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)