The emerging role of the talent development leader is to enable disruption and innovation.
In this blog series, we are unpacking the five levers of TD innovation:
1. Driving a culture of innovation
2. Fostering an innovation mindset among leadership
3. Building innovation capability
4. Empowering teams to innovate
5. Optimizing systems and processes for innovation
In this article, we’ll focus on the last lever: optimizing for innovation. The TD function can drive innovation in at least three major ways. First, we can use our influence over designing and selecting training programs and other resources to embed innovation into fundamental organizational processes. Second, we can work with HR to ensure innovation is incorporated into the HR lifecycle. And third, we can reimagine the processes we control—development and innovation optimization.
Using the TD Role to Embed Innovation Processes in the OrganizationInnovation requires clear, aligned, and culturally consistent processes that work at scale.
The TD function delivers the tools, training, and support that define how things are best done in the organization. We can leverage that vital role in many ways. How?
We can broadly teach skills specific to innovation like trend analysis, idea generation and evaluation, continuous improvement, and design thinking within our organizations. Innovation requires a diversity of ideas, suspension of judgment, willingness to take risks, and divergent thinking. We can build those elements into other curriculum areas like decision making, delegation, persuasive communication, teaming, collaboration, strategic planning, change management, and project management. Similarly, we can build innovation into our performance support for fundamental processes like R&D, product development, engineering review, customer care, and more. And, of course, we can teach continuous improvement and human-centered design. Perhaps most critically, we can ensure that our management and leadership programs prepare people to lead innovation efforts.
We can even reconsider the tools we use to teach meeting design and management and incorporate innovation into formal agendas at leadership meetings. We can teach employees how to expand collaboration, build and maintain networks, gather feedback, research, and test ideas.
In acquiring new development resources, we can help to redesign existing systems and processes to encourage innovation—and even create new ones. We should ensure that organizations have:
- A well-defined innovation process—from initial idea to successful implementation
- Defined roles and responsibilities for innovation
- An organizational purpose that includes innovation as a stated value
- A clear and open process for listening and speaking up about innovation
- Openness about embracing mistakes as learning opportunities
- Frank, open communication
- Methods for leveraging ideas like co-creation, customer co-creation, and open innovation
- Processes to measure innovation both qualitatively and quantitatively
In short, we can build a common language around innovation and a set of supporting tools.
Build Innovation Into the HR LifecycleFrom our unique position in the organization, the TD function can lead our partners in HR and management to integrate innovation into every aspect of the talent lifecycle. The many changes necessitated by the pandemic have opened our organizations to change. We can help develop a new focus on innovation as to critical business and employee success. Every aspect of the HR lifecycle can emphasize agility, collaboration, diversity, and continuous learning, all keys to innovation.
Hiring. Because it is our business to know the capabilities required for future success, we can greatly impact talent acquisition. We can use new profiles of critical skills to inform sourcing, recruitment, and selection efforts. We can emphasize innovation in onboarding and defining careers.
Performance management. Leading organizations are already reconsidering traditional approaches to performance management. Structural changes are apparent as companies shift from annual reviews to more frequent feedback or abandon traditional rating and ranking systems. More subtle are the shifts in how performance is evaluated. This is an opportunity to endow a deep concern for innovation into the evaluation, promotion, and reward processes.
Again, our leverage as management and leadership development authors can ensure that innovation-minded employees are rewarded and celebrated. Some organizations are even proposing a new role: chief disruption officer!
Enablement. This is our forte and the subject of a separate article in this series. We have ample resources to help build innovative capability.
Build Our Development Systems and Processes to Maximize InnovationOur ability to enable innovation rests in ensuring that our systems and processes are optimized for innovation. That means creating conditions where employees can quickly gain the skills they need to face new challenges. We can make development more personal, flexible, and available. We can democratize access to development. Instead of programs or curricula aimed at individuals or select groups, we can provide everyone a wide array of services and resources. Innovation should not be limited to an org chart or chain-of-command reporting.
We can optimize our processes to guide and encourage people to make choices that enable innovation.
The same technology that broke down old barriers and constraints has evolved into an infinite, boundaryless, and perhaps unmeasurable universe of TD possibilities. Answers are everywhere. Definitions of what we need to know versus what we need to access are shifting. This allows us to create an open ecosystem of development.
We can accelerate the movement toward microlearning. Personalization is a requirement, not an option, as learners expect customized choices. More than ever, talent development can serve as a provider rather than a product producer. The old informal and formal learning or development concepts have lost their relevance. We can replace them with a new view of development—either planned or unplanned—the learner.
And perhaps our most critical contribution is to help organizations identify and understand not just the skills they need, but the skills they possess and how to apply them across the organization. A skills database or data lake will allow organizations to fully understand internal abilities for building and managing innovation.
Let’s use our influence over the design and selection of training programs to spur innovation in the fundamental processes of the organization, work with HR to ensure innovation is considered in every aspect of the HR lifecycle, and reimagine development and innovation optimization.
While this may seem like a lot, most of it will not require additional effort, just a shift in focus. We currently train leaders and managers, teach communication, collaboration, and other critical innovation skills. We work with HR every day, and we’re already changing our systems and processes in the post-pandemic world of work. We’re already being asked to help our organizations understand how to collaborate and create in a hybrid workplace.
Now, we can make incremental contributions by helping organizations drive innovation.