Some of the most popular learning and development (L&D) interventions used in the workplace could actually be thwarting innovation. That’s according to the final report in a series of CIPD research insights on HR and its role in innovation, written in collaboration with researchers at the University of Bath, which looks at how innovation happens, who is responsible for making it happen and where it happens. The latest report, The innovation imperative, launched at the CIPD’s annual learning and development conference, HRD, demonstrates how innovation comes in all shapes and sizes but, regardless of a company’s approach to innovation, collaborative forms of learning and systematic approaches to knowledge sharing are the keys to success.
The researchers analysed more than 700 responses to the CIPD’s 2012 Learning and Talent Development (L&TD) survey and identified five different profiles which describe an organisation’s approach to innovation:
Distributed innovators: innovation is pushed down through the organisation to project teams, with high employee involvement and managers encouraged to promote innovation
- Reluctant innovators: innovation is not seen as crucial to the organisation’s future
- Technical innovators: innovation is seen as the focus of technical specialists and project work
- Open innovators: innovation is based on improving processes with product design and development, with high manager and employee involvement
- Managerial innovators: innovation seen as a key priority driven by managers but with some employee involvement and external collaboration.
Across all five innovation profiles, many of the highest rated interventions in the CIPD’s annual L&TD survey were perceived to frustrate and block innovation. The least effective methods of L&D for innovation were found to be in-house development programmes, internal knowledge sharing events and internal coaching, suggesting that insularity and staying in your own territory are not conducive to innovation. Collaboration within, across and outside the organisation was found to be the best way to develop an innovative culture, with job rotation and shadowing cited as the most effective L&D practices.
Dr. John McGurk, learning and talent development research adviser at the CIPD, said: “Formal education courses may be slightly out of vogue as a learning and development intervention, but for an innovation focus they may be crucial. External conferences, workshops and events are also important as they allow employees to ‘bring the outside in’.
“We concluded that those organisations identified as ‘open innovators’ and ‘distributed innovators’ could be described as role models, as they are most likely to display most or all of the key behaviours that drive innovation. These include treating innovation as part of business as usual, harnessing employee involvement, adopting a systematic approach, and embedding internal and external collaboration and networking. However, an organisation’s approach to innovation depends on its size and industry sector, with SMEs more likely to be ‘managerial innovators’ for example.”
In summary, the key insights for HR and L&D professionals drawn from the research are:
- The critical role of management in innovation cannot be overstated. Managers who seek innovative behaviour in themselves and others will allow firms to harness more of the ideas, creative solutions and improvement suggestions which drive innovation.
- Employee involvement is essential for innovation, even if this is restricted to staff suggestion schemes.
- Innovation is both a powerful form of learning and is powered by learning. It is important to ensure that learning and development, OD, change management and other development interventions support the innovation imperative.
- Innovation is best designed as a systematic and project-based endeavour
- Innovation is collaborative and networked, based on sharing knowledge and insights, and works best when people focus externally as well as internally.
Dr. McGurk adds: “At its root, innovation is about learning and change, but also about leadership, decision-making and culture. We hope this report will help practitioners gauge their own organisation and help to drive innovation further in their own context. By considering the five profiles, L&D professionals can begin to build a compelling strategy to ensure that innovation takes off in their own organisation. It’s important for HR, L&D and OD specialists to work closely with other business functions to create cultures of agility and continuous learning and improvement, to help organisations survive and thrive in these times of unprecedented change.”