Today's business environment is more dynamic and complex than ever before, forcing firms to adapt quickly to increasing competition, elevated consumer demands, emerging technologies, every facet of diversity, and the pressure of global economic forces. To remain competitive and grow their businesses, leaders must find new ways to differentiate their organizations from competition, identify new processes and products, and fully utilize the spectrum of resources under their control in more strategic ways. The critical importance of innovation has emerged as an essential strategy used by leaders and managers seeking opportunities to establish sustainable competitive advantages for their organizations (Ceylan, 2020; De Tienne & Mallette, 2012; Sharifirad & Ataei, 2012).
“It is generally accepted that firms can create a competitive advantage from human resources and from human resource management practices” (Pablos & Lytras, 2008, p. 49). For human resource (HR) managers to maximize their strategic impact, they must be aware of their potential impact and intentionally employ those HR management practices to encourage creativity and innovation so as to mobilize the firm's human capital to actively contribute to their organizations' strategic goals and objectives relative to competitive advantages.
Consider the following HR management practices and how they might be leveraged to encourage innovation:
RECRUITMENT – As HR managers seek to fill open positions, they can intentionally seek out diverse candidates. Where openings are displayed and advertised can influence who sees them and applications, so venturing beyond posting positions on the company website is essential so as to not leave this to chance. Further, the language used in the job postings should clearly articulate a value for diversity. Clearly encouraging candidates with non-traditional backgrounds and training to apply can position the hiring manager to have a richer pool of qualified candidates from which to make the final selection.
SELECTION – Hiring people with a preference for candidates who demonstrate an aptitude for creative thinking and problem solving can go a long way towards the effort to encourage innovation. It is much easier to inspire someone open to change to try new ways of doing things, identify new products and services, and to actively listen to customer feedback. In the selection of new hires, HR managers should select candidates that demonstrate both the capacity to do the job and the attitude and aptitude to change and problem solution.
TRAINING – Skills can be taught, so having a strong program to train new hires with the right mindset to be effective at their work is critical. Offering ongoing training that addresses changes in the industry, evolving best practices, and introduces new technologies reinforces the expectation of innovation.
PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT – Employees must feel safe to try new things without fear of being punished if innovation is expected. Developing a comprehensive performance management system that rewards the learning that comes from small failures and also rewards employees for successful innovations is essential. Giving employees time and latitude to step outside of their job descriptions, connecting with other functions within the organization, and learn new skills and knowledge can create opportunities for them to expand their perspective and open doors for creative ideas.
There are a lot of arrows in the quiver of an HR manager seeking to encourage innovation. Some of this can be influenced by who gets hired, making sure that as new people enter the organization they have the aptitude and attitude for creativity and change. Using the purview of the HR team to determine what training is offered, they can offer resources to ensure new hires are well prepared to successfully accomplish the essential tasks of their role while also positioning them to think beyond the status quo. Finally, rewarding innovative successes while not punishing mistakes made as a result of trying new things in the performance management process. When approached with intention, HR can have a dramatic impact on an organizations aspirations for innovative outcomes.
Ceylan, C. (2013). Commitment-based HR practices, different types of innovation activities and firm innovation performance. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 24 (1), 208-226.
De Tienne, D., & Mallette, P. (2012). Antecedents and outcomes of innovation-oriented cultures. International Journal of Business and Management, 7 (18).
Pablos, P., & Lytras, M. (2008). Competencies and human resource management: implications for organizational competitive advantage. Journal of Knowledge Management, 12 (6), 48-55.
Sharifirad, M., & Ataei, V. (2012). Organizational culture and innovation culture: exploring the relationships between constructs. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 33 (5), 494-517.