Building Innovation With Accountability

By Henry G. Jackson Sep 1, 2012
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September CoverHR professionals are masters of change, taming what is largely unavoidable in today's demanding business world. Change management is not something HR professionals just tolerate or take on grudgingly. It's now imbedded in our makeup; it's a way of life for most HR professionals.

Our profession has to be one that expects, predicts and embraces change—and demands to be in the room whenever change is discussed. But to reinforce that mandate, and to survive and even thrive in today's dynamic business environment, our profession must reimagine and redefine workplace culture.

While in San Diego recently, I told a group of chief executive officers that many of them often view culture as only a "soft" concept—a factor associated with a flexible, inclusive and enabling work environment. And it is that. But it is much more, and our task is to make that "harder" side of culture more evident.

The full power of culture trumps strategy every time. We unleash that power, that importance, to shape a work environment that is great for employees if we allow it to influence two of the most critical elements of organizational success: innovation and accountability. Develop a culture that fosters innovation and embraces accountability, and you have the foundation for an intrinsically successful organization that will survive for generations. An innovative culture can inoculate organizations from disruptive innovation. It can "out-innovate" agents of change and rapid evolution capable of bringing down companies that make the error of equating status quo with continued success.

Innovation means giving talented people the training, tools and support they need to challenge the status quo today and see more clearly tomorrow. It means creating a culture where employees can see around the corner and lead the way there.

As for accountability, it's not just about keeping promises, or paying attention to what matters. It's about assuming stewardship of important business challenges and being held responsible for results. It empowers our people with the freedom to fly, to experiment and, yes, to sometimes fail. Breakthrough discoveries are sometimes preceded by hundreds of failed attempts.

Thomas Paine, the 18th century political activist, author and revolutionary, said, "A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody." We must have personal and professional accountability for the bottom-line success of our organizations, and we must do so with commitment to a deep understanding of our organizations' business challenges. We cannot tolerate distancing ourselves from that responsibility.

If we separate ourselves, those bottom lines will suffer. Employee engagement will suffer. And HR executives will not have fully embraced their responsibility as keeper of the company's most important asset, and as the most critical C-suite position.

Innovation and accountability. With pursuit of a workplace culture built on those base strengths, we reinforce the truth that human resources is the strategic driver for business. We demonstrate to CEOs and the broader business community the power and value of HR.

In a culture characterized by these two traits, the same C-suite vigor in discussing engineering, technology, or research and design is used in discussions of human resources and the need to recruit, develop and retain the best talent in the world. Achieving that culture falls to the HR profession. As always, the Society for Human Resource Management will be there to assist you in reaching that goal.

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