson says. “We’re really putting our money where our mouth is and letting people try new things and giving them the opportunity to express these ideas.”

Some of the most effective methods to help employees find those innovative ideas include creating diverse networks of employees, which collects ideas from people of various backgrounds and experiences, and allowing employees some quiet time for reflection, especially early in the week, Stevenson says. These practices are not difficult to implement, and employees report that these help stimulate their creativity. Many employers turn to brainstorming sessions to encourage innovation, but Stevenson finds that this actually does not help.

“We found often that when brainstorming is done, you’re not really coming up with creative ideas,” Stevenson says. “In that setting, all you’re doing is getting different reiterations of the same idea.”

Looking forward, 83.4 percent of organizations expect innovation to be even more important than it is today, i4cp finds, and employers need to help their employees tap into their creative sides if they are to perform well in the increasingly competitive market. 

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