John Allen: Institutionalize creativity Featured

7:01pm EDT January 31, 2012
John Allen: Institutionalize creativity

I’m happy to report that human resources is no longer limited to managing the administrative processes that ensure employees are appropriately hired, fired or paid. Today, HR plays a more strategic role in corporations than ever. HR departments, and the professionals that manage them, are expected to contribute to strategic business initiatives — things like creating a company culture that engages committed employees and designing a merit-based performance management protocol that effectively rewards and motivates workers.

Another trendy HR initiative is innovation. Many corporations are enlisting their HR teams to help identify, inspire and even institutionalize innovation among the ranks. So how does HR contribute to a culture of innovation?  In more ways than you might think. Here are six that easily come to mind.

Recognize it — For the past decade, innovation has been an ideal business gurus have pontificated, business magazines have measured, and business owners have aspired to, so it’s no wonder some expect the next “innovation” to be accompanied by a little fanfare, or at least an impressive PowerPoint. In reality, of course, the greatest innovations don’t come wrapped in ribbons and bows. They arrive as memos inside plain vanilla folders or as e-mails in an inbox.  Good managers have to be able to recognize and implement good ideas, but HR can help by shining a spotlight on new ideas and the employees who generate them.

Hire it — To thoroughly ingrain innovation into your company’s culture, start by hiring it. Identify job applicants who have a propensity for creativity and thinking outside the box. Design interview questions to determine how applicants have demonstrated innovativeness in the past, or if possible, conduct tests to measure applicants’ creative bent.

Share it — Companies often develop silos. It’s not intentional, but by default teams tend to confine themselves within perceived physical or professional boundaries. As a group that touches all areas of the company, HR can be a conduit for creative people and ideas. If you know someone in accounting who has an idea for saving money on office supplies, introduce them to the right person in procurement.

Champion it — Innovation often comes when someone has the guts to break from the status quo or bend the corporate rules a bit. Cheer on the rule breaker and champion the revolutionary if it means getting a good idea heard. HR should encourage management to have the conviction to embrace good ideas wherever or however they come.

Reward it — Create a performance-evaluation process and compensation system that recognizes and rewards ingenuity. Ideas that contribute to sales growth, market penetration, operating efficiencies or cost savings can have a tremendous impact on a company’s success. Recognize those that generate the ideas as well as those that help to implement them and don’t punish employees for failed ideas. Some of the best ideas just need time to come into season.

Promote it — HR can be instrumental in promoting a culture where innovation is pervasive. It can involve creating a physical environment that supports brainstorming and open communication or conducting contests that encourage out-of-the-box thinking. Whatever methods are employed, good ideas are the natural byproduct of companies that can successfully institutionalize creativity and innovation.

Innovation need not be defined by life-altering inventions or ground-breaking discoveries. Sometimes the most impactful innovations are as simple as a money-saving process improvement or a tried-and-true formula applied to a new product or market. Whatever it is or wherever it comes from, HR can help companies embrace it wholeheartedly.

John Allen is president and COO of G&A Partners, a Texas-based HR and administrative services company that manages human resources, benefits, payroll, accounting and risk management for growing businesses. For more information about the company, visit