Abolish myths that stifle innovators

Becoming an innovation-centric organization is about targeting key behaviors that help a person introduce game-changing ideas to the enterprise.

Driving innovation, or the symbiotic relationship between people, processes, and technology continues to remain a challenge for organizations. Exemplar organizations that have built a reputation for innovation have shown the world that a culture of innovation is not driven as much by an annual business agenda as much as it is by a change in the enterprise mindset. While all aspire to be leading-edge innovators, few know how to get there. Managing the symbiosis between the three is about targeting the key behaviors that drive a culture of innovation with the enterprise.

Steve Jobs, once commented, “there is always change and improvement, this is life in the technology game.” China Gorman, CEO of CMG Group reflects that nothing can be more apt lesson for the HR fraternity than Steve Job’s vision of the innovative mindset. The innovative mindset is one that applies cognitive skills for the creation of a hot new product. Sue Marks, Founder and CEO, of Pinstripe Inc. highlights five cognitive skills that an innovator possesses― associations, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting.

In order to recognize and foster innovation skills, it is important to abolish five behavioral myths that organizations traditionally possess.

Myth #1― Innovation is an individual effort

Innovative organizations reveal that all innovations need not be the genius of an individual mind. An organization that provides opportunities to crowd-source ideas achieves sizeable ROI from innovation efforts. HCL, an IT services company, has an online innovation forum where individuals and groups can post innovative ideas. The forum is a place where innovation ideas are reviewed and ranked and the organization ensures sponsorship and support to see a winning idea through to its completion. Across the years, the organization has seen a significant rise in the number of process-level and small-incremental innovations through the crowd-sourcing model.

Myth #2― Discovery is the sole backbone of innovation

There are two types of people in an enterprise who drive innovation― discovery-driven people and delivery-driven people. Organizations rely too heavily on discovery-driven people often failing to recognize important delivery innovations. Any innovation that can make a delivery process shorter and more efficient without incurring incremental cost needs to be recognized and rewarded. Sue Marks highlights that small and incremental delivery innovations are more impactful and permanent than large discovery innovations.

Myth #3― The organization role stops at encouragement

 While organizations continue to try and foster a culture of innovation, most remark that despite best efforts, their best hope is to wait until someone comes up with a bright idea. Progressive organizations pull forward innovations by providing experiences that push people to innovate. Schlumberger is an example of a company where every employee is a potential innovator.  The way Schlumberger achieves this is by providing stretch roles to every employee at various stages of the employment experience that ingrains innovation in the employees’ DNA.

Myth #4― Failure is fatal

Fear of failure is one of the one of the key inhibitors of innovation. For an organization to truly commit to a culture of innovation is by ‘celebrating failures.’ R. Gopalakrishnan, Director of Tata Sons holding company highlights that celebrating failures is their way of encouraging innovation across the company. The company rewards innovative project failures at their formal annual banquet by awarding the three best unsuccessful innovations in the company. In two years, the company witnessed a steep rise in people applying for innovative ideas from 12 to 200. No other effort to encourage innovation in the company has seen such a steep rise in numbers.

While companies continue to find more ways to drive innovation, it has to recognize that abolishing conventional myths will help them create a culture of innovation that is impactful as well as sustainable.

What women want- and how they negotiate for it

Though stereotypes dictate that women are less effective than men in business negotiations, the reality often proves otherwise.

Recently the UK trade minister pointed out that, at the current rate, it will take 70 years to achieve gender balance in their country’s government procurement offices. Generally speaking, a procurement job requires certain behavioral attributes that are indicative of a heavy bias against women. These attributes are described using adjectives such as ‘aggressiveness’, ‘rigidity’, and ‘stubbornness’. And it is almost a universal stereotype that men make better negotiators than women.

In a paper published in 2001, three prominent behavioral scientists, Laura Kray, Leigh Thompson, and Adam Gallinsky demonstrate that “stereotyping leads to female disadvantage at the negotiation table.” The current recruitment environment suggests that gender diversity is part of the strategic agenda for most organizations. While many are asking questions on the relevance of diversity over merit, this raises a key question for the recruiting organization: Are men better suited for job roles that require negotiations compared to women?

Kellogg Graduate School of Management conducted a series of scenario experiments on gender traits for successful negotiations. These experiments reveal that on instances of cross-gender negotiations, women tend to fare better than men. Cross-gender teams can actually make a greater impact on a deal compared with uni-gender teams. So, is there a gender trick to effective negotiations?

Distributing it right: According to behavioural scientists, the trick lies in distributing negotiation discussions between the male and female members in ways that most effectively exploit the strengths of both genders. A negotiation comprises phases that can best be described by terms such as ‘assertive’, ‘dominant’, ‘decisive’, ‘ambitious’, and ‘self-oriented’. These are typical male traits and hence, males in the negotiation team are better suited to deal in these situations – or so goes the conventional wisdom. Again, there are components that require female-associated behaviour, such as ‘warm’, ‘expressive’, ‘nurturing’, and ‘emotional’. A good plan incorporates precision-planning on attributes to exploit at various points of the negotiation conversation.

