Innovation in schools…


After presenting some examples in previous posts of how human innovation takes place in some companies, I would like to share today some stories about successful innovations in schools in 3 European countries where I have lived: Germany, Spain and France.

In Berlin, not far from the impressive Museum Island, you will find the ESBC (Evangelical School Berlin Centre). Despite its “evangelic” name, only 1/3 of the students are baptized and classes are very heterogeneous in terms of profiles, origins and cultures. The philosophy of this school is very clear: in the current fast-changing progressively digital world, the key mission of a school is to develop students with determination and strong personalities, able to make the most of constant change thanks to a strong ability to motivate themselves.

According to Margret Rasfeld, the school’s headteacher, “nothing motivates students more than when they discover the meaning behind a subject of their own accord” and therefore, there are no grades or exams in this school. Indeed, until they turn 15, students decide the subjects they want to work on in each lesson and when they want their exams to take place. And actually, when exams can be avoided, students can propose other ways to prove their skills, for example by coding a videogame. There are few subjects set in advance, namely Maths, German, English and Social Studies as well as more innovative ones such as a “challenge” course, in which students are sent on an adventure fully planned and organized by themselves, such as trekking abroad or working in a farm.

More and more schools in Germany want to adopt this philosophy not only for its novelty, but also for its results, as year after year the students of this institution have better results that the other Berlin schools. Other schools in the country are adopting these methods and rely on the teaching materials that are developed at the “education innovation lab” of the school. For the moment they are 40 but the number keeps increasing…

2,000 Km away from Berlin, “Las Musas” high school in eastern Madrid also has an innovative approach to conflict management. Indeed, they launched 3 years ago a peer mediation program with the objective of preventing bullying (suffered by 1 student out of 10 according to “Save the Children”) and any other conflicts that may arise in the school. This includes anticipating new possible ones, for example by paying attention and spending some time with students seeming lonely or having integration problems. The peer mediation team is very small, it is only composed by 16 students out of 1,300 in the high school, aged between 12 and 14. What is important is that the members of this team are chosen by their peers in the school, which gives them the legitimacy to act. The skills needed for this mission are among other communication skills, conflict management, active listening, empathy and social skills.

So, how does this peer mediation actually work? It is very simple. Students having a conflict are first of all encouraged by mediators to find a solution informally by themselves. For example, in the past, two students having had a fight agreed to do a presentation about violence in front of their class. If this first level does not work, any of the parts can ask for a formal mediation, that is, a meeting with the mediators (and sometimes a teacher). During this meeting, mediators listen to both versions, take notes and help find a solution which is agreed by both parts with a 15 days follow-up. Most of the problems of the school are solved through this channel.

This approach has some major benefits. First, being among the students allows mediators to have a much sharper view of the problems and of the possible fair solutions. Furthermore, they manage to get information not accessible to adults, such as some personal problems, or some conflicts on social networks. The good news is that mediation can reach even this level. Indeed, if mediators see a possible conflict starting for example in a whatsapp, they can send the logo of the mediation team to the group to remind everyone of their presence, what usually puts the tension away. Second, this approach is also positive for the mediators, who perceive it as a unique learning experience allowing them to develop social skills useful even outside the school. Finally, people involved in such initiatives consider that peer mediation is very positive even beyond the context of the school, as it empowers students and makes them learn to become committed and trustful citizens. This initiative can also be found in other regions of Spain, such as the Basque country, Catalonia or the Valencia region, where a recent study highlights that 90% of the students would strongly recommend this system. Other countries are very active in this type of initiatives too, such as Finland, which has been using them for long time now.

