RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
IN HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Book Reviews:

The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge
Authors: Govindarajan, V. & Trimble, C.

Govindarajan, V. & Trimble, C. (2010). The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge Harvard Business Review Press

Reviewed by: Samir Chatterjee

The generation of new ideas and converting them to products, processes and services is perhaps the most challenging managerial issues for organisations around the world. In their recent book, Govindarajan and Trimble consider this challenge from two perspectives. Firstly, how innovation can flourish in established companies; and secondly, how the implementation of new ideas rather than their generation really matters. The authors claim that the needs of running an ‘efficient’ organisation is inevitably contradictory to the building of an innovative organisation. This paradox arises as the operations of an ongoing organisation emphasise ‘repeatability’ while innovation needs a ‘non routine’ culture deeply embedded in the repeatable work. The authors argue that the management of innovation is a highly disciplined, but non routine process. Therefore, the roles, responsibilities and performance measure for a dedicated innovation team would be significantly different to the usual performance focus on teams in action.The authors explain that‘idea hunting’may be random in nature, but the execution of these ‘hunted loots’ into world beating outputs is not. However, the authors do not support the creation of special innovation cells ignoring the company rules and procedures it is supposed to sustain. Instead, they argue for the customisation of company rules to foster appropriate recruitment policy, performance measures and reward systems. Management focus on ‘innovation’ area needs to be on ‘ability to learn’ rather than ‘ability to work within budgets’.

The book is a distillation of the authors’ research and consulting for a decade with a number of significant innovation projects in highly respected global companies. Although the book is targeted primarily to the practitioners through non technical language and practice orientation, academics and researchers nonetheless would find this equally thought provoking. The idea that innovation is difficult to be managed in a democratic way is refreshingly new. For example, 3M encourages the practices of spending 15 per cent of each worker’s time on their own projects, while Google allows 20 per cent of freedom with workers’ time. But the authors strongly view this approach as spreading resources thinly and not sufficiently integrated to be of lasting benefit. The authors also express their doubts about linking bonuses or other rewards with innovative work improvements. They concede that such human resource management (HRM) practices may lead to incremental improvements to existing products or services, but would never generate big breakthroughs. The book suggest the solution in terms of building a new HRM culture where‘known’and‘unknown’are integrated in a way that efficiency and innovation coexist in a model that does not reject, but improves traditional managerial perspectives. The key point of this model is that while many companies have an abundance of good people and access to resources, these organisations often lack managerial skills to convert new ideas into reality. As the authors suggest, “… companies can’t survive without innovating. But most put far more emphasis on generating big ideas than on executing them—turning ideas into actual breakthrough products, services and process improvements.” (page 18). One of the most important admonishments the authors give in this book is about the over emphasis on product innovation while under emphasising the corresponding service provision.The example of Microsoft is instructive where the product Microsoft Word contains more features that consumers find difficult as the help functions rarely serve customers to their full potential.

For the readers of this journal a number of chapters would be of particular interest. The three chapters of part I are‘compelling read’for all human resource managers. These chapters succinctly outline how to develop innovation teams by maintaining the group dynamics of performance while keeping the spirit of research strong amongst members by continuously refining and validating such ideas. The chapter detailing the discussion on legitimising revolutionary ideas, while keeping eyes in the balls of current performance, attests to the long consulting experience of the authors.

Though the idea of direct conflict of roles and responsibilities between performance teams focussed on efficient running of a company and the dedicated innovative teams is obvious to experienced practitioners, its restatement in the book with its lucidity of explanation is, nevertheless, intellectually convincing. The dilemmas in maintaining current efficiency while investing in future possibilities need to be faced by all. The most interesting aspect for the readers of this Journal may be the authors’ preference for the recruitment bias of insiders for the performance teams while outsiders for the innovation teams. The authors also encourage new titles and working boundaries for the innovation teams in making the new culture acceptable. The following chapters on building internal and external partnerships, experiment orientation and innovations as well as clarifying the accountability criterion are excellent areas of attention. Overall, this is a book that all readers of management texts including students, academics, policy makers and most importantly practitioners will find rewarding.

Amongst the weaknesses of this book, it may be pointed out the lack of a blue print of action for practitioners in spite of the clear and powerful exposition on this topic of innovation. For example, the transition of ideas into action could have been discussed in more detail as well as how training and development within a large organisation meets the increasing demand for innovation implementers. In addition, the HRM managers could have benefitted more if further details of recruitment and evaluation for innovation committed employees were provided.

The authors conclude by suggesting a number of attributes for the leaders who intend to energise innovation teams. These attributes are firstly, in terms of legitimacy of their role and their formal recognition. Secondly, the incumbents of these roles need to earn their respect through their broad career trajectory rather than narrow technical back ground. Finally, the authenticity of their commitment to the long term success of their organisation was essential. For those HRM practitioners and academics, with interest in the notion of innovation as a strategy for delivering institutional competitive advantage in the global context, this book warrants special and undivided attention.

Professor Samir Ranjan Chatterjee
Curtin University
Australia