Shaking things up is good for engagement as well as customer satisfaction. Photo: Shutterstock

Wednesday 4th November 2015

Shake it up

Eugenio Pirri asks: How can HR build a culture of innovation?

The world’s most innovative companies (such as Airbnb, Facebook or Uber) have rocked their marketplaces. They created offerings that their competitors thought would never work, and knocked their competitors out of the water.

Uber has become the largest taxi company in the world – which to traditionalists will seem ironic, considering it owns no cars.

It’s surge of success doesn’t yet seem to be waning. But it will.

Because our volatile global economy is grounded on success through innovation, it’s only a matter of time before some game-changing new disrupter will rock the mini cab industry again, offering a proposition that’s even more cost-effective or easy to use.

There is a difference between disruption and innovation, though. Innovation is when an organisation devises a new idea to evolve its market and add more value to its customers. Disruption is when an organisation creates a market of its own.

For businesses operating in this brave new world, the prospect of being ‘disrupted’ out of the market is terrifying. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

According to the business advisory company A.T. Kearney, innovation is not an art – it’s a capability that we can all learn. And business innovation doesn’t have to be done in a Google-esque ‘let’s all set aside an hour a week when we sit at our desks and think about new ideas’ kind of way.

It can be at the heart of every business, no matter what shape or size.

Breaking through

Sustainable innovation is the process of repeating successful innovations in different parts of the organisation. Like when stationery company 3M applied its skills in developing Post-It notes to the adhesive strips on wound dressings.

Sustainable innovation is also about knowing which companies to watch, which to invest in and which clients to take on.

But most importantly it’s about knowing yourself as a business – knowing what you want to achieve and being sure about how you can make a difference.

A framework for innovation

At Dorchester Collection, we have a three ‘I’ framework which forms the basis for innovation.

  • Insight – every innovation starts with insight from either guest or employee feedback.
  • Ignite – using brainstorming and idea generation exercises to develop ideas into a concept.
  • Implement – creating a team to roll-out the concept. This stage focuses on employee and guest awareness as well as measures to ensure the success of the innovation.
Disruptive Post-Its. Photo: Gacabo

For us, the biggest challenge in terms of innovation is the constant pursuit of meaningful insight. Our process is about turning data into information, information into facts, facts into knowledge and knowledge into insight.

Once we have the insight, that’s when we can truly innovate.

How to deliver innovation, always

Innovation should be driven by the following principles:

  • Think outside of the box and be open to new approaches
  • Be curious, eager to learn and ask questions
  • Take risks and identify creative solutions
  • Encourage sharing of ideas to create a culture of innovation
  • Find ways to create memorable experiences for customers and anticipate trends
  • Seek opportunities to continuously improve – don’t be afraid to fail, that’s how you learn

To avoid a culture where people innovate without direction, you could establish innovation committees – multi-disciplinary and multi-hierarchy champions responsible for enlivening a culture of innovation.

In my experience, innovation doesn’t just lead to new products. It can also help to increase employee engagement scores and enhance customer service feedback.

But a final word of advice. Remember innovation cannot be forced.

Your best ideas – like the artist Picasso’s – will probably come to you in the shower, not in an awkward business meeting where people are forcing themselves to innovate.

Maybe Google should take note.

About the author

Eugenio Pirri

Eugenio Pirri is VP of People and Organisational Development at Dorchester Collection. In the last 18 months, Eugenio and his team have won more than 10 prestigious HR awards.