HR Roundtable: On Creativity, Innovation, and Being a Change Agent

Mother Nature took her best shot to make it impossible for the February Cincinnati HR Roundtable to occur, but we forged on in spite of weather challenges! The group was significantly smaller than normal, but they were very engaged and ready to tackle the topic of Creativity and Innovation at work.

We took on this topic because HR people love to tout that they are “change agents,” however, when obstacles get in the way (which they often do), HR pros fold and rely on traditions just as much as organizations do. If this pattern continues, creativity and innovation can’t occur.

So, the small groups started with the following questions:

  1. What things squash creativity and innovation in the workplace?
  2. What keeps YOU from being creative?
  3. How can we consistently be creative and innovative?

The conversations were still very heated with this smaller group of attendees and their answers were phenomenal. Here’s what they had to share.

Article Continues Below

Creativity and innovation squashers

  • Corporate culture — Ouch! This was a surprising way to start things, but it can truly be the case. Companies tend to want people to look, act, and be the same. Cultures tend to foster conformity more often than fostering creativity. This is because we think “different” actually means “wrong.” HR needs to look at how it acts, moves and influences this situation. Are they squashers or enablers?
  • Management — Be careful. It’s the old adage, “When you point your finger at someone else, take a look at how many fingers are pointing back at you.” Management is honestly more reflective of the culture vs. just being this evil entity who wants creativity squashed. Honestly, they probably would enjoy the freedom to be creative themselves, but they mimic what the norms are instead of pushing up against them.
  • Compliance — Love this one. Compliance is a fact for the HR profession and of organizations, but it should not be a crutch to fall on. The one area that does get to be cumbersome is our proclivity for wanting to write a policy to stop something the minute we hear that people aren’t comfortable with something. (e.g, dress code policies). HR should look to policies as parameters for people to be able to perform within them, and not continue to believe the myth that people will comply because policies are written.
  • Fear — This is the best answer in the section because it’s the most honest one. Abraham Maslow figured this out years ago. Security and stability will squash creativity in a heartbeat if people feel that it’s being challenged. Don’t discount fear or degrade people because of fear. Learn about it and work through it.
  • That’s the WWADT! — What’s WWADT ? “That’s the way we ALWAYS do things !” It’s the one comment that has the power to l destroy and diffuse creativity in any organization. Just remember this: we don’t use typewriters anymore, or rotary phones, etc. When you hear this from someone, text them.

Why aren’t YOU creative?

  • To Do Lists –– Sweet! Now, all you task-oriented people reading this are throwing up your arms, but hold tight. It was brought up that we feel compelled to stick to lists so much that we tend not to look up from them in order to consider something new in ideas or approaches. We like lists and they give us comfort. These aren’t wrong, it’s just that they could just possibly lead to missed opportunities.
  • Lack of motivation — The reason for this is that we move at such a ridiculous pace everyday that we have lost the art of detaching ourselves from things to breathe and reflect. If you don’t do this, you can’t be creative. We all need to relearn this. It doesn’t make you a slacker to take in something that’s out of the norm – visit a museum, go to the zoo, and don’t look at your smart phone! Don’t worry, the shakes eventually go away.
  • We’re risk averse — No kidding. This has been a true detriment for HR as a profession. We need to own up to this. People are tough, but they’re wonderful as well. Take the risk to be the “Human” in HR and quit thinking that employees are the enemy. You’ll be astonished at how this little step will allow you to be creative in dealing with almost any employee relations situation.
  • We’re not engaged — We don’t want to admit this, but HR has succumbed to the trap that is taking over work in America. We don’t love what we do. We think of ways to not do work. One of the most liberating things any of us could do is to come into work EVERY day just geeked about what’s going to happen! (Editor’s note from Steve: Trust me – it works and it’s wonderful!)

How can we be consistently creative and innovative?

This is going to be more of a list (task people rejoice) than commentary:

  • Get a life and be passionate about it!
  • Get away from your desk and take in the world around you (at work and outside of work).
  • Get healthy – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
  • Talk to strangers intentionally. It creeps them out, but reminds you to seek out people.
  • Exercise your creativity – be a kid! You didn’t have problems being creative when you were young!
  • Experience new things – ALL the time. There is so much we all can see new everyday.
  • Believe you can! Don’t let someone tell you that you aren’t creative!

I ended with a quote from a new book a “stranger” gave me by Gordon MacKenzie – Orbiting the Giant Hairball:

You have a masterpiece inside you, too, you know. One unlike any that has ever been created, or ever will be. And remember: If you go to your grave without painting your masterpiece, it will not get painted. No one else can paint it. Only you.”

Steve Browne, SHRM-SCP, is the Executive Director of Human Resources for LaRosa's, Inc., a regional pizzeria restaurant chain in the Greater Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio area with 16 locations and over 1,200 team members. Steve has been an HR professional for more than 30 years in the manufacturing, consumer products, and professional services industries. He facilitates a monthly HR Roundtable in Cincinnati and runs an Internet message board for HR pros that reaches 7,800 plus people weekly. Steve joined the SHRM Board of Directors in January 2016. You can contact him at, or on Twitter (@sbrownehr). You can also read more on his personal blog, Everyday People.