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HR departments take the driver’s seat in Open Innovation

One way of looking at Open Innovation is to have an open mind in the search for new opportunities / solutions and in connecting with the best innovators. These best innovators may be found in the firm’s org chart or outside the company walls. The Open Innovation paradigm says that the organizational background of the innovators is secondary – one needs to find a business model that all are satisfied with (which is easy if the innovator is on the firm’s payroll) and arrange an environment, where internal and external innovators connect, collaborate, create and commercialize.

Looking at the Open Innovation concept in this way it is clear that one of its key pillars are human resource issues. Up so far, Open Innovation has mainly been pushed by Marketing (for the consumer / crowdsourcing variant of Open Innovation) or R&D (discussed in great detail in a recent publication).

This is changing, at least in Germany. More and more, HR departments are taking an active role in Open Innovation.

Historically, HR had three jobs: The first one was to make sure that the firm recruits enough suitable talent. The talent acquisition process should identify and win talents that had the assumed potential to solve yet-not-known technical or business problems. The second job of HR was to help individuals and the organization to fully actualize their potentials. And thirdly, admin issues involved in managing the firm’s human resources needed to be taken care of.

This traditional view on the role of the HR department is certainly a valid one if the firm is operating in a business environment with limited change. Unfortunately, for many industries and for many firms this is not true anymore. Even if we concentrate on the innovation environment only (and leave out aspects such as Global/Local Marketing strategies, global Supply Chain management, global Financial Markets etc. etc.) , there are forces at work that dramatically change the face of innovation, e.g. the explosion and globalization of knowledge, the rising complexity of innovation, shortening of product life cycles and the increasing role of customer co-creation.

To adapt to these new realities, HR departments in some German firms are currently redefining their role. At the core, these leading-edge HR departments redefine what “talent” means. They understand that in a world of networked, collaborative and open innovation

  • talent is not equal to employee
  • success in Open Innovation requires a professional process to identify external talent and manage it
  • Open Innovation should be practiced not only in Marketing or in R&D but all across the firm’s value chains, wherever it makes sense
  • Innovation networks are the harbingers of tomorrow’s organizations.

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In a project with one of these leading HR departments, I worked out a 10-point agenda for “Open HR”:

  • Establish a Chief Talent Officer, whose responsibility is to ensure recruitment and identification, development and enrollment, and retention and engagement of all talent, inside and outside the organization
  • Engage in building internal and external innovation networks
  • Contribute to the design of these networks (with respect to e.g. cultural issues, Code of Conduct, performance metrics, etc.)
  • Drive adoption of internal and external innovation networks
  • Support Open Innovation implementation by providing leadership in Culture Change
  • Drive Open Innovation into all of the firm’s business processes
  • Consider Open Innovation leadership aspects when leader / top management positions are to be filled
  • Bring in Open Innovation aspects when corporate structures and processes are redesigned
  • Review existing training and coaching programs in the light of Open Innovation
  • Design new training and coaching programs in the light of the Open Innovation concepts

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