The element of surprise: While both genders typically demonstrate behaviours true to their stereotypes, outlier behaviour can be the deal clincher. An outlier is one who possesses certain attributes atypical of the gender, such as aggressiveness in a female, or ‘being emotional’ in a male. A display of outlier behavior at a critical juncture can tip the balance in favour a team. In the movie Erin Brockovich, the eponymous character played by Julia Roberts effectively negotiates a multi-million dollar settlement deal for her clients by surprising her more-experienced opposition with a display of uncharacteristic aggressiveness.

Plan for the audience: It is important to plan negotiations based on the audience. Traditionally a male bastion, the demographics of a negotiation table are slowly changing. In recent times, more and more women have been taking senior leadership positions. Conventional negotiation-planning based on the premise of assertiveness and aggression may not work when dealing with female leaders.

Two Harvard scholars, Hannah Riley Bowles and Kathleen L. Mcginn reveal in their 2008 paper on negotiations and gender inequality that organizations stand to gain significant benefits through a deeper engagement with the dynamic of gender distribution in negotiation teams. It appears that having a woman at the negotiation table might just be the best idea to clinch the deal.

13 ways for an HR professional to get a promotion in 2013

As most agree, 2013 will be a year of transformation for HR professionals across all sectors. Accordingly, the year will present significant opportunities to explore new career horizons and secure an ever-evasive promotion.Yes, only if the HR professional doesn’t lose focus from the things that matter.

Irrespective of it being the end of the financial year or not, the New Year beckons professionals to collectively engage in the largest annual enterprise exercise― the performance appraisal. And a promotion is the most sought after near-term target for a professional for various reasons.

A 2011 global workforce study by the Corporate Leadership Council on workforce expectations reveals that employees in India and China have the lowest average time spent in a role before expecting a promotion. While the global average is more than 3-4 years, the average time by which a professional in India and China expects a promotion is anywhere between 2-3 years.

Experts reveal that an aggressive professional expectation is one of the key reasons why the talent market in these economies is so volatile. With the market conditions opening up, a year without a promotion might seem like a source of dissatisfaction for many. Here are 13 ways by which one can stay on track in the promotion race this year.

#1― Maintain focus on the bigger picture. Progression in the career is not solely about the 10 or 12 development areas enlisted in the performance appraisal. Progress, in its holistic sense, is about employing professional skills for organizational impact. Impacting strategic focus areas of the enterprise will provide professional visibility. Experts believe that this will be a year where companies will be looking to increase global presence and increase talent management outcomes. Promotions will largely be driven by the ability of teams and individual to deliver them.

#2― Review and recalibrate. While professional choices are driven many times by factors that are different from personal aspirations, it is never too late to reflect and recalibrate. With the service sector in India expected to demonstrate fervent activity, it will pay to hop on the service sector bus and pursue non-traditional roles in HR service organizations, such as marketing and operations.

#3― Focus on leadership. Organizations across industries will face leadership crisis in the coming times and will likely boost efforts on developing succession plans and replacing leadership loss. Contribution in this terrain will likely increase chances of attaining higher visibility.

#4― Develop analytical capabilities. The role of HR analytics will continue to increase with the increase in business and talent management complexities. Professionals who are able to effectively leverage analytical capabilities will be much sought after by the enterprise.

#5― Focus on hiring quality. A 2012 survey by LinkedIn highlights the shift in hiring focus from hiring to hiring quality at scale. Hiring quality at scale is a complicated challenge. Most recruiting service companies reveal that recruiting cycles have increased 2-3 times as companies get more careful with hiring.As social hiring comes into prominence, the effectiveness of an HR professional will be determined by how effectively s/he is able to recruit quality talent through technology, social media, and other analytics-based tools.

#6― Create objective measures. HR is traditionally seen as a qualitative function, and HR professional are looked upon as lacking the ability to quantify business impact. Accordingly, HR professionals who are able to objectify business impact measures will be a much sought-after breed.

#7― Have a proactive view of macro-economic developments.With the large demand-supply gap for talent HR, which is traditionally seen as a reactive function, will be able to create a definitive impact on organizational strategy through a proactive view on macro-economic developments and their consequent impact on human capital management. An HR professional who speaks the language of market and organizational economics has a greater opportunity for organizational visibility.

#8― Get familiar with technology.With technology changing the nature of business, shaping delivery models, and providing opportunities for competitive advantage, technology averseness will not help the professional cause.  A tech-savvy HR professional will be considered an organizational and team asset.

