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Innovation is something we hear we must do more of.  To be more competitive, resilient, to outpace the changes around us.  And yet it remains an elusive and sometimes misguided effort to just come up with new “stuff”.

Innovation is really a team sport, an individual pursuit and a designed process allowing for emergent possibilities.  Which is all fine and dandy but how do we up our game on innovation in HR when we’re already overwhelmed, busier than ever and challenged by outdated processes, mindsets and approaches?

Innovation as a team sport first.  We are the sum of our parts.  Or greater than the sum of our parts as the saying goes.  In this respect, crowd sourcing and communities of interest are often held up as great examples of how to capitalise on the many over the few.  Internal Research & Development teams (or projects) are all well and good, but most of our frustrations are about outmoded processes, customer insight and opportunity awareness.  These three things are often known to those closest to the actual work that the organisation does, so it clearly takes more than a staff suggestion scheme to get ideas from concept to delivery.

In many organisations several things are happening:

Either there’s an open platform across the company – be it Yammer, or Slack or a Wiki – where ideas can be posted; support gained, and a project worked up.


There’s an openness to ideas where teams can work up ideas; test them; gain evidence and then approach the company leaders for wider replication.

Digital and Human systems either together or alongside each other.

One format for team-based innovation and design is a Hackathon.  Used initially as the spirit of hackers (to break into lines of code and insert new lines to morph a programme or create a new function) and a marathon of changes worked on for a 24 hour bug-busting lock-in, Hackathons have now broken out of coding and digital design and into process and idea incubation.  Using the spirit of design sprints, Hackathons in HR have resulted in:

  • New ways to tackle employer branding, selection and onboarding issues;
  • Build new ways to deliver performance and development feedback;
  • Implement new graduate and talent development schemes;
  • Tackle inequality and inclusivity problems;
  • Build new policies and approaches to HR that are much more user-oriented; and
  • Create alternatives to structure, reward, employee relations and more.

Whilst many would say that a partial or entire day dedicated to such things isn’t likely to result in the changes necessary, Hackathons are often the catalyst to start the process with some serious energy, ideas and a group of people galvanised to make it work. They bring people together in a spirit of participation and challenge with a light-touch process that guides people through allowing for divergent thinking, whilst still closing on an idea that has a definition and a high level roadmap for delivery/testing.

In other ways, the Agile methodology of production used in digital companies is also coming across to HR.  Using sprints, stories and Scrums, people are connected in a different way – with more energy, focus and based on working prototypes of ideas rather than extensive documentation and delaying bureaucracy.

Hackathons and Agile Scrum working are allowing the team, individual, designed and emergent approaches to be part of the shifting process from overly staid, predictable and cut-and-paste solutions that prevail in many organisations.

Taking the focus on people using the products and services of HR (and not just the HR template approach) this is beginning to open up the thinking to an Employee Experience (or EX) – taking its lead from the Customer Experience (CX) which is shaping the consumer world.

Many of the more progressive HR teams are already using Hackathons, Agile Scrums and Design Thinking in their new way of casting the HR die.  It’s looking like HR for the connected age needs to be more like it’s connected colleagues from IT and Product Design.

Acacia Learning and PTHR are joining forces to help others do this – helping HR professionals become more Agile, Innovative and Rapid in how they design and deliver solutions and new ventures in their organisation.

We hope to help you and your fellow professionals become more analytical, pragmatic and be the possibilist in helping transform your organisation.

About Perry

HR Hackathon – Future of Work TEDx speaker | Author: Transformational HR | HR Most Influential Thinker 2017-2018

HR Magazine’s ‘HR’s Most Influential’ List 2017 and 2018, Perry is described by CIPD CEO Peter Cheese as “The HR Futurist” Perry’s energy, passion and insight around new forms of people and organisation development and the future of work are his trademarks. Perry’s adaptation of the technology hackathon into the HR world has taken him across the world – physically and virtually – from 3000 hackers to 30 and created solutions in areas such as diversity, on-boarding, leadership, culture, HR policies and talent development.