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HR must be rebranded as an innovative business function, says HR director of Adidas UK

HR must be given a proper licence to try new things and rebrand itself as commercially aware and innovative, Tony Cooke, HR director of Adidas UK told the CIPD conference yesterday.

Speaking at the conference in Manchester in a session on innovation and collaboration, Cooke told delegates how the recent failure of retailer JJB Sports, which went into administration last month, meant that Adidas was having to try new strategies in order to recoup its losses. Without JJB, which made up a significant proportion of Adidas's sales, and with the 'Olympic effect' diminishing, Cooke said that the company was looking at e-commerce and establishing a high street presence in its own right.

On the HR side, initiatives such as secondments to different departments and adding people objectives to executive appraisals were becoming even more important, he added.

To overcome challenges, innovation is key for HR, said Cooke. "The business needs to give HR a proper licence to try something new," he said. "We need to rebrand HR as commercially aware, creative and innovative. Now, if you ask someone senior to describe HR, you get words like 'safe' and 'sober'. We need to change that."

He also advised close collaboration with the finance director. "Become best friends with your finance director and tell them how much you want to collaborate," he said. "It's very important that there's a good relationship between finance and HR director."

In the session, Dean Shoesmith, executive head of human resources at the London Boroughs of Merton and Sutton, told how working collaboratively and innovatively had already saved £1m.

And Dr Graham Abbey, director of executive development at Bath University's School of Management said that trust and the ability to fail were crucial if HR departments want to become more innovative. "We haven't got a reputation as the most innovative of functions," he said. "Maybe HR needs to create a little bit more chaos in our organisations."