Innovation Starts With HR

Are You Hiring For Innovation?

Do you know which role in your organization is ultimately responsible for innovation? Some people might guess the CTO or the CEO. If you have a dedicated innovation group, then it might be the Chief Innovation Officer (CINO), or the VP or Innovation, or some other senior leader with innovation in their title.

But you’d be wrong.

Innovation is more than a job title – its a risk-taking, experimental culture. It’s an ethos which looks it as a continuous improvement as well as groundbreaking new ideas. It’s not afraid to move fast and break things, as long as it learns something from breaking those things. It’s not scared of following trails until they either dead-end or lead to the holy grail.

As a human, innovation is either in your DNA, or it’s not. You’ve learned how to be innovative. It all comes down to people. Are your people innovative? Do you hire innovators?

The reality is that innovation is a mindset, and if you hire innovators, then your company will be innovative.

So who in your company is ultimately responsible for innovation in your organization? It’s not the CEO, CTO, or CINO. It’s HR, of course.

If your senior HR leaders and your HR organization ensure that you hire innovators – no matter what the role, then your company will be innovative. You need a senior entrepreneurial leader in HR, one who understands the innovator’s mindset.

In some ways, it’s about branding. When I worked with Yahoo, there was a new hiring initiative which focused on hiring “big brains.” The tagline was “big brains wanted,” and employees were encouraged to reach out to their big-brained friends to ask them to apply to Yahoo. They explicitly campaigned in an engaging and fun way which would naturally attract innovative minds.

Some of you may think, well, we can’t hire innovators for every role – there must still be some people who need to “keep the lights on,” humans who don’t have a propensity to innovate. Spoiler alert: all humans can innovate; they just need permission to innovate. Even your “keep the lights on” folks can innovate in developing process improvements which can save you a lot of money.

If you hire innovators, then not only will your organization be innovative, it will be flexible and continuously improving. One caveat: your HR team shouldn’t hire innovators into a non-innovating organization unless your leadership is willing to articulate a clear vision to your employees, and then allow them the freedom to work towards that vision. If you try to bring innovators into any other environment, then they will wither and die (aka leave for a more innovative company).

The takeaway: realign to a well-articulated vision, then hire innovators to realize that vision. If you think about it, most successful startups started this way, and remain this way to this day, no matter how big they get. So if you want to lean into innovation, look at installing the innovation mindset among your HR leaders, and let your HR team loose to seek out can capture all of those innovators out there your company may desperately need.