Create a Winning Talent Strategy to Drive Innovation

Foster an innovative mindset to achieve your business goals.

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By Anne Rush

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When you read the words talent strategy, it may feel a bit daunting. You may assume that only large companies can afford to be focused on a talent strategy. However, this isn't the case. You just need to take the next step of strategic planning. Think about how your talent will help you achieve the goals you have set.

Ensuring your company is focused on innovation is a common goal for entrepreneurs. As entrepreneurs, we are constantly trying new things, making things better and understanding how we can bring greater value to our customers. However, unless you're a solopreneur, you are ultimately relying on your team to have an innovative mindset.

Do your workplace practices and talent policies foster innovation?

First, let's take a closer look at your culture.

There are some core tenets of an effective workplace culture. These include treating people with respect and valuing diversity and inclusion. Those companies that are innovative tend to also have a culture focused on learning, collaboration and empowerment.

A culture that is focused on learning embraces experimentation, iteration and continuous improvement. Team members are encouraged to learn new things. This may come in the form of stretch assignments or projects outside an individual's area of expertise. These companies may encourage their team members to gain knowledge externally through formal education or professional organizations. Companies with a culture of learning are also more likely to engage with the open talent economy that includes independent contractors and crowdsourcing. They recognize the benefit of engaging with diverse perspectives.

Related: Seven Ways To Foster Innovation In Your Company

Innovative companies also have a culture that fosters collaboration. As you look at your own company, do teams work together toward a common goal or do they work in silos? If your teams are working in silos, try to understand why.

One reason that teams operate in silos is that the team members don't know what role their team and other teams play toward overall goals. You frequently find this in organizations that have grown rapidly. As teams are built out, additional layers of management are added. You need to make additional effort to ensure that all employees know how they and others contribute to the company's mission and goals. A few tips include:

  • Update your onboarding materials regularly, including org charts and team structures, to ensure this is clear.

  • Form cross functional teams or agile squads to work on your key strategic initiatives.

  • Maintain all-hands meetings that talk about cross functional work that is under way to highlight effective collaboration.

To have a truly collaborative culture, you need to ensure that managers at all levels are on board. Managers who are solely rewarded for their team's results have an incentive to be insular. Managers should be rewarded for company results and overarching goals in addition to their team's results.

Another key to collaboration is regular, transparent communication that includes disagreement. Without open disagreement, you will never hear the best ideas and ideas won't be fully vetted. Two common forms of unhealthy disagreement in the workplace include:

  • Team members are afraid to speak up and disagree. If someone is afraid of being ridiculed or reprimanded for their ideas, they will keep concerns or dissenting opinions to themselves. Team members should be encouraged to disagree in appropriate and respectful ways.

  • The culture is too polite. No one disagrees publicly so there are no robust discussions on the pros and cons of decisions.

When there is disagreement, how do you reach a decision? Is the team empowered to make the final decision or is it always up to one individual? Evaluate your decision-making process to ensure that it supports trial and error as well as experimenting with new ideas. Whenever possible, teams should be empowered to make their own decisions. You can still mitigate the risk of moving in the wrong direction by having the team regularly evaluate results. Empower the team to course correct when needed. This encourages a cycle of continuous improvement.

Do your managers' and employees' objectives show that you value learning, collaboration and empowerment? If not, they should! Innovative companies reward employees for trying new ideas even if those ideas aren't ultimately successful.

Related: 10 Simple Ways to Build a Collaborative, Successful Work ...

How do you actually know that your company culture supports innovation?

It is common for there to be gaps between the desired culture, the true current culture and the executive team's perception of the company's culture. As a result, having an unbiased assessment of your culture is a great place to start. You can do this more formally by bringing in an HR consultant to speak with team members. Or, you can do this informally by sending out an anonymous survey to employees.

Once you get feedback on your culture, it is important to share it back with your team. Talk openly about what you heard and what you aspire for the culture to be. Ask for your team's support and ongoing feedback in making improvements. Taking these steps will show your team that you are committed to creating an environment that fosters innovation through learning, collaboration and empowerment.

Related: 9 Ways Your Company Can Encourage Innovation

Anne Rush

Founder & CEO

Anne Rush is the founder and CEO of Elasta Jobs, a company that connects skilled HR freelancers with companies. She has also held Fortune 100 executive roles in talent, operations and technology. She holds her bachelor's degree from Boston College and master's degree from Harvard University.

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