CIPD Conference: 'Significant innovation' in business doesn't come from focus groups, says Oracle's VPHR

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Innovation "looks like unreasonable behaviour - but is about executing great ideas and can unite people in business," Vance Kearney, vice president HR EMEA at Oracle (pictured), told the CIPD Conference yesterday.

Kearney added: “Everyone knows complacency is a killer.”

But he sparked a reaction of surprise from delegates when he explained: “No significant innovation has ever come by asking a customer what they want – they will have no concept until you present it to them.

“Democracy is not good for innovation either, it comes from passionate individuals – visionaries with a passionate belief. It can’t come from a survey or focus group... But great people will not work for bad managers. Employers should reward the best and the brightest, not their nearest and dearest.”

Kearney joined Heather Corby, HR director at BT Innovate and Design, Jane Marsh, UK and Ireland HR director at IBM and Samantha Austin-May, international head of HR operations and development at the European Southern Observatory, to debate the role of HR directors in creating a culture of innovation in business.

IBM’s Marsh said: “Innovation is about giving people the freedom to do things. The key point is [often] around big ideas, but it is important to get your head around the small [things].

“Ideas will not come out unless staff feel relaxed. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, but if you don’t take employees’ ideas further, you have to explain why and we need to move away from using the word 'failure'."

BT's Corby added: "The UK is not at the centre of where innovation is happening. When times are hard, innovation seems to be humped down – but HR has to push the renewal cycle for organisational health. Innovation is about learning and continual progression and the opportunity to get ideas out.

“Performance management can’t just be for the here and now – it has to prepare the organisation for the future and we need to get line managers to look forward. Innovation needs sponsorship from senior management. It is about changing a culture of command and control to a culture of enabling and improving.”

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