Learning & Development’s Role in Innovation!

Innovation continues to be a hot topic with CEOs. According to Mike Maddox, founder and CEO of Maddock Douglas, 84 percent of CEOs believe they need to improve innovation within their companies. We have found that creating an organizational culture of innovation is the foundation for sustaining ongoing innovation within a company, maintaining a competitive advantage and achieving above average financial performance. L&D organizations have a major role in this transformation.

After 15 years of rigorous academic research, we have found there are 12 drivers that create cultures of innovation and improve a company’s innovative capabilities. (See figure 1.) Our research provides insights into the six common traits of highly innovative companies. L&D has a significant role in developing three of these traits. The six traits are below.

1. Leaders embrace innovation, create an innovation strategy for the organization and relentlessly communicate it.

2. Leaders unleash employee creativity by sharing customer and market trends and by giving employees permission to ask questions, collaborate and innovate.

3. Processes exist to move ideas forward – all the way to commercialization.

4. Performance management systems incent and encourage innovation.

5. Innovation knowledge management systems are in place to promote ideation, enable employees to build on ideas, tap internal and external experts and make decisions on the innovations that will succeed in the marketplace.

6. Resources, time and space are dedicated to supporting innovation, including developing employee skills and behaviors to support innovation.

How Can L&D Support Innovation?
Let’s start with trait No. 6, resources, time and space to support innovation. This effort often begins by working with management to shift from top-down, directed information flows to two-way conversations. Top-down decision making also needs to change to enable more team-based decisions, while ensuring alignment with company strategies, goals and deadlines.

The next area of involvement for L&D departments is launching and facilitating innovation teams, part of the work of trait 5, information knowledge management systems. We have found that innovation teams move faster and farther when they are properly chosen, initiated, and then taught the behaviors of collaboration. Organizations must ensure that team members are knowledgeable, have access to internal and external experts, and are aligned with the company’s innovation strategies. Many companies try to boost their innovation capability by using project management software and technology platforms. Those tools can be very helpful for tapping experts, gathering data and conducting analysis, but the team will falter if a company does not have a culture of innovation and collaboration.

The third trait that L&D organizations can positively impact is trait 4, performance management systems to incent and encourage innovation. Any cultural change requires that new values and behaviors become imbedded in the organization’s policies, systems and work habits. While cultural change for innovation requires learning and collaboration, it also includes aligning the organization’s current operations to ensure the successful launch of new innovations. In many organizations, the lack of alignment is what kills innovation.

In today’s hectic business world, change is a constant and requires continual learning and development. L&D has an important role in helping organizations develop and sustain their cultures of innovation.

Victor Assad is a managing partner of InnovationOne and the CEO of Victor Assad, Strategic Human Resources Consulting. Email Victor at victorassad6@gmail.com.  This article was originally posted on “Bonus Focus” the digital magazine of Life Sciences Training and Education Network: http://www.l-ten.org/page/June2016innovation. 


  1. Really good article Victor. Interesting to see you mention an Idea Management platform within your wheel diagram as it is something we provide.

    You’re right, L&D has a key part to play in helping to build some of the capabilities required for Innovation internally, although I would question they would need to be trained themselves first?

    1. Hi Neil, I am delighted you found it interesting. Some L&D organizations need train-the-trainer training so they are using the same model and language as the consultant, and have the same context. Best regards, Victor

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