Human Resources is An Instrument Not The Bane of Innovation

By Jim Woods, Managing Partner Woods Kovalova Group

I sat in a meeting this spring where I heard a repeated refrain of an executive to hire innovative radical thinkers who push the envelope of excellence. Once again, I left unimpressed. I have heard this chant as a college professor, a customer service employee, elementary teacher perched alongside the empty promise, “our employees are our greatest asset.

If you were the proverbial fly on the wall in the employee break room outside of the safe place of “yes" men and women of the inner sanctum, that no one really believes it.

Why do things remain the same in business or anywhere? No, heretics are welcomed here!

Business claims to want people who think outside the box. Yet, have you ever seen someone hired who dared to have an opposing viewpoint, stuck their neck out, sacrificed for a dream, C students who didn't give up pushed aside for "A" students who never failed and failed again? Job hoppers who leapt looking for a leader who lived what they said. Companies want sameness to perpetuate the status quo.  

Innovate for us but wait … stand in line. Follow the system. Do as I say not as you imagine a new way.

My way or the highway

I have been reading a great book by Art Kleiner, “The Age of Heretics.” Ever imagined what would happen if your firm hired more people in HR who were heretical? People who resented innovating like everyone else?

A heretic is someone who sees a truth that contradicts the conventional wisdom of the institution to which he or she belongs and remains loyal to both entities—the institution and the new truth,” Art Kleiner.

Required reading especially for HR and especially management. Both good people but stoic in their belief that failure is sticking your neck out for an ideal. They would burn said heretics at the stake. Imagine Joan of Arc, Christ, Gandhi, Mandela, Earnhardt. This is a wonderful historical story by Kleiner of the post--World War II era rigidly obsessed by numbers, systems only to shun the very people they claim to cherish: idealists, humanists, and freethinkers who are ostracized only to go down in flames.

Innovating involves people. Finding and retaining such people begins with the dissolution of institutional silos of HR, customer service, the elitist ivory tower, and managers who persuade by “look at your numbers.” Instead for what business needs most to stay competitive: a revolution for freedom, self-expression, and high ideals that occur in break rooms, on the streets and even within the “quiet” halls of said tower.

Here is another thought. My wife waved in my face as I attempted to fall asleep in my recliner of an equally fascinating article by John Cryan, the chief executive of Deutsche Bank. Cryan warning is to his employees as well as competitors. Writes he, "big number" of staff at the company will ultimately be replaced by robots and other forms of technology as the firm embraces a "revolutionary spirit" going forwards. Did you see it too? They want employees who embrace a "revolutionary spirit" going forward. I suspect many of those departing, (no offense intended as I have been among them) will be management. Where two of the most important “departments exist” – employees and customer service. Taking care of them equally is what radical leaders live for.

Looking for new ideas to engage employees? See our workshops. Click here. 

Know why? Because they are the ones who risk failure by thinking. The real innovators Not those content with the façade of silos where power wreaks of incompetence and irrelevance. Jim

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Jim Woods is a successful leadership trainer and speaker and executive coach. He speaks on employee engagement, leadership and change management, leading instead of managing and customer service. He is an author, a former fifth grade and university teacher with an impressive resume. He is beloved by audiences. To schedule a speaking engagement with Jim please schedule an engagement here. Go>. Connect with him on TwitterFacebook, and Linkedin.