5 ways HR can help create and drive a culture of innovation

Cognitive diversity and creating a culture of innovation

There are five drivers of cultures of innovation, according to Dr Amantha Imber, who explains that HR has an important role to play in this process

Does your business have a culture in which innovation thrives? Are people challenging the status quo and being encouraged by leaders to take risks in pursuit of innovation? Or is the opposite true, whereby people don’t take time to listen to new ideas and suggestions? Building a culture of innovation is hard work.

However, scientific research into how to create a thriving culture of innovation is both plentiful and precise. Following are five of the most impactful drivers of a culture of innovation.

1. Challenge – and finding the right level of it. 
Research has shown that feeling a strong sense of challenge in one’s work is a critical driver of cultures of innovation. Challenge refers to people working on tasks that are complex and interesting – at the same time not overly taxing or unduly overwhelming. It is important that you don’t simply think about how to give people the biggest possible challenge.

Instead, you should ensure that the level of challenge you set is one that is achievable. On the flip side, setting tasks that people are able to complete with their eyes closed will not breed a culture where innovation thrives. Matching the level of challenge to an individual’s skill level is key to finding the optimal level of challenge. 
As a manager, take time to thoughtfully consider how you allocate tasks and projects to people. Ensure that you are matching these elements so that people feel a significant sense of challenge.

2. Risk-taking – and failure not being seen as a dirty word.
The notion of failure being unacceptable is one I have found resonates with many organisations. Failure is generally thought of as a dirty word, and something that gets swept under the carpet when it does rear its ugly head. But being able to acknowledge and learn from failure is a huge part of building a culture of innovation where risk-taking is tolerated and where innovation can thrive.

As a leader, think about ways you can signal that risk-taking is an acceptable part of business. Talk openly about failures and what can be learnt from them with your team.

3. Experimentation before implementation.
When thinking about how your company approaches innovation, ensure that experimentation is a mandatory step. Rather than just going straight from idea to implementation, you should first run experiments. This involves setting hypotheses as to why you believe an idea will add value to the customer and creating a minimum viable product (MVP) – the most basic version of the idea that will still allow for learnings.

You can then set up an experiment to test your hypotheses using the MVP and based on the results, iterate or change course accordingly. Experimentation is a very effective way to help reduce the risk of new innovations and is a key element of a thriving culture of innovation.

4. Autonomy – loosening the reigns.
Many researchers have found that creativity is dramatically enhanced when people are given the freedom to decide how they do their jobs. When people feel as if they have a choice in how things can be done they are significantly more likely to engage in trial and error and, through this, find more effective ways of doing things.

Just be sure to set clear goals, as the autonomy effect is strongest when people are clear on what you want them to achieve.

5. Debate – and welcoming all views.
One of the factors that has been identified as critical for creating a culture of innovation is ensuring that different points of view are encouraged and that ideas are regularly debated. Lead by example and encourage others to debate and discuss ideas that you bring to the table – actively encouraging different viewpoints will strengthen your innovations significantly.

In addition, avoid the temptation to recruit people who are just like you – doing so will only discourage debate and encourage homogeneity of thinking.