It’s time for HR to start fostering innovation

Companies needs more 'idealists' says Mark Murphy. Now is the perfect time for HR professionals to foster this leadership trait.

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Sep 15, 2023

For as long as there have been companies, there have been creative and driven employees pushing those companies to innovate.

Sometimes they succeed, but far too often, the inertia of the corporate collective squashes any hints of divergent and creative thinking.

In a recent study called Managers Don’t Love Innovators, we learned that only 20% of managers encourage playful innovation and experimentation from their employees.

Relatedly, around 60% of employees say their company never, rarely, or occasionally wants bold thinkers.

Could change be afoot?

But there’s a chance that this bias against innovation is starting to change.

With the advent of generative AI, CEOs are increasingly recognizing the need to embrace cutting-edge technology.

Rather than taking a wait-and-see approach, a survey by CEOWORLD Magazine recently revealed that nearly 50% of CEOs consider generative AI their most critical business priority.

These CEOs aren’t waiting another few years for extensive testing.

Whether it’s from fear of missing out, competitive pressures, market opportunities, or intrinsic motivation, they’re simply diving right in.

Where HR needs to step in

While this behavior is great, a CEO’s embrace of innovation won’t suddenly transform the entire workforce into bold creative thinkers.

That’s where HR leaders can play a vital role.

As a lynchpin between the executive suite and the frontlines, HR can foster a greater embrace of innovation and do so in subtle and gentle ways.

For instance, HR leaders should take this moment to rethink their training and development programs, especially the ones that involve middle managers and supervisors.

Rather than rolling out management training from yesteryear, this is the perfect time to start inculcating a different approach to leadership.

Currently, the leadership style most commonly employed by managers is called the Diplomat.

Diplomats prize interpersonal harmony, and they’re the social glue and affiliative force that keeps groups together.

Given the pressures of the past few years – everything from quiet quitting to remote working – it’s no surprise that interpersonal connections would dominate managers’ concerns.

We need more idealists

But as we know from the million-plus takers of the “What’s Your Leadership Style?” test, the leadership approach most desired by employees is the Idealist style.

Idealists are high-energy achievers who believe in the positive potential of everyone around them.

Idealists want to learn and grow, and they want everyone else on the team to do the same.

They tend to be open-minded and prize creativity from themselves and others.

While this is the style most employees want to see in their leader, at present, fewer than a fifth of American leaders adopt this approach.

Start tweaking

With a bit of tweaking, HR leaders could start pushing their management development programs to prioritize the Idealist style.

Rather than making employee retention as their managers’ top priority, HR needs to ensure managers elevate creativity and growth.

But how carefully and intensely do managers review their employees’ personal development plans?

Your managers likely know how to conduct stay interviews, but do they know how to nicely force employees to step slightly outside their comfort zone?

Take something as simple as experimenting with generative AI. Is this part of every employee’s growth plan for 2023? It probably isn’t.

In one Leadership IQ study, we found that only 23% of employees always think they have the kind of training opportunities to foster career growth and advancement.

But if half of CEOs are making generative AI their top priority, it’s probably a safe bet that that teaching employees how to use AI would foster their career growth.

So, with AI’s sudden arrival, nearly every company has hit an inflection point.

And many are diving headfirst into uncharted waters.

That can be scary, but if you’ve ever wished you could foster a bit more innovation throughout your company, this is your moment.

CEOs are embracing revolutionary technology, and employees largely want to unleash their inner creativity and innovation.

Now it’s time for HR to translate that energy into concrete change.

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