[Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Naga Siddharth. He is the youngest Executive Coach to be endorsed by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith in India. He has authored a book on designing measurable HR interventions that impact the final customer of the business. The book is available for free at www.HowManyTheBook.com Naga Siddharth heads HR for the Cloudnine group of hospitals in India and is a Human Technology Innovator according to him.]
While I started writing about innovation, my research methodology habituated thinking egged me on to check on the existing content on Innovation in Google. After looking around a few pages, I wasn’t too happy since the content did not strike a chord with my feelings. And then it occurred to me as to what could be the fatal flaw to aspired HR innovation. Some individuals and organizations choose to look outside for innovations (at other companies, on the net, best practices and so on), while the answer to innovations in HR lies within oneself and the organization. This reminds me of what is widely attributed to Archimedes, “Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough, and I will move the Earth.” The way I interpret this in the context of HR innovations is that, you can move the earth (or create significant innovations), if you are standing on the right beliefs and feelings (location) to achieve that. The lever is the question you pose yourself and the strength in your hands is the level of HR competency you have built in yourself.
True innovation happens through the insight of an understanding. Compassion triggers the need for this insight. Compassion is the medium of expression of the belief that fellow human beings deserve something better. After that, constraints tend to fade away in the vigor of the innovation. Because, the focus is then on relentlessly reaching the innovation’s benefits to the people.
Truly innovative HR systems have their foundations rooted in the belief that every human being has to effort his own journey for achievement, and that he can do so. That, humans are capable of learning on their own. Only. They cannot be taught or trained. Because what you try to train, that is your mental map, not theirs. And it will remain so, until you identify the purpose for the new learning and define the destination for them. They will create the path. The path of learning that drives sustainable positive changes in behavior.
The petri dish of HR innovation needs one more nutrient to culture innovation – that of HR competency. That, is in the realm of the individual’s own effort.
Is that all there is to it? No. The difference with other innovations and HR innovation now makes it’s appearance. The reason for HR’s existence is business through people. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not about using or manipulating or exploiting people for business. That, business forms a context to innovate for people, who, then create success for the business.
This brings us to the posture that I propose for HR innovation. As you stand on the belief that employees deserve better, ask yourself the question, “what do they need to do for the business to get what it needs”. Then help them learn to achieve those behaviors. Notice that I did not say “train them to display these behaviors.” This is no circus. Even those have moved on to “Whale Done” I learn!
I said help them to learn. This could mean options to increasing self awareness, for a deeper understanding of the context, for appreciating the linkages between their own new behavior, business outcomes and personal implications, picking up a few skills to achieve this behavior change, using support systems like peer coaching, mentoring, etc. The purpose is set and so is the destination, they will create the path for themselves. They will create the path of learning that drives sustainable positive changes in behavior. The innovation lies in how you create the learning.
Here are two innovations I have witnessed and an analysis of each:
Context: A healthcare organization paid salaries that were 10% less than median salaries across all strata of nurses. This caused unhappiness among the nurses working there and this impacted the happiness they created for customers. The business model was highly dependent on word of mouth referrals and did not allow for a carte blanche increase of 10% to all nurses, since the viability of the business depended on the number of cases that occurred in reality.
Solution: The innovation was a 10% incentive to nurses based on the number of cases handled by the unit they worked in. This meant that higher the number of cases, harder they worked, and this translated to a higher earning for themselves. The incentive was given based on the actual number of worked days in a month. So, a nurse who had gone on 15 days of earned leave meant that her colleagues worked harder to cover for her and hence wouldn’t be eligible for the incentive, while her colleagues would be! This in fact was readily proposed and accepted by the larger majority whenever the doubt arose in all hands meetings where the issue was surfaced by some of the nurses. Since the incentive paid was a fraction of the additional business achieved, finance didn’t have an issue either!
The innovation posture: Stand on the belief that “nurses deserve equitable pay” and ask “what do they need to do to help the business achieve more number of cases”. The answer is to help increase cases! The innovation was the new system of incentives, combined with relentless communication on the personal outcome this had (they got an incentive that made their salary equitable) and how they contributed to it.
The HR competency bit was about having an understanding of compensation and incentive systems. Competency is a given for good HR innovation.
Context: An organization of the experience economy was facing increased animosity between elderly supervisors and younger employees. This meant that the experience they created for their customers was not the most amicable either!
Solution: A professor from a local business school who addressed all supervisors on the characteristics of Gen X and Gen Y. The supervisors no longer saw the employees as incorrigibly indisciplined.
The innovation posture: Stand on the belief that “Supervisors and employees deserve a better working environment” and ask “what do the supervisors need to do to achieve the business outcome of a supportive environment?” The answer is to understand the context of their employees. The HR competency required was knowing about the concepts of Gen X and Gen Y.
All new theory is built standing on the shoulder of giants. Dr. Udai Pareek (NTL fellow and founder of HRD in India) once told me that one doesn’t need an expensive laboratory in HR. The workplace is the lab.
These two cases illustrate just how much HR innovation needs compassion and genuine concern for the betterment of fellow human beings. I do hope you try this out at your workplace and share your findings.
Innovation is fun!