Innovation is a curious thing. In a research report published by the International Board of Innovation Science, Dennis Stauffer explored what separates wildly successful companies from the rest. Here’s a quote from the article that sheds light on the extent to which innovation drives value:

The research with entrepreneurs is especially noteworthy because it revealed the dramatic impact that this measure of innovativeness has on value creation. When those founders who scored highest on the Innovativeness Index were compared to those who scored lowest, the ventures of the high scorers averaged 34 times as much profit, 70 times as much revenue and employed 10 times as many people. They were also dramatically more likely to be one of the exceptionally high performers that investors call a “home run” (defined in this study as having achieved at least a million dollars in annual profits).

If we’re honest, all of us would be interested in those kinds of returns. Yet, paradoxically, we are doing things on a daily basis to kill the innovation our employees could create by wasting time, creating frustration, and limiting their best performance. Let’s examine two of the more common ones as well as their more engaging counterparts.

Open Enrollment. The employee waits to receive a boatload of documentation from HR about what options are available and how much they are going to cost. Then the employee has to go straight to their HR rep to get enrollment forms and fill out a ton of paperwork just to keep the same set of benefits year over year.

Innovative Alternative: before open enrollment begins, the employee receives a video offering insights into new choices and options for coverage, including high level overviews of costs. When it’s time for open enrollment, the employee already knows what he wants to elect and can take care of it within his own self service dashboard.

Performance Management. This process drives managers and employees crazy. Managers save up their “ammunition” for the one true performance conversation they have each year and employees save emails and prepare contingencies and excuses to avoid any nasty surprises.

Innovative Alternative: managers meet with employees on a regular basis, offering feedback around good and bad performance. All of this is tracked within the employee’s performance record in the HR system, and at the end of the year, a summary of the recurring conversations is reviewed by both parties. No surprises.

Again, these are just two of many opportunities around hiring, scheduling and ongoing HR activities that can either create positive experiences for employees or drive up their frustration at every turn. Just like we talked about recently with creating an engaging technology-enabled end-to-end experience for employees, the practices we embrace on a daily basis have a definite impact on engagement and other critical business outcomes.

How to Kill Employee Innovation in 2 Easy Steps
  1. Create practices that are focused on making HR’s life easier, not the employees’
  2. Introduce lots of paper, workflows and complexity as often as you can

This is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but think about your own organization and how many times these two decision points play out exactly as described here. Obviously we want to have the opposite effect, but the question is how to hit that target. The onboarding and performance examples above are good pointers for process improvement, but let’s take a more fundamental approach to solving these two challenges.

How to NOT Kill Employee Innovation

The most important key is to simply focus on the user experience. One of the first practices I coach HR leaders on in this instance is to apply for a job with their own organization. This forces them to see the entry point to the organization not as an administrator or hiring manager, but as a candidate with fresh eyes. What if the application takes 20 minutes to complete? What if there are no details about the company’s culture and beliefs on the career page?

What about another common task like changing an address? Is it full of paperwork, approvals and manual updates, or is it a simple self-service activity available for any employee to complete? You can take any example of a common employee activity and plug it into this exercise.

While this might seem like an “in the weeds” approach, it’s important to see each small interaction as a piece of the overall employee experience. The sum of the interactions over time can be positive or negative. Some of us know instinctively where we fall on that scale; others need to participate in exercises like those above to truly grasp the reality of the situation. Once you have a true understanding of where you stand, you can begin improving your processes to create more freedom and opportunity for employees to create, innovate and drive business value.

Written by: Ben Eubanks, Principal Analyst, Lighthouse Research & Advisory