HR driving cultures that innovate

by External08 Jan 2014
Many companies are facing tough trading conditions as we approach 2014. In this environment, competitive advantage built through innovation is a key enabler to business performance.

In Melbourne, The Next Step hosted an Executive Panel Discussion to explore the theme of building a culture that delivers innovation. On the panel were; Willem Pruys, General Manager Human Resources, Bunnings; Michaila Stanton, Human Resources Manager, Bank of Melbourne; and Mike Finch, Co CEO and Artistic Director for CircusOz.

While the panel members represented different businesses with different industry challenges, there were some clear themes echoed consistently. These themes included the following:

More than any other industry, there is constant pressure in the entertainment world to innovate to remain competitive and relevant. Circus Oz has done that over its history and now shares its experience in its corporate programs.

One of the key insights from Circus Oz, which Mike shared during the panel discussion, is that it is essential to create a framework of values and vision that employees can then move freely within.

This is underpinned by the view that innovation is about culture and not R&D. Mike spoke passionately about this and Michailia and Willem certainly reinforced it and agreed Bunnings and Bank of Melbourne see innovation as being all about the right cultural settings.

The panel also agreed the critical element that should drive innovation is customer feedback. No matter whether it’s external customers of the organisation or internal customers for the HR community, to innovate, the best ideas are generated specifically from audience and/or customer feedback.

The panel went on to say that to make the best use of the customer feedback a certain amount of delegation to a local level is critical. This allows the ability for local business managers to identify the specific needs of their local customers, audiences or employee groups, which then allows for a unique response to be delivered.

Willem indicated Bunnings is passionate about allowing as much decision making to be made at a local level as possible. This extends to the individual stores being encouraged to set their own vision and priorities to meet the local customer’s specific needs. In another example of this decentralised decision making, The Bank of Melbourne allows its branch team the freedom to tailor their look and feel, which is very different to a normal bank approach.

The panel’s view was that innovation at a local level is hindered by head offices dictating to a micro level. By allowing some personality and flair to be displayed (within boundaries of course) and trusting this freedom will be well used, outstanding results will be achieved.

HR needs to champion outside the box thinking when looking at talent. The panel all agreed that focusing clearly on the experience a business wants for its customers and hiring accordingly was crucial. This thinking allows for the freedom to hire diverse talent, which is the right talent.

As Michailia indicated, Bank of Melbourne focuses on the right capabilities for its customers and, as a result, has former builders, restaurateurs and many others represented in their branch teams. By demonstrating to their customers they understand individual local concerns they have created an experience different to the competition.

Willem added to this point by suggesting: “No business has won awards for being the same as its competitors !”

There were many other additional great take out points for the audience that attended but perhaps one was paramount: “As the custodian of culture, by default Human Resources can also be custodians of Innovation.”

In a whitepaper presented by KPMG’s Human Capital business, Robert Bolton makes the case that winning companies first and foremost have developed the capacity to sustainably innovate and culture, it seems, is the key.

As the panel displayed, the levers of an organisation’s culture to promote innovation are well within the hands of skilled HR Leaders and, like many others, they believe driving innovation is HR’s big opportunity.

Ultimately, the starting point is for HR professionals to take stock of their own capabilities. Evaluate if they have capacity to play the key role in delivering a culture that innovates and, if not, work out how to develop it.

Craig Mason is Managing Director of The Next Step, the leading HR talent specialist in Australia.;