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Organisational innovation has typically been the domain of marketing and R&D departments. However, considerable research has been conducted that suggests it is actually the HR department that can have the greatest impact on organisational innovation.

Despite ‘organisational innovation’ being a buzz word from the 1890s that seems to have had a large degree of staying power, there is a tendency for HR departments to continue to view innovation and creativity as being a little bit fluffy and best left to those whacky people in marketing.

Innovation does not have to be fluffy. Indeed, there have been countless scientific studies conducted into the area that have isolated variables that have been shown to lean to an increase in innovative behaviour and performance.

In addition, while it may be the marketing and R&D departments who are primarily judged on creative output, it is the HR department that is largely responsible for the culture of the organisation, which has an enormous impact on the chances of innovation occuring.

Research conducted at the Aston Business School in the UK found that the sophistication of HRM practice has significant impact on the number of successful product, technology and production innovations emerging from organisations.

Research conducted at the University of Sheffield supported the notion that effective HRM processes can have a huge effect on organisational innovativeness.

There are a number of specific ways that HR professionals can structure their practices to significantly increase their organisation’s capacity for innovation, and profitability from such innovation, occurring.

Recruiting for creativity

Recruitment is a good place to start; it is also an area where innovative competencies are mostly overlooked or ignored. Typically, these companies that use formal assessment as part of their selection process focus heavily on verbal and numerical abilities.

While there is a correlation between intelligence and creative ability, there are several other cognitive factors that have been shown to be precursors of creativity. These include an individual’s ability to remain open to new information and ideas (termed mental flexibility), and their ability to make remote associations between seemingly disparate pieces of information. In addition, an individual’s ability to suspend judgement is also a predictor of their on-the-job creativity.

Aside from their cognitive processes, there are several personality traits that have been strongly associated with creative ability. These include risk-taking, self-confidence, and ability to tolerate ambiguity, the need for achievement and, finally, the desire to work autonomously and with a lack of concern for social norms.

Recruiters should start to measure these competencies and traits to gain an understanding of whether the applicant will fit and thrive within an innovative culture, and whether they will drive the culture forward.

In addition, it is important that managers recruit people they feel they can trust. While this may sound obvious, it is actually impact on organisational innovation. Knowledge management was shown to have an even greater impact on innovation having a ‘creative culture’ (challenging, open, trusting, and time to generate ideas). HR managers need to ensure that employees have KPIs for continuous learning, and for how successfully learning is shared and implied.

Learning structures within organisations need to take heed of three key areas to ensure innovation success: the creative of knowledge and learning; the sharing and transfer of this knowledge; and finally, the implementation of the knowledge.

It is critical that the first stage- creation- is expiatory, to maximise breadth of learning and, thus, innovation potential.

With regard to the sharing of knowledge, mentoring can be an effective means of passing learning down the ranks. A less popular but just as effective technique is that of ‘reverse mentoring’. Firms such as IDEO have adopted this technique, which involves a senior employee being paired with and mentored by a more junior, younger employee. This allows the senior person to keep in touch with what younger employees are experiencing in their lives, such as Generation Y trends that could lead to important product or service innovations.

Non-job related learning

In relation to individual and team training, in most organisations training is often designed around role-specific competencies, such as presentation skills, PowerPoint skills and communication skills.  While this may lead to greater boardroom presentations with fancy animated pictures, this will not help with company innovation.

Instead of a traditional approach to training, L&D professionals need to set a broader agenda. To enhance innovation and creativity, training should be focused on seemingly unrelated fields of study and competencies. Such breadth of learning increases the likelihood of great ideas occurring.

Team size matters

The structuring of teams within a company is another way to increase the chances of creativity occurring. Research has shown that the size of a team has a significant effect on creativity output. Results of such studies suggests that large teams of 15 or more should be avoided, as larger group sizes have a detrimental impact on creativity. Instead, HR professionals should create medium-sized teams of six to 10 people to maximise innovation potential.

On the subject of teams, it is also important that teams change their members fairly regularly. Research has found that the entrenched assumptions of a team are less likely to be activated when a new person enters the team. Instead, the new person activates different memories, emotions and thoughts in team members, and thus increases the likelihood of innovation behaviours.

Walls and doors

The physical environment is one of the variables most overlooked by HR professionals. Indeed, the environment in which people spend their working lives has a phenomenal impact on behaviour.

The typical employee spends most of his or her day sitting in front of a desktop computer under a row of fluorescent lights. It is no wonder that the majority of great ideas do not occur while sitting at one’s desk.

One of the best ways to stimulate creativity is to regularly change the physical surrounds of employee’s working environment. This can be as simple as putting up new posters every fortnight pinning interesting articles on the back of toilet doors where people have time to read and be exposed to new stimuli. This exposure to diverse and changing stimuli increases the number of thoughts firing in the brain, which directly relates to increased idea generation.

So rather than leave the ‘creative’ stuff up to marketing, take the matter into your own hands to kick-start innovation at your organisation and let innovation thrive.