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Ignite Innovation: Engage your Employees

By: Debbie McGrath

Monday, July 01, 2013
 

Posted to HR.com by David Tighe, partner, Bovo-Tighe

I read two articles recently that confirmed what human-resource professionals have long known: Innovation comes from people who have had their creative drive nurtured and encouraged, and does not require massive investments in technology to achieve.

The first article that caught my eye was by banking-industry blogger Chris Skinner.

“It intrigues me how often we have a conversation about innovation,” Skinner wrote, “and everyone starts talking about new technology…Apart from the fact that innovation is no longer the hot topic it was in banking—the credit crisis saw to that—innovation has nothing to do with technology. Innovation has to do with people.”

Right on. I see this all the time in my own work. Great technology is bought to improve productivity, and fails miserably because the people who need to fully utilize the technology are not engaged in any part of the process. As Mr. Skinner finds, the lowest-tech outfits often innovate better than their highly automated rivals.
“There are loads more (examples) we could reference,” Skinner continued, “and they all have one thing in common: None of their innovations have anything to do with technology. Their innovations are all about design, process and culture. So stop thinking that innovation needs, requires or relates to technology.”

You can singlehandedly be the champion of this person-based innovation mindset in your own organization.

The second article that grabbed me, from McKinsey & Company, had this headline:

“Five s CFOs can make cost cuts stick.”

Here are the five s McKinsey recommends companies make cost-cutting initiatives stick:

• Assign accountability at the right level.

• Focus on how to cut, not just how much.

• Don’t let P&L accounting data get in the of cost reduction.

• Clearly articulate the link between cost management and strategy.

• Treat cost management as an ongoing exercise.

As HR leaders, we can play a big role in establishing a cost-conscious culture the right , marshalling engaged employees who take the lead in innovating s to invest time and money in programs and activities that add value and improve the bottom line. Senior managers cannot implement such strategies. The staff must, and employees will only do so if they believe in the cost-cutting mission and they make it part of the culture.

From the McKinsey article:

“Most companies treat cost management as a one-off exercise driven by the need to manage short-term profit targets—and some of these exercises do succeed in the short term because of constant pressure from the CEO or CFO. Yet such hasty cost-cutting activity typically goes into reverse once the pressure is removed and rarely results in sustainable changes in cost structure. In our experience, the reason is that one-off exercises don’t require internal capability building. A better approach is to use the initial cost-reduction program as an opportunity to build a competency in cost management rather than in mere cost reduction. A more enduring approach includes changing the people think about costs by, for example, setting new policies and procedures and then modeling the desired behavior.”

Changing mindsets within a company requires HR expertise. Here is your opportunity to step in and help the CFO and his staff by ensuring the cost-cutting initiative is constructed sustainably; by taking the time to clearly communicate the strategic reasons for the change in culture; and by establishing training that instills within the staff an instinct to tie a dollar spent to a revenue-generating activity.

Done right, cost-cutting is not a burden, rather an innovative activity that inspires better use of available funds. Money saved can be used for anything that has the potential to generate return-on-investment, too.

 

Don’t Judge an Applicant by His Background Check

Posted to HR.com by Eric Chester, author of the Reviving Work Ethic blog

Imagine you have one opening you’re trying to fill, and 16 eager applicants aged 17 to 22—all with more than adequate skills for the job—awaiting their second interview. Before the interviews begin, you discover from background checks that among these candidates, five are recovering addicts, two are pregnant unwed teens, three are on probation and one is recovering from a traumatic brain injury. Eight are high-school dropouts and four have earned only a G.E.D. However, due to a clerical mix-up, you don’t know which labels apply to which interviewee. All you know is that while each applicant has the skill set you seek, all 16 have “barriers to employment.”

Bet you start to sweat. Maybe you think to yourself, “I’ll just go through the motions, but I’ll dismiss them each promptly and post this opening again.”

Is it perfectly understandable, and even acceptable, to judge them before meeting them?

I sure did, when this was the description provided to me by a county workforce center for a group I was about to spend an entire day with. The only exception to the scenario above: I was not there to interview them, only to train them and improve their core work ethic values, or “soft skills.”

Working with young people who have barriers to employment is not something I do on a routine basis. In fact, it’s not something I do at all. However, it was important for me to see how far the work-ethic curriculum I initially created seven years ago had progressed after numerous revisions by my team at the Center for Work Ethic Development. It wouldn’t have been fair to test it—or to accurately assess my own chops as a speaker and trainer—had the audience been comprised of Eagle Scouts and National Merit Scholars.

I went in to the day prejudiced. That is to say, I was prejudging the people I was told I was going to work with. I am embarrassed to admit to the adjectives that ran through my mind as I lay in my bed the night before dreading the day that followed.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The group of 16 was among the brightest, most energetic, impassioned and focused young people I have ever met. Sure, everyone in the group had made mistakes, and in many cases those mistakes would follow them to every job opening they interviewed for, for the rest of their lives.

Thankfully, our day together wasn’t about their past. It was about their future. I was brought in as the instructor, but it was I who learned the most. For starters, I discovered that the core work-ethic values that every employer in every industry demands were not new to these individuals. These young people owned up to their mistakes and each admitted that they had learned important life-altering lessons from them. They are now very determined to prove to any employer who will give them a chance that they are indeed positive, reliable, professional, ambitious, respectful, honest and deeply grateful for every opportunity they are presented.

I am not in HR, nor do I interview and hire a lot of employees. But if I did, I can promise you that I wouldn’t be frightened off because of a background check. I’d rely less on what was revealed by a report of someone’s past and instead look deeper into the promise of what their eyes told me about their future. MF

 

Related Enterprise Zones: Management


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