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How to Increase Innovation in HR: 7 Tactics

Learn how to harness creativity and ensure that innovation is in service to the business and to your teams.

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Jan 17, 2024
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Last updated on Jul 24, 2023

Innovation is responsible for the gas-powered automobile, penicillin, and the very MacBook I’m writing this article on. Innovation made these things possible, and we’re all better off. But while we think of innovation as a process that brings about new technologies and revolutionizes our daily life, human resources innovation can be as simple as introducing new ideas to make our lives, our work, and our organization better. 

HR leaders are in a unique position to promote innovative thinking across every department and at every level, making it all the more important that we take every chance to innovate ourselves and promote innovation in our teams.  

What is Human Resource Innovation? And How Do You Measure It? 

Be they scientists, sales experts, or even our greatest literary minds, history’s best-remembered innovators share one thing in common: they weren’t afraid to embrace new ideas, solve problems in unique ways, or depart from the norms of their time to predict (and shape) the future. Human resource innovation, when fully embraced, allows leaders to anticipate future organizational needs, guaranteeing that teams remain supported and empowered no matter the circumstances. Through new technologies, processes, and ways of thinking, HR leaders follow in the footsteps of the innovators before them, optimizing everything from the hiring of new talent to the measurement of employee performance. 

But how do we know when and if we’re innovating? And how do we know if our innovation is ultimately in service of the business and our teams? By looking at HR innovation metrics related to the outputs and inputs of human resource innovation, we can adequately gauge the effectiveness of these efforts. 

“Just like how product organizations innovate through user experiments, HR organizations can innovate through feedback loops: try something, gather data, prove and disprove assumptions, and then try again. Do this enough times, and HR organizations gain enough data for predictive analytics. Do it continuously, and HR organizations will always stay a step ahead of what their organizations need to hit business goals. We are accomplishing that with our product; organizations create a feedback loop for effective hiring through post-hire feedback. This allows them to innovate on talent attraction strategies, hiring scorecards (based on attributes of high-performing employees), interview formats, onboarding programs, and more.”
~Kerry Wang, CEO & Co-Founder, Searchlight 

HR Innovation Outputs

When measuring innovation, HR outputs are a simpler measure of effectiveness compared to our inputs. A few of these include: 

  • Efficiency: Particularly when it comes to tech-based innovation, you might find that improved efficiency is the greatest indicator of a successful effort.  

  • Profit: How have your innovative efforts saved (or made) the business money? If you’re managing employee performance better, and are therefore more keenly aware of individual skill sets, you may be able to optimize your teams and maximize productivity — leading to greater profit potential. 

  • The “Intangibles”: Aptly named, the intangible outputs of human resource innovation may be more difficult to measure –– but this doesn’t make these metrics any less valuable. Things like employee satisfaction, autonomy, and empowerment stand out as important byproducts of (and contributors to) innovation. 

HR Innovation Inputs

Without an understanding of the metrics related to our inputs, we have little idea how effective our outputs truly are. Here are two key inputs worth measuring: 

  • Personnel Recruited in Innovation Efforts: While your outputs may seem like proof that the business’s innovation efforts were a success, the amount of personnel it took to get to this point may tell a different story. If you recruited a handful of employees from various departments to aid in innovation, and with great success, your lean input paid off in a big way. However, if a company-wide effort failed to net the expected improvements in productivity or profit, you might need to rethink your approach to innovation. 

  • Innovation Strategies: How did you go about enrolling teams in your innovation efforts? In some cases, this might be the top-down transfer of knowledge, while others may warrant a company-wide seminar or online course. The strategy you choose can be useful in determining the overall effectiveness of your approach.

Now that we’ve reiterated the importance of HR innovation metrics related to both input and output, here are a few tried-and-true tactics.     

Implement a Program to Recognize and Reward Innovation

Innovation isn’t always a top-down, organization-wide initiative. Many of our greatest innovations come from employees and team members who see a different, better approach –– then execute on it. And without supporting, recognizing, and reinforcing these behaviors, you could be leaving some of your greatest innovations on the table. 

