Friday, January 12, 2007

HP, Part 2: Specific Practices that focus on employees

HP has a number of ways to encourage employee innovation. For example, they had a business plan competition open to all employees of the company. Teams of employees propose ideas and develop plans for new business development. In addition, for the more technical staff, HP has TechCon. TechCon is analogous to a research conference. Employees within HP submit their papers, which are refereed and judged. The best papers are selected for presentation, and some are chosen for poster sessions. TechCon receives over 1000 papers, from internal HP employees. About 550 employees are selected to attend this event and the discussions here foster future innovative efforts.

On the communication front, HP has taken concrete steps to communicate the value and process of innovation to its employees. HP hosted a Power-UP event (think road-show!) for innovation. Through this event, HP was able to showcase its cutting-edge work on innovative ideas and projects across the enterprise. As you can imagine, this is no easy feat, given all of the costs associated with moving innovations (e.g. physical artifacts) from one location to another. In addition, HP does make it clear to every employee that coming up with innovative ideas is hard work. The chances of an employee actually developing a new business practice are slim (really, really, slim!); some refer to this as the "Valley of Death". This is not done to discourage employees, but to make them aware of the effort and care needed to move these ideas ahead.

As one executive remarked, when he joined HP Labs, he heard the saying, "ideas are cheap". Sure, ideas are cheap (a dime a dozen), but there are only few ideas that stand a chance to make it to market. As John Meyer, Director, Digital Printing & Imaging Lab, stated, "my job is to provide an environment where innovation is fostered...I do not want to interfere with my engineers and the technical staff...I need to give them the tools and support needed to help them succeed". This thinking is quite revolutionary. Most managers want to be the ones making decisions on innovation. Many managers, and believe me I have seen a fair share of these, will want to be the "judges" of innovative ideas, even if they lack the technical competencies to judge these ideas. HP has understood that this approach does not work and does not interfere with the brilliant minds of their employees. The role of the manager is to make sure that the outputs generated by the brilliant minds can be commercialized.

Of high interest to me was the metrics that HP uses to gauge the performance of its innovation programs. Surprisingly, HP is not big on metrics. As one presenter remarked, "HP has been a very informal and nurturing environment that more often than not resists too much centralized control". Metrics are loosely defined in many cases when it comes to innovation. In terms of HP Labs, the best metric used is the track record (the history) of the Labs in coming up with innovative ideas. For more operational (also known as incremental) innovations, HP does have formal processes to gauge the quality of the ideas, calculate outcomes such as return on investments (ROIs), etc.

I can go on and on about writing about my learning from this visit. For example, the transformation ambassadors are people who helped HP close down work in some areas of its enterprise and open up new areas is interesting. Also,the notion of, "invest where we can make a difference and partner for the rest," was also intriguing given the current surge in business process outsourcing efforts. The NBC (New Business Creation) Center and its role in fostering open discussion and thoughts is another area where HP's company-wide innovation can be seen.

For more details, wait for the final research project report, or email me.

1 comment:

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