Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is HR too big to innovate?


A recent story on Google got me thinking about the state of our profession. In the story by Business Insider titled "Internally, Google Knows It Has an Innovation Problem", they discuss the key differences between Google and and their respective abilities to innovate. While the overall story made a number of key points, the one that caught my attention was this one...

"Google can’t keep its teams small enough. Instagram was started by two guys who rented a table at DogPatchLabs in Pier 38 (the first time I met the team was when Rocky and I did this video on Dogpatch Labs). The exec I was talking with said Google Wave had more than 30 people on the team. He had done his own startup and knew the man-month myth. For every person you add to a team, he said, iteration speed goes down. He told me a story of how Larry Ellison actually got efficiencies from teams. If a team wasn’t productive, he’d come every couple of weeks and say “let me help you out.” What did he do? He took away another person until the team started shipping and stopped having unproductive meetings."

The story of Ellison and his approach to innovation seems counter-intuitive as the author points does to me, but I want you to think to some point in your past. Were you ever on an important HR team that was really attacking an important problem in the organization and feel like it was too big to make decisions or...yes...innovate? I have...

The recent 2010 IBM Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO) Study identified three key areas requiring attention.

1. Cultivating creative leaders.
2. Mobilizing for speed and flexibility.
3. Capitalizing on collective intelligence.

All three of these focus areas will rely heavily on the ability of HR to innovate itself at a pace that keeps up with the global changes taking place. But a key question for HR is are we too big to innovate? Are we so focused on tactical and operational that it inhibits creativity and innovation in HR? I discussed this in July when talking about an HR Skunk Works approach.

My perspective is HR may be too "big" because it is burdened with a "little" thinking approach. A report from the Korn/Ferry Institute titled "Business Today Demands a Comprehensive Talent Strategy. Can HR Deliver?" argues that HR leaders need to be more strategic. To do that, then HR needs to build the right competencies for itself. The report specifically states the following:

"Developing Strategic HR Leaders - Strategic capability includes a number of competencies: business acumen; strategic agility; problem solving; perspective; and the ability to deal with ambiguity, to learn “on the fly,” to manage innovation and creativity, and to make quality decisions on complex issues that have long-term consequences."

The key for HR to innovate and meet customer needs in the future...find the right people and put them in charge! Find the right kind of people early in their HR careers...and nurture them!

Then it won't matter how big HR is in the future...

Nuff said!


Twitter: JKeithDunbar
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