New Report: Does HR Matter in Innovation? Is there Innovation in HR?

Many of the challenges faced by an organisation wanting to innovate boils down to talent management, areas often directly under the influence of HR. In this study, we explore whether HR has become a partner yet in innovation. We make the case that it is imperative for HR to be a driver, while also being innovative in its own domain.

HR professionals need to take charge and be empowered to do things differently if they are going to be relevant in driving innovation and to have an impact on the war for top talent – from recruiting to developing, engaging, rewarding, and retaining talent.   The HR InnovAsian® Report 2014 uncovers the state of, and practices in innovation from a HR perspective – particularly in the areas of managing talent. Innovation requires strong and engaged talent, and building of a conducive organisation culture and new capabilities.  Innovation is vital for sustaining competitiveness of companies.

In recent years, there has been a steadily, albeit rather slowly, growing discussion on the larger and more strategic role HR needs to play in organisations – particularly as companies face more demanding stakeholders in today’s competitive business environment.

Only 20% of HR professionals are very involved in innovation in their organisations.

We chose to undertake this study as we firmly believe HR has a critically important role to play in priming and sustaining an organisation for innovation – thus we felt it useful to shine the spotlight on HR professionals – to ascertain whether they are yet included in an organisation’s strategic team to foster innovation. One of the alarming findings from the HR InnovAsian® Report 2014 is that only 20% of HR professionals are very involved in innovation in their organisations. The data unveils that many organisations seem to not realise that HR has a deeply integral role to play in supporting the corporate innovation agenda. HR needs to step up and play an active role in inculcating their organisations’ culture and capability to innovate.

The HR InnovAsian® Report 2014 builds the case for HR’s imperative role in making innovation happen within an organisation. What you will find inside the report will help you understand HR’s contribution to innovation: specifically how HR drives the culture of innovation in the organisation through recruitment, talent management, and strategy for sustainable growth.

State of Innovation in HR

This inaugural study specifically identified the priority areas and implementation levels of innovative HR approaches in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Nonetheless, the study indicates that innovative HR approaches are being most implemented in the development and engagement of talent (as opposed to the rewarding of talent). We believe that the big challenge of managing talent is a global one and not peculiar to Asia alone. Hence, readers from around the globe can relate to it. Readers will also be keen to learn about some innovative approaches adopted for attracting and retaining talent in an organisation.  In looking to identify current innovative approaches in HR though, the report gives a snapshot of the evidently insufficient state of innovation overall among HR professionals.

A ‘lack of trust and empowerment from leaders’ is the biggest killer of innovation within HR.

A big challenge for HR professionals in today’s increasingly competitive operating landscape is that they need to stretch themselves and deliver in their wide areas of influence, and also innovate in their approach to managing talent. The study also examines the specific challenges faced by the HR community in innovation. A ‘lack of trust and empowerment from leaders’ is the biggest killer of innovation within HR. 60% of HR professionals called for ‘leadership support and trust’, when asked for the biggest motivator for them to innovate.

If you are a Chief HR Officer or top management, have you provided clarity and empowerment to your HR team? HR needs to be allowed and encouraged to embrace some risk-taking. How many revolutionary HR initiatives (at least to your own organisation) have been allowed for consideration or experimentation, before being killed prematurely due to concerns of implications of widespread implementation? Empower HR to implement and encourage innovative approaches.

Hearing the honest views from HR professionals enables us to get a feel for what may be experienced by the typical employee in an organisation. Is the organisation innovative in managing talent today? Does the employee (in this case, someone from the HR department) feel that he/she is even expected to innovate? Read more about the study findings in the HR InnovAsian® Report 2014:

The bulk of the data in the report is based on a study of more than 550 HR professionals in Malaysia, Singapore, & Indonesia. We hope that with this fresh report findings, organisations in Asia and beyond will be encouraged to better refine their strategies for success, particularly inviting and demanding HR to play the necessary part in supporting the corporate innovation agenda.

HR’s Role – Making Innovation Happen

Some (non-exhaustive list) of the many ways HR can help boost innovation include:

  • Innovation Training – Institutionalise a common language within the organisation on innovation and provide a baseline understanding of the innovation process and philosophies.
  • Capacity Building – Infuse opportunities for any employee to innovate, by incorporating innovation into competency and performance management frameworks.
  • Talent mobility - Facilitate allocation of employees to innovation project opportunities that can inspire them, which they are passionate about. Help break down hogging of talent resources by departments.
  • Ideas Management - Deliver a mechanism for ideas to spring forth from all levels of employees and functions.
  • Risk Management – Build a culture (including policies) whereby employees do not feel too stifled and shackled from taking risks, due to fear of repercussions from failure of innovative approaches or projects.
  • Collaboration – Instill an open, collaborative culture within the organisation. Leverage the clever use of collaborative tools and workplaces depending on the company size.

By : Aina Zahari, Azim Pawanchik & Suraya Sulaiman

Project InnovAsian®

The aforementioned study is one of the components under our Project InnovAsian® initiative, aimed to study the landscape of innovation within organisations and to intensify the adoption of an innovative mindset and culture. In an effort to further expand the project in Asia, we began a collaboration with Cambridge University’s Judge Business School. Partnering with many organisations, we have to-date crowdsourced over a thousand respondents from at least 9 countries. Contribute your voice by taking the Employee Crowd InnovAsian® Study 2014 at Alpha Catalyst Survey. Stay tuned for the results!

About the Authors

Aina Zahari is Director of Innovation Process & Analytics at Alpha Catalyst Consulting. She helps companies use data, tools, and a structured approach to be more effective in innovation. She is also a proponent of leveraging predictive analytical insights. She is a co-inventor in a pending patent on “System and Method for Innovation Management.” Aina earned her Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from MIT and her MBA from Temple University.




Azim Pawanchik, Managing Director of Alpha Catalyst Consulting, is a leading expert on innovation in Asia.  He has consulted many major corporations and government agencies in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Middle East in developing and executing their innovation strategy.  He is a respected innovation thought leader and a frequently sought after speaker on the topic of innovation within the private and public sectors.




Dr. Suraya Sulaiman is the Executive Director at Alpha Catalyst Consulting. She specializes in innovation culture and capability, helping organizations address their growth and transformational challenges, through innovation. In 2010, she had also co-authored the book ‘Leading InnovAsian: Embedding Innovation Culture in Malaysian Organizations.’  Her latest phase of exposure was at Cambridge University, where she delved deep into elements of Innovation Leadership and Culture in large organizations.

Photo : 3d illustration of hr human resources by Shutterstock.com

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