More and more companies are committing to innovation, as a mechanism for differentiation. A scenario of this kind requires companies to continue exploiting their traditional business, while exploring at the same time future possibilities for creating value. Accordingly, organizations must create environments that permit both approaches to coexist harmoniously. Often the day-today business life ends up drowning out the initiatives for innovation. This is especially true in the initial stage of the innovation process.
This initial stage includes the identification of opportunities, the generation of ideas, as well as later choosing and evolving them. As innovation arises from intersecting disciplines, it is crucial to span different points of view. This can be achieved through connecting people, while making sure the right conversations and collaborations take place.
These connections can, or rather should, go beyond the organization’s walls, to become richer with outside talent this way. Indeed, this function of connecting people and generating conversations is one of the functions that must be addressed immediately by managers in charge of talent management.
That is why the HR department must play a central role in this effort, in which creating communities and promoting activities for connecting people must be among its priorities. Rather than the communities themselves, what should interest the company, and should thus be espoused, are the activities taking place in these communities. These activities can be either internal or external, and either formal or informal. The main purpose of these activities is to provide knowledge and inspiration to ultimately generate new ideas.
Internal and informal activities
These activities take place inside the company and they are not directed nor controlled by senior managers. This does not mean that they cannot participate in them, nevertheless this will only be recommended if an environment of trust and security is created, and only if the manager abandons his stripes and behaves just like another participant.
In this category, both physical and virtual work spaces are important.
- Physical: create collaborative work spaces, in which unlikely interactions occur between different disciplines and functions so that those who wish to, may have a space in which to dialogue and collaborate with other people with similar interests.
- Virtual: establish online platforms, such as corporate social networks, or wikis, that allow people with common interests and / or complementary ones to exchange information and build new possibilities.
External and informal activities
These are activities that take place outside the company. They are informal in the sense that they are free of company control. However, companies should encourage their employees to participate in communities that interest them and to multiply their contacts and thus their chances of exposure to new perspectives.
These activities include encouraging employees to participate in all kinds of events that may be of interest to the company. For example, a sports shoe company may want its employees to play sports and interact with athletes who wear the company's or its competitors' products. For instance, in graphic design company, it might be interesting to make sure employees engage with communities of avant-garde artists.
These activities have a double benefit:
- Input for keeping an open mind, achieving inspiration and encouraging curiosity
- Output knowledge that may be relevant for the company
Internal and formal activities
These activities are internal and guided by the company and usually include specific goals and deliverables. Often, they may be cultivated through informal activities, because once an idea looks attractive, feasible and profitable, it then is channelled into the formal innovation process, for subsequent evolution, development and implementation.
Some of these activities may be:
- Weekly or monthly sessions, designed for discussing specific topics or for specialized presentations, sometimes conducted by experts. The aim is to develop knowledge that can inspire and help to identify new opportunities.
- Workshops that are part of the innovation process. Their purpose is to evolve and develop the ideas generated in previous stages, although they can also focus on identifying opportunities and generating ideas around them.
Presentations made to the decision-makers in the innovation process. Their purpose is to present the current status of the concepts, in many cases to decide on which initiatives to pursue and which to abandon.
External and formal activities
In this case, activities take place outside the company’s walls and likewise involve people outside the company, even though these are guided by the company. The purpose is to obtain knowledge that is relevant for the company’s strategic objectives, and that will then be shared internally.
Examples of this kind of activities may be:
- Send employees to international conferences and congresses
- Organize competitions on ideas, or other activities that consider crowdsourcing
- Enrol employees in courses to deepen their knowledge in specific areas
Innovation emerges from the relationships between people, inside and outside the organization, as this allows for acquiring new knowledge, deepening existing knowledge, and generating new ideas. The HR department must adopt the function of connecting people, as in creating communities and supporting a series of activities that secure the conditions for serendipity to bring about new ideas casually and for the innovations pursued.
When seeking connections between internal and external talent, bear in mind that that a balance between autonomy and control must be safeguarded. The members of the various communities must have sufficient freedom, and yet be tracked at the same time to ensure that the knowledge and ideas they are developing are aligned with the organization's strategy.