3 Ways HR Leaders Can Encourage a Culture of Innovation

by Shannon Larsen

Work culture is much different than it was in the past. With the rapid evolution of technology and the way people and society have evolved, businesses and their leaders need to rethink and reshape their company culture. But what defines a great workplace culture? 

Encourage Fast Failures

Employees love a culture where they feel they can make an impact. It takes courage to offer up big ideas though, especially when no one is sure whether those ideas will succeed. The key to encouraging a culture of innovation is to make “failing forward” a cultural norm, a way to create learning opportunities for the entire organization.

In the past, creating a new product was expensive and time consuming. It had to be fully designed, built, and tested before being packaged and physically delivered to customers. The process typically took years and required a significant investment of time and money. If it failed, the entire company might go down with it. 

Today, failure can be much less risky and far less expensive. Since the discovery of agile and frameworks such as Scrum, teams have begun to break big product ideas into small chunks and deliver new, usable functionality into a customer’s hands every two to four weeks, making the cost of failure remarkably inexpensive. Even if an idea misses the mark completely, the team has only lost a couple of weeks of work and has learned from it. 

Organizations do not have to use an agile framework like Scrum to make failure feel like a step forward rather than a step back.

HR, Talent Acquisition, and People Operations departments should embrace failure by:

  1. Developing a channel for sharing the results of short-term experiments, sharing lessons learned from their attempts, and determining what’s next.

  2. Creating an online lab for trying out new ideas before releasing them to the greater public.

  3. Incentivizing big ideas to encourage creative thinking. 

Related: Find an Agile Leadership course

Not every big idea will work out, but learning to fail quickly and adapt is important for organizations that want to succeed in the long term. You never know when that big idea will stick and transform your organization. 

 

Facilitate a Culture of Innovation

People are naturally curious. They like to experiment and explore challenging problems. If employees are given the opportunity to do these things at work, work becomes more enjoyable and exciting. An innovative work culture allows employees to think independently and problem solve creatively. 

For the longest time, traditional organizations with waterfall leadership styles and laborious processes were the norm. It would often look like a leader at the top making all of the big decisions while relying on their layers of subordinates to delegate tasks to workers with little or no time for innovation or creative thinking.

The world of work is very different today. Innovation is no longer a choice, it is essential in order to stay ahead of the competition. Adapt your leadership style accordingly. Using an agile framework helps companies adjust their policies and practices, no matter what's next. The market changes constantly, and in order to get ahead, companies need to learn how to adapt to the demands of the market and their customers.

As a leader it can be difficult to move away from the “traditional manager” way of doing things, fearing the unknown and instead, move toward an “agile leader” mindset, viewing teamwork entirely differently and allowing employees to draw their own map, through which they conquer sea monsters you never dreamed of. Do not be surprised if they start diagnosing and curing team dysfunctions independently.

Leaders in HR, Talent Acquisition, and People Operations encourage innovation by:

  1. Supporting an organization-wide “innovation day,” dedicated to working toward organizational initiatives in which everyone in the company is encouraged to participate.

  2. Encouraging employees to suggest how their work can be done most efficiently and effectively, from their experiential standpoint, to improve their effectiveness.

  3. Promoting new types of teamwork. Allow time for projects that connect people who haven’t worked together before, or bring new project ideas to your teams and offer them the opportunity to choose how the work is done. 

Related: Create a Joyful and Healthy Culture for Distributed Teams

By having a sense of autonomy and learning to fail quickly and safely, employees can take pride and feel empowered in the work that they do.

 

How Leaders Enable Growth Opportunities

Workers value the opportunity to grow professionally. Though someone may be doing extremely well and is high performing at his or her job, they may not be enjoying the experience. Not recognizing that desire for growth could result in the employee becoming frustrated by not seeing opportunities for advancement. They may begin to search for work elsewhere or disengage from their current projects or challenges.

Creating a learning culture in which employees can develop professionally through continuing education, skill enrichment, and training is a start, but growth doesn’t stop there. Employees crave internal growth opportunities in a workplace that makes space for them to partner with and be mentored by leaders in the organization, so they can then go on to mentor others.

Other ways effective leaders in HR, Talent Acquisition, and People Operations support employee professional growth and development:

  1. Implement cross-departmental training programs in which employees can learn about different aspects of the organization. 

  2. Motivate employees to grow with the organization by creating paths for advancement in different areas.

  3. Continue to look for development opportunities for employee growth and skill enhancement. 

Retaining employees can be challenging, but by finding opportunities to engage workers and show them they are valued, you support their personal and professional growth and increase their loyalty to your organization. And isn’t retention of excited, engaged, and educated employees your primary goal?

In an environment in which failing forward and testing big ideas are supported, motivation increases, as does innovation. Innovative, engaged employees are key to the sustainability and the survival of your organization. 

Related: Adapting During a Time of Rapid Change