Talent Management Upfront — How innovation becomes strategic

We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Aleksandra Petkov-Georgieva and Rafael Altavini about their wealth of expertise in strategic talent management and innovation culture. Aleksandra (Aleks) is an Innovation Manager at Raiffeisen Bank International. Rafael is a Consultant, Executive Coach, and Leadership Advisor at Egon Zehnder. In this blogpost, we summarize the key insights from our conversation with Aleks and Rafael on how talent management and organizational culture support corporate innovation.

Talent management for innovation

Innovation, just like the core business, needs specific talent profiles. If you want to innovate in your organization — especially if you want that innovation to be more transformative — you will need very different people than the kinds of people who scale, run, and protect a business. Most importantly, you are looking for a unique type of growth-oriented mindset. But where does one find such innovative talent?

Attracting innovative talent within your organization

One powerful way to identify innovative talent within your organization is through intrapreneurship programs. Intrapreneurship refers to the possibility for employees to behave as entrepreneurs within their organization. Intrapreneurship programs not only lead to the creation of corporate ventures but also attract and train talent that can be deployed in diverse innovation activities. When asked how Raiffeisen selects participants for their intrapreneurship program, Aleks explained that participants are self-selected. Everyone can apply to the program and access increasingly greater resources to work on their projects through periodic evaluation gates. This is an inclusive approach that shifts internal talent management’s logic from allocation of resources to resource attraction.

Recruiting innovative talent on the job market

As in the case of internal talent, the acquisition of external innovative talent increasingly relies on collaboration across departments. Just as markets shift from being product-oriented to consumer-oriented, Human Resources departments are moving from being organization-oriented to people-oriented. This shift opens the possibility for recruiting to be decentralized and have internal departments at the forefront in attracting talent for their specific needs. Human Resources and internal departments benefit from an integrated co-creative approach in exploring diverse recruitment avenues. Organizations can recruit through volunteering, freelance websites, talent platforms, the academic world, challenge events, and more. Rafael shared an example of a cybersecurity company that hid their job application as a bitcoin equation inside website source code. Successful equation-solvers were rewarded with a trip to interview at the company!

Cultivating a culture of innovation

Organizational culture denotes the way an organization does things. It illuminates what is valued and what is not. As more and more companies realize the importance of innovation to their business, the question of how to cultivate a culture of innovation ensues.

“What stops innovation is the fear of failure.” — Rafael Altavini

Involve the organization at all levels

Innovation is not the same as invention; it’s about exploring and implementing new ways of creating value. Human Resources can create space for innovation in recruiting and branding, while simultaneously making sure innovation fundamentals are embedded in the company philosophy and are genuinely lived. Take the case of exploration; if you want to foster innovation in your organization, you must remove the stigma around failure. People must be allowed to try things and sometimes fail. To weave these fundamentals into the company fabric, you need to create systems and frameworks for innovation that embrace failure as a learning opportunity. Having prominent leaders share with the whole organization their own experiences of failure — how they failed, what they learned, and how it helped them in the future — may help to set the example. Of course, you need to tone your message appropriately and build boundaries so innovation can flourish where it needs to, while you protect the organization's areas that need consistency and reliability. For example, a maintenance person fixing the elevator shouldn’t have the freedom of trial and error, but the R&D department should.

Bring on change incrementally

Successfully fostering a culture of innovation is also highly dependent on how companies carry out innovation itself. When implementing cultural change, planning too many steps is inefficient. You can have a sweeping target model for a culture change, but by the time you implement it, the circumstances will have already changed, likely rendering your target model obsolete. Instead, execute change in short design cycles and a low-risk environment. Iterate fast, so you fail quickly, too. Find the minimum viable impact — the smallest possible thing that creates a change — and execute it, observing the effect and how the organization responds. Next, make a second small step, and so on. When you implement actions towards a cultural transformation, you need to involve all who are impacted. Our brains react to change with the same physiological reaction as physical pain. Acknowledge how humans experience change, and bring that together with empathy and compassion as you innovate.

In the end…it’s all about the people

Innovation is not a process. Innovation is all about people. It’s the people who make innovation happen, not the process. — Aleksandra Petkov-Georgieva

Innovation is about the people who make it happen. It’s vital to be thoughtful in how you motivate your teams to innovate. This includes giving them time and space in their workdays to think about their ideas and brainstorm ways to improve. Other incentives are also necessary; even simple rewards like organizational recognition can be very motivating. You might be surprised to find out that what motivates most innovators is not money; but rather impact.

InnoInsights aims to be a source of inspiration and guidance for how organizations can collaborate with external innovators.

InnoInsights aims to be a source of inspiration and guidance for how organizations can collaborate with external innovators.