1,000 km away from this high school in Madrid and about 5 km away from where I write this blog entry, the “Ecole élémentaire Dunois” in Paris also adopts a quite innovative approach to some of its activities. For example, self-management is strongly encouraged and these 9-year old students are used to propose and vote solutions to solve the problems the class finds. Also, students can choose the subject they want to work on among the ones proposed by the teacher and work at their own rhythm monitoring their progress via an “individual work plan”. Furthermore, students can work in pairs and mark their peer’s homework under teacher supervision (funnily enough, this trend of relying on peers for learning and development is more and more present in Executive Education too). Finally, mornings often start with a “what’s new?” ritual, during which each student shares any news or subject he/she wants to share with the class or by filling a self-reflection school journal that each student has. These are just some examples of the Freinet philosophy, created in the 1920’s by Frenchman Célestin Freinet and followed by the school. This philosophy is also called “the pedagogy of the chosen work”, because according to a teacher of this school, when students express themselves through their work, they decide voluntarily to take work and it becomes a need. Like the ESBC school in Berlin, this shows the importance given to developing the self-motivation, the autonomy and the uniqueness of each students.

In order to encourage innovation in schools, the French ministry for Education launches an annual contest in which schools all over the country share their innovations and apply to specific categories such as “avoiding school drop-out” or “primary schools evolution”. In this category, the winner idea this year was the “Twictée” a collaborative learning device to improve orthography inspired by Twitter. After the contest, a Top 30 of the most innovative initiatives in published by the ministry. I consider this is a simple yet powerful way to encourage and value innovation in schools.

There are of course many other innovative initiatives taking place in the schools all over the world, but I found interesting to highlight some concrete inspiring examples here. After all, schools educate and develop future generations, who will have in their hands the difficult task of inventing the future of the world – the sooner they get in contact with innovation, the better!


“No grades, no timetable: Berlin school turns teaching upside down” (The Guardian, july 2016)

“Chavales que atajan el acoso de raíz” – in Spanish (El País, March 2016)

“La méthode Freinet, une pédagogie innovante au cœur de l’école publique” – in French (Le Monde, September 2014)

TOP 30, cahier des actions school initiatives, journée de l’innovation – in French (French ministry of Education, March 2016)



What if organizations started proposing “double part-time” jobs?


I came up with this idea during one of the last HR innovation workshops I run… what if, instead of proposing classic full-time positions to employees, organizations started proposing also two “part-time jobs”, or, if you prefer, two half positions to some of its staff? I proposed that idea to a working group during that workshop and they included it in their HR innovation action plan; maybe it was not this bad.

To give some concrete examples about what this idea would mean in Human Resource jobs, a person could be in charge of internal talent identification half of the week, and the rest of it design talent development programmes within the company’s Corporate University, which is not the case it big groups nowadays. An employee could manage workforce planning in the mornings and work as a campus manager in the afternoons, and an HRBP could spend half of its time as internal HR consultant; all of them would suppose original job combinations creating synergies among these activities. You may have noticed I did not mention C&B in my examples because these people often work 150% and maths would work with the rest of jobs!

Taking it further, what if only one of the two “part-time jobs” was in HR and not the other? An employee could work for example as HR Business Partner in the IT division part of its time and as IT project manager too. Also, a same person could work in business strategy and in workforce planning too. Even a common theme could connect both jobs: for example, concerning the subject of change management, an employee could work both as team leader managing change, for example in operations or in finance, and also work part-time as training officer in charge of change management trainings.

I see several benefits to this “double part-time approach” that could suppose a competitive advantage to companies proposing it. First of all, it would be highly appealing to fresh graduates willing to discover several positions and businesses in the organization they join, something they ask more and more often to their employers. Second, this could also contribute to reinforce staff engagement, as it strengthens employability, skill development, transversal competencies, and job/assignments diversity, some of the aspects often mentioned in engagement surveys. In both benefits mentioned, this could be a powerful weapon in the war for talent all organizations face. Third, this approach would allow organizations to establish new value-creating synergies among jobs and businesses (such as the ones mentioned earlier) and also reinforce cooperation between the departments involved: going back to the IT example I mentioned before, probably an employee would be more partnership-oriented with his HR colleagues if that HR team was his own team 50% of the time, right? Finally, this idea would also reinforce team spirit in organizations, because 50% of the success of your job would depend on a colleague of yours!

