You Can’t Flip The Innovation Switch At The Last Minute

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In PwC’s newest annual global CEO survey, technology and innovation are top of mind for the majority of Canadian business leaders. Most CEOs believe that technology will completely reshape their businesses over the next five years.

While 62 per cent expect that technology will disrupt them, only 10 per cent say that hiring people with innovation skills is a priority (compared to 23 per cent globally). Naturally, this raises questions about how well prepared Canadian companies are at responding to technology-based disruptions like the sharing economies, artificial intelligence and the associated fast-evolving consumer behaviour.

It is surprising that innovation is not one of the top priorities for Canadian CEOs given that most understand that it is key to understanding and dealing with technical changes. By shrugging off these changes, companies are overlooking potential blind spots that can lead to inadequate training, technology and talent and may be putting themselves at risk for being left behind.

Organizations need the right people with the right skill sets to execute and to change rapidly. A CPHR can help you foster the environment you need to strengthen that team.

According to the survey, Canadian CEOs prioritize problem solving, collaboration, emotional intelligence and risk management as the skills they look for most in new hires. Digital skills are far down the list, as CEOs appear to place lesser value on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills compared to their global counterparts.

However, if innovation is truly important to your organization, you must attract, recruit and ultimately select people for that purpose. A CPHR can foster innovation in three ways: hiring for innovation, creating a culture of innovation and finally, training and rewarding for innovation. Some of the ways this can be accomplished include:

  • When posting for positions, highlight the values of creativity and innovation in the company description.
  • Identify innovative thinkers based on their capabilities: are they naturally inquisitive and open to new ideas?
  • Ensure that all levels of management are willing to support, plan for and nurture a culture of creativity, collaboration and innovation. This means doing whatever it takes to go from being a “no” culture to a “yes” culture.
  • Reinforce the company’s commitment to innovation by putting mechanisms in place to reward exceptional contributions. Ensure that compensation strategies, performance management programs and other forms of incentives and recognition are helping to develop the people and culture of the organization.
  • Train and support management as they engage employees and encourage them to become actively involved in on-the-job innovation. Ask what they’re working on, where they see the potential developing, what challenges they face and lastly, what additional support they need to reach the final stage of completion.
Caution: Innovation may be uncomfortable

If you hire innovators, it’s important to know how to handle them – because not everyone gets how they tick. Eric Schmidt, the Chairman of Google between 2001 and 2011, once said that “The story of innovation has not changed. It has always been a small team of people who have a new idea, typically not understood by people around them and their executives.”

A lack of leadership support is one of several cultural barriers to innovation. Yet, if you want to attract innovative thinkers to your team, their performance must be supported with a creative environment, and that starts at the top.

CPHRs know that the precursor to keeping innovation is organizational change. If you’re not ready for the next big idea, it will often walk out your door and become your competition.

It could mean giving a small group some rein to innovate, without disrupting the core (at first). It may mean restructuring or finding a way to reinforce the importance of innovation in your organizational values and the long-term vision for your business. It’s not always easy or comfortable.

Leaders, managers and key influencers should receive training on ways to more effectively manage, communicate and adapt to change. If they do not understand innovation, they stand in the way of progress and become a roadblock to it.

If your busy middle managers are responsible for ensuring optimal performance related to the company’s core initiatives, they usually have little time, patience or budget to test unproven ideas. However, if a company shifts its reporting system to team innovative employees with innovation-minded supervisors, the dynamic changes. When innovators find a space to fit in where they can dream up, explore, collaborate and present new ideas, everyone wins.

Innovation drives competitive advantage. This is why an organization must be prepared to demonstrate the value of innovation and recognize the inspired contributions of its people.

Think you’re ready? Hire a CPHR.