Much has been said recently on the need to innovate to stay relevant. With the current squeeze on the supply of manpower, it is even more urgent to innovate for productivity improvements.
HR can play a key role in the organisation to push the wheels of innovation. In my view, three things are key to driving innovation — the example that you show to your team, the sources of information that point out areas for innovation and improvement, and the pressure that must be kept on the need for continuous improvement.
As a leader, you will always need to be questioning and testing to see if the best (most appropriate or fastest or cheapest) method or outcome has been used or delivered. If the leader is always accepting, employees will believe that keeping the status quo is ok, as it is always found to be good enough. Look out for simple opportunities for immediate improvement and execute those changes, making it visible to all employees so they see how innovation can lead to a quick improvement.
Good information feed
To find the right input, I have found that it is always better to seek feedback from two or three levels down in the hierarchy — from the staff who perform the tasks day in and day out. They invariably offer good suggestions that would help to make their own work lighter and more streamlined. Managers may not know enough details of the workings on the floor (especially in a large blue-collar environment) to offer quick-win suggestions; they would, however, be a better source of hovered-up larger-scale improvements in the workplace.
Pressure for progress
I believe senior-level commitment and high visibility of achievements are key success factors that drive innovation and productivity. Senior management needs to be steadfast in following a framework of planning, setting targets, tracking execution of plans, and measuring the outcomes of all innovation projects. This signals to all in the department, division, and company that innovation is important and is a key ingredient in the company’s success. And you need to publish the results of innovation at work. If more staff members know about the results, more will be encouraged to have an innovative mindset.