Home' HR Monthly : December 2017 Contents December/January 2018 HRM magazine 19
empathiser, idea integrator, influencer and
someone who is a risk taker.
Of these, the two standouts are customer
empathiser (able to identify customer needs
and develop novel solutions) and idea
integrator (able to synthesise information
from different sou rces). From a recruitment
point of view, this means carefully assessing
behavioural competencies rather than
focusing too narrowly on technical expertise,
When assessing performance, companies
often focus too much on outcomes, thus
rewarding result seekers at the expense of
those showing other behavioural markers, she
says. It’s rare to find one person with all five
markers, so it’s important to have teams with
a spread of these innovation indicators.
Imber agrees there are some innovation-
friendly traits revealed by psychometric
testing, such as being naturally cu rious or
comfortable with ambiguity. But she cautions
that scientific research on identical twins
shows that innovation capability is only 30 per
cent genetically predetermined; the other 70
per cent is about having the right environment
and learning skills. In any event, she says,
there is little point recruiting genius talent if
you don’t have an innovative culture, because
they will leave. “You have to amplify it across
the organisation,” she says.
So given that genetics is not the whole story
when it comes to creativity, how can you
cultivate an innovative mindset?
“It’s like going to the gym or running; you
have to practice,” says Pearson.
Ideally, organisations should aim to train 10
per cent of their people. Imber says this should
lead to a 20 to 40 per cent uplift in innovation
capability within 18 months, as the skills
spread beyond those who are directly trained.
“People are not born to be great innovators:
it’s often knocked out of them at school,”
Imber says. “H R must bring in programs,
to help people identify opportunities and be
better creative thinkers.”
Imber, who has worked with HR leaders
at companies such as Google, Coca- Cola,
McDonald’s and the Commonwealth Bank to
build innovation capability, says one of the key
skills required for innovation is understanding
customers. The good news for those who are
not natural customer empathisers is that it can
“How do you find out what matters
to customers and what are their biggest
frustrations? These are the big opportunities
It’s not simply about feedback, she says.
“If we just rely on what customers say, we end
up with faster horses. It’s about finding out
what’s lacking, not asking them for
Another key teachable skill is knowing how
to experiment in a low-cost and fast way. The
typical approach to new ideas – developing a
time-consuming and expensive business case –
is fundamentally flawed because eight or nine
out of 10 ideas fail.
Instead, people need to learn how to build a
fast and cheap viable product to test the idea.
For example, a health insurance company had
an idea to package several products together
for a target market, and tested the concept
by building an inexpensive landing page on
its website and asking customers to register »
Amantha Imber’s latest book, The
Innovation Formula, is based on more
than 100 scientific studies. It outlines
14 critical factors that have the biggest impact on
building an innovation culture. The top five are:
CHALLENGE People are adequately
challenged in their roles; not so bored
they could do it in their sleep, but also not
so much they are overwhelmed.
Managers match the right people to the right
challenge and ensure they are well resourced.
DEBATE Teams actively share diverse
viewpoints and opinions, even if they
conflict. People are encouraged to
challenge the status quo and throw away
preconceived ideas. Recruiters look for breadth
(rather than depth) of knowledge and experience,
and a mix of functional backgrounds within teams.
SENIOR LEADER SUPPORT Leaders
exhibit behaviours that symbolise the
organisation’s commitment to
innovation, including “discovery
activities” such as asking questions, challenging
assumptions and observing customers. A centralised
and decisive senior leadership team supports
breakthrough disruptive projects.
RISK-TAKING The organisation
encourages risk-taking in creating
breakthrough ideas. It may have
performance measures around people’s
risk-taking, blameless post-mortems to identify causes
– not culprits of failure – and an annual award for an
idea that failed but was a rich learning experience.
COHESION All employees feel a
sense of togetherness and that they
are working towards a larger goal.
Sharing generously and being open
are important traits.
“People are not born to be
great innovators: it’s often
knocked out of them at school.
HR must bring in programs
to help people identify
opportunities and be better
DR AMANTHA IMBER, FOUNDER,
INNOVATION CONSULTANCY INVENTIUM
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