Search "HR and Innovation" on Google and results range from Innovation is a Strategic HR Imperative to How HR 'Best Practices' Kill Innovation and Does HR Matter in Innovation? Looking at innovation through two lenses, 1) HR Delivery and 2) HR Strategic Alignment, can kickstart HR’s innovation challenge and also reduce some of the fears that more traditional HR environments may have when beginning their innovation journey.
The first time I was engaged with a group of budding innovators during a week-long "innovation immersion", I felt like not only a fish out of water, but a fish that never learned to swim. Amongst a group of individuals that led innovation teams, worked in product development, and were engaged in work to change the molecular structure of radioactive isotopes- here I was. The "HR Guy" that was trying to understand "how might..." innovation be utilized within an HR function? What I quickly came to realize was that while many of my peers were able to translate innovation methodology and concepts directly into their role, I identified a challenge from an HR perspective- I was translating things twice!
I found myself looking at innovation content, processes, methods, tools, etc. through Two Lenses- 1) HR Delivery- how can this innovation concept be applied within the delivery of day-to-day HR functions? and 2) HR Strategic Alignment- how can those same concepts be applied to support and advance organizational objectives (aka "what others do")? Let's face it. Many HR functions are in the middle of transformation- the challenge of evolving from transactional to strategic partnerships. Looking at the opportunity that innovation provides through these two lenses can lessen the mystery, intimidation, or simply getting to the work of transforming both HR and organizational capability utilizing innovation methodology.
How can HR gain momentum in applying innovation methodology to their function?
The CIMp program through the University of Notre Dame's Stayer Center for Executive Education introduces the concept of a Unifying Innovation Methodology which provides a disciplined framework to approach opportunities in 5 phases: Frame, Discover, Ideate, Elaborate, and Launch.
For the sake of brevity, let’s agree I’ve framed the opportunity from an HR perspective. I’ve found the Discover phase has multiple activities that are fairly easy to utilize and gain quick momentum in addressing opportunities. Over the past year, the Discovery “lenses” that I’ve found to be most utilized within the HR function are 1) Customer / Stakeholder Empathy, 2) Trends, 3) Orthodoxies, 4) and Analogs. Let’s not forget the challenge I referenced earlier- looking at these through the additional lenses of HR Delivery and HR Strategic Alignment.
I've had the opportunity to share my innovation journey to diverse audiences ranging from the HR organization for a global manufacturing organization, an HR professional organization, and attendees at an innovation practitioners conference. In panel discussions and Q&A sessions, it is apparent that framing problems, creating project charters, etc. are fairly intuitive and easy to progress through.
The most common questions and / or challenges I've been presented with is, "how do we get started?" I've encouraged two things:
1. The utilization of Discovery Lenses, as again, through my own experience, they can be applied formally, informally, knowingly, unknowingly, etc. to a group that needs that "kick-start".
2. Align opportunities to either HR Delivery ot HR Strategic Alignment.
The most prevalent Discovery lenses that have been consistently utilized within our HR team are noted below.
The focus of stakeholder empathy activities is to understand the impact of the problem / challenge / opportunity, etc. So let’s use an example prevalent in healthcare, the shortage of nursing (RN) candidates. The HR Delivery lens asks, “What impact does a shortage of RNs have on the recruiting team? The HR Strategic Alignment lens asks, “Which of our Hospital’s strategic initiatives are most impacted by our difficulty recruiting RNs?” As you can see, the answers to both of those questions will vary greatly in terms of tactical vs. strategic impact. Want that proverbial “seat at the table”? Position your team to think broader in solving problems.
Trends are a shift in behavior, mentality, or dynamic that influences a significant amount of people over time. Keeping with our current example of RN recruiting, consider an increasing trend where 86% of active job seekers begin their job search with a mobile device. What implications and opportunities does this present? The HR Delivery lens asks, “How might we optimize our careers site for mobile capability and viewing, and ease of use? The HR Strategic Alignment lens asks, “How might we develop a strategy for increasing our Hospital’s presence on social media platforms to build our employer brand with RNs?”
Simply put, these are fun, and even more fun when you give a team the opportunity to “blow them away”. Orthodoxies refer to deeply held and broadly shared beliefs about what drives success within a company or an industry; adhering to what is commonly accepted, customary, or traditional. So let’s consider the HR Delivery lens. When Beacon Health System was presented an opportunity to hire a Nurse Recruiter, we 1) hired an individual with no healthcare experience and 2) with no recruiting / HR experience. Our new hire, however, showed an affinity for challenging status quo and creative thinking. We challenged the belief that a healthcare recruiter needed healthcare recruiting experience. The first thing he did was challenge the process we use to post jobs, asking, “Why do we have to use a bunch of text?” We now have a job posting template that is 80% graphics and emoji’s. We’ve also increased our RN applicant flow and hiring by 25% YOY.
