Are companies strangling innovators while wanting to be “innovative”?

For years I and (my networks) have worked with companies wanting to be “innovative”. We have applauded their quest, and even gone along for the ride (at least emotionally). But in most instances, we have come away asking “Are companies strangling innovators while wanting to be ‘innovative'”? Heck,, for that matter “Are companies disabling agility in their quest to be more ‘agile’? And it has led me to ask the ultimate question, time and time again “what’s the right balance between hiring innovators and making them ‘fit in’? and of course “can HR business partners help the situation”?


That’s a lot of questions to be answered and I certainly don’t claim to know all the answers. But in this post I attempt to come to terms with these questions and think out loud via words what this could mean for employees now and the future generations of ’employment’.

Are companies strangling innovators while wanting to be ‘innovative’?


It is usual to find “innovation” or being “innovative” as one of most companies values or philosophies. However, most companies are unable to live-up to such values. Is that because they are evil? Most likely not, most companies genuinely believe that it is important to be innovative knowing that is the only way to survive in the competitive world. But when it comes to execution of this value and embedding it most companies fail or do a very poor job at changing behaviours. Whilst advertising this value is part of communicating the company’s vision, that is a mere start to a journey. A journey that not just begins with hiring new people to model innovation but by working out how to enthuse their existing people and related cultures to change behaviours. This is where most companies go horribly wrong. Without changing their existing culture and behaviours, companies that bring on new staff that thrive on innovation are most likely headed towards frustration all round.

Are companies disabling agility in their quest to be more ‘agile’?

Agility is key to organisations surviving the competition in 22nd century. But how many companies truly embrace agility? And more importantly, how do companies challenge their status quo while trying to be more agile? Is it as simple as challenging every decision? For years now, concepts of agile have been thrown around at conferences and popular business media. But how does that translate to changing and shifting a company to actually practice agility? Again, similar to being innovative, it is certainly not sufficient to bring in an agile expert or set up a CoE if the processes that the companies follow do not cope with being agile. And modelling processes based on cutting a few old steps out is not going to enough either. These processes along with the people and technology involved have to be re-thought and challenged. And furthermore exemplified by the leaders of the organisation. If the business outcomes require achievement yesterday than that is the only fail proof way to work towards being truly agile.

What’s the right balance between hiring innovators/agile experts and making them ‘fit in’?

I am not sure I know the answer to that one at all. Should companies wait till they change their existing behaviours before hiring external expertise and risk being left behind anyway? Or is the answer exemplification of the right behaviours, processes and people in an incubator or innovation lab? Either way, I don’t believe there is one-way and perhaps the only suggestion I may offer to companies wanting to embark on such journeys is to work with their change leaders and trailblazers in analysing whether there is an appetite for such a change.

And finally…can HR business partners help the situation?

Now that is one question I do know the answer to. Yes HR business partners can certainly help companies think through their hiring decisions very carefully, challenge managers, urge them to think about the support required post hiring and help them understand the consequences of losing trust of both their existing and new employees. Ultimately, the culture and values of a company are shaped by the people who work there and the processes they follow. If any of those are not in harmony, it is very likely the company will need a significant investment in changing and balancing each of those elements to be successful in their change journey!

One thought on “Are companies strangling innovators while wanting to be “innovative”?

  1. We use the agile method and have several training to ensure we use it efficiently. I think the key is to teach employees and managers the best practices to avoid wasting time (and money).

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