Several conditions would nevertheless be necessary for this approach to work. First, it should of course concern jobs requiring similar skills, otherwise, the benefits just mentioned would not be possible. The easiest way of launching such and initiative would be, at least at the beginning, that two employees switch 50% of their job with each other, therefore becoming some kind of “part-time buddies”. A second condition would therefore be that these “buddies” establish a very clear and formalized working functioning including dedicated information sharing and briefing moments to avoid any possible operational risks in their sharing of responsibilities. The managers of both buddies would of course need to be aware of this functioning process, or even have to approve it before it is actually implemented. More generally, companies should probably need to accompany the employees in this new way of working through training, an advisor or an informal community of exchange gathering all staff concerned. A third condition would be that a very clear communication towards internal and external partners is established for them to understand the benefits of this innovation so that they also see it as value-creating for them. The working dynamics between the employees involved and their partners would also change, and “buddies” should therefore also make sure they onboard all stakeholders in this new working and collaboration style. Finally, jobs involved should have a certain degree of link or connection in terms of contents or business area, otherwise people concerned would probably feel too “lost in translation” on day-to-day activities and the synergies mentioned would not actually happen.

This approach would of course have an impact on some organizational aspects that companies should anticipate and manage, such as team management and dynamics, appraisal and remuneration, or legal and social relations among others. However, if the people and the jobs are well chosen and accompanied, and if all stakeholders are also well informed, this idea has a lot of potential to me taking into account the benefits presented. Launching such an initiative would of course involve some risk taking, but hey, innovation is about taking some risks before your competitors, when you consider it is worth it!

A good way to test such an innovation would be via a POC (proof of concept) with some “part-time buddies” the organization would identify and train. You could even do some communication about it within the firm and propose that staff interested in taking part in the POC are in charge of finding their “buddy” and propose some kind of roadmap presenting the way in which they would work and the synergies and benefits expected. An internal committee could then rate the proposals and approve the ones that make the most sense concerning the strategy of the organization.

In a world in which companies trust almost blindly on digital as their main source or reinvention, what if such an “old school” innovation could be an unexpected source of competitive advantage and contribute to shape the future of work?

HR, let’s play! (Insights on HR gamification)


I had the chance to do some research lately with my colleague Ludine on gamification and HR gamification and I wanted to share here some of the discoveries I made. To start with, according to Werbach & Hunter (2012), gamification is “the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts”. This means gamification can be applied to any organizational subject, including of course Human Resources.

What are the benefits of gamification? Personally, I would say that FUN is the commodity of gamification. When we play, we have fun, and the motivation and concentration increase, what reinforces our engagement to further play and progress.

But what makes people actually want to play? The best answer we found is given by gamification guru Yu-Kai Chou. According to him, there are 8 drivers that push people to play and progress thanks to gamification. In my own words, these motivation factors are:

  • Living epical adventures that make you progress and learn in real life
  • Feeling you are progressing, reaching new targets and accomplishing new goals
  • Learning or achieving new goals thanks to a continuous creativity-feedback-creativity-feedback loop
  • Owning and developing “virtual objects”, one’s own avatar or one’s online profile. By making them better and better you also learn and progress in real life
  • Learning through the contact with others, for example thanks to the help of a mentor in a game or via a collective challenge with other players
  • Using curiosity to further learn and discover what’s next…
  • Avoiding that something bad happens to you in a game
  • Learning or progressing thanks to the impatience to achieve or access something which is difficult to have

These levers are based whether on extrinsic, left-brain motivation (obtaining/winning something new) or intrinsic, right-brain motivation (enjoying the play itself), what makes them very complementary. It is very useful to understand these motivational drivers in order to make the most of gamification. For example, if you plan to gamify a training, it is key you master and leverage on the drivers that will make participants play and progress.

Let’s look for a concrete example of how gamification was applied to an HR subject on the market. Deloitte decided to leverage on gamification to boost the popularity and the use of its “Deloitte Leadership Academy”, an online program to train its employees and clients.  The company decided to gamify this learning experience using elements like online interactions among users, making them take up new challenges, or allowing them to win progression badges.

