How to Experiment in Innovation Training

Innovation comes from risk-taking, and learning and development (L&D) programs need to adapt to support those risks.

Many companies want to establish a culture of innovation, one that encourages flexibility and creativity and supports risk-taking. The benefit? Breakthrough products, a superior customer experience and a nimble response to market challenges. But what is happening in organizations today, and what can HR teams do – specifically the L&D (learning and development) function – in not only supporting, but also driving, a culture of innovation? While the shape of an innovation culture can vary from company to company, certain traits tend to stand out. There should be no surprise that the companies leading the innovation culture charge are unafraid to take risks, create diverse environments where employees can personalize their learning, and are role models for the rest of the company in terms of their approach to learning and development (L&D). ( has highlighted some of the best practices for harnessing risk and building a culture of innovation at your organization.) Creating a safe space for risk Innovation happens when employees feel free to take risks without repercussions. Focusing on employees’ individual strengths has been key to creating a culture of innovation. Focusing on strengths creates trust; it creates a safe space to try something and possibly fail, have a conversation about it and move forward. For many organizations, innovation is a byproduct of their culture that prioritizes relationship-building and trust between employees and managers over learning hard skills. Going hand-in-hand with creating an environment where risks can happen without repercussion, encouraging idea-sharing between colleagues on all levels of the organization will also propel innovation. The takeaway? Learn to create risk programs that allow employees to cultivate their individual strengths while building relationships with others on the team. Where there’s support, there’s innovation - and trust needs to exist between team members for innovation to flourish. Experiment (and then recalibrate) Innovation comes from risk-taking. But because there are so many effective mediums and methods to deliver learning in 2019, it’s important to think outside the box and beyond traditional learning - and to never be afraid of recalibrating based on results. According to the 2019 L&D Benchmarking Survey, employee engagement and risk-taking go hand in hand, with 77% of organizations with highly engaged employees "very willing" to take risks. However, it is also worth remembering that not every risk works. It’s vital to carry out evaluations and continuously monitor feedback to produce and develop the most innovation-driving programs. Evaluation and recalibration are at the heart of world-leading innovation initiatives. Through surveys, focus groups or other evaluations, it’s crucial to determine which programs work, which can be optimized and which should be scrapped. Even more critical, however, is that you cultivate a working environment where employees can question current processes without repercussion. In a space where there’s mutual trust, reflection can grow into innovation. See also: Is Your Education Strategy Effective?   Embrace diversity Research shows that companies with diverse and inclusive workforces are more innovative and profitable - and increasing inclusivity isn’t something that needs to be relegated to your company’s talent management or D&I functions. L&D teams should create or offer initiatives themselves. “We’ve had people from over 25 different countries developing our content,” says Martin Hayter, the Global Assurance Learning Leader for EY. “The team has a global flavor to it. It brings more creativity and higher quality, and we know that the content we develop is going to be applicable to different cultures and to both emerging and mature markets.” The evidence is beginning to emerge: The more diverse your team, the stronger your culture of innovation will be. Keep your L&D function agile An agile L&D program is the key to supporting innovation, especially when your company is composed of a large multinational workforce. L&D teams must be built upon a flexible framework and remain nimble, adjusting to continuous organizational changes without compromising either the speed or quality of talent development strategies. An overly planned L&D program is less likely to adapt with any changes in business strategy, so don’t be afraid to stray from your schedule when business needs shift. This also means that, for innovation to occur, your program needs to tailor itself to the individualized present (and future) need of employees. See also: Case Study on Risk and Innovation   To stimulate a culture of innovation, look outside your company walls for inspiration. Other companies and teams likely have excellent insights that you can apply to your own programs. For your L&D team to create a culture of learning for your organization, your team itself must also be constantly learning. Participating in industry L&D or HR award programs is another way to get insights on your strategy and programs, and it’s one approach EY has used to benchmark themselves. Their L&D team also works with external vendors to ensure they’re incorporating the best practices in the industry. An innovative, forward-thinking L&D team is one way to spark progress across the entire organization. Make the connection between L&D and innovation explicit You could plan great L&D initiatives and hope that it sparks innovation company-wide, or you could be even more aggressive. Planning programming around the concept of innovation might include a speaker series with innovators in your industry, a course on design thinking or hack-a-thons where employees get to take a step back from their daily duties and focus on what could be improved at your company.

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