Diversity Focus No More! Inclusion & Collaboration Drive Innovation


November 15, 2011

I’m attending the Senior HR Executive Conference today and live blogging a panel session focused on enabling innovation.  Led by Kent Greenes from The Conference Board, three global HR leaders are sharing their organization’s strategy on how to produce innovative products and results.

Archana Singh from AMD, Monique Matheson from Nike, Inc. and Brenda Dennis from Cisco Systems Inc. are all able to articulate the vision and approach for innovation in their organization, how their cultures support the innovative ideas and the type of diverse talent needed to come up with innovative ideas that are actionable.

I like the example that Cisco Systems has to drive innovative results.  Cisco no longer thinks about diversity and inclusion, they have changed the focus to inclusion and collaboration.  By doing this as a business imperative, it’s brought tighter alignment between HR and the other lines of the business.  The challenge is barriers like language differences or cultural differences.

One way they drive innovation is by hand selecting teams to work on innovative ideas.  They:

  • Choose a team with diverse experiences from diverse business units.
  • Put them on teams that work together for 6 weeks- 6 months.
  • These team members are supposed to spend 60% of their time on the new project, although Brenda shared the reality is they spend far more time on these initiatives.
  • They recognize and reward ideas that drive 90- 180 day results.

One drawback I hear though is when they are  selecting the team members, they have a fairly tight set of criteria of who can participate.  For example, you must be on the promotion track.  This eliminates a “popularity contest” in their opinion but I think it eliminates more than that.  While it is beneficial to have criteria, I see the risk of alienating some of the best ideas that may come from the staff level or from people who have deep history with Cicso but may have never been on the promotion track.

How does your organization enable innovation?  Do you open innovation up to your entire employee population?


  • I understand the need behind selection criteria for innovative projects, but I agree that opening these opportunities to “fast track” or “high potential” employees is limiting. “Fast track” or “high potentails” usually go through a nomination process and this process can be a popularity contest itself. Also, many managers are only aware of an employee’s current responsibilities and have little idea about their past employment history and successes or their outside interests that may be applicable to innovation. I wonder if any organizations “post” projects internally (like a job) and ask for employees to apply with manager recommendations. I can think of so many reasons to not try a new approach, but why not try something innovative in order to innovate!

  • Trish – I’m interested in discussing with you the possibility of being a guest on my radio show, “The Boss Show,” for a brief interview (5-10 minutes) about what to do when you can’t stand your co-worker (based on one of your previous blog posts).

    Sorry to be off topic here, but this is the only way I’ve found to contact you! Couldn’t find an email address for you anywhere on this site or other sites I looked at (hmm… maybe that’s on purpose …)

    ~Steve Motenko

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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