In the past few weeks, three corporate innovation clients have moved to — or had their roles expanded to include — their company’s training function. As one remarked, perhaps ruefully, “Now I’ve got to get the people who actually do the work to innovate.”
Yes, enterprise innovation conversations seem to be shifting more from the “how” to the “who.” Process and methodology debates have turned into the operational challenge of how best to boost people’s capabilities. For many firms, the innovation agenda is now as much about human capital investment as delivering new products and services.
But if innovation is now everyone’s job, who owns job training?
The answer isn’t “everyone,” and it’s certainly not the CEO. C-suites oversee, but rarely run, innovation implementations. Increasingly, the organization’s innovation champions and evangelists are becoming its “innovation trainers.” I see their briefs extended to hiring, onboarding, and creating KPI dashboards. These constitute the firm’s new innovation funnel.
This new function relies less on bold, big-buck (or -euro) initiatives than on pervasively influencing how their firms value, and evaluate, innovation behavior. These folks effectively rebrand how people perceive innovation inside the enterprise. Being diligent, dedicated, and super-competent used to be enough to get the job or win the promotion. These companies now want prospective hires and promotion candidates to show they’re ready, willing, and able to collaboratively create new value. Innovation attitudes, not just aptitudes, matter. The ethos is as much about culture as competence.
So at a people-analytics-oriented global professional services firm, innovation has moved front and center in both interview and onboarding processes. Resumes and LinkedIn profiles are scoured for keywords, projects, and descriptions denoting innovative efforts. (I’ve been reliably informed that LinkedIn algorithmically examines profiles to help employers better select for cultural compatibility around innovation and other valued workplace qualities.) Job candidates, particularly new MBAs, are asked not just to say how they would help “come up with solutions” to client challenges, but to propose innovation-oriented business concepts that generate new growth. Teams are now required to describe and share “the most innovative thing we are doing for this engagement.”