Promoting innovation in the workplace
In a world of open innovation, or of innovation with meaning, there’s no doubt that the principal determining factor in innovation is the human factor. This is because nowadays, explaining many innovations has more in common with the “intellectual” disciplines of sociology, anthropology or history than the “hardcore” fields of economics, engineering or biology. In other words, taking the undeniable importance of research and development (R&D) departments into account, the key is relationships: professional relationships that lead to innovation both within and outside the company.
As a result, human resource departments take on a very specific role. They must identify and promote a set of skills that enable workers to participate in the ongoing process of open and meaningful innovation. Fortunately, academic literature has identified a set of human resource management practices that have been recognized as leading a new spirit of innovation. These practices could perhaps be known as “cooperative management,” in comparison with management techniques that are more market-oriented.
The goal of contract-based management is to maximize worker effort, not individual performance. That is, innovation-oriented human resource practices place more emphasis on commitment to the job than on individual productivity. Market-oriented approaches emphasize the robustness of a contract, while cooperative approaches seek partners for the future. Market-oriented approaches thrive on achieving certifications, improving technical skills, organizing work into defined tasks, and encouraging professional development subject to market needs. On the other hand, an innovation-oriented employee needs a work contract that adapts to on-the-job conditions. Monetary incentives can also be useful, although non-monetary or emotional recognition works best. Contract-based systems promote technical and scientific education, but culture and history are emphasized too. This last consideration means that career development isn’t always “vertical”; “horizontal” movement is also important since it fosters an adaptable, interdisciplinary focus.
Literature has already contributed to the identification of innovation-oriented business practices. But things haven’t stopped there, and further research has prompted a possible “ranking” of those practices. This research hasn’t yet provided definitive answers, but it has been repeatedly shown that the promotion of teamwork is paramount. This fact is already evident in fields where open innovation is commonplace—information technology and telecommunications. Actually putting these techniques into practice has confirmed that they lead to innovation.
In short, open, meaningful innovation has transformed the role of the personnel manager into a strategic one. Nowadays it’s understood that innovation can’t take place without workers who are cultured, have opportunities for social interaction, and can work as a team. This collaboration-oriented focus even brings meaning to life itself.