One recurring theme you’ll recognize throughout many of the strategies below is that employee growth, autonomy, and well-being are instrumental in creating a more innovative environment. This starts with ensuring your people know that innovation is allowed (and encouraged) and that they’re rewarded for daring to think differently. But to innovate, employees must feel empowered and engaged by their work. The more in control your people feel, the more likely they’ll be to see alternative pathways and begin innovating. With a clearly defined recognition framework, you can guarantee that your people feel seen and heard for their innovative contributions and comfortable sharing future feedback.   

Structure Teams to Execute on Innovative HR Ideas

Recognition and rewarding innovative thinking is one thing –– making changes based on this thinking is another. Further, few things are more disheartening than being encouraged to dream up innovative ideas, being praised for doing so, and seeing nothing happen as a result. So, as much as innovation requires HR leaders to talk the talk, we’ve got to walk the walk when the time comes. 

Putting structures in place to process this feedback and take the necessary steps toward innovating can go a long way toward making teams feel heard, and I recommend HR leaders involve these innovators in the process as much as possible. They came up with the idea, and they’ll be empowered by the chance to execute on it.  

“Innovation is tested as a success when you’ve solved for something successfully or you’ve hit the market in a true, solving manner. You know you are in innovation-mode once you’ve adapted structure for it and have also set a repeatable process for it to thrive. For both businesses and teams, success is met when it’s met milestones and objectives for what good looks like. For teams specifically, you know you’ve ‘made it’ when you’ve made space for the team to think (and especially to think big), time to play, allow for failure and foster a culture of collaboration and learning. Sounds dreamy, and it is — promise.”
~ Crystal Jeffs, VP, Employee Experience & Operations at Integral, an employee experience agency

Create a Diverse Environment

There’s an expression I’ve found useful when interviewing, developing, and understanding talent: “When we walk into a room, we bring our whole lives with us.” And whether we realize it or not, every experience we have has the potential to inform how we see the world. 

How does this relate to innovation? 

Well, while a room full of people who went to the same schools, share the same background, and play on the same softball team outside of work might be rich with camaraderie (if not a little chummy,) it might also produce many of the same ideas. By embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) and ensuring your workforce is made up of people from all walks of life, you can create an environment where viewpoints are mixed and innovation can be approached from every angle. You can also create an environment where each voice is heard; where employees are appreciated for exactly who they are.  

Build a Culture That Encourages Innovation Through Psychological Safety

As I mentioned earlier, it’s impossible to empower innovation in our teams if we’re not making sure our people are well. You tell me: Is innovation at work going to be top of mind if you’re actively struggling with a million other things? The unique position we’re in as HR leaders means we can help create a safe environment for employees –– while also allowing innovation to flourish. 

Part of this goes back to recognizing, rewarding, and executing on individual innovation, but it also means adopting a form of “no bad ideas” policy regarding feedback. If your teams trust you enough to bring their ideas to you, a lot of work has clearly gone into building this foundation of trust. Ensuring the psychological safety of your people means recognizing this out-of-the-box for what it is: Proof of an engaged and empowered employee.  

Place an Emphasis on Employee Growth

By creating a psychologically safe environment, boosting autonomy, and engaging our people, we as HR leaders are taking an active stake in their growth –– both as individuals and in their careers. Continued emphasis on this growth will not only improve skillsets, enable innovation, and refine processes, but will also instill in employees that organizational successes as a result of innovation are also personal successes, inspiring continued innovation.  

With that said, not every employee wears their aspirations on their sleeve. Take the time to get to know the personal and professional development goals of your people, and how you can play a part in helping achieve them, and the foundation of an innovation-friendly culture will emerge. 

