Skip to main content

Jan 25, 2017  |  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 that employee recognition and rewards needed to reflect a modern workforce and be more frequent, public and not restricted to top-down recognition. It was completely different than the norm which had companies offering a years-of-service award after being at a company for 5 or 10 years and offering a few products from a catalogue. The technology enabled that innovative approach to become a reality.

When you look at several the innovations around 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 options to change their approaches, and what I find awesome is how today’s organizations are more willing to change. It’s a big reason why outside investments into HR technology has exploded recently. In 2015/16, $3.9 billion was poured into the sector. There were more rounds of financing in three years from 2013 to 2015 (347) than the nine years before it combined (324 from 2004 to 2012).

It’s likely why we’re entering a new era of technology. Decades ago, companies were focused on Supplier Relationship Management (SRM). It was a focus on how to get the most value and ROI from the supplier network. It then shifted to focus on Customer Relationship Management (CRM). The likes of Salesforce enabled the shift of focus to our customers to delight them, predict their behaviours, 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 paycheque. Ask yourself how many people you know have left a job for less money. It’s a large percentage of people because theories of human motivation like Maslow show people want to be a part of something bigger. HR needs to stop creating policy for the 1% of employees that do stupid things 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?

The best article I’ve read on how HR can focus on innovation is by Michael Stanleigh, the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. It follows ways to focus on a few specific approaches:

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

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

But where do you start? My suggestion is creating your Company’s Painted Picture.  Check out this 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.

I also suggest not to make it 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 to align on a vision that you’ll lead your company towards.  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 this 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