Deloitte used at least 4 of the motivation levers we just presented. First, they encouraged user progression and accomplishment by making them receive badges to mark their achievements. Second, they allowed players to enrich and customize their online profile on the platform. For example, employees had the option to connect to their personal networks on LinkedIn or Twitter to upload a profile or a photo. Having a more and more rich and personalized online profile contributed to reinforce their engagement. Third, Deloitte leveraged on users’ curiosity by proposing for example secret badges when a whole team watched the same video in the same week. Finally, learning through the contact with others was encouraged via competition with players with similar levels and scores through a customized top-ten leaderboard proposed to each user.

Some dramatic results confirm the success of gamification for the Deloitte Leadership Academy. Since the use of gamification, there was a 37% increase in the number of users visiting the platform each week and a 47% increase in the number of users visiting it every day. Furthermore, the average user completed online trainings to earn 3 badges and one single user actually won 30 bagdes!

Now that you see clearer on the benefits that gamification can have in HR… how about trying it in some of your current HR subjects? Food for thought…


For the win: How game thinking can revolutionize your business (Werbach & Hunter, Philadelphia: Wharton Digital Press, 2012)

How Deloitte Made Learning a Game (Meister, J.C, January 2, Harvard Business Review, 2013) -available at:

Yu-Kai Chou & gamification:

How does HR innovation work? (The HR innovation cycle)

After having defined HR innovation and having explained why it is important in previous posts, we are going to concentrate today on how HR innovation actually works. To do so, I propose to use what I call the “HR innovation cycle”, which is a personal interpretation of the research carried out by Amarakoon,  Weerawardena & Verreynne  (see references at the end of the post).

The HR innovation cycle explains how exactly successful HR innovations and developed in organizations. This cycle is composed by 3 phases: Learning & opportunities for HR innovation, solutions (HR innovations) and benefits of this innovations. I summarize these phases in the chart below and I present each of them afterwards:

HR innovation cycle


 a) External and internal learning: HR professionals analyze and learn from the internal and external environment of their organization. More concretely, they acquire knowledge and inspiration from/with external actors (eg. competitors, partners, clients) as well as internal stakeholders (eg. HR colleagues, managers, experts).

b) Opportunities identification: This learning and inspiration is then used to identify opportunities for HR innovation, that is, improvements or needs in the organization for which HR innovation can be a source of competitive advantage. On top of the internal and external sources mentioned, opportunities can also come from new strategic orientations of the organization of course.


a) HR innovation design: Once the opportunities have been identified, HR professionals need to come up with the concrete HR innovation(s) adding value to organizations. To do so, it can be useful to use innovation techniques such as design thinking, which boost collective intelligence and creativity. Indeed, Tim Brown (CEO of the famous design firm IDEO) mentions in his HBR article 3 key steps to design thinking: inspiration, ideation and implementation. And all of them can be found in the HR innovation cycle I am presenting.

b) HR innovation implementation: Once the HR innovation “ideation” and design are ready, it is critical that HR professionals ensure its right development and implementation to transform this idea into successful reality. Both in the design and the implementation phases, HR professionals need to partner and co-create with line managers to make sure they get both the input and the buy-in from business. Amarakoon et al. actually highlight that “firms who undertake a higher degree of HR innovation (…) involve line managers in design and development stages of HR innovation”.


a) Added value & HR recognition: By proposing HR innovations that add value to organizations, HR credibility is strongly reinforced in the eyes of management and top management. This confirms their confidence in and recognition towards HR professionals.

 c) Top Management support: HR recognition is then translated into concrete top management endorsement to support and finance future added-value HR initiatives and innovations.

