The Intersection of Innovation, Inclusion, and Diversity

By Marjorie Derven

Although it is recognized as a key driver for business advantage, sustained innovation is challenging for most organizations. Today's emphasis on short-term results is an inhibiting factor in promoting innovation. Paradoxically, organizations often become more risk-averse when faced with slowing growth, thereby blocking innovation, which inherently involves some degree of risk. 

 

The most innovative organizations create an expectation that innovation is not the responsibility of a single function. Rather they view innovation as a priority for the whole company, supported by organizational structures, processes, and talent management. While technology companies are often touted for their innovation prowess, innovation can be bred into any company's operating values. Companies such as Cerner, Procter & Gamble, Colgate, DuPont, GE, and Visa are known for promoting cross-functional collaboration as a source of innovation. 

A key to innovative cultures seems to be reinforcing the notion that everyone is a source of potential ideas; this is where diversity and inclusion shines. 

Diversity and Inclusion: A Key Driver 

Innovation requires the ability to see things differently. Bringing unique viewpoints together often is the spark for breakthrough thinking, and this is where diversity and inclusion (D&I) is needed. However, it is not enough to simply have diversity—changing demographics and globalization arguably make this inevitable. Intentional inclusion is what enables the mix of gender, ethnicity, background, history, approach, and other factors to present ideas that can then be selectively executed. In an October 2014 Scientific American article, Katherine W. Phillips provided evidence that diversity produces superior thinking. 

Innovation requires an environment in which ideas can be considered regardless of the source. This can be as simple as making sure that members of a team have equitable "air time" to share ideas. Recent research from The Conference Board has demonstrated that inclusive cultures are four times more likely to be innovative. 

Formally leveraging D&I to promote innovation also has clear bottom-line impact. The Center for Talent Innovation has found that intentionally fostering D&I makes companies 45 percent more likely to increase market share. 

Formal innovation processes, roles, and skills are also critical to propel ideas and creativity toward execution, which is where value is delivered. Here are some examples of how innovation can be fostered:

  • Promote hackathons and crowd sourcing to develop new ideas.
  • Provide the freedom to fail while managing risk.
  • Promote connective networks, both internally and with external customers and suppliers.
  • Recognize that innovation is not the result of a highly creative genius. Rather, it requires multiple roles beyond the idea creator, such as sponsors, project leaders, and implementation partners.
  • Nurture ideas with resources, funding, and time.
  • Leverage your organization's employee resource groups or networks as "think tanks" to better understand customers, diverse talent, and new markets.
  • Share lessons learned to promote innovative practices.
  • Build rapid prototypes that stimulate refinement and additional applications of emerging ideas. 

The Role of Talent Leaders

Talent leaders play a critical role in fostering innovation throughout the talent life cycle, including:

  • acquiring the best talent
  • rewarding and recognizing entrepreneurial behaviors
  • providing training in a formal innovation process
  • promoting career paths that foster innovation
  • including innovation as one of the key factors in the succession planning process.

 


Track: People Development

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