The intersection between HR strategy and HR technology


Organizing for Innovation

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You manage talent for a large organization that needs to innovate in order to stay competitive. How do you know what types of innovations are important and how do you attract the types of innovators that your organization needs? Some research coming out of Harvard has once again given us some answers:

Based on in-depth, longitudinal data on 13 business units and 22 innovations, we investigate the consequences of organization design choices on innovation outcomes as well as the ongoing performance of existing products. We find that ambidextrous organization designs are significantly more effective in executing innovation streams than functional, cross-functional, and spinout designs. Further, transitions to ambidextrous designs were associated with significantly increased innovation outcomes, while shifts away from ambidextrous designs were associated with decreases in innovation outcomes. ((Michael Tushman, Wendy K. Smith, Robert Chapman Wood, George Westerman and Charles O’Reilly. May 21, 2007. “Organizational Designs and Innovation Streams.” HBS Working Knowledge. Retrieved from on June 17, 2007.))

My first thought was that I would never have made it at Harvard (try reading the whole paper). My second thought was that I should write about this. Basically what the authors are talking about in ambidextrous design is the combination of exploitive and exploratory approaches to innovation. When we talk about talent, it makes life a bit simpler if we know that the best source of innovation is not singular, but a combination of completely new ideas and continuous development on old ones. What this means for talent is we’re not trying to focus our efforts on just one thing. Instead, our best approach is to recruit

  • the types of employees who will have new ideas,
  • those seasoned professionals who have exposure in many other places and can help redefine our existing processes
  • internally groom employees to think differently about current processes and challenge them continuously

What’s especially lovely about this is we’re always focused on specific competencies. When it comes to innovation, we don’t need to be. The proven approach seems to be that your most effective approach will be to go broad and wide.

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One response to “Organizing for Innovation”

  1. […] Innovation Leadership, W Burnett LLC 12K 2008-11-1 – ?????? systematicHR – Human Resources Strategy and Technology Orga..Organizing for Innovation You manage talent for a large organization that needs to innovate in order […]