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The Role of HR in Creating a Culture of Innovation

The following post comes to us courtesy of board member Neil Reichenberg. Neil is the Executive Director of the International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA-HR) , a nonprofit membership organization representing public sector human resource managers and professionals.


The International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA-HR) undertook a research study in 2017 that examined the role that human resources departments play in fostering innovation within their organizations. For the purposes of this research study, innovation was defined as the action of introducing and applying a new method, idea, product, or process to benefit the organization by increasing productivity, addressing challenges, or enhancing service quality.


State of Innovation in Organizations

Over 40% of the IPMA-HR members who responded to the survey reported that innovation is a part of the mission, vision or value statements of their organizations. Those respondents from organizations with innovation in their guiding statements also reported higher average ratings for communication, collaboration, and support for change than did members from organizations that do not emphasize innovation. However, over half reported that innovation is not included as a goal in managerial performance evaluations.

Almost three-quarters of the respondents identified management as the primary driver of innovation in their organizations. Ten percent stated that elected officials or frontline staff were the innovation drivers. Budgetary restrictions, departmental culture, and bureaucratic processes were cited as the most common barriers to organizational innovation. For HR departments, outdated HR systems are the primary barrier keeping HR from being more involved in organization-wide innovation. Bureaucratic restrictions and budgetary constraints also were mentioned.


HR's Role in Organization-Wide Innovation

Having support from leadership along with structured time for creating and executing innovative ideas were the top factors cited for enabling HR professionals to contribute to creating a culture of innovation.

A little over half of the respondents reported that their departments implemented an innovative recruitment and hiring practice. These projects focused on developing new marketing materials and building an online brand to assist with recruitment. The implementation of new software for applicant tracking, interviewing and onboarding was cited frequently.

In the area of compensation, the most common innovations that were mentioned included: broad banding, offering market value compensation for hard-to-fill roles, performance related pay, and implementing performance pay studies.

More than half of respondents advised that they have new innovations in performance management that emphasize new or improved methods for evaluating performance. There has been a shift from numerical ratings of past behavior to narrative evaluations and forward-looking performance plans. A switch from annual conversations to frequent coaching has been implemented by about 1/3 of respondents. Almost half reported that new performance management software is being used to facilitate changes in evaluation and feedback.

Programming is the focus of innovative changes in learning and development with over 60% of responses describing new or redesigned learning and development programs. About half of the new programs emphasize leadership development, with technology training and customer service training also being popular. A sizable percentage of organizations have updated or implemented learning management systems leading to an increased availability of online programs and materials.

In HR technology, respondents most frequently cited an overall replacement or update of their human resources information system. Other HR areas in which technology innovations are being implemented are recruitment and hiring, compensation, and learning and development.

With HR playing an increasingly strategic role in organizations, it will be important that it continues to contribute to increasing innovation throughout organizations.

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