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A Roadside Guide to Innovation for Human Resources Practitioners

Diane Bégin

Let’s face it, the ability to offer many choices to meet as many individual needs as possible, whatever the situation, is a popular notion.  This applies to more than just the shampoo section of your corner drugstore.  

There is something special that comes from knowing someone cares enough to provide a choice that is made to fit your particular need. It builds confidence, strengthens relationships, and promises better results.

Provide Choice

Bringing more choices to the way a workforce can be managed is therefore important. It calls for innovative practices that can bring the work of human resources practitioners to a very different place. To human resources practitioners, innovation often means:

  • inventing new processes to find, hire, keep, train and promote employees;
  • filling the “tool box” with solutions that will make processes faster, easier, cheaper, lighter, smarter, simpler, and produce glowing results;
  • applying processes to make them less intrusive, more intuitive, modern, and inviting.

Significant Challenges

Finding ways to bring innovation to a practice built on tectonic plates of “fairness”, “merit” and “equity” is not for the faint of heart. Modernizing a human resources management regime in the face of such massive commitments offers a unique set of challenges, such as:

  • All innovative processes must live within a host of regulations, collective agreements, precedents, laws and directives – and more are added each year.
  • New processes must feature “fail safe” mechanisms that make it easy to follow rules and know when things go wrong.
  • Innovation-sign-270x182Leaders must agree on new innovative processes in human resources management as they are often called upon to explain them.
  • Employees, unions, internal staff functions (finance, information technology) and regulatory agencies need to be consulted to verify that the innovation can be done and is compliant;
  • All who will be affected need to be well informed of the benefit of the innovation to best create a will to put it in place.

The Guide

When all is said and done, creating a process for innovation remains of great interest to the adventurous brave hearts from our human resources communities – especially those who have peered into the eyes of resistance and brought cloud capped goals down to their knees.

Here is a roadside guide to creating innovation in human resources:

Phase I: At the Executive Table

  1. Investigate: Find what drives innovation and what doesn’t in your organization.
  2. Explore: List what can be done to strengthen that which promotes innovation and weaken what doesn’t.
  3. Engage: Tell your leadership team what will make it easier to innovate within your organization.
  4. Promote: Find a leader who will champion innovative practices in your organization.
  5. Sustain: Create a team of leaders who will evaluate and oversee the innovative practices and the results that spin out.

Phase II: At the HR Workbench

Understand: Go over the strategic goals of your organization to identify why you need to innovate.

  1. Link: Choose areas that you would like to work on that will contribute most to the achievement of your organization’s strategic goals.
  2. Plan: Identify resources, competencies, boundaries, information, accountabilities, and time needed to work on selected items.
  3. Organize: Develop terms of reference for your innovation team(s).
  4. Report: Identify how you will know if the team(s) is doing well.
  5. Equip: Set up, coach and train team members to achieve their mandate.
  6. Motivate: Reward and recognize teams and members.
  7. Implement: Arrange smooth hand off and transfer of knowledge from innovation team(s) to implementation team(s).


This post was inspired by Innovative Intelligence, a book written by David S. Weiss and Claude Legrand, and purchased at the annual Human Resources Association Conference held in Toronto in February, 2011.


I like the way Diane has situated in her challenge in the real world and identified the obstacles that make this kind of flexibility so difficult, By recognizing and enumerating such obstacles (union agreements, requirements for transparency, fairness equity, —which are often viewed as meaning one must do one-size-fits-all) she encourages us to see a way through these obstacles, a practical way forward.

I’d like to add another obstacle that I’ve encountered; that it is very hard to get senior management to invest time and energy in changing HR practices because that is rarely seen as one of the top priorities of the moment.

Typically they will agree in principle, but when it comes to investing time or resources in doing the work to consult and change practices they tend to postpone it.

Does anyone have any ideas on how to convince senior managers to believe in the link between changing HR practices and innovation and meeting strategic goals?

By Ellen Godfrey on 2011/05/04

Thank you for your post Ellen.  I would like to respond to your question with another list.

Convincing senior managers to commit to innovative HR practices to facilitate the accomplishment of their business goal needs:

a) Solid HR presence at the executive table;
b) An integrated planning process linking business strategies and goals to new/revised HR practices that aim to facilitate the achievement of business goals;
c) Capacity to collect credible data and produce reports to measure progress in HR and in the business line;
d) Resources and competencies to implement and sustain new HR practices in HR and in the business line;
e) Accountability systems and good governance to oversee implementation and results, to make decisions on resourcing and priorities and to communicate progress;
f) Executive performance contracts that link business and hr goals to individual goals.
g) Celebrate and communicate achievements in business and hr simultaneously.

Does anyone else have any thoughts about this?

By Diane Begin on 2011/05/05

Presence of HR person at executive table is key, IMO. This person must be at same level as other members. If they are VPs, the HR person must be a VP too. The HR representative’s input has to be seen as a key element in strategic thinking

I was involved with an organization that had this structure. Then as part of a cutback, the HR VP was let go and a more junior person took on the role. This person did not sit at the executive table.

The results severely impaired the organization’s ability to achieve its strategic goals. But sadly, the CEO did not see it that way and did not make the connection.

By Ellen Godfrey on 2011/05/05

Your post begs the question: How does the HR VP demonstrate value added at the executive table?  Here’s something for consideration:

- speaking the “line program” business language during the bi-lats with the CEO - and whenever appropriate
- obtaining recognition internal and external to the organization
- demonstrating efficiencies by way of dashboards and credible key performance indicators
- nurturing support and sharing successes with colleagues sitting at the executive table
- cultivating a network of senior executives from a variety of disciplines
- growing the best HR team possible - including a successor.

Comments are welcome.!

By Diane Begin on 2011/05/06

Excellent suggestions. The most successful HR VPs I know do these things and that may go a long way to explain why they are integral part of the strategic directions of their organizations. But have you seen this kind of integration of the HR function into the operational function in government?

By Ellen Godfrey on 2011/05/06

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Posted by Diane Bégin
Posted on May 3, 2011

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Categories: hr & talent management, innovation, organizational development, public service renewal, strategy