If I Were Running A Company…Innovation

The department known as human resources has grown a lot in 20+ years from being administrative, to tactical, to strategic, to now being part of the business plan.

There have been a lot of articles lately of HR’s transition to being part of the business plan. The Harvard Business Review has several coming out of a factory, including this article from Ron Ashkenas, where he states some people bash HR, but shouldn’t be. This is the money quote about the transition,

So HR’s evolution… does not just concern changing HR. It’s also about helping managers take more accountability for people and culture, and eventually blurring the rigid distinction between “HR” and “management.”

I mostly agree with what Ron says in the article that HR is transitioning and it will take time for employees (and HR) to get use to it. Another aspect is in these past twenty years, HR was trying to define who they are and just recently, the profession discovers what their purpose is in business. However, some in management and executive teams still have a difference of opinion what HR’s role is in their company. This leads to confusion within the HR department, which in turn leads to frustration to managers and employees. In essence, companies need to define what HR plays in their business immediately.

This leads to today. There is another transition period going on where HR went from admin people, to tacticians, to business people, to business people who knows the industry and culture. Right now, the HR profession has a lot of business people and that’s great, but do they understand who are they working with and what industry they are in? Most assume HR will be same across industries, but the reality is HR are human and have personalities (in a business front). Would you want an uptight HR person fit in a creative environment or a free nature person in a machine-like setting? That depends.

Two weeks ago, I attended several DCWeek events. Two events I was interested in was the Capital Technology Management Hub Startup Challenge and Tech Cocktail. It was the first time I have been to these events. To summarize, these events is to give publicity to these startups. In CTMH case, a competition, while Tech Cocktail is a showcase. It’s great these startups are getting publicity for taking bold steps of making and marketing their product, but innovative? That’s tough to tell.

According to Wikipedia, innovation is the creation of better or more effective products, processes, technologies, or ideas that are accepted by markets, governments, and society. By that definition, there were a lot of “innovative” startups, but are they truly innovative? To that end, of all the startups I saw that week, probably only one was innovative to me.

To me, innovation is changing people and market trends. What most of these startups I seen is more of an update to the predecessor like you keep downloading updates on your computer. I’m not knocking renovatoions because people are trying to make the experience better for the long-term. However, businesses use “innovation” loosely, in my opinion, as a sales and marketing tactic.  I ask any business this: are you updating your model or shifting people’s habits? If it is the latter, you are innovating.

What I am asking startups and new businesses is basically this: if your business is really innovative, what are 3 things that differentiate the other competitors? There will be a lot of imitators in every sector from the products to your people, but how does your business set apart? If you can’t answer that, you’re screwed.

There is nothing wrong of updating your business, but people will see innovation when they change their ways, not from a gimmick.

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