Laszlo Bock spent a decade at the helm of Google's "People Operations" (i.e. "Human Resources"). During that time, he's become a fount of information and inspiration for HR pros -- the "LeBron James of HR," so to speak. If you're looking to ask smarter interview questions or commit to pay equity and diversity, Bock has answers, forged from his time at the HR frontlines for one of the world's most valuable brands.

At this year's HR Technology Conference, Bock turned his attention to innovation. Every company wants to innovate; most companies probably say they already do innovate. But how does a proven leader like Google make sure they really do continue to break new ground?

Bock boiled down six critical areas of focus:

1. Connect your employees to meaning.

What's the metaphorical pot of gold waiting for your employees as a reward for their hard work? A literal pot of gold is nice, but it's also important that they buy into the reason you're innovating in the first place. The capacity to innovate is not limited to any one industry, nor is it restricted to engineers and developers.

Take the fast casual restaurant chain Sweetgreen. Their mission is to "inspire healthier communities by connecting people to real food." That's a sense of purpose that can be shared whether employees are working in kitchens or corporate offices.

2. Intrinsic motivators work better than extrinsic motivators.

Let's go back to the pot of the gold. An easy way to incentivize people to do something is to, well, bribe them. Fill out this survey and get a gift card! Revolutionize your company's product offering and win a trip to the Bahamas!

At Google, they tried a $1 million prize for brilliance and innovation. It didn't work as planned. Non-engineers checked out, assuming engineers would win. Engineers got disappointed if they didn't win the jackpot, even if they did great work or won secondary prizes. Even the winners wound up wanting to transfer to new projects so they'd have a shot at the prize again.

Instead of offering a flashy prize, Bock suggested, offer empowerment and transparency.

"The drivers of successful culture are mission, transparency and voice," Bock said. "When you trust people, when you give them more, they will give more back to you."

3. Reduce fear of failure (and talking about failure).

Even though Facebook killed off the motto for itself, it's a lingering Silicon Valley cliche to "move fast and break things." While that mantra has its limits, as evidenced by Facebook's eventual distancing from it, it is important to emphasize that failure is natural and necessary. Google even gives quarterly awards for big-time failures.

Annabel Acton recently laid out four clever ways to turn failure into educational opportunity -- and have a little irreverent fun in the process -- including holding "idea funerals" to acknowledge well-intentioned but ill-fated initiatives.

4. Don't just focus on the moonshots.

Even if you're working for a company like Google or SpaceX, not every innovation is going to be the kind that makes headlines. While every company wants the million-dollar "moonshot" idea, Bock also sung the praises of the "roofshot." Sometimes aiming for the roof is good enough, especially if you're able to build on that progress.

"'A little bit better' every single year, compounded over 10 years, is an amazing thing," he said.

5. Keep an eye on your rivals.

Don't become so consumed with what's going on internally -- whether it's restructuring or how you're incentivizing your star innovators or figuring out who owns which part on the P&L -- that you develop tunnel vision. It's important that what's billed as innovation internally still qualifies as innovation out in the real world.

6. Be lucky -- and create your own luck.

"You can't force luck, but you can increase your likelihood of having moments of serendipity," Bock said.

In other words, if you know that magic happens when your employees collaborate cross-functionally, or have time to work on their own passion projects, your company can directly bake those items into the normal day-to-day. Many companies, of course, are even playing with physical space, attempting to increase those serendipitous moments of inspiration.

Published on: Oct 31, 2017