Innovation and HR #cipd12


Today is the final day of the annual CIPD conference. It’s been fun. I always learn something new at this event, and this year is no exception. On Tuesday, I was lucky enough to hear Gary Hamel speak about management and innovation. [You can find him here and here.] Professor Hamel talked about management as a technological innovation.

  • Starting with the industrial revolution, we created managers to get shit done.
  • There is a hierarchy because we needed a hierarchy.
  • There is a process because we needed top-down methodologies to get stuff done.

And of course there are bosses and CEOs and union stewards and HR ladies to write checks, satisfy investors and ensure compliance.

For Professor Hamel, the new upgrade to the management model looks like Morning Star. You may have heard of this case study. They make canned tomatoes. There are 400 employees who generate $700MM worth of revenue. They are self-managed. They don’t have titles — they have people with skills who are matched to opportunities.

When you work for Morning Star, you make a commitment to a team. Accountability begins with you and not with your boss who is there to make sure you do your job. Engagement comes from within and not from an employer mandate. Innovation — as well as financial acumen — is taught to employees. (Yes, you can teach innovation.)

That was all pretty interesting and inspiring. Then I spent the rest of the conference listening to other HR speakers who feel that innovation means improving HR processes. Buying a new recruiting system. Being a business partner. Giving your CFO or Financial Director a hug. (No, I’m not kidding about that.)


It’s all a bit depressing because HR has latched on to the innovation bandwagon and, as usual, we’ve screwed it up. Innovation is not about doing something new. It’s not doing something different. And it certainly isn’t about buying new software. Innovation is about rethinking something and creating a new model.

Let me ask you this: if we rethink HR, do we still have HR? Probably not. We have a new model and we might not be qualified to do the work any longer. But I think it’s worth considering that fake innovation is boring. And stupid. And a waste of time. When we hug our CFOs and FDs, we distract ourselves from the real work that is being done at the intersection of work, money, power and politics.

I might not be qualified to play at the intersection, but I’d like to try.

I wish more people would join me.

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