Shifting the Scales to Enable Innovation

“Be innovative” is a catch phrase dominating conversations throughout the HR industry as well as a concern and expectation for board members and candidates. But what does innovation in HR really mean? And what role does it play for those seeking to engage and develop their talent?

Perhaps the people best suited to answer these questions are employees and candidates themselves.

According to a recent study by consultancy Futurestep, globally 78 percent of candidates believe innovation in talent management is key to successful execution of a company’s business strategy. Furthermore, 72 percent of candidates now expect their employers to be innovative in the way they develop and engage staff. Promises of innovation are also the most important for candidates in the areas of engagement and development.

Yet, in the United States only 30 percent of employees think their workplace is innovative. This is alarming given that staff engagement remains a serious problem in most organizations. Research indicates 55 percent of employees would leave their company for another if promises of innovation fail to materialize. Why then would organizations ignore the need to infuse innovation into their talent practices? And how can they create the “wow factor” for critical talent segments within their organization?

We now live in an era of self-service, where we manage most aspects of our lives on the Internet. We’ll order groceries online, use price comparison websites to identify the best deals on products or manage our finances via online banking. It’s not surprising employees want similar controls in the workplace.

Unfortunately, employee development strategies in many organizations failed to keep up with the realities of a multigenerational workforce, and as a result many employees are finding it hard to adhere to career and job progression plans managed centrally and dictated by someone else. It remains true that the majority of employees in the U.S. lack a clear development plan, and it’s one of the key reasons why development and engagement have become so difficult in recent years as both employees and employers fight for exclusivity over career development. As a result, neither party is pleased with the outcome. Employers feel let down on often unrealistic expectations and employees are left feeling frustrated, unappreciated and ready to leave the company when an opportunity arises.

However, smart companies are starting to ask how they can identify mismatched expectations and align long-term company goals with personal career development plans. They are looking for new, innovative approaches to talent management and for technologies that can help execute them. And while adopting innovative approaches to engaging and motivating staff might sound like a lot of hard work, there are some useful starting points that can help employers make the most of this innovation imperative.

At the macro level, employers need to be ready to shift the balance of power in an organization and adopt new approaches to talent management to accelerate and personalize development. By enabling employees to design, execute and monitor their own development plan, companies are able to deliver on their promise of innovation. Cutting-edge companies always create a culture that centers on learning and development, and this should be targeted at all employees. Being egalitarian in the approach and engaging all employees to retain all talent helps harness the best results.

On the micro level, employers are also turning to innovative technologies to provide their employees with the tools they need to become more successful in their current roles and to develop skills necessary for succession. Those tools play an equally important role in bringing development to the employees and making it a part of their self-service routine. In an era when people learn languages while jogging, the time is ripe to try innovative talent development solutions that make the most of social and mobile trends that have become a reality.

Companies that are receptive to the latest trends will see levels of employee satisfaction and engagement increase. This, paired with delivering on the innovation imperative, is the secret ingredient to creating the “wow factor” of well-known brands which can entice the best talent to stay put.

Dave Marzo is vice president and general manager of talent solutions at executive recruiting company Korn/Ferry International. He can be contacted at