The Reality of Talent: HR and Innovation

by External18 Jun 2012

68 million customers served daily: How to think big

In 1948 the two McDonald brothers reorganised their fledgling BBQ restaurant as a hamburger stand using production line principles. Seven years later an ambitious franchise operation was kick-started and today that restaurant chain operates in 119 countries.

Short-term focus makes innovation difficult, but long-term survival – and success – depends on it. 

People are essentially scared to look further ahead because they can’t plan. Yet planning has nothing to do with scenarios and ‘the unknown’; instead it’s reliant on the right mix of ambition and capability.

How should HR leaders determine what capability is needed to execute on these big ideas? Ask three essential questions:


  1.  What does winning look like?
  2. What do we have to excel at to win?
  3. What does it mean to excel at that?


These questions have major repercussions not just for people as individuals but people as work groups, as functions, as subsidiaries, as corporations. If strategy is formed around that concept, HR has a central role to play.

Short of rewarding people for taking risks, HR can help facilitate a culture that questions the unquestionable. Break down the assumptions of what is expected of you from competitors, from customers, about what your employees are really capable of doing.

Create a culture that celebrates limitations (financial, regulatory, geographical, political) and thinks of ways of working within those constraints.

Innovation in most organisations is driven by clear ‘levers’, which might include finance, core processes or product performance. These big levers accelerate the innovation process, so define what they are and focus on them to drive innovation.

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