We had a visit from John Foster at IDEO, who is their (very non-traditional) head of human resources. He described a series of changes that he was leading – it was amazing because he was being completely open with people at IDEO about changes in the career and compensation system he was considering, told everyone what he was thinking, and invited them to join in the design: Not your usual secretive HR system. John is applying IDEO’s most dearly held principles to the organization itself: You involve users heavily from start to finish, you brainstorm ideas, develop a protototype, roll it out in an imperfect form, and keep changing it – with user involvement throughout – so it gets better and better. Jeff Pfeffer and I argued in Hard Facts that the best managers treat their organizations –not just their products or services – as an unfinished prototype, and John’s approach is exemplar. And John – being true to his approach – invited our students to join the process and they suggested additional changes.
In fact, sometimes the barriers to innovation are all in our minds, because it hasn't been done before, what if something goes wrong, what if we fail.
It's clear that in HR as in the marketplace this thinking keeps HR also from being innovative. In fact I've often wondered why Semco's approach hasn't been copied more.