#9― Gather best practices from experts.Progressive practices, as often seen, depend on how effectively one can gather collective wisdom. In this age of seamless connectivity, the ability to network and gather best practices for professional improvement will be a key differentiator between a successful and average HR practitioner.

#10― Build strong communication skills.With the increasing criticality of human capital, effectiveness of the function will be driven by how effectively the HR professional is able to communicate with colleagues, peers, leaders, the external talent pool, vendors, and other organizational stakeholders.  Developing strong communication capabilities often times can be the deal clincher for a promotion decision.

#11― Have a strategic business focus.A large number of business leaders reflect that the biggest gap they face while dealing with HR is their lack of strategic focus. While business leadership expects HR to have a strategic focus, the HR professional is often seen spending a disproportionate amount of time in tactical activities, including recruiting.An HR professional who is able to bridge this gap has better chances of stealing the spotlight during the annual appraisal.

#12― Find ways to reuse, recycle, and reduce. Astrong focus on costhelps drive stakeholder confidence.  The HR professional who is able to demonstrate intent to reuse, recycle, and reduce costs will find it easier to gather confidence with the leadership.

#13― Become an HR entrepreneur. A successful entrepreneur is one who is able to take ownership of his role and links personal effectiveness with organizational performance. The HR professional who can impact organizational performance will likely have higher chances of success.

The Multi-Player Enterprise

The introduction of game dynamics enhances a critical dimension of enterprise talent management― the aspect of ownership. Needless to say, talent management of the future will be played out in the “multi-player enterprise mode.”

There is an intrinsic association between humans and gaming. Through war for territorial domination, intellectual establishments, or competitive sport, man’s quest for progress and excellence has continually been driven by the urge to compete. From medieval times, mankind has been in an incessant hunt to bring inventive mechanisms to satiate the urge to game.  To game refers to the intrinsic desire of employing one’s mental, emotional, physical, and predatory faculties to achieve an objective or move ahead of competition.

Market estimates peg the size of the global digital video gaming industry alone at a massive $78 billion dollars in size. This excludes all other forms of gaming, such as competitive sport, physical board gaming, and gambling. Added to the fact that is satiates man’s intrinsic competitive desire, gaming transcends into a space where nothing is irrevocable and one has the opportunity for course correction.

It is under this premise that gaming has made an entry into a very unlikely world― the world of HR.I recently spoke to a number of global HR experts on the trends shaping the future of the HR industry. Almost unanimously, all experts agreed that the next wave of transformation and evolution of the HR industry will be driven singularly by technology. While technology is trickling into all aspects of the employee lifecycle, the terrain of “HR gamification” is expected to bring forth the most exciting evolutionary leaps.

While gaming is still in its primitive stages of evolution in the HR world, most believe that there are huge untapped opportunities for enterprises in this space. Owing the nascent state of this segment, very few companies have yet explored the segment of talent management through gaming. Presently, gaming in HR is predominantly employed in three terrains of talent management― employee referrals, collaboration, and health and fitness.

While an element of gaming already exists in an enterprise through employee referrals, there are significant opportunities for improving the effectiveness of an employee referral program through simulation and leaderboard gaming. Exemplar companies have noticed significant ROI from their employee referral programs where an employee takes ownership of the hiring process and is driven by the urge to see a personal initiative through its completion. This is accomplished through gaming platforms where an employee has complete visibility of the stages starting from candidate review to job offer. Leaderboard gaming is a way by which employees compete with one another to emerge as the most effective referrer.

Social collaboration through gaming provides incentives for employees to share knowledge and continually strive for excellence. Very recently Capgemini gamified their entire 120,000 global workforce by creating an “online leaderboard” by employing the UK based technology service company, Leaderboarded. The platform allows the company’s employees to share knowledge, create motivation among colleagues, and also enables managers to guide behaviors.

The third element where gaming has shown demonstrable ROI is in the terrain of employee health and fitness. Global research indicates that the present Indian workforce is expected to face several health and wellness related issues in the coming years. These translate into significant implications for the enterprise’s topline and bottomline. Conversations with various organizations reveal that organizations have witnessed noticeable ROI by employing gaming initiatives for health and wellness. Stepathlon, for example, is one of the most popular gaming platforms that enterprises use to drive the sense of ownership for health and wellness among employees.

While more and more technology service companies are looking to enter this space, a performance management gaming platform called eMee by Persistent Systems provides a pioneering peek into the possibilities of gaming for talent management. eMee is a platform by which an employee can own his entire annual performance management, including productivity and personal development. While leaderboard-type platforms will drive the penetration of gaming into the enterprise HR agenda, it will be holistic systems such as eMee that will pioneer the next generation of performance management practices in enterprises. Needless to say, the coming months will see a number of new-age gaming platforms catering to different aspects of the employment lifecycle. I reckon the enterprise of 2015 to be in multi-player mode!!!