Leverage Technology to Empower Innovation

Nearing the end of this list, you might be looking at your calendar, then at this article, then back at your calendar and wondering: How can I possibly do all of this? Fortunately, technology can be the HR leader’s best friend. That is, if you’re using the right tech.

Below are just a few of my tech recommendations for HR leaders looking to empower innovation.   

  • Applicant Tracking Systems- Instrumental to your  hiring process, we know a good ATS simplifies tasks around gathering applicant data, posting job listings, and even automating screening processes (and enhances the employer brand if it’s really good). But one of the biggest advantages of an ATS is the ability to collaborate with all internal stakeholders on the  search efficiently, and segment your data through custom tags and universal search tools. These innovations have unlocked countless hours, and as AI changes the landscape, we will only see more data aggregation. 

  •  Performance Management Systems- Ideally, these tools will provide a 10,000-foot view of your talent pool, allowing you to make strategic decisions to promote DE&I, upskilling, and internal mobility. Whether you are running 360’s, continuous feedback cycles, or are just getting started on shaping a performance philosophy, they can be instrumental in tracking individual growth as your org scales, and crucially, ensure that conversations are happening that fuel innovation and growth at all levels. (And from there, it’s a quick next hop to learning development systems that can help you pinpoint personalized learning and development opportunities with innovation in mind).   

  • Onboarding Software- Studies have shown that employees who felt they had a “highly effective” onboarding experience are 18 times more likely to feel invested in their organization once the process is over. The right onboarding software ensures new hires get the Goldilocks treatment through  an onboarding process that engages and enrolls employees as efficiently as possible. By optimizing this stage, we can help preserve the fresh ideas and outside perspectives that these new teammates bring to the organization and guarantee they feel invested enough to share them.  

  • Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS)- For smaller  organizations, leveraging an HRIS may be innovative enough –– but once you integrate it, the cross-functional data an HRIS compiles can be the key to unlocking innovation (and freeing up your team’s time). Integration with other systems  means that your talent acquisition, onboarding, and employee performance data are all gathered under one “roof,” allowing HR leaders to connect the dots and see which innovation inputs are producing which outputs and refine their approach accordingly. 

  • Employee Engagement Platforms- Behavioral psychology proves that the praise and coaching we dole out to innovative employees should be immediate (delaying reinforcement means delaying change). Thus the rise of real-time feedback tools, which track and create recognition cycles ensuring that our people are given a voice and that every opportunity for innovation is realized. 

  • Predictive Analytics for Workforce Planning and Recruitment- If your org reaches a certain scale, a whole world of innovation through data opens up with the new generation of AI and analytics tools. These can help you target and pinpoint quality of hire and retention metrics in a granular way confirming (or not!) whether your cultural and performance programs are moving patterns of behavior and helping retain outstanding talent. 

Scale Innovation Across a Global Workforce

For startups and small organizations, innovation can mean better employee experiences, greater output, and widened margins. But for global businesses, innovation can mean making a genuine difference in the world. For this reason, it’s important that our efforts toward creating a more innovation-friendly culture aren’t lost as we scale. 

So how do we preserve this spirit of innovation? For starters, the above tools, while beneficial for smaller organizations, are a total necessity for global organizations. Ensuring voices are heard in a team of 15 can be challenging — without an employee engagement platform, teams of 10,000+ can feel like their feedback is being shouted into the void. By building your foundation with these tools, you can scale with confidence while reducing the barrier to innovation company-wide. 

With that said: These tools are nothing without the leaders who wield them, and creating a global culture of innovation will require clearly defining your mission with the help of other leaders in your organization.  

Empower Your Innovation with the Help of Other HR Leaders 

Innovation doesn’t happen overnight –– it’s the result of weeks, months, and years of trial, error, failure, and triumph. And as a member of the TroopHR community, you’re surrounded by other HR leaders who have experienced the same journey, lived to tell the tale, and are ready to share their success strategies with you. 

Keep the conversation going, and discover more ways to foster a culture of innovation by joining the Troop.

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