Want to be innovative in HR?  Start with people, not technology.

Want to be innovative in HR? Start with people, not technology.

January 25, 2017 | Rob Catalano

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It seems every article I read about HR innovation revolves around technology. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve dedicated 15 years of my career to HR technology and think the last decade of technological advancement has changed HR for the better, but I think we’re missing something important: the real innovation happens when we change how we approach employees.

True innovation is reevaluating how we recruit, retain and engage employees throughout the entire employee life-cycle. 

Innovation is often viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements. Yes, that’s a Wikipedia quote. Our workforce has been changing in so many ways which has required us to adjust, yet most companies continue with the status quo. True innovation is reevaluating how we recruit, retain and engage employees throughout the entire employee life-cycle.

Technology is an enabler

Our success at Achievers (where I spent 11 years) wasn’t driven by technology. It was a fundamental shift of understanding: employee recognition and rewards needed to reflect a modern workforce. Recognition needed to be more frequent, public and not restricted to a top-down model. It was completely different from the norm in which organizations just gave years-of-service awards at the five or ten year mark by offering a few products from a catalog. The technology enabled that innovative approach to become a reality.

When you look at advances in creating a successful workforce, the true innovation revolves around approaches towards employees. Think about Google’s approach to perks in the workplace; Netflix and unlimited vacation; Zappos and Holacracy (and it’s not about inventing new approaches, it’s about implementing them); these innovations have nothing to do with technology.

But…technology’s importance is increasing

Now more than ever, technology gives companies the ability to change their approaches. I find it awesome that today’s organizations are willing to change. It’s a big reason why outside investments in HR technology have exploded recently. In 2015/16, $3.9 billion was poured into the sector. 2013 to 2015 saw more rounds of financing than the nine years before it combined (347 in 2013-15 and 324 in 2004 – 2012.).

We’re entering a new era of technology. Decades ago, companies were focused on Supplier Relationship Management (SRM). The emphasis was on how to get the most value and ROI from the supplier network. It then shifted to a focus on Customer Relationship Management (CRM). The likes of Salesforce enabled the shift of focus to our customers to delight them, predict their behaviors, get the most value from them, and retain them. We’re now in this new world of Employee Relationship Management, where we’re seeing the similar focus on retaining and inspiring people.

It’s still all about the people

Inspiring people is becoming much more important to business leaders because they’re starting to realize that the outputs that define the success metrics of their organization like profits and happy customers all come from employee inputs. When you treat employees right, the results come.

The outputs that define the success metrics of their organization like profits and happy customers all come from employee inputs.

Too often, companies approach employees like they’re there to collect a paycheck. Ask yourself how many people you know have left a job for less money. It’s actually a large percentage of people. Theories of human motivation like Maslow’s demonstrate that people want to be a part of something bigger. HR needs to stop creating policy for the 1% of employees and focus on creating an environment where the other 99% can flourish. For a great read on this topic, check out Netflix’s Major HR Innovation: Treating Humans Like People.

How to approach it?

Michael Stanleigh, the CEO of Business Improvement Architects, wrote the best article I’ve read on how HR can focus on innovation. He lays out ways to focus on a few specific approaches:

  • Hire for innovation
  • Create a culture of innovation
  • Train and reward for innovation

The article centers around fostering innovation in the whole organization, but can be translated to HR leading change in companies. It’s typically easier to innovate if your culture understands and accepts that the status quo is a killer.

But where do you start? My suggestion is creating your Company’s Painted Picture.  Check out this Inc.com article to learn what it is and how to create it. It’s a great way to put yourself in the mindset of what’s possible… not what’s blocking you.

Remember, it’s not your HR – Only Painted Picture, but your vision of what you want the whole company looking and acting like in the future. It must be something that you can share and get buy-in from other executives – on. You’ll need to be aligned on the vision that you’ll lead your company toward.  It is a great base to set company direction and to support getting not only time and resources, but the innovative flexibility to make the vision a reality.

So, give it a try. Don’t be stuck in 2017 not being able to visualize and implement change. If your current organization doesn’t buy-in, someone else will.

 Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.”   – William Pollard

At WorkTango, we’re revolutionizing how the world’s most forward-thinking companies engage and inspire their people. We offer the only Employee Experience Platform that enables meaningful recognition and rewards, offers actionable insights through employee surveys, and supports alignment through goal setting and feedback.

WorkTango is built for the workplace we all want to be a part of – where priorities become clear, achievements are celebrated, and employees have a voice. So if you’re ready to make work lives better, schedule a demo today.

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Rob Catalano

Rob Catalano

Rob Catalano is WorkTango’s Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer. Rob has spent the last 17 years building HR Technology companies.