What does innovation mean to you? The dictionary definition is that innovation is “the act of creating something new” but in a business setting this can relate to a wide range of scenarios, from new products to improved processes. Put simply, innovation is critical to driving a business forward. All too often though, it is viewed as the responsibility of one team or taskforce, and this is limiting. Instead, creativity should be encouraged and rewarded across the entire business.

Unfortunately, most people naturally resist change, so creating a more innovative culture within a business can be deeply challenging. As a result, HRs have a hugely important role to play in driving innovation within their businesses, as well as within their own roles. In particular, industries such as finance, insurance, accountancy and manufacturing have a reputation for being slow to change. So how can you help bring about the cultural change needed to drive innovation at all levels?

Recent research from leadership development consultancy Head Heart + Brain has looked at the key drivers to implementing cultural change within a business and how employers can help their staff to adjust to greater innovation. The research found that strong leadership is critical to help employees understand the importance of innovation and why it is good for both the business and themselves as individuals.

Jan Hills, partner at Head Heart + Brain, explains: “The best bosses lead their staff in a ‘brain-savvy’ way, in a manner closely aligned with the way that people’s brains are wired to respond best to leadership. Neuroscience tells us leaders must follow several golden rules if they are to get the best out of their staff. Crucially, they must help employees understand why organisational change is good for them.”

However, the findings suggests that this is currently not being done well. 70% of UK employees say they have experienced difficult change at work over the last six months – and 15% of those employees say their leaders have not helped them understand change or their role in making that change a success.

Encouraging ownership of change is an important element of getting support from staff within a business. Setting up employee taskforces to look after particular elements of the project is a good way to involve people at all levels and create ambassadors for change throughout your company. This approach prevents employees from feeling that change is being forced upon them, and allows them to feel that they have some influence in the direction that the business is travelling in, leading to greater confidence and support for the project.

So we know that giving employees ownership of new initiatives is critical, but how can we do this? The first thing HRs need to tackle is fear. Change doesn’t come naturally to most people, and fear of failure is especially prevalent within the working environment because it seems to have such potentially significant implications. In order to change the mindset of a business, employers must allow their staff to make mistakes, and encourage them to view failure as a learning experience.

Additionally, employees must be rewarded for taking risks and stepping outside their comfort zones. Of course, the process of rewarding creativity can, in itself, demonstrate just the kind of innovation you’re looking to drive. ‘Gamification’ uses game elements in work scenarios to enhance the feeling of reward and also to tackle fear by encouraging employees to take risks within a safe game environment.

Siddhesh Bhobe, CEO of eMee, a company that develops comprehensive social gamification platforms enabling engagement for business, explains: “In the beginning, gamification was largely about implementing a points-based economy, coupled with leaderboards and badges in order to drive motivation or engagement. The new wave of gamification goes even further, taking business problems and mapping them to game play and thereby improving trainability, and increasing effectiveness and results of core business-related actions and workflows.”

eMee implemented a game based visualisation approach for the 7000 employees of Indian company Persistent to address the challenges in performance management by combining social collaboration, performance management, learning and rewards and recognition. The system has now been in operation for three years and employee attrition has been reduced significantly year on year. The company saved, by a conservative estimate, over 28,000 person hours in 2013 by eliminating the need for an arduous and time consuming end-of-year appraisal process.

The continuous performance management system residing in a gamified system provides employees with a platform to showcase their skills, achievements, and contributions. Powered by big data analysis, the system recommends actions that can help employees earn appropriate recognition, while reminding them of actions due, and guiding employees towards target behaviours. Appraisals, which were an end of year function taking two to four weeks to complete, are now primarily conducted by looking at each employee’s game profile, their game position, and their activity in the game.

This example represents what innovation means to many; the use of new technology and inventions. But whilst this is valuable, it can also represent a significant investment. Cath Possamai from Capita Managed Services addresses the importance of investing wisely:

“There is an inflexibility of some providers who appear intent on providing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ process rather than a solution that best fits the needs of clients to help transform their organisations. The shortfalls are linked by the habit of contracting on cost alone, a failure to challenge how resourcing is perceived as a business discipline within their own organisation, a lack of focus and investment in workforce planning and talent management.”

In summary, a world-class workforce requires more than just continuous improvement – it needs innovation. HR directors can support and improve innovation throughout their businesses by understanding the latest research and neuroscience on the subject; implementing changes in a way that helps employees to accept and embrace change; and investing in the right tools to support their efforts.

This topic and others will be debated as part of the ‘Innovation’ track of this year’s HRO Today Forum Europe, which takes place in London from the 12 – 14 November. For more information and to register, please visit