The next challenge question aligned well to HR Strategic Alignment. Many HR organizations buy subscription-based job postings at a rate of “x” dollars per job ad. But not all positions are “equal” in terms of their impact of being open. Some positions are more difficult and timely to fill than others, so why apply the same recruiting approach and process for all positions? How might we develop a strategy whereas we differentiate the process and spend based on criteria applied to each open position? The end result of this activity yielded a differentiated approach to recruiting where positions were categorized into one of four “quadrants” based on availability of talent, priority of role, and either high volume or low volume job families. In 2017, we increased our hiring volume, decreased time to fill metrics, and performed below budget.
I’ve found analogs to be one of the best methods for ideation within the HR environment. From an innovation perspective, Analogs are defined as a similarity between two things that enables a comparison. When an inno-opportunity is presented to a team, you can begin by identifying potential analogs by asking, “Are there others outside our industry who have solved similar problems and could provide learning to us from what they’ve done.” Coincidentally, while we looked outside of a traditional HR environment, our analog existed within healthcare.
We recently introduced recruiting artificial intelligence as a result of our organization’s implementation of a tele-health platform, Beacon Connected Care. Beacon Connected Care provides customers access to care for minor medical needs, nutrition counseling, and behavioral health counseling. Access is private, secure, fast and easy - all from your mobile device, tablet or computer.
Upon seeing this technology, we considered how might Beacon’s recruiting function use the Beacon Connected Care platform and / or technology to create an easy way for candidates to engage with us? While that idea didn’t come to fruition, it did lead us to a goal: develop an easy way for candidates to engage with Beacon. Our challenge: create the easiest job search in health care.
This analog then led us to further explore some trends and developed a question: How might we further automate the job search process? This led us to recruiting artificial intelligence. The end result was both a web-based and mobile-based platform, named Ally, that allows candidates to search for jobs and schedule an initial interview with a Beacon recruiter- in approximately two minutes. Luckily, we are currently the only healthcare organization within our region to offer this technology. In time, our competitors will “catch up” but we’re already looking ahead to the next new opportunity. We'll always strive for the advatage of being "first, best, or unique".
This example aligns to the lens of HR Delivery as recruiting is a core competency within most HR environments. We further developed our recruiting competency to include reference to “stays abreast of and evaluates emerging technology, within and outside of the recruiting function, to drive competitive advantage”.
The lens of HR Strategic Alignment was clear in this example. Beacon has 5 Strategic Initiatives, driven by our Mission, Vision, Values, and Experience Standards. Our experiences standards aspire to provide customers a Beacon experience that is Connected, Convenient, and Coordinated. The ease of job search through artificial intelligence aligns very well to those standards.
Not everyone is comfortable with the “concept” of innovation. Tailor your approach (project plan) to your team; it can be intimidating, especially for “traditional” HR functions that typically have not been challenged with opportunities for innovation.
In addition, it can be challenging (albeit normal) to work with a team that has different skills and / or preferences in how to approach the work of innovation. Utilize a team assessment that can provide your project leader / facilitator an understanding of the team dynamics. The FourSight thinking profile (FourSightonline.com) is a great tool that helps identify an individual's problem solving preferences across a combincation of four dimensions: Clarifier, Ideator, Developer, and Implementer. Understanding individual and team preferences helps tailor an innovation approach and utlization of processes, tools, and methods.
For an HR organization to "kick-start" their innovation journey, I'd recommend the following approach:
- Don't "boil the ocean". Start with framing a problem / opportunity that aligns well with the lens of HR Service Delivery. Get used to an innovation process within the function that allows the team to work within an area of opportunity they are familiar with. As innovation capability is developed, then transition focus to HR Strategic Delivery. This approach helped us ensure that our wider, more visibile, and strategically aligned initiatives were not developed in the midst of initial learning.
- Use Discovery Lenses that lead your team to identify opportunities to learn from outside the HR environment. Keep in mind the dynamic that many HR organizations are built upon - "The keepers of tradition". This isn't the best enivronment for thinking oustide of "traditional HR". Analogs and Orthodixies were the most prevalent lenses that led us to look beyond HR.
- Not everyone has to know you're using an innovation methodology, tool, process, etc. Based on your team dynamics you may need to translate many innovation resources into a simplified process. The key learning for us was to be disciplined in following your project plan and desired outcomes for each step of your process.
- Display Courageous Patience. Not everyone will share your enthusiasm and / or passion for creating the new through the use of innovation methods, tools, processes, etc. Celebrate wins and milestones along the journey so your team can experience tangible results for stepping outside of their comfort zone.
- Have fun.
I'd like to thank Matt Krathwohl, and Nancy Tennant from the CIMp program at Notre Dame's Stayer Center for Executive education for their patience and insight with an HR guy who was thrown out of his comfort zone. They were very helpful in vetting out my thoughts on HR innovation and synthesizing emotions into thought.
Steve Eller, CHRO at Beacon Health System for encouraging my participation in the CIMp program and supporting some of the crazy ideas our HR team developed that ultimately necessitated multiple requests for budget variances.