Innovation's 2 New Letters: HR

We’re all finally recognizing that management and innovation are social activities – people activities. So it has struck me as rather odd that HR is hardly mentioned in the conversation. Why?

Perhaps it’s because corporate management and HR have a 20th century mindset towards HR. What we need is a 21st century mentality, especially given the increasingly social aspect of “work” and the talents of our Gen-X/Y/Z colleagues.

So go figure when a 160+-year-old company in a very 20th-C industry uses HR in a very 21st-C way. Well, that’s Menasha Packaging – yup, packaging – old, boring, brown box stuff. Actually no, really cool, innovative and sustainable retail packaging.

How did this happen? The GM of Menasha’s biggest complex, Mike Riegsecker, simply didn’t know better. He didn’t know that using his HR director, Sharon Swatscheno, was unusual or radical.

Given Sharon’s talents and knowledge of the organization, it simply made sense to have her facilitate the innovation sessions and manage the process. Why not? This also made it easier to include innovation metrics and tactics into his team’s personal performance plans.

In all honesty, much of the success isn’t the title/role of HR. It’s Sharon – see, people once again! Sharon didn’t view her role as tactical, but strategic, and so did Mike. Because of Sharon’s knowledge of the organization, she was able to create highly effective cross functional/disciplinary teams as well as provide the necessary training and tools.

Her role helped people overcome their fears of innovation – looking stupid, making mistakes, failing, peer pressure, losing control, etc.

What can you do to use your HR people more strategically? What can you try?