This top management support opens new perspectives to keep looking for new learning and opportunities in the organization, and the HR innovation cycle starts again and again…


Competitive Advantage Through Innovation (Amarakoon,  Weerawardena & Verreynne,  European Business Review,  September 2013)

HR innovations an opportunity for gaining competitive advantage: evidence from Australia (Amarakoon, Weerawardena & Verreynne, 11th International Conference on Business Management, 2014)

Design Thinking (Tim Brown, Harvard Business Review, 2008)

Welcome to the Board of Millennials…


“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open” – Stephen King

Accor is a French hotel group which has been in the spotlight of French management press lately due to a very original initiative they just launched: a shadow Executive Committee, or “Comex” in French. This new committee is a sort of “Board of Millennials” in charge of challenging the company’s key decisions and helping Accor deeply revisit its digital strategy.

This “shadow Excom” is composed by 12 people between 25 and 35 years old, not only because this is the age of the founders of the new players reshaping the industry, such as Airbnb, but also because Accor declares that as of today, 90% of their decisions are made by executives who are older than 50. As well as a young commitee, this is also a very diversified one: 6 men and 6 women, 7 different nationalities, 5 to 12 years of experience in the company and very diverse backgrounds and profiles.

The objective of this “shadow Excom” is to challenge company’s key discussions and decisions by bringing fresh new ideas and points of view. More concretely, the mission of these Gen Y profiles is to propose specific recommendations to the actual Excom of the company on how they would approach some of Accor’s most pressing challenges and digital business stakes. To do so, these 12 young talents are given the same level of information than the actual Excom members, and they are also given the support of a coach to help them formalize their proposals prior to each Excom meeting.

According to Sébastien Bazin – Accor’s CEO, from now on, no important decision for the company will be taken without having listened and taken into consideration the ideas and proposals coming from these smart Millennials. In order to ensure as much fresh input and inspiration as possible, the members of this young committee have a one-year mandate after which they will be replaced by new Gen Y colleagues proposed by themselves.

Of course this initiative is strongly inspired on the more famous reverse mentoring, in which young generations challenge older colleagues on their digital practices or business ideas, but it is the first time I hear this takes place on a regular basis at the very top of a company. Only the time will tell if this is only a nice HR marketing initiative or a radical cultural change in this company, but I have to recognize I found the idea (and the courage to implement it) very inspiring…

What is HR Innovation?

Yellow umbrella4

At a time when firms strive for competitiveness, HR innovation can serve as a non-traditional, but vital source of competitive advantage”  (Amarakoon, Weerawardena & Verreynne)

As mentioned in a previous post, more and more attention starts being paid to HR innovation in organizations. However, very few definitions of what HR innovation is can still be found. The best definition I have read so far is proposed by the three Australian authors to which belongs the opening quote of today’s post. According to them, HR innovation can be defined as “an HR management activity/ practice/ programme/ system adopted by a firm that is new and value creating to the adopting firm”. These innovations can take place in one or more HR fields or practices, such as training, career management or compensation & benefits and the authors also highlight that “the degree of HR innovation differs based on the degree of newness, extent of change, number of employees affected, and nature of its outcomes” (see first reference at the end of the post).

HR innovation can be seen both as a process and as an outcome. These authors see HR innovation as an outcome and they mention two possible types of HR innovation outcomes: “proximal” outcomes (innovations in HR fields such as attraction, commitment, engagement and retention of employees) and “distal” outcomes (innovations in non-HR fields, such as productivity, market performance and financial gains). What is really interesting is that both types of outcomes are linked because “HR innovation results in proximal (HR) gains through which it influences distal (non HR) outcomes”. They mention several examples of companies which, thanks to HR innovations, improved employee turnover, absenteeism rates, commitment and engagement, what led to non-HR outcomes such as productivity improvement and product/service differentiation.

But HR innovation can also be seen as a process. In this case, we tend to focus on how the ideas emerge and how they are adopted and implemented in HR. There are several approaches and techniques which strongly contribute to this creative process, such as HR rapid prototyping or HR Hackathons. This is not today’s focus, but as I use some of these techniques in the HR innovation workshops I run, I will present some of them here in the future.

