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Five Overlooked Talent Management Hacks to Drive Increased Innovation


Human Resource leaders face a number of talent management challenges. One of the bigger challenges they face is how to drive innovation in the organization. What changes in culture, process, talent and process are needed to create a culture and workplace that drives innovation? Here are five overlooked talent management hacks that can help.

How Your Office Is Designed Can Foster or Hurt Collaboration 

The conventional wisdom is that the open office drives collaboration by removing the physical barriers among team members. This is true to a degree but the openness can present problems when quiet/undisturbed individual thinking is required. There are important times when individual rather than teamwork is necessary. 

How can Human Resources make an impact? They can start by reviewing their physical space and seeing if their space can be modified to have a mix of private/open space so that both groups and individuals can function well together. It is interesting that Susan Cain has teamed up with Steelcase to create Quiet Spaces – a collection of spaces that try to balance the public with the private. Vanessa Bradley, Manager of Advanced Applications at Steelcase says: 

“We understand that the workplace needs to offer a balanced approach for everyone. Collaboration is great, but we also need an individual approach. We need to balance the needs of all types of personalities.” 

Sometimes Thinking Inside The Box Is Good 

While outside the box/disruptive thinking is strongly encourage to drive innovation the more conventional “inside the box” thinking can be overlooked. Kevin Coyne, Partner at the Coyne Leadership Group and formerly with McKinsey, was quoted in a 2007 Harvard Business Review article saying: 

“Most managers and professionals are quite capable of thinking effectively inside a box. They live with constraints all the time and automatically explore alternatives, combinations, and permutations within their confined space. We have found that if you systematically constrain the scope of their thinking (but not too much), people are adept at fully exploring the possibilities, and they can regularly generate lots of good ideas —  and occasionally some great ones. Setting the right constraints is a matter of asking the right kinds of questions: ones that create boxes that are useful, but different, from the boxes your people currently think in”.

In the article Coyne points out a number of big/profitable ideas that came from employees who operated in the more structured confines of how to improve a current product or service rather than trying to create something great from nothing.

Reduce Internal Competition To Foster Real Teamwork 

While competition can be a productive way to motivate (think sales contests) it can be a really killer when it comes to fostering teamwork in an organization. We see examples of this when business units have to fight with each other for capital or when some individuals or teams a recognized above others because they have made “the best or the biggest” contribution.

HR needs to promote and nurture a culture where the entire organization is aligned towards common success and that all gains – both big and small – are recognized. Laura Montini wrote in a recent Inc. magazine article that: 

“When employees collaborate with members OUTSIDE the team, ring information and ideas back to the group, the team sees 35%greater innovation and creativity”. 

It is Good To Have A Healthy Mix Of Skeptics

A challenge facing culture building at organizations is how to have a healthy balance of skeptics who can challenge ideas with the intent on improvement. This is a challenge because many times these people will be regarded as counterproductive or negative (Doctor No). While some of this is true it is also true that the skeptic can help the team avoid groupthink, intellectual shortcuts and blind spots.

Karen Cane, in her Korn Ferry Institute article Why Companies Need Skeptics is quoted as saying:

“Author Chunka Mui calls these skeptics “devil’s advocates” and considers them part of the innovation process in The New Killer Apps: How Large Companies Can Out-Innovate Start-Ups.

Mui isn’t against harmony, happiness or employees who feel at ease, but he notes, “Humans need to feel part of the group in order to be happy, and yet groupthink is one of the big dangers that lead to corporate (and other group) failures. That doesn’t say that happiness indexes are inherently bad, but [the indexes] are … not the whole story.”

“Are skeptics contributors? Have they played a role in the success of critical ideas? One of Mui’s favorites is Alfred P. Sloan, the legendary CEO of General Motors. When he asked his top executives if they were in complete agreement with a decision and he heard no objection, he said he was adjourning the discussion “to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about,” according to an anecdote cited by Mui.

Mui’s research shows that “too many organizations get to the point of complete agreement too quickly. More disagreement is in order.”

A Healthy Work/Life Balance Will Drive Creativity

Human Resource leaders are constantly addressing work/life balance issues when it comes to employee retention and engagement. It should also be noted that striking the right balance can lead to greater creativity and innovation, Stephen Miller, in the SHRM blog Study Links Wellness and Work/Life Programs to Creativity noted that 

“Organizations that promote health and well being, for example through initiatives that support wellness and work/life balance, are 3.5 times more likely to encourage creativity and innovation”.