Innovation's 4 Business Outcomes

Innovation's 4 Business OutcomesInnovation for innovation’s sake is worthless. It’s not about being creative or experimenting. It’s about succeeding in the market. You innovate to achieve one or all of these four business objectives:

1. Grow your base

2. Get a bigger buy

3. Improve loyalty

4. Increase market prominence

I have had a front row seat with HRCI over the last 3+ years as they are one of my best clients. Here’s the story:

The Society of Human Resource Professionals created HRCI as a separate organization in 1973. It is solely and independently responsible for developing and administering certification exams in the field of human resources.

Initially growth was slow. By 1981, under the name of the Personnel Accreditation Institute, they had certified around 2,500 human resources (HR) professionals. In 1988 they established their two mainstay certifications, the Professional in HR (PHR®) and the Senior Professional in HR (SPHR®). Growth was incremental. But all that changed in the last few years as the group introduced a sequence of game-changing products and services.

The time seemed ripe. Although companies had for years been giving lip service to the idea that people are their biggest assets, the age of the knowledge economy made that a reality. People had become the primary competitive advantage for knowledge organizations.

HRCI determined it would be at the forefront of this inflection point, establishing itself as the midwife of professional standards required to succeed in a global marketplace. Innovation would be their tool of choice. Then-CEO, Mary Power, hired Bennie Johnson to be Chief of Global Marketing to address the issue. Through a system of parallel initiatives Johnson engineered a masterful growth strategy that is in motion to this day.

Here is a high-level timeline:


* HRCI website redesign

* My article on Fast Co’s website, Strategic HR: the Time is Now.

* Kicked off a retention program to increase engagement and raise the numbers on recertification.


* Hosted a webinar that targeted certificate holders from Fast Co’s Top 50 Innovative companies (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google, PG&E, Walmart, HP, Netflix, Nike, Intel, etc) PPT deck can be downloaded here. My Fast Company coverage here, HR Strategy and Innovation.

* Held the first exclusive symposium on strategic HR and innovation, filling every seat with local business leaders and HRCI certificates. It was held on the top floor of Newseum overlooking the US Capitol and featured three movers and shakers, VPs of HR who are in the driver’s seat at well-known organizations.

* Initiated campaign to embed in professional communities around the world


* Launched the in-house publication, a high-quality magazine,Certified, focusing on the intersection of HR, strategy, and innovation

* 2nd annual exclusive symposium is held in Washington, DC. Again every seat is filled with local business leaders and HRCI certificants

* Successful launch of the global HR professional credentials, Human Resource Management Professional (HRMP℠), and Human Resource Business Professional (HRBP℠)

* Pilot of Certified Voice, an exclusive online community social media platform for certified professionals

* Made the transition from certification as a transaction to building communities of certificants


* Exclusive symposia have been held in Chicago, Toronto, and Philadelphia, with New York, San Francisco, and 3rd annual in Washington DC on the calendar

* Certified, the magazine completes its second year

Each of these innovations combined to increase awareness of HRCI among its target clients at a time when HR is becoming visibly crucial to business success. They demonstrated that HRCI was moving aggressively into a new role as a thought leader at the forefront of strategic HR, not just a purveyor of certifications. The result is a reputation for being the leader at a time when strategic HR is a competitive advantage.

The success of these efforts can be measured in certifications. In 2008 (the last time prior to this effort it was reliably measured) the count was about 96,000. At the time of writing the certificant base has reached over 125,000 and includes professionals in more than 100 countries.

HRCI’s positive inflection point has resulted in a growing customer base, increased purchases as individuals choose to take more than one certification, loyalty during an economic downturn, and a real move up market, claiming and owning their niche. Let’s now take a look at the four targets of innovation in a little more detail.

1. Grow Your Base

Expanding your customer base depends on five factors:

i. Current customer satisfaction

ii. Desire for your offering

iii. Your reputation as a provider

iv. A value proposition you can deliver

v. Effective outreach

Any one of these factors can significantly limit or enhance the development of new customers. Done well together they create synergies that enhance, reinforce, and build upon each other.

HRCI increased customer satisfaction by providing a myriad of free opportunities to certificate holders (webinar, exclusive events, high-quality magazine).  HRCI’s new offering, the GPHR, comes at a time when global expansion is hitting its stride, generating pull from the market. The overall effort has raised HRCI’s esteem in the market and increased its reputation as a provider.

Because certification is respected in the market, it is used by certificants to increase their professional standing or add visible value as they pursue jobs in a tough market. Further, because the certification is field tested and continually improved it genuinely adds business value to certificate holders, delivering the HRCI promise.

Johnson’s systematic outreach through a variety of channels (face-to-face, online, print) has effectively communicated HRCI’s benefits to its target audience.

2. Getting a Bigger Buy

A bigger buy means that you are growing the amount of spend your customers are giving you, as opposed to other providers they can choose for the same services or products. HRCI got a bigger buy from their audience by expanding the certifications they provided, making it possible for individuals to pursue more than one.

Professionals can expand their expertise as they rise through the ranks from Professional in Human Resources to Senior Professional in Human Resources. If they are operating in a global environment they can also become certified as a Global Professional in Human Resources. Those who already hold PHR and SPHR credentials and want to become expert in regulations and legal mandates specific to the state of California can earn the additional certificates, PHR-CA and SPHR-CA. In this way HRCI has increased the spend clients can give them.

3. Improving Loyalty

One of the biggest market challenges in recent decades was the 2008 economic downturn. Many leaders found holding onto their client base exceptionally hard. Any weakness in customer relationship became stark as portfolios shrank and customers took a hard look at their spending.

HRCI increased loyalty at a time when others were losing it by establishing their presence as a thought leader in strategic HR during the economic downturn. They associated their certifications with job success. It was a way out of dismal prospects in the minds of their customers. Certification is both a job security tactic and a job-seeking strategy. It became necessary in an environment riddled with job loss and the resulting uncertainty, a buffer against difficult circumstances.

4. Increasing Market Prominence

HRCI shifted their position out from under their progenitor’s shadow to create a center of gravity all their own, establishing a global brand and attracting new clientele through their reputation as the thought leader for strategic HR. They increased their market prominence significantly.

Innovation is not an end; it is a means to a business objective. Bennie Johnson is growing HRCI through innovation that achieves all four of the objectives I list here. Which of these objectives are you after?

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Innovation for SequestrationSeth Kahan helps leaders on large-scale change and innovation. Designated a Thought-leader and Exemplar in Change Leadership by the Society for Advancement of Consulting®, and a Visionary by the Center for Association Leadership, he is the author of the bestsellers, Getting Change Right and Getting Innovation Right. Clients include the president of World Bank; the director of the Peace Corps; Royal Dutch Shell and 30+ association executives.

Seth Kahan




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