There are two types of HR innovations: radical and incremental. A radical HR innovation is for example the famous Google’s “20% Project”, in which the company proposed that staff worked on a company related project which interested each employee. This initiative has had very positive HR outcomes, such as improvement of employee motivation, performance and retention, as well as talent attraction. But this HR innovation has also business outcomes for the company, as the “20% Project” is the source of 50% of Google’s inventions, including Gmail, Google maps or Adsense. Many other disruptive HR innovations will be presented in this blog in the future, both in big organizations and in less known contexts, such as the American Major League Baseball (MLB).

Incremental HR innovations are improvements of existing HR practices that take place in organizations and, while they may be less spectacular that their radical counterparts, they also contribute to successful company transformation. Examples of incremental HR innovations can be, for companies not having these yet, the full digitalization of recruitment processes or the introduction of an internal confidential survey measuring employee engagement or employer branding. In all cases, according to research, both radical and incremental HR innovations can add value to organizations.

HR innovation can take place in one single HR field, such as recruitment or remuneration, but it can also happen in several HR fields at a time, therefore creating possible synergies among them. According to the abovementioned Australian authors, effective HR innovation implementation requires both an internal fit with other HR practices in the company and external fit with the organization’s strategic objectives. Speaking of strategy, how can HR innovation (further) constitute a source of competitive advantage for organizations? We will answer to this question in a future post soon!


Competitive Advantage Through HR Innovation (Amarakoon, Weerawardena & Verreynne, European Business Review, September 2013):

HR innovations an opportunity for gaining competitive advantage: evidence from Australia (Amarakoon, Weerawardena & Verreynne, 11th International Conference on Business Management, 2014)

H(önsbä)R Innovation @ IKEA


IKEA has often received “great place to work”-type awards from various institutions and its turnover happens to be much lower than its competitors. A part of this success is explained by the company by their flat organizational structure that encourages personal initiatives and employee empowerment. IKEA is also well known for having a strong culture that promotes work-life balance, work flexibility, diversity and creativity, which also reinforces their recognition as employer. The company also has a very innovative approach to HR management that contributes to their success, but some of its HR innovative practices are a bit less known out of the company. Let me share a few examples of inspiring and fun HR innovations that the company has implemented…

– Talent attraction field: « Fit quiz »:  Would you fit in the IKEA culture? An interactive online quiz allows external applicants to assess in real time to which extent their personal values resonate with IKEA’s ones, and therefore how likely they would be to be happy and succeed in that company. How does it work? You are proposed 10 multiple-choice questions such as “If I was a car designer, I would want to be known for making cars that…” or “I’ve got a great idea for a big project… I typically…”. You can earn a virtual IKEA piece of furniture after each answer which is in line with company values and step by step you furnish a virtual room representing the likelihood to succeed with them… so, would YOU fit in the IKEA culture? Don’t hesitate to give it a try by clicking here!

– Career Management field: « I want your job » philosophy: IKEA staff is allowed to identify a desired future position in the company and ask for coaching and advice by the person who has this job. This formalized “entrepreneurial approach” to career management breaks silos, opens new career perspectives for staff and boosts internal mobility. « Paddle Your Own Canoe » approach: With the support of their managers, IKEA workers can use a self-assessment tool to identify their strengths and weaknesses, figure out the ideal career path and establish an action plan including training and development elements.

– Employee empowerment and engagement: « Why sayers » program: IKEA employees are encouraged to give ideas to improve the IKEA stores and organization. Best ideas are tested is some stores and the most successful ones are made standard practices globally. On top of the business improvements and innovations that this program brings, it is also said to reinforce employee engagement, as they feel they can have a direct impact on the way a huge company like theirs works. And actually, this message is so strong that a recruitment campaign was built around the “we are looking for Why sayers” idea some time ago.

– Recruitment: “Assemble your career” campaign: why invest in an expensive recruitment campaign when you can leverage on your products to do the HR marketing for you? To watch a short and fun video about how the company implemented a very effective HR innovation idea in Australia, please click here (IKEA career instructions video).

And by the way, yes, Hönsbär is a real IKEA product!