ATLANTA--Traditional definitions of the word “innovation” tend to be just a bit too narrow and constrictive, according to HR consultant Susan R. Meisinger, SPHR.
Meisinger led the mega session “HR’s Role in Driving Innovation” on June 25, during the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2012 Annual Conference and Exposition, held here June 24-27. She told audience members that they needed to think of innovation as more than just generating new ideas, processes and products.
“Innovation is much broader in concept than that. And, when it comes to innovation, you don’t want to limit thinking and imagination in your organization, because that’s what it’s all about,” said Meisinger, who retired as president and CEO of SHRM in 2008.
Innovation: Make It Corporate Culture
Throughout her presentation, Meisinger asserted that hiring creative people and developing a corporate culture that thrives on innovation should be top priorities for all HR professionals. She said that innovation doesn’t merely just happen as some might think, but that it takes a thoughtful effort to promote innovation within an organization.
“The one point I would like you to take away is that to really develop an innovative workforce, you must be mindful of this objective every day,” Meisinger said. “It must be at the front of your mind, and every day ask yourself: ‘What are we doing to push innovation forward?’ ”
Another important point, Meisinger said, was to make innovation a specific goal for your organization’s HR department.
“People do what they’re paid to do, so make it part of the job,” she said. “Also be mindful that this is not always about organizational budgets. Spending money does not correlate with innovation.”
Devoting resources to innovation, however, can have a positive effect in an organization, Meisinger added. She said that training and development programs can have a strong impact, if used correctly.
“Look for developmental opportunities, and then design training and development programs with the end goal of pushing innovation forward,” she said.
Another key organizational resource is technology, Meisinger asserted.
“If you are someone who still has a problem with technology, I have three words for you: get over it,” she said. “HR has a role to understand the technology that is available and capable of enhancing an organization’s internal and cross-channel communications.”
With social media and other technological tools, HR has an opportunity and maybe even a duty to improve and enhance information flow within an organization, Meisinger told the audience.
She said by helping to expand the flow of information, organizations can begin to knock down traditional silos that tend to exist between corporate departments and divisions.
“The goal is to create an organizational culture where the emphasis is on ‘we’ and not ‘I,’ ” she said. “HR professionals should focus on the ability to share information across the boundaries and typical silos that exist in every organization.”
Open Communication Spurs Innovation
Meisinger then pointed to employee social events as an opportunity to tear down boundaries that many HR professionals seem to miss. She asked the audience to raise their hand if they resented the fact that their organization expected them to organize social events, such as holiday parties and corporate picnics. Dozens of hands shot up in the audience.
“Excuse me while I go on a rant here. You’re looking at this from the wrong perspective, and you shouldn’t resent this opportunity and instead embrace it,” she said. “You need to look at these employee events as strategic opportunities to open communication channels.”
In social settings, people talk and get to know each other, and HR’s role should be to help encourage that interaction and promote the culture where people talk to people, she added.
“Is it more likely that someone from accounting will return a call or consider a suggestion from someone in publications that they barely know, or is it likely that they will listen and pay attention to someone whom they remember meeting and sharing a good time?” Meisinger asked. “HR’s role is to ensure clarity and the organization’s efforts to develop and maintain a culture that encourages and celebrates innovation.”
Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.